Logo design is in the news on a regular basis. And the story usually isn’t pretty.
Here’s how it goes:
“The XYZ Organization revealed their new logo last week. Customers complained bitterly that the new image didn’t represent their hopes and dreams.
And when XYZ Organization admitted the new logo cost $40,000, a protest was organized and shareholders complained loudly about “wasting funds on a frivolous expense.”
Why is it that people don’t like it when logos change?
I’m going to answer this one based on my vast experience with human nature — something that can only be acquired after you’ve lived as long as I have. 😉
I think people get attached to logos because their identities get intertwined with those little symbols. It’s like the logo represents the “team” they play on.
And 99% of the time, they’re not consulted when a logo is being changed.
Instead, the change is foisted on them, and they have no choice but to adapt to the new symbol. That piece of their identity is gone, and they have to replace it with something new they didn’t pick out themselves.
And that’s not easy. Change never is! That’s why I recommend caution if you’re thinking about changing your company’s logo.
Read on to find out more.
Why I recommend caution when considering a logo change
We’re surrounded by marketing from the time we get up in the morning until the time we shut our eyes at night.
That’s why I preach the gospel of consistency around here: if you want your marketing materials to be recognized as coming from your company, you need to make sure they’re visually consistent over time.
Here’s what usually happens:
- You put out a logo and begin to use it.
- At the beginning, it’s new and shiny, and you brand everything with your new logo.
- You’re consistent about using it, so it appears (as it should) on your website, in your emails, on your social media accounts, in your print materials, and even on t-shirts and pens.
- You see your logo a lot.
- Inevitably, you get tired of it. It might take two years, it might take five or seven. But at some point, you start getting antsy and you want to redesign your logo.
Stop. Wait. And think hard about whether you should really do that.
You may have become overexposed to your logo.
But your customers? Well, because they see so many other marketing messages besides what comes from your business, there’s a good chance your customers are just starting to associate your logo with your company.
So don’t be in a hurry to make a change. Unless your logo is terribly outdated or doesn’t reflect what your company offers, try to live with it a little while longer.
What makes logos cost so much
I’ll go into more detail below, but here’s my take in a nutshell.
Surgeons’ time costs a lot because you’re paying for their many years of education and professional experience. It’s the same thing for logo designers.
And when you hear about an extremely expensive logo design project, you may think that any company that pays a designer tens of thousands of dollars to design a logo is just foolish. Or wasteful.
I think the problem is that we don’t see the majority of the work the designer does.
Oh sure, we see the final product — a brand-new, shiny logo that you may or may not like.
But what we don’t see is the extensive implementation system any good designer creates so that the logo is used consistently and correctly over time.
This identity system takes months to research, create, write, and produce.
It’s not just a logo — it’s an identity system
Here’s what’s involved in creating a full-fledged identity system that helps organizations to keep their branding consistent over time:
- Inventory all existing materials to review current font, color, and logo usage
- Interview “power users” of the new logo: people in departments like marketing or development. Make a complete list of where the logo needs to appear, taking into account “worst-case scenario” mediums like embroidery or screen printing.
- Create a new logo. Good designers know that for a logo to stand the test of time and look as fresh ten years from now as it does today, it should be a sophisticated combination of art and mathematics. Good logos rely on precise proportions. The average viewer may not notice these — instead, a logo just “looks right.”
- Create the first draft of a “style guide” which will be used to implement the identity system developed. The style guide includes sections that present the official logo, and specify official colors (web and print version), and typography. It shows how these elements should be used together to present a cohesive visual style.
Style guides usually contain a section that outlines unacceptable uses for the logo, too. (These “What Not To Do” sections are usually pretty amusing!)
A style guide is an extensive, thorought document. Designers typically spend much longer developing the style guide than they do the logo itself.
From my own career, I know I may have spent 20% of the time on a logo redesign project creating and getting approval on the new logo design. The other 80% was spent on research, writing, and creation of the style guide.
Why so much effort on a style guide?
Larger organizations and businesses have many people working on elements that represent their identity. And these people come from diverse backgrounds: marketing departments; freelance designers; and department heads who need to print a t-shirt with the company logo for the next picnic.
