The Inside Secrets of Logo Development: Part 1

For most web freelancers, it’s not uncommon for the phone to ring with that fateful question, “Hey, can you guys build me a new company logo?” And for most of us, we answer yes, hang up and then start to think, where do I start? In this article, I hope to share some “not so common” logo presentation secrets and making any logo development project a big success!

Having developed corporate logos for over 15 years, I soon found that coming up with some creative artwork was never a problem. It was the behind the scenes work that stumped myself until I started developing some surefire ways to impress the client, increase my income and most of all, learn the proper presentation skills to get more logo work and create true “value” to the client in the process.

Here are just a few basic techniques that worked for me:

Understand Your Logo Development Target Market.

If you are open to creating logos for pretty much anyone, you are bound to work cheap and work with a lot of tough clients. Sit down and draw up a list of potential clients who meet your criteria. When I started listing my target market a few years ago, I identified the following:

  • I wanted clients who could afford a $3000 – $5000 logo. If they couldn’t afford that, would I likely get some spinoff design work? How many clients can I find?
  • I wanted to present logo designs to small groups of people. Getting consensus from a group larger than 5-8 (like a board of directors) tended to amplify communication issues. Consensus is not a common word in boardrooms.
  • I specifically targeted clients who themselves understood their target market. For example, a logo for a Bridal shop (that services 95% female clients) was easier to design and pitch when we understood who was going to see it.
  • If I got any sense that they had a “limited budget” or were not prepared to even negotiate on price, I would politely step away. Don’t for a minute think that you will get every single project you bid. If you are not getting at least 45%-65% of the contracts you bid, then re-evaluate the types of jobs you are bidding. That’s a loaded comment and undoubtedly some people will disagree with this. But rarely do we look back at our sales processes and our own pre-qualifying skills and review. It’s easier to blame the prospective client. Time to be honest folks!

“The More Information You Can Get From the Client the Better” Rings True With all Clients.

Starting out, I always made sure I provided clients with a short questionnaire asking specifics about what exactly they had in mind. What logo examples had they seen that they liked? What words or phrases did they want to illicit from a new logo? How would that logo be used? I found a simple 2 pager stimulated thought and supported the client in getting the creative juices going.

Research the Industry Before Quoting.

Check competitors’ and typical logos one expects to see for a client’s business. This is where I started to deviate from traditional research. Finding out how a company was funded, or researching what value this logo would bring financially helped set my prices. Having built logos from $500 to $12,000 USD, I needed to know intimate details on what expectations the clients had.

Some clients would ask for a $500 logo representing a company worth easily $20-$40 million. Not knowing what work is required, many clients needed to be educated on how the logo would be printed or used. This initial educational component was critical to getting a good price. My experience and my early discussions with clients before the fee was quoted always made the client comfortable and lowered the “shock value” if I responded with a quote for $3000 – $5000 for a logo. Or more!

Small Businesses Have Small Budgets.

It’s not that they don’t need an expensive logo, they just tend not to budget (or in 90% of the cases, really have no idea what a logo costs to develop). Any price more than $100 will shock many.

On the other hand promoting and pitching a professional logo to a medium to large company, or a funded organization (Federal Government, State/Provincial Government) was somewhat easier in that they appreciated and understood how a critical a logo can be and tend to budget more. The group I found challenging in some cases were non-profit multinational companies. They can run expenses that easily cover 20-40% of what they bring in ( depending on the group). My experience has been that you really need to work slowly with these groups and ensure you are talking to the key decision makers.

Never Sell a Logo Based on Price.

I focused 100% on the value to the client. It simply does not make sense to try a compete with a dozen others bidding the logo based on $$$. In many cases, after bidding projects and winning many of them, I was advised my price was significantly higher than others. Enough it drew attention to my proposal. It was easy to sit down then and say, “that $600 dollar logo proposal from my competitor simply doesn’t make sense when you consider it’s going to represent your $25 million in revenue a year company, Mr./Ms. Client!”

In terms of advanced techniques to promoting logo development, I literally tested hundreds of presentation styles and tips that generated a great deal of income for my company. I have positioned my firm as a company who “understood the client’s needs.”

Here are some examples:

Present in Odd Numbers

When presenting preliminary Logo designs, always present an odd number. Never present an even number of choices as most clients subliminally need to make their own choices. Choices they may not be aware of. If, for example, you present 5 choices, most people will view them all and then flag the odd logo out. It will be easier to say, “boy, I like #2, #3 but definitely don’t like #5″. My experience in watching people presented with 4 or six examples was they had to pick odd or even. Black or white. Their mind chugged along trying to identify what was the best choice. With an odd number presented, it made it easier to throw out the choices they didn’t like. Try this sometime as you will be amazed how often this works.

