Ready-made, stock logos & design templates

Brand blandness in a can. And why would you want a logo “just like theirs?” when a logo is supposed to be unique, yours and yours alone.

The late magazine publisher for whom I once served as art director once told me the secret of making really big money. He advised me – in that scholarly British accent of his – that true financial success lay, not in creating ones and twos of custom work (as i had labored most of my career to accomplish) but rather in mass production. He told me without reservation:

“Custom stuff is nice, but you’ll always make more money if you create one design, reproduce it a lot of times and sell the same thing over and over again to a lot of people.”

And while the original concept can be traced back to automotive legend Henry Ford, coming from someone I respected, these were words to think about. In the context of his career choice – a magazine publisher with a slew of books under his belt to boot – it made perfect sense. As a designer, I was ultimately less than enthused. After all, isn’t design – in this case logos – about creating new, and original work? Like, every time? Of course. Not if you believe the folks who have hung shingles all over the internet, selling what they like to refer to as “logo templates” and “ready-made” logos.

The antithesis of what a logo is supposed to be about.

A template for a logo. What a fabulously bizarre idea. A logo is supposed to be original. Capital ‘C’ custom. A brand that has been created with your company, service or product in mind. It is supposed to appeal to your customers. Reflect your business philosophies. A custom logo is usually born out of a sometimes-difficult logo design process that takes place between you and your designer. The give and take between design integrity and market practicalities. Or you can pick a so-called ready-made logo, a pre-made template, where you select an existing icon, add your company name and you’re all set. All for pennies on the dollar. Of course, the very logo template that you’re using can also be picked by an infinite number of other companies, all of who will also use it as their logos. Seems like the antithesis of what any designer worth his/her salt is about. It’s also the polar opposite of what you should do, if you care one iota about your corporate identity image.

Is slapping your company name on a generic ready-made logo a good idea?

From a design perspective, ready-made (or template) logos are an accident waiting to happen The idea that you can simply swap out some text (invariably presented on these template logo web sites as ‘Your Company Name’) with your actual company name presupposes a few things that are fundamentally, well, just wrong. A font treatment is part of any effective logo. It is part of the design. The process. Not just something that is added in as an afterthought – the basic premise of the logo template model. Not every company name fits into the visual area created by the words ‘Your Company Name’. Red’s Pet Shop requires a different textual approach that The American Society of Red’s Pet Shops. No design good can come from any process that involves slapping text on the bottom, or side of an existing generic icon. And let’s talk about the text itself. In order to keep these template logos as cost effective and therefore profitable (i.e. fast) to edit as possible, the font styles are usually ‘off the shelf’ fonts in their native form (just like the ones in your very own font folder.) This allows ‘Your Company Name’ text to be swapped out by simply cutting and pasting in the new company name. No design. No thought. Design integrity be damned. A vast majority of effective logos feature custom tailored fonts – text treatments that are kerned, re-rendered, warped, distorted, outlined, beveled, etc. Take a look at our logo design galleries – how many of these text treatments are ‘off the shelf’? Not very many. And any that are are usually tweaked to deal with awkward spacing or height issues. It would be next to impossible to simply drop in new names into most of our presented logos because each text treatment was designed with the company name, business philosophy and market depicted in mind. Not so with ready made template logos. Let’s look at the icons offered on most template logo sites. It only gets worse.

Psychobabble icons, lackluster text and ownership issues,

In a word – they’re usually crap (sorry ma). Most so-called template logo icons are rudimentary shapes, swooshes, swirls and abstract shapes. Not even logos to be honest. This is very deliberate. In order to appeal to as broad a spectrum as possible, most ready made template logos are of the psychobabble variety. This swoosh means this. This squiggle represents that. Any more recognizable template icons are merely clip art of very, very, poor quality. Others are done to death. Another question to ask yourself – are these icons original – do they even belong to the template logo merchant in the first place? We’ve discovered people selling template logos that were pinched right off our web site. We’ve even bought one of these template logos for $15.00 – which despite its hilarity illustrates a real problem with this model. We’ve found other sites that are (to be charitable) ‘inspired’ by our client’s logos in the design of their logo templates. Someone was selling a $99 Frankensteined version of The Boat Logo for a while (when you can get it here for free.) None of these would pass even the most rudimentary once over by a copyright lawyer, never mind the much more rigorous inspection of a trademark attorney. And heaven help anyone who goes to town – printing up brochure designs, letterheads, stationery, web sites and other marketing material, only to find that the logo being showcased belongs to somebody else (at our shop, we supply clients copyright documents with all our logo design packages – it helps convince a judge who created what when.) While you may save a few hundred (or even a thousand) dollars in the initial design of your logo, it’s critical to keep one thing in mind. Over the life of your business, that logo will be printed on tens of thousands of dollars worth of marketing material. Imagine waking up one morning to find out that you’re using a ready-made logo that belongs hook, line and sinker to somebody else. Perhaps now is a good time to remind you of the old saying – penny wise, pound-foolish. It’s never been appropriate in the graphic design industry until now.

