This is a guest post from Brian Tom — Brian is a San Francisco-based Freelance Graphic Designer who works under the alias of Hoshimo. He focuses mainly on logo and identity design, but when he can, he loves designing anything he can get his sticky fingers on. Check out more of his work at Hoshimo.com, follow him on Facebook, or find him on Twitter.
There are a lot of opinions on logos — their purpose, and what makes a successful logo design. Some people believe that all logos should be simple and iconic, like those of Cisco, McDonalds, or Fedex; here complexity is at a minimum to increase overall boldness and timelessness. Others prefer illustrative logos that tell a story about the company and what it does, like the Starbucks and KFC logos. Maybe you gravitate toward typographic logos that showcase solely the business name, such as Verizon or CNN. You might even think the most truly memorable logos are the ones that shed themselves of their letters, like Nike or Apple. Regardless, each logo has their own feel and purpose and their own feel.
So how do you choose the right logo for your business? Here are a few thought-provoking questions to steer you in the right direction. What is your business about? What product or service do you sell? How do you want to portray yourself to others? Friendly? Professional? Tech-savvy? Where will you use your logo? Business cards only? Website and blog? Tiny 25px x 25px favicons? Billboards?
Too many times we overlook these questions and go straight to a designer, expecting them to nail it straight away. Instead, answer these questions first, and aim to stick with your answers. My worst clients thought they knew what they wanted, then changed their mind over and over because they were unsure — and expected not to have to pay for the extra work. Ultimately, it’s okay to change your mind, but expect it to cost money if you do.
Some of my clients have griped that I’m only one person providing a limited amount of concepts from which they can pick a design. I’ve been asked, “What if I don’t like any of them?” or “Is it worth sticking with you only when I can spend less and have more choice through crowdsourcing design services like 99designs?” 1
Conducting business one-on-one with a designer provides a ton of benefits that a site like 99designs is unable to provide, and vice versa. Working intimately with one designer on a logo project usually allows for better communication, more openness when it comes to ideas and concepts, and, most importantly, as well as a final product, a longlasting business relationship. In general, it’s much more personal.
Design contest websites like 99designs are less personal, but can provide a plethora of concepts if you manage the contest well. It takes more work and you really need to invest in the contest to produce any valuable fruit, but it provides greater options and connects you with many people if handled correctly. It enables you to ask questions of a group of potential designers — as well as gain feedback and receive concepts — in a way that working with one designer could never provide in such a short time frame and at such a low price. The downside is that there’s an extra level of risk to factor in because you don’t know the participants in your contest.
So that leaves us with the million dollar question. Which one is right for you? Well, that depends.
Are you unsure of what you’re looking for? Do you like to see many options? Are you limited with your budget but have the time to manage a contest and provide feedback? Do you have a good eye for design? Then you should try out a design community like 99designs. For a logo contest, put in $300 minimum for the prize, personally invite the higher quality designers that you like, and ensure you write a detailed brief and give helpful feedback — then you should receive a decent amount of worthy designs. You might have to weed through some unsatisfactory designs (and people), but you stand the chance of discovering some creative output too.
Alternatively, do you prefer a certain style of design work and know what you’re looking for? Do you seek personal guidance from a designer during the design process? Do you value a limited amount of guaranteed high-caliber designs over a massive amount of concepts? What is your risk tolerance? If you need a personal advisor, educator, and overall design manager, I would spend some time looking for a designer to work with one-on-one. If they’re professional, they’ll guide you through the entire design development, provide you with explanations behind the concepts, and keep you involved during the whole process. Many of the clients who find me say, “we want to hire you for this project because we love your style.” If you have an idea of what you’re after, look for a designer who’ll fit in with your project. You’ll be happy, and they’ll be satisfied because they’re able to work in their own style.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give — whether it be working with one designer or a hundred — is if you’re looking to have a logo designed, talk with your designer(s) before and during the design process. It’ll clear up any issues, save them from any unnecessary work, and, ultimately, save you money and time receiving your logo.
Once your requirements are established, let them do what they do best; when they provide concepts and revisions, give them feedback that they can use. “I want the logo to look less serious and more fun, with softer edges and lighter colors” says a lot more than “Don’t like it.” Give direction, but avoid taking over the steering wheel, though. Some of my worst clients have been ones who think they know what good design is and want to do my job for me. You’d be surprised how many beautiful and clever logos I’ve designed have been slowly and sadly butchered by clients who figured they knew better.
Effective logos come from graphic designers who are creative, communicate well with you, and understand your business. As a business owner, you too need to be a competent communicator, as well as place trust in your designers and be willing to pay for professional design work. Is it worth the money? You bet it is.
— Brian Tom
1 99designs is the world’s largest crowdsourced community of creative designers, focusing on custom-made logo design, ready-made logo design, web page design, and other important online design services.