Use the Bad to Highlight the Good

In addition to the above point on presenting odd number of logos, don’t be afraid to throw in a horrible logo. Something that most people would shy away from. Again, it’s that negative choice that reinforces the “right” logo choice and reaffirms they are on the right track. Now it’s important to consider that some clients will surprise you and pick the horrible logo. At that point it’s acceptable to feign a heart condition or slip and fall into the elevator shaft! Just be prepared.

Always Use Full Color

It always goes without saying, present all logos in full color, EVEN if the client has not settled on the colors. In reviewing over 30% of the logo presentations I made in the last 10 years, almost half the people competing with me in Canada and the US pitched non-color versions of the logo. Big mistake. Take nothing for granted.

Establish Your Revision System

About 25-35% of the clients I developed logos for changed their minds and actually went back to an old logo version, 1-2 revisions prior to the one I was presently providing. The important point here is to ensure that you develop a coding system when naming files so you can go back and identify the version or “strength” the client liked in a specific example.

Be Firm but Flexible

When working with clients on specific changes during revisions. Ultimately, you want a client to pick a design that is professional and looks great. Never fall in love with your favorite as the designer, as it may not please the client. If the client makes a suggested change that is outrageous, then you need to consider their feelings when discussing this change. You are a professional and are promoting a professional logo at the “professional” price. You owe it to the client to make it clear that a particular change may simply not work and that you want to ensure that the logo you are producing will be 150%. In most cases, the client will rethink and you are always listening for that all important phrase..”Hey, you are the professional and I trust your judgment Mr./Ms. Logo Developer.” Its music to our ears!

Make Each Revision Count

Every revision should have a strength or key aspect that you can point out to the client. You need to be able to share a font change, color adjustment or change, position of a symbol etc. If you can get agreement (or disagreement), you are moving ahead. Turning around and submitting a whole new batch of logo ideas is “revision suicide”. The client will become confused and forget what they liked and didn’t. Much the same as getting lost on a website from a user experience perspective. We know when they are lost when their mouse gravitates toward the ominous back button.

From a financial perspective, it’s critical that you make certain things clear before you start on a logo.

  • The client owns the logo and is entitled to use the logo ONLY after you have been paid in full. Never, ever provide the final logos for use until financial arrangements are made. I always take a 50% deposit in advance and the balance as we finish up the logo designs.
  • Always provide the client with a list of exactly what format the logo files will come in, how many disks you will provide to them ( for distribution to their printers and sign shops) and a logo usage guide.
  • The Logo Usage Guide adds value to the project and many logo developers still do not provide this option. The Guide not only displays the logo in various forms (colors, grayscale, black and white) but also displays the proper fonts to use, the proper spacing and little tidbits like how small the logo can be reproduced.

On many occasions, I have commented to the client, “here is your official logo usage guide, please share this with marketing and the press/media staff.” They walk away holding onto this document, please with what the paid for and treating this new “mark or investment” like gold. Again….perceived VALUE vs what they paid.

In Part 2, we will discuss where to find color ideas for designing new logos as well as colors you want to avoid (due to the volume of people who are color blind). We will also cover the 6 Step Process to creating award winning logos and touch on the hardware/software we use to create logos. Following Part 2, we will look at providing a Case Study of one of our most recent logo design projects.

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • GereltOd

    thanks, it was useful.

  • M. Bilal Abdullah

    Brilliant blog post. Thanks a lot.

  • http://www.redmelon.nl Stephan K

    Wow. What a great post. Read it twice!

  • Datta3

    nice post

  • Anonymous

    Words of frackin’ wisdom. Awesome post man. :)

  • akm rahman

    i am freelancer, thanks for cool posting
    Thermostatic Mixing Valve

  • akm rahman

    i am freelancer, thanks for cool posting
    Thermostatic Mixing Valve

  • http://expologo.info Promovare Logo

    I find this article verry helpfull. But what about the free competition. You can allways find a site that will generate a logo in seconds. Small and medium bussineses tend to get more free stuf than to pay for it. How can i ask for 5000 when they can get it for free ?

    • Gordon Currie

      You are correct in that there is a lot of people offering FREE services and logos. But when companies are serious about their branding, many will choose a professional design and pay for it. Why? Because most free sites offer logos with no thoughts on how the company will use a logo. Or if that particular logo will “fit in” the industry. I have seen many companies that have logos that look like they are advertising a food company when in fact they are a medical office or a trucking company.

