After thirty years of designing logos, I’ve come to realize that my tips of the trade may be helpful to fellow designers and, more importantly, they may benefit clients. It’s not every day that a client needs a logo, so it is understandable that he or she may be unfamiliar with the process and industry standards. Over coffee this morning, I collected my thoughts and lessons learned. Whether you are a client or designer, feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments below.
What Makes a logo?
A logo is a mark or typographic design (or combination of the two) that is specifically designed to uniquely represent a company, product, program, event, personal identity, or service. Sometimes called a logotype, it is a critical aspect of a brand’s overall presentation to the world.
The level of complexity or simplicity does not automatically determine the greatness of a logo. The Bacardi logo is an example of a complex design. Spirits companies tend to have detailed logos and label designs to imply the level of craft and legacy that goes into their products.
Apple’s logo is an example of a design that is simple. Needless to say, simple does not mean easy to do. Winning designs have originality, a concept (is that bite out of the apple a play on a byte of information?), and a certain something that causes the logo to grow on you over time. To the later point, how a company builds their overall brand has a lot to do with the way a logo becomes embraced by the public. The Nike logo was not immediately loved by all, but the company did so well promoting their brand with bold imagery and relentless consistency that the swoosh now stands alone and has become almost sacred.
CONSISTENCY: Speaking of consistency, if budget allows, hire your designer to put together a Style Guide along with the logo. In my experience, clients have been pretty excited about my Style Guides because they make everything so clear: when to use different file types, what Pantone colors to specify, and so on. If employees come and go, the Style Guide assures brand consistency. Consistency is associated with professionalism. Why this is so is another conversation, but if a brand chooses to do something really different with their logo, they should have a solid reason and system for doing so, as IBM did for their centennial. (See IBM’s 100 Icons of Progress.)
A WORD ABOUT CLIP ART: Clip art may be useful for embellishing newsletters and blog posts, but it is not logo material. Anything that has been downloaded thousands of times is quite the opposite of original. Simply stated, you deserve better! Stock art, from sources such as dreamstime.com, offers more distinction than clip art, but it is still not customized for a client’s purposes, and the terms of stock agencies typically do not allow their art to be used for logos unless an additional license is purchased.
JPEGS VS. VECTOR FILES: Even if your business is largely a web-based one, eventually your logo will need to be printed on a business card and possibly sewn on a T-shirt or etched onto a wine glass. Someday your logo may be scaled up to five feet for a tradeshow banner. For all these purposes, after your logo design is completed, you will need a vector file. Vector files usually have file names that end with .eps or .ai. Don’t worry if you can’t open eps or ai files; your vendors will love them. On the other hand, for everyday use, jpeg files are great. Jpegs can be placed into Word documents, social media sites, and can work on print materials if they are high resolution enough. But jpegs are not vector files. For more information, you may enjoy 10 Common Mistakes In Logo Design.
Quotes and Kill Fees
QUOTES: I tend to use all these words interchangeably: Quote, Estimate, Contract, Agreement, and Proposal. When a designer takes the time to draft a good quote and the client signs off on it, expectations and conditions are delineated so all parties can be on the same page, relax, and enjoy the process. My quotes, for example, specify that the logo fee allows for three rounds of revisions from the client. These parameters help a client collect and refine his thoughts, rather than randomly send me requests as they come to mind. The parameters also assure conscientious clients (who are concerned about asking too much) that a few rounds of revisions are perfectly acceptable. Additionally, I explain to my clients that requests beyond the stated terms are fine but may require another charge and their approval will be secured before proceeding.
CREATIVE BRIEFS: Creative Briefs, whether produced by the client or designer, clarify such things as the target audience and the competition from which to differentiate yourself. One thing that is particularly helpful on a brief is a description of the “brand personality.” Determining a few choice adjectives that you want associated with your brand—Trustworthy, innovative, friendly, earth-friendly, youthful, etc—is extremely helpful to designers.
ADVANCES AND KILL FEES: When working with a client for the first time, a designer usually asks for an advance, which is a portion of the overall fee to be paid to the designer before work begins. Again, all parties benefit from this step. Here’s why: If a job is “killed” midstream because the client is unhappy with the work to-date or because of unforeseen reasons such as production setbacks, the client can rest assured that the designer has been somewhat compensated for his time and the advance becomes a “kill fee.” Incidentally, whenever a client cancels a job, whatever the designer has produced toward that job still belongs to the designer and the designer alone. In other words, it is illegal and unethical for a client to use a designer’s logos if the client stops the job before it is completed (which is essentially pulling out of a contract). Which leads me to the next point.
Rights and Pro Bono
USAGE RIGHTS: When designers are independent contractors, they own the rights to whatever they design, as specified by our United States Constitution (Article One, Section Eight, if you really want to know). It is only after a logo design is completed and the terms of the agreement are met that the files for that specific design (not for drafts and discarded concepts) are transferred to the client for their unlimited use. All of this usually happens seamlessly, without any hullabaloo, because most people seem to know what is theirs to keep and what isn’t, but nevertheless it’s worth clarifying here and in the terms on a designer’s proposal.
PRO BONO: What about logos designed pro bono? Over the years, I’ve been grateful for a skill that can contribute to the success of a worthy cause, but work done for free is still work, hard work, and there are expectations, conditions, and deliverables that would be best spelled out in writing. (As a designer, it’s so hard to take this extra step after you’ve agreed to do hours of uncompensated work for someone, but I recently learned how important it is.) Who will cover out-of-pocket expenses, for example, such as color presentation materials and fonts purchased? In the past, clients have given me letters stating my in-kind services for tax purposes. This does not work. The IRS does not accept it because the rates of designers are not standardized in such a way to establish a clear write-off. But there are other things a client can offer when receiving pro bono work. The client can write a positive review on LinkedIn, refer business to the designer, offer payment when funds become available, any number of things. Returning to Nike’s logo, the original logo designer was only paid $35, but after becoming a success story, Nike gave her 500 shares of stock. Very classy. Such possibilities can be discussed in the beginning of a pro bono project to further the giving spirit.
Once details are ironed out and understood, logo development can be very exciting for designer and client. If you are looking for a logo designer, be mindful of the fact that not every designer excels at logos. Someone may be amazing at web design, for instance, but not a master at finessing letter forms and shapes to capture a brand personality. So look around, get referrals, and find a professional designer who will get to know your goals and promise you a variety of concepts from which to choose. You want a choice of viable options. I love making my first presentation to a client. Often, they respond so well to two or three designs that they can’t decide which one to pick. That is a good problem and it always resolves itself well.