And somehow — across all these implementations of the organization’s identity — the organization’s visual identity needs to look consistent.
In order for this to happen, the style guide should be easy to use and understand, and the user should grasp immediately how they can best represent the organization visually.
All those $20,000 logo design projects you hear about? The logo itself may have only been $4000 to create. Researching, writing, creating and producing the style guide is where the other $16,000 went.
How to save money on logo design
Create a wordmark yourself:
Wordmark logos are simple, text-based logos. They’re much easier to create than symbol-based logos. And, especially when you’re just starting out, they may be all you need. Here’s how you can design your own.
Know your audience:
The more you understand your target market, the better you can market to them, period. Whether you create a simple wordmark logo yourself, or you hire a designer (more on that below), it all starts with an intimate understanding of the people you want to reach.
Offer a thorough description of what you need:
If you decide to work with a designer, make sure you’ve gathered your thoughts and plenty of examples so that you can give them a deep, thorough understanding of what you need, what you don’t want, and how you plan to use the design they create for you.
Why having a competition or inviting a student to create a logo is a bad idea
It’s tempting, isn’t it?
“I’ll ask a design student to do my logo. What could go wrong?”
Well, a lot could go wrong.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a good logo design from a student.
But if you do, you should consider yourself extremely lucky. Logo design is among the most difficult and sophisticated of graphic design tasks. The ability to design a timeless, proportionate wordmark or symbol to represent an organization is something most designers take years to develop.
To a certain extent, when you contract a designer to create your logo, you are borrowing that person’s aesthetic sense, manual dexterity, and artistic eye.
These skills take many years to develop. When you hire an experienced logo designer, you’re hiring someone who has gotten years of bad logos out of her system (take it from me). She’ll be able to identify and give you what you need quickly and efficiently.
Why I don’t think competitive logo sites are a good idea
I feel the same way about competitive logo design sites like 99designs as I do about hiring a student or running a public competition for your logo design.
The best logos are born out of a deep conversation between client and designer about what the organization’s needs are, the vision they have for their new logo, and (if it’s a redesign project) what they don’t like about the logo they’re replacing.
At sites like 99designs, that relationship is non-existent.
The only details the designers know about the client is what they’re able to glean from the project description.
And truth be told, clients often don’t know how to describe their project very well. It’s the designer’s job — in their initial meetings — to ask probing questions so they get the answers they need to do great work.
This is all lost on competition-based logo design sites. Instead, designers throw a bunch of images at a problem, hoping one of them “sticks.”
And if you’ll indulge me, I want to state one more issue I have with sites like 99designs.
It’s the concept of asking designers to work for free.
Yes, I know — the winning designer gets paid.
But the vast majority of designers who participate in these competitions do not get paid. Is there any other career where this would be acceptable behavior?
We wouldn’t ask doctors or accountants to provide their services for free and then decide which one we liked best so we could pay them.
But somehow there’s this image of designers as “people who like to draw” and who get some kind of pleasure out of “doing designs” even if they don’t get paid for them.
And because designers don’t know if their work will be compensated, the temptation to recycle ideas is always there.
I think this is why there’s a sameness to design solutions presented on these sites.
If a designer wants to earn a living and they don’t know if their work will be compensated, why not develop five basic solutions to logo design projects and every time there’s a competition they want to enter, just adapt these five solutions to meet the requirements of that week’s “client?”
How to find a competent logo designer
So if you don’t go with a competition-based logo design site (and I hope you don’t), how do you find a graphic designer with logo design experience?
There are a couple of ways.
Start the old-fashioned way. Ask a business colleague whose logo you admire if they’d share the name of their designer.
Do a Google search for graphic designers in your geographical area. I’m a fan of working with local designers because it means you can enjoy a face-to-face meeting. In-person meetings offer a wealth of information (even from things like voice inflection and body language) that are lost when the meeting is virtual.
You get what you pay for
Now you understand a bit more about what’s really behind those five-figure logo design projects you hear about in the news.
I hope you see that designing a beautiful logo that also stands the test of time isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.
When your logo is clear, clean, and easily recognized, it’s a brand asset that you’ll be proud to own and use.