the graphic design blog that speaks the truth

The Halloween season is over and now another issue has resurfaced that scares designers worldwide. Unfortunately, Brandstack, a website which sold community submitted logo designs for three years, has closed it’s doors once and for all. I’m not one to put the boot in as I will be sad to see people lose their jobs, but the fact that another stock logo outfit has gone out of business is technically a good thing in terms of preserving the integrity of the graphic design profession and more specifically, logo designers.

From a Spring to a Tsunami

I’m not going to lie & pretend that I have never sold what is technically a ‘stock logo’. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, which is why I think I can give a balanced viewpoint. A stock logo, is a logo design that was created for the purpose of being in a shop window (website) for a potential buyer to purchase, as opposed to the more common practice of designing under a contractual agreement between a designer and a client. The practice of partaking in stock logo design differs from crowdsourcing as there isn’t yet a client, the designer sits and waits hoping for someone to catch the bait.

I became aware of Brandstack back in 2008 when it very first started (it was known as Incspring in those days). Advertisements sold ‘Incspring’ as a place for designers to sell their unused logo design concepts. Obviously, I was drawn to this as I take on a lot of logo design projects each year, which results in a lot of designs not seeing the light of day. So I thought, ‘what harm could it do to earn a little extra money for work I’ve already completed’? Looking back I was naive in my judgement and didn’t have the foresight to see what could potentially happen.

The Incspring community in the early days was primarily made up of highly skilled designers who had made a name for themselves through the logo design inspiration website, Logopond. Back then (as far as I know) ‘unused designs’ we’re exactly that, concepts that were originally created for a real creative brief that were rejected by the client. If someone else can use it, that can only be a good thing, right?

Unfortunately, a select few members of the community, decided to try and increase their own sales by poaching available domains names and designing logos as a packaged product, which means the designs were no longer ‘unused’ by a previous intended buyer. This trend really caught on which saw masses of users signing up to doodle in their favourite vector program, slap a name next to it, call it a logo and hope that it sells. In my own opinion, this is not a professional logo design service. When I noticed that this practice became more prominent I decided to take down all of my unused logos for sale and remove all previously sold stock from my portfolio as it went against my morals as a designer, and more importantly the type of service that I wanted to provide to people.

This post is not a dig at Brandstack (though I still don’t understand the name choice since they were never technically selling brands let alone stacking them), and it is not the only place where you can buy stock logos, there are still many out there unfortunately. It’s also not the first outlet of a similar type of service to go out of business. A company as large as Istockphoto (the name gives it away) had to drop stock logos from their online services.

If one business owner who is thinking of buying a stock logo, or one designer who is thinking of selling one reads this post then I will be delighted as hopefully it will make them think carefully before doing so.

As a summary, here are my reasons why I am against the practice of stock logo design:

How stock logo design harms business owners:

  • No real way of identifying if the design they have purchased is a product of piracy (yet this could also apply to contractual agreements)
  • reduces chances of a real brand message. Logo design is not just a clever trick or a pretty picture

How stock logo design harms designers:

  • devalues their own worth
  • clouds their understanding of a creative process
  • reduces amount of respect gained from within the design community

How stock logo design harms the design industry:

  • devalues the profession of designing logos, as stock sellers set really low prices to make a sale
  • cuts out important elements of a valid creative process which in turn confuses potential clients of how they should set about getting a logo designed for themselves
  • increases piracy as ‘criminals’ see it as an easy way to make money through stealing existing logos in use by real clients only to sell them via a stock proprietor

Hopefully, the closure of Brandstack, will make people reassess whether stock logo design is the best route to go down, for their business or their career. I just hope that the designers who primarily made a living from selling through Brandstack don’t just jump ship to another stockist and continue to sell ‘fake’ logos. I understand that not everyone is privileged to get real requests for proposals from clients but there are many other ways to build up a portfolio of work, which I will give advice on in my next post.



  1. 01/11/11
    6:44 pm
    Thanks for writing this post, Gareth. It was something that needed to be said. No, I am not celebrating the demise of someone's livelihood. We are all having a difficult time making a living right now. I am thinking that this appears to be a valuable lesson for the industry as a whole. Unlike other industries, logo design is not a stock-based business and that has been proven more and more as of late. In addition, this sort of business model, although pure in the beginning, evolved into something that wasn't sustainable in the long term. It is too bad that many designers who participated got the short end of the stick. Hopefully, we will all take this experience and learn something from it. And move on.
  2. 07/11/11
    4:30 pm
    Gareth, nice of you to write it up like it is. Here is the response I had posted on Facebook: Publicly selling pre-fabricated "brands" for a few hundred bucks...its the whole "solution before the problem" mentality all over again, but in our industry. Big pharma does it by 'naming' a disorder and then 'branding' a pill convincing you to have both. That model was destined to fail from the beginning... I am happy to see Brandstack -- and the herd of diluting mind-sets in the industry -- come to a close. As some of you know, I have been quietly voicing this in since the massive onslaught of 'for sale' and 'for fun' logos seen all over. It's fine to sell and display your 'fun' and 'unused' work however you wish, I do it all the time, privately. I just feel strongly that designers shouldn't be pimped during the process. "Branding" is not an off the shelf make-up kit you buy at the drug store. The process of building a brand identity is a comprehensive, in-depth, painstaking, analysis-driven, months-long process (and that's just Phase 1) which requires teamwork, several resources and good money to accomplish properly. Prospecting clients, if you are reading this, remember that your business defines the logo, and not vice versa. You are making an investment that will give you returns you can not quantify. Your brand identity can be your biggest business asset. For the top 100 companies, it is their biggest asset. See here: Back to designers, let not the hive-mind of the inexperienced dictate the value of your talent -- Keep to ethical standards and focus on solid, meaningful hard-work, and you will be happier and rewarded more than you know. This is serious business.
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