Logos Not Hamburgers

Logos Not Hamburgers

Some weirdness in logo design marketing..

You’ve run a ‘online logo design‘ search on Google or similar search engine, and have come up with a bevy of blinking, flashing web sites, all promising seemingly impossible feats in their ‘come hither’ sales pitches. It’s as if ‘logo designers’ (scare quotes intentional) on the web have developed an entire new language in order to lure visitors, via search engines, to purchase their goods and services. While using the Internet to find a design house that can create a new corporate brand is tremendous (it allows people to work with top-notch designers that they’d otherwise never had the opportunity,) it also features a unique set of pitfalls and caveats. As competition has heated up, so has the rhetoric involved in the marketing of logo design services via the web.

If it sounds too good to be true.

As you wander from site to site, you’re sure to bump into some promises and sales pitches that you’ve never heard of before. Especially as it applies to graphic design. Which ultimately leads to a deceptively simple question – “why do you want to charge me $x, when I can find dozens of companies who want to charge me $x/10 with unlimited revisions, 2 day turnaround, etc, etc, etc”. At quick glance, their logo design example pages looks as good as most (they’re not really), yet their published rates are 1/10 of what a reputable design studio charges. The advertising pitches seem too good to be true. Cheap logos. Cheaper logos. Free logos. You have to ask a squishy situation – what exactly is the difference between their process and other designers? To answer that, we have t0 decipher the ‘sky’s the limit’ promises that are being dangled in front of you. For your edification, we’ve put together an anthology (perhaps more accurately – a hackology) to help you understand the slick, confusing and sometimes downright misleading, promises that these logo sites pitch via their marketing efforts.

Our Designers Are The Best In The World. All 1 Million (?!!)

One of the top Google ranked sites boast that they have over one hundred thousand(!) logo designers who are “the best in the world.” They are described as “the same people that other businesses pay thousands of dollars just to get a few hours of their time.” They also go on to claim that up to 100(!) of these designers work on your project. Hmm. For a couple of hundred dollars? Sounds a little far-fetched but, okay. What you’re not clearly told is that projects are offered, via another web site (not so public,) to dozens of anonymous freelancers (pros, students, hobbyists alike) who compete against each other (hardly the ‘Team’ advertised) to get your project (these designers also discuss the projects, the details and client quirks on a VERY public bulletin board.) These poor souls are paid peanuts (if their projects are accepted in the first place) and admit to putting in effort that is commensurate with it. Not quite the ‘top-notch’ professional designers being advertised. It’s actually a glorified logo design contest – and that method not only has some very serious drawbacks, but (if you’re EXTREMELY budget minded and don’t mind the risks) can also be had for much, MUCH, less money than being requested. A business magazine described the process as follows –

Designers love it for the following reasons: They never have to meet with the clients; payment is immediate; they can work at home, day or night, with total flexibility; they can make $100 per design. That may be peanuts to a Madison Avenue pro, but not to a youngster making his or her mark“

I’m not ripping on ‘youngsters making their mark’ – was one myself a long time ago – but that’s NOT what’s being advertised (the words they use in the promo copy plainly state ‘Madison Avenue Pros’.) I’m not sure if I want a ‘youngster’ who is ‘making his or her mark’ to be working on my new corporate logo. And what’s with the ‘never meeting (talking) with the client’ bit? After all, hadn’t you just shelled out some pretty serious money to work with a ‘seasoned veteran‘ that other businesses pay “thousands of dollars just to get a few hours of their time?” Okay – never mind. With access to this bevy of designers, many online logo design firms promise that more designers will work on your project (for more dough, natch). Not sure I understand that one either, unless you take into consideration that these designers are working remotely, and in isolation. Many designers work in a studio environment (as opposed to remotely) so every project features a collaborative effort of multiple designers and Art Directors. The idea that you pay more money to obtain a collaborative effort (that is, one supposes, the reason you selected a company to design your new logo, as opposed to a solitary freelancer) is ludicrous.

