Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to Save $5000 on Your Logo

For graphic designers, making a given bit of artwork better, neater, and more professional is easy. Coming up with an original idea is hard. And coming up with an original idea that will fit your bill is nearly impossible. That's why they usually charge many thousands of dollars to whip up a simple logo. It's an agonizing process (one day, I'll tell the story of Chowhound's logo).

Save the pain, save the expense. Here's what you do. Scrawl an ugly, primitive, childish, highly-unsatisfactory mock-up of what your entirely unartistic brain is picturing. Give it to the artist. And have the artist expand, tweak, and polish infinitely easier, quicker, and cheaper task than the touchy business of creating out of thin air. Believe it or not, you've just completed 90% of the task.

This applies to other graphics tasks, as well. Or musical tasks. Or anything else. The vast majority of artists, musicians, writers, and other artistic types are surprisingly uncreative. They can imitate and they can polish, but they oughtn't be called upon to spawn anything fresh out of thin air.

Update: I made the error of writing this strictly from a client's perspective. From the designer's perspective, there are good reasons the conception phase is agonizing, and it's largely the fault of clients. See my first reply in the comments, below, for a more balanced treatment of all this.

Further Update: Read some very insightful discussion of this posting, mostly from the designer's standpoint, here.


Anonymous said...

You are implying that your logo is good. It's not. The type of the website has been manually condensed...something a professional would never do. You clearly have no idea what a graphic designer does.

Anonymous said...

And you, other anonymous, do know what a graphic designer does? How constructive.

Jim, your point is an excellent one for spec jobs - get out a quick logo that the client wants, sans full design process.

I think that the biggest point is that the scrawl a non-designer comes up with conveys a lot about the brand which an outsider like a designer needs to see. They didn't see you conceive of the idea, so as much as you can give them on where you are coming from gives them so much more to intuit from. This isn't to say that a designer should restrict themselves to merely copying & cleaning up a napkin drawing.

Jim Leff said...

Second anonymous, yeah, you make a good point. I could have made my case more thoughtfully.

From the graphic designer's point of view, I understand that customers are IMPOSSIBLE. Designers try diligently to give them what they want, but customers are inarticulate, and expect the designer to use telepathy to produce something not just professional and apt, but that somehow resembles the foggy picture they have in their heads.

Or, as a really good (actually, kind of great) designer I'm presently working with put it, clients are great at saying what they DON'T want, but rarely are able to convey what they DO want.

Under these circumstances, it is indeed unrealistic to expect designers to be creative. It's hard enough for them to get any sort of mind meld going with their clients to churn out something reasonably usable.

Ok, that was the designer's side of the story (and one which i profoundly relate to, as a musician who's frequently had to give inarticulate producers what they think they want in recording studios!). The truth is, of course, a combo of both perspectives!

There are awesome graphics designers out there. Most are so-so (most of EVERYTHING is so-so!). My point is that even a so-so designer can clean up a napkin sketch reasonably well. So no sense struggling over frustrating issues of concept. On that we can agree, no?

Jim Leff said...

First anonymous, thanks for sharing! Sorry I didn't approve your snider "you suck" follow-ups.

Nope, wasn't "implying" that! In fact, a careful read would have indicated the Chowhound logo was NOT created according to this advice. It was, in fact, done by a pro with vast experience, "condensation" or not.

"You clearly have no idea what a graphic designer does"

Well, hmm. Actually, you, like many (though by no means all) graphic designers, have no idea what a graphic designer ought to do. I'll explain:

The function of graphics for commercial use is not to impress graphics people. Its purpose is to set a tone and demarcate a brand for a given market. Chowhound reached nearly a million people and became a nationally-known brand with a marketing budget of exactly zero. A great many people grew emotionally attached to the brand as soon as they came through our door, and identified with it quite strongly.

All along, graphics pros such as yourself denigrated our design (totally their right, of course!). But I'd say the design was awesome....not to impress the likes of you, but to accomplish our goal: to attract and engage a vast number of eaters of a certain stripe. THAT'S what a (good) graphic designer does. A bad designer designs to please other designers.

But even if the Chowhound logo were created per the suggestion I'd given advice was for clients to do rudimentary conceiving themselves, and hire a pro to tighten, clean, and simplify. If that were the case here, and the result had somehow fallen short, that would simply mean I'd hired the wrong pro. Which in no way invalidates my point.

Dave said...

Is there any proof a logo matters much? I interviewed Milton Glaser for a couple of hours on the subject of iconic logos, and he wasn't sure.

He absolutely hated the Betty Crocker logo, for example (there were others, such as McDonald's golden arches, that he didn't like, but admired for its efficacy)on both aesthetic and commercial grounds, and yet with some small changes, it has changed little over time.

Did Nike's swoosh make the company cool? Or vice-versa?

Do you really think Chowhound's logo mattered much? I don't.

Anonymous said...

I'm not the Anonymous above, but I do agree the logo isn't very good. There are a lot of low cost design services (logoyes, etc) out there as well as sites like 99 designs.

I'm also not a graphic designer, but the logo looks very noisy, doesn't look like it would scale well, and honestly looks like something a non-designer laid out and asked a pro to try and rescue.

See also:

Jim Leff said...

Third Anonymous (really, can't you guys just pick handles?): I guess my reply to first anonymous didn't quite connect with you. I've tried to clarify in this entry:

Dave, interesting point. There are those who think marketing, generally, doesn't do much to influence behavior (aside from creating awareness with the brand). If so, an awful lot of money is being wasted!

I'll say one thing that's for sure re: our design (including the logo): the sort of people we wanted to fall in love with Chowhound tended to do so pretty soon after entering our front door. These constitutionally skeptical people felt like "home" and quickly dropped their guard. Many choices we made, including graphic design, helped generate that vibe and made it all contagious.

Of course, once we had a critical mass of users, the vibe was more or less self-propagating....

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