      The second thought I want to share is that you typically will find companies who are cheap / thrifty and they are not prepared to pay ANYTHING for a logo. Its not that they like FREE…they don’t put a value on their own brand. Sadly we live in a world of PAY NOTHING DOWN, get it FREE etc. But for companies that want to grow and promote their brands, the logo is a small price to pay. 

      One has to wonder, is it acceptable to generate $1,000,000 a year and spend $3000 – $5000 on a logo that supports that revenue? I think they probably pay more in tax to the Government each day! :+) But these same people can pay $10,000 in advertising on signboards or yellow pages ads that generate little.

      You question is a great one as many people are inundated each year with FREE stuff. But you really want to try real hard to target clients who value paying for a professional logo. They make great long term clients.

      Thanks for the question, Gordon

  • http://www.absatzonline.de Xtraklaus

    You Article is a good motivation for me. Thanks for that!!!

  • Mattysk

    Great Post – thanks! – I really like the idea of adding that extra value.

  • http://twitter.com/cahura Cindy Madaki-Ahura

    Unadulterated Instructional Design – I find that this would also resonate with Web Designers. Great post!

    • http://twitter.com/eldoren Gordon Currie

      Thanks Cindy for the kind comments. You are correct about it working for Web developers. I use the same techniques with my own web clients with success.
      The value argument is really hitting home for me now as I enter about my 17th+ year building websites. And with so many people making a career of it (which I recommend) learning tips from those of us who have been doing this a while, well its very rewarding to say the least.

      All the best and thanks to many kind posts.

      Gordon

  • ndmdesign

    Thanks so much for this post. Lots of great tips. Its hard to deel with the client who wants $1000 logo, but will pay only $100, because he knows “there are millions of free logos on the web”. Had some clients who asked me to tell them what I’m thinking, proces of developing a logo – so they can do it by themselves.

    • Gordon Currie

      Yes, I have had clients like that as well. Think it this process like buying a car. There are lots of free or inexpensive cars in the world. But would I take it on holidays when its all beat up. Even the mechanics would tell you YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. And if I am running a $500K a year business, and I drive my products to the clients in that car….well…I think you get the point. Again, thanks for the post and I hope you enjoy future articles. Gordon

  • http://robertwhyte.com Robert Whyte

    Fantastic in-depth article. The time invested in true logo design can never be under-estimated — even for the highly talented. Your mention of client education hits the mark right on. This is my unfortunate reminder that I no longer do logo design. Alas… Client quips about why it costs sooo much or that their neighbor could do it in photoshop for 50 bucks kills me. More power to those still creating great logos. (Great legal advice too…)

    • Gordon Currie

      Thanks Robert for the kind comments. I can honestly tell you that I have got lots of clients in the past who claimed “my little brother can do it, he has a ripped copy of adobe photoshop”. You need to stay away from those people and focus best you can on getting higher end clients. Thanks again, Gordon

  • bob

    awesome, great post man, you really are something else. Thanks or your valuable information, queer.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rahul247rocks Rahul Ghosh

    hey man how do you get so much work….i am a designer too and I loose all bids in freelance sites.

    • Gordon Currie

      The secret for me in terms of getting lots of work has been understanding the market and trying to position myself for CERTAIN types of work. For instance, I never try to offer services at cheap prices. 85% of the designers I see try to go low on price. You don’t want to sell on price. And you need to know in advance so you don’t waste time, when to back away.

      You also need to present with confidence. If you don’t appear 150% confident, the clients see this and not unlike wild lions in Africa, they will eat you up. 

      One technique that always worked for me in pitching work was presenting a hypothetical price to a client. I might tell them the logo will cost them $5000. They fall out of their chair, have a mild heart attack and start to drool. Then I ask them, “would you pay $40 for the same logo?” Then they look at you funny. The whole idea is to get some sense of the VALUE they place on the logo / website. If they see the project at less than $1000 and don’t see paying more, then you need to be honest and say, hey, maybe I am not your guy. Ask them (politely) how serious are they? Their objections may be less price related and more related to some other concern (maybe cashflow, maybe timing).

      The entire pre-qualifying of clients is crucial. Also understand that in logo design, 95%+ work cheap or for minimal amounts. So how is it that some people can get $10,000 a logo? Who pays that kind of price. And why? And more importantly, how can you get that job.

