Is A Logo Just A Graphic?

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When I started SpellBrand back in the spring of 1998, a logo design was more or less just a graphic that was used to represent a company. At least for small businesses. Larger companies – read Fortune 5000 – perhaps went beyond the graphic and had branding methodologies being utilized to come up with their identities.

By 2008, the design world had progressed quite  a lot and a logo became a brand identity. A brand mark that was based on a story line and company philosophy, rather than on the literal representation of what the company did or the service provided. The divide between the low end graphic and logo design companies and the high end brand agencies was quite huge. Other than a hand full of brand identity designers (such as David Airey, Jacob Cass, Andrew Sabatier, Allan Peters, myself and many more), it is very rare to find any kind of logo design service that takes the principles of branding into consideration when designing logos.

This is due to three reasons. First, there are now more designers than customers. Well, perhaps not accurate statistically but it sure feels like. When you look at websites that say they have over 45,000 designers registered with them – all fighting for the 20 or 30 projects being posted daily – you can not help but feel that graphic design and logo design have become the “easy money” career paths selected by any one with a computer, some basic form of design software, usually sitting some where in the eastern hemisphere and with out any other identifiable means of making a living. I may sound bitter when I say this and you bet I am. I have a reason to be.

Secondly, crowd sourcing as a practice has turned design into a commodity. Actually this feeds back into the first reason above. With so many designers literally fighting for a few projects (hence they are called “contests”), it is hard to imagine any semblance of professionalism to evolve from such a practice. I guess you can not really blame anyone for this scenario. Neither the designers nor the contest website owners. One is trying to make a living online and the other is trying to provide a service that would normally be considered an advantage to the clients. But design can not withstand the forces of the market system. It can not withstand the pressures of turning it into a commodity with out failing miserably – ending up with bad design, plagiarism and total decay.

Lastly, designers do not spend the time and effort to educate themselves in the principles of branding and marketing. They fail to recognize that a logo design is a marketing tool and as such requires some knowledge of marketing to make it work. Learning about the dynamics of brand values, brand positioning, brand message and then translating all that into visual elements such as the logo or stationery design or website design is very essential for both their client’s success and theirs.

So, today logo design is nothing but a graphic that is created by a designer who is under pressure to produce as many designs as possible. This means there is no time to understand the company, the target market and the brand message that the client wants to broadcast. By the same token, I do understand that most clients in the bottom end of the market segment do not understand or care for that kind of thinking. They are looking for the cheapest and quickest service. They fail to realize that their company logo and identity is one of the fundamental pillars of their success and the lack of the right logo can lead to a brand crisis. I have seen small businesses owners refuse to pay more than $200 for a logo while spending $100 0r $150 on Friday drinks nights.

Most recently a client of mine told me, quite proudly, that he had gotten his car wheels replaced with some high end chrome costing $1700. This same client almost fell off the chair initially when I had told him that a proper logo creation project would cost him around $1000! His initial reaction was “why does a logo design cost $1000???“. I told him that he was actually not paying for the design itself but rather for my 15+ years experience which translates into a design that would help enhance his company’s image which in turn would have an effect on the bottom line.

You may be thinking these are silly examples or that I am biased. Perhaps you are right. I probably don’t have the right to be talking about all this while I am still a player in the lower end of the market competing with overseas logo design companies that are charging anywhere from $20 to $150 for logo designs. Or perhaps I do have the right – being one of the first online logo design companies.

Anyway, the fact of the matter is that while it may seem that a logo is just a graphic, it is much more than that. It communicates your company philosophy, your core message and help you position your brand properly. If not enough thought is given to what your company message is or what your target market responds to, your brand message would not benefit your bottom line. It may not be a disaster, but it is like trying to sell beef burgers at a vegetarian convention!

When you, as a small business owner, are thinking of getting your company logo designed, first start off by thinking about what your company stands for. Granted that all businesses exist to make money. But you need to strive to imagine and create a higher purpose for your company’s existence. It does not have to be a lofty ideal. This purpose can then be a guiding force for your company and your brand. This purpose will help you become a better company. And in the long term, it will elevate you above your competition.

Have a think about it and let me know in the comments below what your current challenge is in terms of your corporate identity.