For the second installment of our three-part series on logo design, we’re taking a look at two of the larger areas of controversy in this field: trends and crowdsourcing.
While every brand obviously needs a logo that speaks to contemporary aesthetics, not all trends are good — in fact, once a trend becomes just so overused, watching it pop up again and again in new company logos can be downright painful.
To discuss these issues, we’ve rounded up a few experts. Our panel includes UK logo designer Graham Smith, designer and logo-design blogger Jacob Cass and Raj Abhyanker, CEO of Trademarkia, a firm specializing in trademarks and logos.
Read on for their advice, and designers, please share your own experiences and opinions in the comments section.
The Good, Bad & Ugly of Trendy Logos
Cass gets to the crux of the matter succinctly: “A good logo is distinctive, appropriate, practical, graphic, simple in form and conveys an intended message. If your logo can do this, then you shouldn’t worry about your logo being considered ‘trendy.’”
Smith says trends can be inspirations, but they should never be followed blindly. He says, “In terms of trends, I personally try not to get sucked into them. For me, a trend in logo design is sort of an oxymoron. For the most part, we strive to create timeless logo designs, yet the trend is typically a short-lived event.” Smith also notes that the benefits of trendy logo design, such as attention-grabbing and ego-bolstering, are equally short-lived.
So how do you go about getting inspiration from current trends without slavishly following them?
“It’s worth reminding yourself that you are ultimately designing for your client,” says Smith. “They are the ones paying and putting their trust in you. Design with the brief in mind, and only then look to current trends to see if there are any aspects that can be worked in to enhance the design for the right reasons.”
The “right reason” is a case in which the overall execution of the idea is solid and there are deeper meanings and associations tied in with the design — then a subtle inspiration by a trend can work out really well.
Abhyanker comes at the issue from a more practical angle. A logo that follows a common trend “associates the brand with a more popular company than yours,” he notes, “and can appeal to a hip crowd.”
But this is a blessing as much as it is a curse. “Likelihood of confusion” and “confusingly similar” are terms commonly used in trademark law, and if your trendy logo looks a little too much like Brand X’s trendy logo, you might be setting yourself up for a federal lawsuit.
He also notes that these “trendy” logos, because the same trends proliferate everywhere seemingly at once, end up looking generic rather than interesting or unique.
Crowdsourcing, Contests & Marketplaces
Smith calls the matter of spec work and design contests “the loaded question.”
“A risk of false economy; that’s how I would typically sum up the crowdsourcing route. It may seem financially attractive — if you have low funds, the lure of hundreds of designs from thousands of designers with a worldwide catchment area is certainly compelling.”
But in some cases, the results from a crowdsourcing site will be less that hiring a reputable designer. The overused and relevant phrase “You get what you pay for” is more than valid here, according to Smith.
Smith cites some of his own clients who had selected him to do logo design work after bad experiences with crowdsourcing sites. At that point, the clients had already invested time and money, but they were still in need of a usable, professional logo after the crowdsourcing process was done.
“They can often end up paying double — sometimes more than double — and it’s a real shame. It’s certainly a lesson learned in these cases, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow for these clients,” he says.
Still, if you’re convinced that a crowdsourcing site is the best or only option for you, Smith says, “Putting up a healthy reward will increase your chances of walking away with a sound design, and it injects more enthusiasm into the designers.”
When it comes to design contests, Cass has a harsher approach. “Don’t get me started on these contest sites,” he says.
“They should be avoided at all costs. There are no benefits to anyone; and in fact, you could be doing more harm than good to your business by using these contest sites. Make your choices wisely,” he says.
Cass holds a strong — and not uncommon — position on spec work, that is, work done free of charge as part of the bidding process. Also called free pitching, this kind of work is the result of a company broadcasting the message, “We need a logo, someone design one for us and we will pick the one we like.”
Cass says design contests are the most common form of spec work these days, and for clients, he says the downsides include the possibility of plagiarized material, inferior quality, limited or no revisions, no relationship with the designer and worse.
As far as the concerns about plagiarism, Cass’s fears are echoed by Abhyanker, who says that logos obtained this way may be recycled from other designs or may later be reused by the designer, leading up to “potential trademark litigation” later.
“It does seem like many of the designers of these sites reuse the same basic designs for various contests — they just keep re-submitting them. You really need to look at the contests they have entered in the past and what else they have submitted for those,” Abkyanker says. “It is quite possible that the mark you choose is nearly identical to a mark that another company is using or about to use, and this could lead to infringement cases down the road — or, in a more immediate sense, a need to change your logo so that you are not simply a copy-cat of another company.”
As for marketplace-type sites where smaller, newer companies can purchase all-in-one packages with branding collateral (including logos), URLs, web templates and more, Smith says these sites can be a lifesaver for companies that are pressed for time.
Chime In & Stay Tuned
We’ll have more from these experts in the weeks to come, but in the meantime, we’d love to get your feedback in the comments. Designers, how would you have answered the questions we posed to the panel this week?
You can also take a look at the first post in the series, which focuses mainly on logo design for startups.
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