Why a $5 “professional” logo is a lie.

cheap-logos

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Recently while browsing the internet I came across the following banner:

design

While I was pretty certain where the banner led to, I clicked it anyway and got to a website famous for people offering to do just about anything for $5. But this was a landing page specifically set up for logo design. Here was the headline …

cheap-logo-design

I have to admit, as an actual professional designer, it’s hard not to take personal offense to this headline. For years, I’ve honed my skills and gained experience and here is a whole website full of people claiming to be professional logo designers who will design a logo starting at $5.

You are not a professional if you will design a logo for $5.

There, I said it. And I’ll also say that a $5 logo is a lie as well.

Does that mean there aren’t people out there who have used this site and gotten what they thought was a professional logo for $5? No. What it means, is that for all intents and purposes, a professional logo should not be designed for a fee of $5. Nor should someone with the experience, knowledge, and skill to actually call themselves a professional, participate in allowing that experience, knowledge, and skill to be used for a fee of $5 in return.

Let me tackle the first issue here and that is, professionalism. My first introduction to professionalism in design came fairly early on in my career through AIGA. “AIGA, the professional association for design, is the oldest and largest membership association for design professionals engaged in the discipline, practice and culture of designing.” The association has a wealth of information for designers on business ethics and professional standards for our industry. I can say with confidence that anyone calling themselves a designer who is familiar with business ethics and professional standards is not going to create a logo for someone for $5.

A professional knows exactly what goes into creating a logo. Even a freelance designer should value themselves and the work they do more than lowering themselves to a $5 rate. We’re not talking hourly here either. We’re talking $5 flat.

And being a professional, having some business ethics, and adhering to some standards isn’t some elitist, snobby, designer club. It’s just a good way to do business that will also benefit your clients.

How much integrity does a designer have to sell someone a logo design for $5? I’ll let you decide. I also think there’s a very sad level of desperation involved.

What goes into a logo design?

Let’s be clear here. If you’ve been that person in need of a logo and have drifted off to a site like the aforementioned one or one of the many crowdsource design sites that exist (you post a project and many designers compete by creating a design based only off the minor specifications you post, without any promise of payment), you have mostly likely not even thought of anything I’ve mentioned above. If you haven’t worked with an actual professional designer previously, you probably have no idea of what should go into something like designing a logo and what the associated cost of that should be. It’s not your fault. Likewise, if you’re a new designer and desperate for work to add to your portfolio, you may not even understand what really should go into designing a logo or what those services are worth. This is pretty much why I write what I do: to educate both clients and new designers.

Here is a very abbreviated and basic list of what goes into a logo design:

Research … extensive research. This is by far, number one on the list. I believe the research process starts with the initial client brief or interview. Some people consider that separate and while technically it is, it’s also when you first start learning about the potential client and why they need this logo. Once the project officially begins, that’s when the heavy duty research comes in.

When a Fortune 500 company is paying $250k (or more) for their new logo, there’s an entire team of designers researching even the most esoteric nuances of fonts, colors, shapes, symbolism, etc. and how that might affect the entire business and target market(s). A legal team is on board to research whether or not any concepts or aspects of the new proposed logo has been or is being used by another company. There may be focus groups from the target market(s) brought in to react to initial concepts. This is all part of the vast research process. When this process isn’t in place, a business can end up with a horror story on their hands like JC Penny did in 2011.

Naturally for an average priced logo (we’re talking $1000 – $3000 here), you’re not going to get a team of researchers, lawyers, and focus groups, but there is going to be a heavy amount of research by the designer to really understand how the new logo will work for your business.

This is why crowdsourcing, holding a contest to create your new logo, or using a service where someone is only charging $5 for a logo brutally falls short.  This process is almost always non-existent. All a designer has to go on is the initial specs and a client is expected to pick a design. Even with a $300 logo, if the research phase is not being performed, you’re short changing yourself and circumventing the process that leads to actually obtaining an effective, unique logo in the end.

Concept phase. The concept designs you receive should be a direct product of the research plus a designer’s own skill, experience, and talent. A designer should not just dream something up for you that, looks “cool”. Likewise, you should not personalize the process to the point where you’re mainly being influenced by what you personally think looks “cool”. Unless the logo is for you alone (as in, your own personal name and your own personal brand), you have to use all that research as your compass and the expertise and input of your designer to guide you in the decision making process.

While a logo does not equal your business brand, it is part of your brand. The research done in the first phase explores what your current branding is and the logo mark should be in line with that. If you’re just starting out, and you have no current brand, expect to pay more if your designer is helping you to establish that beyond just the logo design. In those cases, the concept phase can also include establishing some visual branding. Designers may put together mood boards (images, colors, fonts, etc.), do rough concept sketches, and take another look at what your competition is doing (and how you seek to differentiate from them) to help with this.

In short, both of these phases together take a lot of time. The more experienced a designer or company is, the more that experience is worth.

This isn’t the flea market.

Ever been to the swap meet or flea market and see one of those tents full of Louis Vuitton handbags? We all know those aren’t real, right? They’re cheaply made knock offs and they exemplify the statement, “you get what you pay for.” Who is to say that your $5 (or your $300) logo isn’t a knock off – a piece of clip art or element grabbed from some pre-existing design (or rejects from some other design project that a designer is trying to make an extra buck off of)? Tip: a professional designer will always have you sign a contract that states the work is 100% original as well as other important legal information that actually protects you.

Unlike the flea market, you can’t bargain for your logo with a professional designer. While a professional might give a better rate to a non-profit or charity (or actually choose to do Pro Bono work), they will not haggle and they will not sell themselves short because they know their time, experience, knowledge, skill, and talent have worth.

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