“One great designer can obviously create a better design solution that ten, or even a hundred, mediocre (or inexperienced) designers can..”

Besides, as it should be pointed out, a top-notch logo artist DOES NOT inject his/her style into a project, but rather the project is 100% unique for each and every client (or it should be.) Combined with the collaborative efforts of studio-mates, this (almost) guarantees the production of a great logo. This idea that “more is better” is an idiotic philosophy that doesn’t (or shouldn’t) apply to a design process. More visual Spam as opposed to a targeted, researched approach. In any logo design project your client should not looking for more. They’re looking for the right logo. For. Them. If your’re looking for the unique one-on-one design process that a qualified freelancer offers, then this promise should be irrelevant anyway. One great designer can obviously create a better design solution that ten mediocre (or inexperienced) designers can.

“Your Very Own Project Manager”

Ahm. Okay. Granted, a ‘project manager’ has a nice ring to it, but I thought the exercise here was working with the designer? Not quite. This phrase usually indicates that the person taking instructions, comments and directions is not the one executing them. They’re being passed on, broken telephone style, to a designer who is not close to the phone (or, one supposes, an active e-mail account.) In other words, to a supposed designer with unqualified credentials. Once again, that advertised in-house designer (the one with all the skills) doesn’t even work for the company. Clients are not ‘allowed’ to talk to the designer because the company doesn’t quite trust the designer. After all, the designer could hoover the account (such is the risk when paying peanuts.) You might have noticed the company based on the strength of their portfolio. How do they know if the designer working on their project is even featured in the company’s logo portfolio? You don’t. And if someone’s willing to pull the old ‘project manager’ ruse – it’s a safe bet you’re not going to get a straight answer should you ask the question. You, on the other should prefer one-on-one service and the accompanying attention to detail. Portfolio should also reflect the designer(s) who are working on your project too…

“100%, No Hassle Money-Back Guarantee!”

Well, not quite. On many of these sites, if you wish to explore the fine print, it seems there’s a little detail called a ‘service charge’ – usually in the $75 range – that’s been left off the starburst. Or, if you’ve availed yourself of their so-called ‘upgrades,’ you can’t get that money back either. Now, I was never that good in math, but if memory serves $X minus anything is not 100% of $X. The so-called 100% refund also expires the minute the client requests revisions after the first round of preliminary designs. Okay, so let’s run this one through the McLogo translator – ‘You pay up front for the full job, we spend about an hour working up the preliminary designs and if you don’t like them, pay for the hour we spent and we’ll give you the remainder of your account back“. Now, that sounds fair – pretty close to how we do it around here. Trouble is, that’s not half as impressive in blinking text as tah-dah – “100% money-back guarantee“.

“We Guarantee That Our Logo Will Improve Your Bottom Line”

This, I suppose, was a natural extension of the 100% money back guarantee. But how to claim more than 100% money back? Easy – “we’ll let you use the logo for a while and if it doesn’t work, we’ll still give you your money back“. Nice promise. On closer inspection, however, not nearly as impressive as it sounds. In fact, it borders on madness. Firstly, this promise is almost impossible to quantify. On the other hand, one would hope that a new logo would improve the bottom line. Anyone who needs a logo is invariably in start up, and the logo is the beginning phases of some fairly hefty marketing efforts. One would hope that sales are going to increase with the use of this new logo. But what if they don’t? There’s a slight snag. In order to get your money back, you have to supply the company ‘professionally produced’ versions of stationery, brochures and the like. That means you’ve spent significantly more in reproducing the logo, than the original $300.00 you spent on having the logo designed. You also have to agree to stop using the logo (including the newly printed stationery, brochures and the like) and then you’ll get your money back. Guess what that means? You promise not to use material that you probably paid $1000s of dollars to produce, in order to get a refund of $300.00. Oh yeah, you also have to deliver (at your expense) all the printed material to the logo design firm so that they can do with it what they see fit. Chances are, if anyone thinks this is a good guarantee, their lack of financial progress has nothing to do with the logo in the first place…

Lightning Fast Turnaround. Bargain Basement Prices!