      On many of my quotes for web designs, I will quote $5000+ when 5 other competitors will quote $2000. And the client will ask, WHY ARE YOU SO HIGH? I comment back, WHY ARE MY COMPETITORS so LOW!!. Did they misread the quote document? And I am dead serious. Then the client starts to ask more questions. And when they tell me they are promoting a business that may generate $250,000 in yearly sales, do they want to risk getting a crappy site for $2000? They will be broke in no time. 

      The above technique shakes people up. And then they re-evaluate.  

      If interested, I can certainly share more ideas about pricing and human behavior in future articles. 

      Thanks
      Gordon

  • http://twitter.com/tpdesigns Troy

    Very useful and interesting tip about presenting an odd number of concepts!

    • Gordon Currie

      Thanks Troy. The ODD # presentation is about human nature. Don’t ignore it. 

      Human nature is a funny thing. I worked for 6 years in the 1990′s as an investment salesperson. I had a great closing rate. In fact it allowed me to reach sales leader status. Was I any smarter? No. Any better at closes or high pressure sales?No. What I did was read people, know the target market and be upfront with people.Here is an example (that can certainly relate to promoting logos): I would walk into a house to sell investments. I was the stranger that they really didn’t know. I would see dog toys in the yard. I would knock on the door, and a little ugly dog would come to the door barking. I would walk in and would take a few extra minutes to visit with the dog. The focus now was not the stranger at the door, but the guy visiting with their beloved dog who likely meant more to them than their kids and life itself. :+) I would then present my wares and get to know them. I always took their offer of coffee even if it tasted like dirty engine oil. And the end of the meeting, I gave the kids a hug, kissed the dog and left with a check. 

      The moral….well first off, I like dogs and cats. I love kids. I wanted to be their friend, their buddy and develop a long terms relationship. It wasn’t about sales. In terms of logo sales, I want to KNOW THE CLIENT before we even talk logos or designs. What does their company represent? What are the hobbies, interests of the Marketing Manager. Or CEO. 

      So back to the Odd number of pages. Again that and many other SALES presentation techniques are IGNORED by many logo developers. Its just a logo….or is it. Its MUCH MORE THAN THAT. Thats my secret.
      Gordon

  • http://beanvideo.com beanvideo

    Finally, a practical and use-worthy article for logo creation. I learned so much in part 1. Can’t wait for part 2. I like the business end of it. 

    • Gordon Currie

      Thanks for the comments. I appreciate that people like the business side of it. Most articles that I read are more design oriented. But if I have learned techniques to help sell, then I am crazy not to share with other developers. I am a BIG believer in giving back. And helping other developers. We have to stick together….its a tough world out there! :+)
      Gordon

  • Charles

    I think “please with what the paid for” should read as “pleased with what they paid for”.

    • Gordon Currie

      A typo…my apologies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ian-Goss/1261160190 Ian Goss

    Um, it’s *elicit*. 

    Some nice ideas, but the *horrible logo* did not work out well for me with one client—they chose it!

    • Gordon Currie

      Yes, Ian, I have had 4 clients in the past few years take the “horrible” logo as well. But logos are like art….its very subjective. I try hard to guide them but in the end, if they fall in love with it, what are you to do.

      It’s worth noting that when I develop websites, and show a series of designs to clients, some will pick what they like or what their brother / sister / gramma will like. Its important that they understand that Gramma at age 90 is maybe not the target market. Always try to put yourself in the mindset of the target market.

      Thanks
      Gordon

  • http://www.redpict.info/ Red

    thats bloody inspiring m8 :D like it

  • css_lover

    awesome post! Crucial knowledge & tricky too. Can’t wait for the 2nd version!!

    Also want to highlight that, i would love to have more guidance on “ideas about pricing and human behavior..”.

    Waiting for the next!!

  • Rgbatson

    So you left out the most useful part – that simple 2-page questionnaire!

  • Pleccy

    A good and useful article, thanks! However, I fail to see a relation to the cost of a logo and the revenue of the company the logo is for. There is only a relation between the cost of a logo and the quality of the logo and the designer. In your line of reasoning the exact same logo may cost 5000 is the revenue of the client is X, but may be 10000 if the revenue is 2X? What kind of reasoning is that? And what kind of clients will fall for that kind of logic? It’s not that it’s more difficult to design a good quality dedicated custom logo for a company that has revenue X2 than a logo for company with revenue X, is it? I’m not talking about amateur and low budget stuff, but high quality custom designs. I think the cost of a logo depends on other things than revenue or the real or perceived value of a company. 

  • http://twitter.com/decoy105 Édipo Antunes

    Wow, great article!! Thank you for posting this, was very helpful to beginners like me :)