Ready made logo templates. Who owns the rights?

“But wait!” you exclaim. The web site claims that they’ll remove the logo template from their library once I purchase it!” Really? Do a search on Google for template logos. You’ll find that a lot of these sites feature the exact same set of logo templates. There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, many of the sites are owned by the very same people. In order to penetrate search engines (and to maximize exposure, traffic and profit) many companies simply create a shell web site, say sites A, B, C, D, and E, throw a series of template logos on each and hang out (yet another) shingle. Now, you may wish to believe that when you buy a template logo from site A, they’ll remove the image from site B, C, D, E, etc. We remain a little skeptical. You’re also never sure if someone has purchased the logo template before you, thereby clouding copyright and ownership issues forever. The second reason that many of these templates look the same is that they’ve all been purchased from the same supplier. That’s right. A logo template creator, who sells the very same images to a variety of sellers – for a few dollars apiece (or a commission of the sale when it happens,) and invariably to the same good folks that own the web sites that you run into. That means the owners of the web sites selling these templates have NO control over the availability, ownership, or future sales of the logos featured. Quite frankly – they don’t really own them either. So how can they possibly transfer ownership to you? It also seems a little disingenuous to feature somebody else’s templates or ‘disguise’ Bob’s Logo Service (.com) as Not Bob’s Logo Design Service (.com) in order to capture clients looking for a new logo.

non-exclusive-logos-how-is-this-a-thingAnd if you do run into problems – try and find contact info. It’s usually a web-based form (email addresses can be traced) that promises “we’ll get back to you right away”. When you’re interested in buying perhaps. But if you want satisfaction for that bundle of letterheads, business cards and envelopes you’ve printed with someone else’s logo – let’s see how fast ‘right away’ really is. Commercialized “ready made” websites are even worse. Check out the fine print in their TOS – you’re not buying the design reject from them, you’re buying it from the guy who uploaded it to their site. Sure, they take as much as 70% commission on the sale, but they are totally not responsible if things go sideways. They just “put people together.”

Logo templates. The graphic design equivalent of spam.

So why template logos? Simple. Good logo design takes time. The skills of a talented designer. Expensive (if legit) logo software. Hardware. And a client support infrastructure to manage the business end of things. $50 only buys so much time of a professionals’ time. These template logo shops figured out it’s much more profitable to hire junior (or student) designers to create a mess of rudimentary icons, and offer them to as many eyes as possible (remember the search engine shenanigans?) Or, they open their contest sites to participants who can upload their rejected contest entries, hoping to make something – anything – for the effort they put into the unpaid work. Operators can proclaim on their web sites, usually in a star burst – “Logos only $99.00.” Ooooh. Very sales oriented. And hopefully, one of the many templates will appeal to a percentage of the eyes that see it. Logo templates and ready made designs are the graphic design equivalent of spam. And a system created to develop as many generic icons as possible (at the lowest cost) and sell them as many times as possible. It’s all about profit. It is NOT about designing company logos. The idea of a logo is to be unique. Using a template logo shoots that theory right out of the water. Just ask yourself this – how many SUCCESSFUL companies used a clip art template logo (as opposed to custom). I’ll tell you how many. None. Nada. Zilch.

Think you’ll be the first?

It’s better to get along without a logo than present a bad one.

Some suggestions – If you can’t afford to work with a decent (and reputable) designer right now, best to wait. It’s better to have no logo than a bad one (or worse) a logo that is being used by someone else. Don’t worry about spending a fortune reproducing a pseudo brand identity on letterheads, business cards, web sites or brochures that you’ll run the risk of having to change later. Spend your limited funds and energy building up your company by word of mouth. In no time at all, you WILL be able to hire a top-notch designer or design firm to create a world-class corporate logo design that is memorable, dynamic and more importantly – yours.

And yours alone.

Footnote: As much as it embarrasses us, we were actually the first online design company to launch a “pre-made” logo service back in 2000. We branded it Logos in a Box and it seemed like a nice way to generate some quick sales. In our defense, we did offer exclusivity on everything and our then-innovative offering didn’t have most of the problems outlined in the previous rant, but we were convinced by other designers this was a hack thing to do. We shuttered the site shortly after launch, but lately (and realizing we’ve been tilting at windmills,) we’ve taken a more pragmatic “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” position and may launch LIAB proper again. Or not.

Not that we’re hypocrites or anything. Nosiree Bob.