Fast! Quick! Speedy! Yee-hah. NASCAR logo design. First one in wins. Lessee – these companies are boasting that they’ll spend less time than everybody else on my new, staggeringly important logo design?!! Sound’s good – where do I sign up? Good design takes time, and rush creative work usually costs a lot more – designers have to be paid overtime. Other designers need to be assigned to the project. But here we have bargain basement pricing. and ‘lightning fast turnaround’? Something has to give. What critical aspects of the logo design process are we shaving off to speed up the process? Research? Development? Rendering and fine-tuning? Or could it be that we’re pulling logo ingredients, Frankenstein style, from a library of previously designed material? Just wondering is all.

Online DIY (Do it Yourself) logo design. Part 1

We’ve seen these flash-based web sites describing themselves as do it yourself logo design, usually advertised with the description “you don’t need a designer.” Well, considering that design is about conceptualizing a logo, and these DIY sites are simply a glitzy logo template generator, it’s technically true. You don’t need a designer for their service. As there’s no design work being performed. Not many people flock to rent dentist drills to perform DIY dentistry because the company involved promises “no dentist required”. Here’s how the DIY service works – you select an icon from a library of pre-designed material, usually rejected preliminary designs from ‘real’ logo design projects or, ‘borrowed’ from other design sites. You type in your company name (using a generic, usually shareware, font) and the DIY cookie cutter spits out a logo. Sound familiar? It should – used to be called clip art. And last time we looked – clip art was not among the recommended approaches to corporate identity design..

Computer Design Rulz! DIY logo design. Part 2

Logo design software. Only $30.00. Sounds cool. But I have what could be called logo software – it’s known as Adobe Illustrator. Cost me over $600. So what’s the difference? The advertised version of logo design software is not actually ‘design’ anything. At best it can be called clip-art composition software (and that’s stretching it). The premise is that you can pull a few (badly) pre-designed ‘templates’ together and add some text and ‘voila’ – a logo. Ahm. Not quite. Firstly, the templates cannot be protected by copyright, or even more importantly, trademark. Because hundreds of people are using the very same templates, you can forget about unique – most of the images presented have been overdone and overused to death. And they can also say hello to reproduction hell – most of these templates are in bitmap or pixel format so they require four color reproduction, cannot be re-sized for larger applications and are impractical for most uses other than the web. This software is also advertised as “no design skill needed”. Shouldn’t come as a surprise – there’s very little design taking place. In fact, ALL of these DIY online logo design ‘solutions’ are nothing more than template logos with pretty packaging. Sad to say, it seems that despite these wonderful attempts at skinning the proverbial cat, there’s only one way to create a custom logo that is worthy of representing a great new venture. That’s working with a seasoned professional who has a client’s best interests in mind, as well as a pride in his/her craft. Sure, they may not promise unlimited revisions, a free coffee mug (it’s been done) or other three ring circus sales pitches. They will, however, produce a solid, technically sound and original logo that your client can proudly use as their corporate identity. And isn’t THAT what it’s all about? Accordingly, here’s some very pragmatic tips on selecting a logo designer for your project.

Footnote: This article in no way is supposed to demean McDonalds, nor are we ripping on their burgers, which we all happen to love, especially that Quarter Pounder with Cheese, washed down with that orange drink that tastes just like the stuff that we had at church picnics when we were kids. (*Exhale*). We’re just trying to point out that there’s a way to market burgers, which Mickey Dee‘s does just fine despite what that ‘Super Size Me‘ dude sez – it’s just not necessarily cool to use the same tactics when marketing logos.

And oh, yeah – please don’t sue us…



Steve is founder and creative director of The Logo Factory and lives in the outskirts of Toronto with his lovely wife Sue, children Amy and Matthew, three dogs and two cats.

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