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Steve Douglas, Creative Director and owner of The Logo Factory Inc., has worked in the graphic design field for 25 years as an illustrator, a magazine art director, photographer and graphic designer. Since the mid-nineties, Steve has specialized in corporate identity and brand development, working with clients throughout the world through his Mississauga based studio - The Logo Factory. A veteran of online driven marketing, his web site is among the top 5% in terms of traffic and is frequented by designers, students and educators the world over.


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The Logo Factor
by Steve Douglas

Hackology - Deciphering the lingo of the discount logo design merchant and explaining to your client why this method of design is bad for their business.

Logo design is an integral part of any design studio or freelance business. It allows you to develop a working relationship with a client from the get-go, and dovetails into other areas of design - stationery, web, advertising, brochures and more. Chances are that if you develop a logo for a client, especially one who is in start-up mode, you'll have a client for life. After all, you've been pivotal to the birth of their new idea, their dreams and aspirations, and that gets bragging rights that are difficult to trump. The client is assured of top-notch future design work, as you have taken some personal stake in their company - by being part of the process that brought a new identity into the world. At the risk of sounding too sickly sweet or cliché - you've invested a piece of you in their company, and are thusly motivated to see that your 'baby' is seen only in the most positive light.

As is often the case, however, before your client has come to you, they've run a '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' on the web have developed an entire new language in order to lure visitors 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.   As your prospective client wanders from site to site, they'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". To the untrained eye, their portfolio of logos looks as good as yours (they're not really), yet their published rates are 1/10 of what you charge. The advertising pitches seem too good to be true (relax, they are - as it turns out, we're comparing apples and oranges). You've been put in a squishy situation - what exactly is the difference between your process and theirs? It's a legitimate question that designers struggle to answer. Not that they don't try. A month long flame war erupted on a popular graphic design forum recently - designers grappling to define what they referred to as 'Hack Designers' - and yet I'll bet that not one participant could definitively describe what differentiates them from these infamous web sites. It can be done. Armed with a little information, you can easily explain what's what, rehabilitate the logo design gig and save your client a lot of headaches. All you need to do is decipher the 'sky's the limit' promises that are being dangled in front of your client and he/she will see the light. For your edification, I'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..

Unlimited Revisions. No, really - unlimited.

Ooooh - unlimited revisions. Designers are always getting bent out of shape about this one. Gotta admit - looks pretty good in a yellow starburst. And you certainly couldn't offer unlimited revisions without sinking your fledgling design business. And at a flat rate. How is this frikkin' possible? Answer - it ain't. Simply put, it's a goofy concept, impossible to maintain, and the use of these two words is designed to do one thing, and one thing only. Separate your prospective client from their cash. Firstly, it shouldn't take 'unlimited' revisions to arrive at the perfect logo. A designer worth their sand should be able to hone in on the 'perfect logo' within a few revision cycles. After all - the preliminary concepts were initially worked up with target market and business philosophies in mind (in the case of the 'unlimited revision' dudes I wonder if they were). Anything else is just visual Spam - throw enough designs at the project in the hope something, anything, will stick. The same was said about monkeys and Shakespeare. And just like monkeys and The Baird, the 'unlimited revisions' promise is impossible to keep.

Here's a fun test - order a logo from one of these companies, and request, nay demand, that your work-in-progress logo to be previewed in 1 million color combinations (alright, let's be more reasonable - ten thousand color combinations) within the three day turnaround schedule. Ten thousand is not even 'unlimited'. Unlimited is, well, unlimited. And if the answer is anything other than "yes", then the service is NOT really offering unlimited revisions. There is a limit. We're not sure where it is. But it IS there. Simply put - when companies promise you 'unlimited revisions' on ANY design project they are lying. Flat. Out. Full. Throttle. Lying. Should kinda shake your client's confidence in their entire design process, huh? Simply put, nobody can truly offer 'unlimited revisions' with any design project (unless on billable hours and in that case, the more the merrier).

Our designers are the best in the World. All 100 of them.

One of the top Google ranked sites boast that they have over one hundred logo designers who are "the best in the world". In fact, they are described as "the same people that other businesses pay thousands of dollars just to get a few hours of their time. Simply stated, they are the best in the world." 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 untested freelancers   (pros, students, hobbyists alike) who compete against each other 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 your client is EXTREMELY budget minded) 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". Well, not sure if I want a 'youngster' who is 'making his or her mark' to be working on my new corporate identity. And what's with the 'never meeting with the client' bit? (See Project manager below). After all, hadn't I 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.

Give me an extra fifty bucks and we'll have an extra designer work on your project. One hundred dollars extra and we'll assign another three designers.

Woo-hooh. Free designers. Or something. Many corporate logo 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. 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 guarantees the production of a great unique 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 client is looking for the unique one-on-one design process that a qualified freelancer offers, then this promise should be irrelevant anyway. One good designer can obviously create a better design solution that ten mediocre (or inexperienced) designers can.

Your very own, honest to goodness, 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 freelancer 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). Your client probably 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 portfolio? They 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 hand offer one-on-one service and the accompanying attention to detail. Your portfolio's legit too.

100%, no-hassle, every cent that you paid, money-back guarantee.

Well, not quite. On many of these sites, if your client wishes 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. 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 Hackology 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. Trouble is, that's not half as impressive in blinking text as tah-dah - "100% money-back guarantee". You can, however, take some solace in the fact that many of these sites who feature such a guarantee are themselves the victims of 'logo fishing'. Unethical clients submit project briefs, get the work ups done and abscond with the preliminaries (which I imagine they convert to usable files in Illustrator) while demanding their refund.

We guarantee that our logo will improve your bottom line. If not, we'll give your money back.

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 company's lack of financial progress has nothing to do with the logo in the first place.

Lightning Fast Turnaround. Bargain Basement Prices

Yee-hah. NASCAR logo design. First one in wins. Lessee - they're 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 had 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.

DIY (Do it Yourself) logo design - Part 1

We've seen these flash-based web sites 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 glitzy logo template generators, it's technically true. You don't NEED a designer for their service. On the other hand, 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). 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.

DIY (Do it Yourself) logo design - Part 2

Logo design software. Only $30.00. Sounds cool. But I have what could be called logo design software - it's known as Adobe Illustrator. Cost me over $500. 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, your client can forget about unique. And they can also say hello to reproduction hell - most of these templates are in bitmap format so they require four color reproduction, cannot be resized for larger applications and are impractical for most applications 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 logo design 'solutions' are nothing more than template logos with pretty packaging (we'll take a closer look at this phenomenon next time around).

Alas, it seems that despite these wonderful attempts at skinning the proverbial cat in unique ways, there's only one way to create a logo design 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, you don't promise unlimited revisions, a free coffee mug (it's been done) or other three ring circus sales pitches. You will, however, produce a solid, technically sound and unique logo that your client can proudly use as their corporate identity. And isn't THAT what it's all about?

Now, where's my free T-shirt?

Steve Douglas
The Logo Factory Inc.
6741 Columbus Road, Unit 10
Mississauga, On L6T 5K9

©2005 Steve Douglas

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