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This is an excerpt from a free chapter from Smashing Logo Design. You can read Part 1 here and part 2 here

The Rise of the Web

The Internet has changed our lives forever. Whether it has a positive or negative long-term effect on society remains to be seen, but it has certainly cracked open the world of logo design from the inside.

Increased Opportunities

The Internet has, in effect, reduced the size of the design industry—not in terms of numbers, but in terms of how easy it is to make contact with designers and design companies from all over the globe. Never before has it been so easy for one company on one side of the world to request the services of designers who are located thousands of miles away. This would have been impossible as little as a couple decades ago, unless the designer or firm had a world-renowned reputation.

The Price War

Some designers prefer not to reveal their prices; others have no qualms in doing so. With more competition, particularly for the smaller to mid-size opportunities, price seems to play an ever more prominent role in clients choosing which designer to go with. As the Internet is responsible for broadening the competition of both freelancers and design firms, the prices that they set have had to become equally competitive. As we all know, one of the main ways a potential client will find your work online is through a search engine. Unfortunately, most people seeking a logo will more often than not go for the cheap option. This results in thousands of designers target key words relating to that characteristic. The cheaper the price, then it’s more likely that the number of leads will increase.

It’s common sense that if your prices are set at rock bottom you will have to complete many more projects to make the same kind of money as you would by charging the right value that your time deserves. At rock bottom prices the work will be extremely sub-standard to allow that individual or organization time to make a reasonable living.

Sean O’Grady, a graphic designer from Mayo, Ireland, believes that price is having a significant effect on freelance designers in particular:

The design industry is now reduced to which designer can offer the lowest price for design work. In fact, I have seen some prospective clients offering only $10 to anyone who can design a logo for their company or even nothing in some cases to gain a portfolio piece.

In effect, there is nothing you can do about low prices. If there are people out there who are willing to work for next to nothing, let them do it. The clients who they’re doing the work for are probably not worth the time and energy anyway.

Speculative Work

Perhaps the biggest concern to designers as a result of the Internet is that it has played an enormous part in the increased participation and awareness of speculative (or spec) work. Spec work is when a client or potential client is only willing to pay for a service after they’ve seen examples of how the end product will look. You may have been asked in the past to provide some sketches to try to “convince” a new contact that you’re the right designer for them.

Doing work without getting paid for it doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, there are many designers out there willing to take the risk, because they’re blinded by the potential reward.

Glen Hobbs believes that spec work in the long terms has a negative effect on the design industry:

I found a hilarious spoof post a while back that really summed this up. It was from a designer saying that he was looking for new clients. He asked any company interested in his services to simply mail him a check for what they think is a fair amount. He’d cash all the checks. Spend some of the money and see how it all feels. Then he’d decide whom he wants to work with. Ridiculous? Yes.

I don’t do spec work. My time is far too valuable to me. It can possibly have some short-term upside (if your spec is chosen), but long term I think it undermines our industry.

To further compound the problem, there are now many “crowd-sourcing” Web sites where speculative work is the name of the game. Thousands of designers take part in design contests every day in the hopes of maybe landing some real-world work. Doing spec work is gambling with your time, time that you could be spending working on a portfolio of self-initiated projects that answer design briefs.

The Fight Against Plagiarism

Unfortunately, the Internet has brought with it another problem: With the misconception that they won’t be caught due to the size of the Web, more and more plagiarists are taking the work of other designers and the logos of existing businesses and passing them off as their own. The plagiarist is either a business owner who is seeking to get a logo on the cheap or another designer aiming to create a fake portfolio to try to lure unsuspecting potential clients into hiring him. Finding out that someone else is unlawfully using your logo is a tiring situation to be involved in, for both the designer and the client.

Most people seem to think that it’s perfectly acceptable to take any image that has been published online and start using it in any way that they please. With more instances of logo copyright infringement becoming more common, it seems that there is no current answer to bring it to an end. The problem is that as long as there are people willing to steal existing works, designers will be susceptible to becoming a victim of plagiarism. Unfortunately, that is likely to always be the case.

What came first the logo or the name?

A new technique, developed mainly through the advancement of the Internet, is to do the whole process backward. Some Web sites have appeared that allow startups to buy brand names coupled with an identity off the shelf, ready-made, sitting in wait for a potential owner. A new business owner might see a logo/name and think, “That’s perfect me—I’ll take it.” They buy the logo, download the necessary files, and go on their way, slapping the logo on everything they cast their eyes upon. It’s essentially a happy ending. Or is it?

Let’s set another scenario: You’re getting married and you need a wedding cake made. You want it to fit into the theme of your wedding and look exactly how you want. Where would you go to get such a fantastic cake? Would you go to the local bakery and pick a cheap cake that had been sitting in the shop window for days, or would you contact a specialist who can discuss your requirements, suggest the best solution based on your needs, and create a custom-designed cake that achieves everything you ever dreamed of? If you’re serious about your wedding, the custom-designed route is the likely choice.

The danger of buying a ready-made brand is that there is no communication between the designer and the client before a solution is created.

Most ready-made brands are nothing more than a named logo, if you can even call it a logo as it doesn’t identify anything until it is purchased.. An image is created and a name is slapped onto it: ChickenEgg! BatFish! Would any professional business really use a brand name like that? There have been numerous cases of ready-made logos being direct copies of existing logos or at the very least heavily inspired. Remember: A successful and effective logo/brand should be unique.

Leighton Hubbell discusses why the premise of selling stock logos and identities hooked some people:

I can understand why people gave it a try. Some of them were established designers needing to pay some bills and a few of them were amateurs trying to break into the business. But they are missing the single most important point about logo design: It’s not a “one-size-fits-all” type of medium. Logo design is custom-tailored for each client and their specific needs and goals. What works perfectly for one business or service won’t necessarily work for another. It is not a beauty contest. It is not a commodity item. It is not stock.

Like any logo designer, I have lots of logo concepts that didn’t get used. For every logo that gets approved, there are dozens that may never see the light of day. Unfortunately, that’s a common side effect of our profession. Another is that the design that gets approved isn’t always the strongest piece. On the positive side, if a logo doesn’t get selected, it can always have a home in your portfolio.

Part of being a creative person is showing others what you are capable of. And some designers figured that if they can’t be used by that client, then there’s surely got to be a client or business out there who will want to use my super-cool logo concept for something! You could save it on the hard drive and retool it for another client (which is usually the case), or you could try to sell it on the open market.

Innocently enough, there is some validity to that idea. And with an ever-growing stockpile of work adding up every week and the economy being what it is, the idea came up to try to sell these designs online for some “easy” money. No harm, no foul. Or so it seemed.

With business being even slower for a good portion of the logo design community, there seemed to be a major surge to keep up with the Joneses and fatten the online portfolio with hypothetical and contrived logo designs, just waiting for the customers to come along. And this doesn’t even cover the logo contest sites.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there will always be work that you create to expand and improve your portfolio and I am no different. Maybe it was a project a client never finished. Or a cool movie or TV show inspired you. There’s nothing wrong with that. I am always working on my book.

The worrying fact is that some designers, especially those new to the industry, think that the only way to get established and build a portfolio of work is to get involved with the creation of stock identities, and also to make some quick cash. I think that the massive influx of fake logos in the portfolios of beginners to intermediate level is due to a number of factors:

  • Misperceived tactic of how to build a reputation
  • Lack of education of how to answer a real brief
  • Fewer opportunities lead to fake logos as being a marketing tactic

In the next part we take a look at promotion and the future of logo design.

You can purchase Smashing Logo Design from Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Waterstones.



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