3 Part Logo Design Series Interview on Mashable by Jolie O’Dell

About a month ago Jolie O’Dell sprang on me a sort of interview request for a new post on logo design for Mashable.

3 Part Logo Design Series Interview on Mashable – The Full & Unedited Transcripts

About a month ago Jolie O’Dell sprang on me a sort of interview request for a new post on logo design for Mashable. It seems that Mashable journalists are required to work to impossibly tight deadlines which was generously reflected in the schedule passed onto me. :)

Given how much I tend to waffle when I write; the five questions posed by Jolie would require my ass to be shifted into high gear if I was to have any chances of meeting the deadline. Laptop in hand I made a few trips to the pub to collect my thoughts and write my responses–I just can’t write huge amounts when home alone–and I was able to feed Jolie with a few of my insights.

I was also joined by designer and logo design blogger Jacob Cass, and Raj Abhyanker, CEO of Trademarkia, a firm specializing in trademarks and logos. The questions posed ended up being made into a three part series for which Jolie edited into a neat three-way question and answer style conversation.

Part 1 – The Fundamentals & Best Practices of Logo Design

Part 2 – Why Trends and Crowdsourcing Remain Logo Design’s Hot Button Issues

Part 3 – How Companies Can Create a Brand Identity With Text Alone

I highly commend Jolie for being able to sift through my waffle and edit the relevant portions; it must have been a task and a half.

Always one to milk an opportunity I thought it may be interesting to provide the complete responses as initially sent off to Jolie. I make no promises for accuracy of grammar and punctuation in these answers.

Question 1 – Given the current bubble of startups, what is the biggest challenge for a new company looking for a logo design?

To not look like they have purposefully spent all their money on coffee and code and have not put aside any funds for things like the logo design and other marketing avenues. They of course may have limited funds, but unfortunately this will reflect badly on them regardless. Some of these companies just look lazy and uninterested in how there visual identity might fair with the punters.

You only need subscribe to BetaList and see the dizzy volume of new start-ups appearing in classic Beta mode, a fair few number with less-than inspiring logos; seemingly following this ‘trend’ of cheap looking and lazy logo designs. In the arena of start-ups, I rarely see a logo that really captures my attention for the right reasons.

Given this continual flood of start-ups, one would think that they would be keen to prioritise how they are perceived from a visual angle. Having a great start-up idea is one thing but it needs to lead with a strong or inspiring logo or icon etc. I do get that some people–non creatives for a start–don’t think too much or care about the quality or creative execution of a companies log; but I do think on a sub-conscious level a truly dire and unremarkable logo can have some kind of festering negative outcome.

Be cunning; assume that another company might come along with a similar start-up idea to yours but specifically have a killer logo and identity. If the cards fall right, they will likely create a bigger splash than the original start-up.

You don’t want to be playing catch-up in this situation, better to put all your resources on the table at the beginning and stake your whole reputation and own confidence in your idea and come out all guns blazing, so to speak.

Flipboard for example. The way they approached the pre-launch was inspiring, everything was thought out as well as could be expected; the whole identity was carefully planned. From day one you knew what Flipboard was about and their logo was a simple but very marketable and flexible idea. You don’t see that level of commitment very often; it’s really quiet sad that the creative aspect of all these start-ups seems to be the lowest priority.

Question 2 – How does designing a logo for a web-based company differ from designing a logo for a more traditional company?

It used to be the case that if you were designing a logo for traditional print you had a number of aspects to be aware of: RGB – CMYK colour conversion,  spot colours, resolution, fonts etc. Now with the sheer variety of desktop and mobile devices, platforms and products, designing a logo or icon for the web generally presents more of a challenge.

No longer is it just a website logo or header, now it’s an application icon over multiple platforms, social media profile image, website favicon and browser icons, a fair selection of final deliverables. Designing the new Feedly logo had all these deliverables, it wasn’t just the web application logo, there were many variations and styles needed to keep the whole Feedly experience consistent across all devices and mediums.

For the most part, designing for the web needs careful planning and preparation.

Like traditional print, colour can easily go awry on the web. Colour calibration and profile generation across devices and software can leave many people dizzy, and the ensuing results can look pretty awful. As you would need to ensure that your print based logo reproduces well in CMYK colour, you need to ensure that your web based logo will resize and adapt to various screen sizes and resolutions with colour consistency. Creating icons for the complete range of Apple devices is almost a science and quotable job in itself if you are not used to it.

Designing for web or print; each has their own set of rules and guidelines that need to be understood and practised.

As a last thought, I would almost be tempted to say that designing a visual identity for a web base product is becoming more challenging than designing solely for print. Many brand identities of course involve both print and web, you have to be super switched on in either case.

