It’s Not the Logo. It’s You.
Throughout my career as a designer / educator, I’ve always been struck by a couple of things. Firstly I’m always amazed at how many people who claim to be professional designers worry constantly about their work being liked. Secondly I’m fascinated by how many people believe a bad logo will actually kill a business.
On the first point, I do think it’s my own hang up. I’m one of those designers who believes that the job being done by the work, the actual communication is paramount. When I was teaching design to college students, I was always very careful to frame the discussion of in terms of does the solution “work or not work” and how do you know?
In the specific context of LinkedIn, this means that every single post with a bit of graphic design attached asking the community “Do you guys like this?” makes me immediately hate the work, the designer, and everything they hold dear.
Okay, maybe not that bad, but I always wonder why anyone gives a S••• whether the work is “liked”.
Design is what happens when art gets a day job. Whether or not the design in question effectively communicates is the part that will determine the success or failure of that design, which is separate from whether or not the business itself succeeds or fails. And no matter what, someone will hate it.
Rather than worry about being liked, the ONLY question should be, “Does this work?”
Going back to irritating posts on LinkedIn, this means that the only way to solicit meaningful critical feedback is to provide some key information along with the design in order to actually judge it in professional terms.
In the specific case of a logo, I know the first thing I do with clients is give them a homework assignment – I want 10 adjectives (I usually get 4 or 5, and that’s okay) to describe what the mark should reflect. This becomes the success metric for later discussions about details.
Without the context in which the design is supposed to work, and going slightly deeper than “it’s for my cousin’s restaurant,” the feedback you’re going to get is a ton of “Like it” “Don’t like it” posts that tell you NOTHING about whether or not the design is successful.
If you do get a lot of “I likes,” then congratulations on your ego stroke. Good for you, Kiddo, but it will not help you improve or benefit your client in any way shape or form. If you get a lot of “Don’t likes”, then so what? Those people might be psychos looking to take their angst out on strangers on the internet. You’re still probably a good designer, Sunshine. Or not. I have no idea.
Which brings me to my second point. The upside to the absolute lack of useful information provided to “please like me” posts is that I doubt the clients are harmed even if the design in question is an utter train wreck.
Art directors: Stop typing in that message window and read the rest of this. There will be time to berate me later.
Anyone who has gotten up from the computer and gone outside for a bit has or will at some point find themselves stuck in traffic behind a truck or SUV with a horrible logo emblazoned on it. Most normal humans will either simply ignore it or be somewhat irritated by it, but not really know why (aside from road rage).
I’m the idiot that will attempt to deconstruct what the designer was going for and figure out if there might be a better way to get there. Most of the time I think I can improve on what I’m seeing (Like most Art Directors, I’m motivated by my ego, and food.) But that doesn’t mean the work is a failure or is harming the business.
Which brings me to an important question: If a bad logo can kill a business, then why are there so many (apparently) thriving businesses with “bad” logos?
For that matter, what makes a logo “bad”? Without a valid success metric the discussion is purely subjective and just killing time. Not that I’m opposed to killing time, but from a commercial standpoint it’s an utter waste of resources. Time is money after all.
Depending on whom you ask, a “bad” logo is either “ugly”, “cheap”, or any number of adjectives that don’t actually measure the commercial success or failure of the design in question.
With regard to how a logo impacts a business, there are some very real things about “cheap” logos that business owners do need to carefully consider. Odds are good that a super cheap logo that’s template driven has or will be sold to several, if not hundreds of other businesses.
I mean, think it through – if someone is selling a super cheap logo design, then how exactly are they supposed to be able to live on the earnings unless they sell it over and over? If you’re a business owner who has the same logo as hundreds of other businesses then you will certainly not be able to trade mark that logo. Furthermore, even if they only sold it to a handful of businesses, if one of them is in your local market then how do you stand out from them?
This is not to say that there is no place in the market for cheap logo design. I know many designers who will rant and rail against the evils of template driven logo “design”, but the fact is that cheap logos exist and they’re not going away.
An “ugly” logo, on the other hand may be an original work of art and the owner may well be able to trade mark it – but the question becomes, “why would you want to?”
Often times it comes down to sentiment and/or cost. If you own a small business and your middle school niece drew you an original logo you can roll with for free, then you might just go that route.
Many professional designers will scoff at these solutions, bemoan how it degrades our profession, depresses prices, and complain that they erode our ability to earn our keep by our trade. All of which is true. But so what?
The reality is and always has been that a “good” logo is developed by an actual creative process. That’s part of what makes us professionals.
My process starts with 25 thumbnail sketches. Five word marks, five letter marks, five illustrative marks, five abstract marks, and five hybrid marks. Out of those 25 sketches I’ll pull three concepts to refine for an initial presentation, from which the client and I decide on either one of the logos presented or something new derived from the discussion.
If they hate everything, I have 22 ideas in my back pocket already to move on. The labor involved in this process is why “good” logos are usually expensive. My personal average is about 24 solid hours of work to get to a final presentation proof. I assume most working designers are in the same ballpark. I trade time for hard currency, and “doing it right” takes time.
At the end of the process, the client gets a unique, original mark by which to stand out in a competitive marketplace and grow their business on because it actually communicates something real about the business. Yay!
But, what if the business is cash strapped? What if all they can afford is a cheap logo off some template website or have their middle school niece do it?
Then my advice is always to roll with the solution you can afford. If you or your client spent, say, half a million on renovating a space for their new business, then there may not be the resources to go all out on that killer identity. It’s not always as simple as the owner is cheap. That happens, I’m just saying it’s not a universal truth.
This is not to say you shouldn’t spend good money on professional design – I do want your business, after all. There are lots of solid benefits to paying a pro (especially me, but there are other really amazing designers out there too) to develop a seriously professional solution.
What I AM saying is to be realistic in your expectations. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, but I have yet to find a solid case study with actual numbers to show that a “bad” logo has quantifiably harmed a business.
I’ve had discussions with lots of people who can tell me how much business has picked up after a re-brand, but how much of the new trade was simply raised awareness brought on by the change as opposed to harm caused by previous bad design? I have no idea. To my knowledge, nobody credible has any either.
As far as I’m aware, the only way graphic design can kill is by something like a fire exit sign pointed the wrong way, or convoluted directions in a cheap boat trailer lighting set – which also oddly resulted in a fire.
In any case, I cannot for the life of me find any evidence that a cheap/ bad logo has killed a business. I have, however, encountered lots of evidence that decision-making processes that are not cash-deprivation driven, yet still result in cheap logos, will also result in additional business decisions that do actually kill the business.
To put it simply: many (if not most) of the people inclined to buy cheap logos because they’re cheap will eventually go broke saving money because they make decisions purely based on cost.
I’m reasonably comfortable making the statement that this contributes substantially to the fact that about half of all new businesses will go under within a couple of years.
This is a far different scenario than “I really want a good logo, but I simply do not have the resources.”
To those people, I would say, “Don’t sweat it. We can create a grownup logo for you when you’re ready.”
Profit is the by-product of a well-run operation, and the worst logo ever will not alter the quality of your product. It may not benefit you, and may or may not cause people to hesitate buying your product at first, but at the end of the day it’s the product and how the business is actually operated that determines success or failure in the market.
So, like I said, it’s not the logo. It’s you.