Question 3 – What are some of the benefits or pitfalls of choosing a “trendy” logo? (see: Web logo design trends)

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. That’s not to say that if you design a logo based on a current trend that it can’t evolve into a timeless design; what I am saying is that following a trend for the sake of following a trend is not a route I try to take. If a client insists, and I mean REALLY insists I may budge a little.

To be inspired by a trend is one thing, to blindly follow one for no other reason than you want to keep your portfolio looking cool is another. The latter is not a favourable way to treat your clients needs.

It’s worth reminding yourself that you are ultimately designing for your client, 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 benefits are short lived I think, they may get you in a logo post round-up, might make you feel like you ‘belong’, garner good feedback on the numerous logo galleries, but unless the design stands on it’s own for the right reasons, the benefits are potentially short-lived. If the overall execution of the idea is solid and if there are deeper meanings and associations tied in with the design–and I am not talking about a trendy shallow shell– then being inspired by a trend can work out really well.

Pitfalls. Longevity would be the my highest ranked pitfall. The cynical in me would tentatively add that blindly following a trend or being stuck in some time-dilation field–circa Web2.0–is being lazy and cheap (but I didn’t really say that).

Question 4 – Lots of companies are turning to either crowdsourced design “contest” sites (like 99designs) or ready-made design marketplaces for logos and branding (like Brandstack). Does this pose any problems for a young company? What are the potential benefits, aside from lower costs?

The loaded question. Strictly looking at this from the clients point-of-view, not the designer. Don’t particularly want to get drawn into the ethics of Crowdsourcing.

Looking at the problems first. A risk of false economy; that’s how I would typically sum up the crowdsourcing route. It may seem financially attractive–companies with low budgets or people who just despise spending money on design–if you have low funds, the lure of 100’s of designs from 1000’s of designers with a worldwide catchment area is certainly compelling. I think it is safe to say that if 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.

A neutral point. Crowdsouring sites are a business, a valid business like any other. We all strive to earn money to live, to live as comfortably as we can. Who are we to argue how we each achieve that, as long as it falls within a certain set of moral guidelines

–by moral, I mean not killing or robbing people. We all have choices and we live with the results of those choices, good or bad. I don’t know how many of the start-ups you see on Beta list for example have used crowdsouring sites or just use easily accessible designers, so it’s hard to really say the overall impact it has. I just don’t have that info.

My own personal experience: clients have come to me after having a less than fruitful experience with the crowdsouring route, hence why I can stand what I say in the second paragraph above, it is from experience. They have already paid X amount, now they need to hire another designer to pick up the pieces and usually this will cost more than than they initially spent. It’s painful in this case as they can often end up paying double; sometimes more than double, and this is a real shame. It’s certainly a lesson learnt in these cases, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow for these clients.

Benefits are that you may only be a small time business and very happy with the outcome of going the crowdsourced site, so you get a lot of submissions, feel spoilt for choice and walk away with a passable design. You may be in a real rush and need something to front your product or business super urgently, so a site like Brandstack might just be a life-saver

If you are planning to host a project on a site like Crowdspring, putting up a healthy reward will increase your chances of walking away with a sound design as well as injecting more enthusiasm into the designers, you get out what you put in. If matching the lowest ‘reward’ bothers your sense of self, maybe you should just take a refresher course in basic business ethics as as well as basic psychology.

It all comes down to value and the perceived value in your own business. If you don’t appear to value how your own business is portrayed, how can you expect a designer to fully get behind the idea of a solid logo design, this just doesn’t add-up.

Question 5 – What’s your take on logotypes? Are there situations where a logotype definitely is or isn’t appropriate?

I have a personal preference to strong and well executed logotypes. We see them all the time in the high street fronting fashion and retail stores, as well as the barely used social networking site, Facebook and Twitter. The latter being the bolder and vibrant online variations of type only logo designs that work to cut above all the visual noise one finds online. The Facebook logo brings a calm yet firm aesthetic.

Really not sure if there is a do or don’t in the use of a logotype. Facebook avoided the Web 2.0 trend and style of logo design–multi-coloured shapes with overlayed transparency and funky font styles–and showed that a type only logo in just one main colour needn’t be dull or useless. Interestingly, a fair few of my previous clients have used the Facebook logo as a style of logo that they like.

There are certainly places and environments where a text only logo is deemed to be more suitable or even expected just as there are for combo logo designs. A few of us logo designers will buck the expected–to reverse the common associations we have–and stick it to the ‘man/women’.

Ultimately it comes down to the brief and what is needed visually to represent the client. If the brief and subsequent research leads you to a logotype as the best solution to represent the identity of a company, then that’s what you do, even if combo logos generally rule the roost; and of course vice-versa.