Principles in Logo Design Pricing: Courageous, Responsible or Downright Foolish?

I had an interesting experience a while back that really has caused me to reflect on certain priorities I place regarding my logo design business, specifically in the area of logo designing budgets and quotes.

I have been there, and done that. I started out as a freelancer logo designer charging around £250 for logos thinking that was the dogs bollox, then realising I would need to do at least six of these a month just to pay the bills, mortgage, keep my dogs etc. Completely unsustainable, unless of course you are not sharing your earnings with the Inland Revenue: in which case you can charge less than someone who is a registered tax payer, or you’re churning out soulless logo after soulless logo, (both examples are another story for another day).

Over time I realised I could justifiably raise my prices as my own profile and quality of logo designs, in my portfolio, grew and grew.

Epic Pricing

There are plenty of examples where one company or another have supposedly been charged gazillions of £££’s for a logo leaving the whole socialmediasphere agog. We all know, and like to think, that we could have done a better job, or an equally crap job, for whatever is substantially less than gazillions of £££’s.

In my own little world I just sit and ponder these moments, and like to pretend I’m that agency boss who’s scored a crazy ass amount of money for a few months work. I like to wonder about how I was able to justify such a huge mount of money as well as wondering how on earth the client saw past such greed and treachery.

It’s actually pretty easy to find a way to supposedly ‘justify’ any amount of money when it comes to something as important and as unquantifiable as the value of a logo and brand identity design.

It’s pretty shocking how much logo design pricing can vary from one designer/agency to another, but this is mostly to do with each project being unique in so many ways, not to mention so many ways to achieve an end result. Sometimes it feels to me these ‘others’ base their astronomical fees on nothing other than how much coffee will be consumed in the anticipated process, and execution, of the latest client windfall (especially at Starbucks prices).

The Point

One day, out of the blue, I was approached by a national airline to redesign their existing brand logo.

Like really, what the fuckety fuck? This never happens to me. How on earth has a national airline considered my modest portfolio worthy of a hire?

During the discussions I was told that money was not an object, hardly surprising really, or so you might think. They desperately needed to redesign the existing airline logo due to various mergers and fleet acquisitions. The existing logo was ‘meh’, and the new logo needed to be ‘ohhhh la la’.

Goes without saying I was still shocked and awed at the possibility of creating an airline logo. I mean man, you realise how many places the logo will be used, seen and flown to around the world? Not to mention the dazzling update to my portfolio, and the heaps of praise and adulation I would surely receive.

The initial brief didn’t cover the whole brand identity: the immediate task was to redesign the airline logo, then the rest of the company’s identity would be updated in accordance with the logo’s style and aesthetics. Not the best way to roll out a new brand logo, but they were insistent that this was the way it would happen.

The Proposal

I came up with a proposal, that as best as I could, explained and meticulously detailed the work needed to research and develop this national airline’s new logo design, which covered (not a full list): studying competing and non-competing airlines; researching the country’s culture; familiarising myself with the airport layout, the terminals, trucks, uniforms, check-in desks, signage; studying all the blueprints for all the different models of plane (different sizes and proportion of tails and fuselage, meaning that the placement of the logo needs to work as consistently as possible across all the fleet, regardless of how small or big the plane, and ensuring the logo looks epic up close and from 100’s of feet away), as well as studying the rising trend in other airline logo and brand identity redesigns, of which there are many.

I tried to work out how much time this would all take, and came up with what I knew to be a stupidly low quote, but it would also be the biggest quote I would have ever presented. Kinda weird really.

I didn’t want to be greedy, neither did I want to undersell my experience, skill and general professionalism.

I battled with myself over the budget, it was the hardest thing to come up with and send over. I was confident that I had, in super detail, explained and justified the cost, but I was ultimately in unknown territory.

The Quote

I quoted £25k which I knew was chicken feed for an airline, and I was convinced they, upon seeing the quote, would be rolling about on the floor, laughing at their good fortune. I was OK with that, but I did wonder if I should have quoted at least double that, because even £50k seemed a steal given the scope and general prestigiousness of the job.

Regardless, this would be a lottery win. Massive job, challenging in every way, and let us not forget the exposure this would bring a humble self-employed logo designer working from his spare bedroom in a sleepy seaside town.

I mean my God, an airline logo in your portfolio!

I sent the proposal and patiently waited for a response. One day, two days, three days and nothing. After a week of no response, and a unmistakable feeling in my gut, I flicked over a quick email.

Crash and Burn

My gut typically gets it right: apparently my quote was far too high for them.

Queue the despair and confusion. What did I do wrong? Had I been too greedy? Should I have just gone for a £5k quote to score one of the biggest jobs in my career, and reap the rewards from the exposure?

The reality is, even with all this self doubt, constant evaluating of the what if’s, who really knows if the result been any different if I had quoted less, or even more.

I did find it slightly strange a national airline would go with a self-employed logo designer, rather than a multi disciplinary agency given the sheer scope of the project. The thing is: I wouldn’t have taken it on if I didn’t honestly feel I could deliver, so I did have complete faith that I could, and would have, delivered a winning new logo for this airline.

As well as my quote being too pricey, they said they had indeed gone with a ‘branding’ agency for the complete package. So they had been busy in the week I was waiting for just a simple acknowledgment to my proposal.

Too many unknowns

I don’t have all the details, who really knows what went on behind the scenes once they got my proposal. Maybe they came to a realisation they ought not to trust this to a guy from a sleepy seaside town, who knows if this design agency actually exists, and if they quoted less or more than my humble £25k.

One positive from all this was feeling greatly humbled to have been even considered in the first place, even if it did get my hopes up to an unmeasurably high level only to be deftly massacred shortly thereafter.

I still wonder if had I quoted less would I have got the gig? If so, would they have been pain-in-the-ass clients? Maybe.

Principles Can Suck

The one unmistakable fact, practically impossible to to argue against, is that sometimes, sticking to your principles can be a tough old decision. I wanted to do my little bit for the logo design community by not selling my soul to the lowest bidder. I wanted to set a reasonable price, but whoever you ask they’ll probably say I quoted not nearly enough, and others will say I was just crazy ass stupid to let this one get away…

Sometimes you need to swallow a cheap pill for your own greater good, and not the greater good of an industry that really couldn’t give a crap about your own attempts to be a principled hero to a community that is as competitive as they come.

I still don’t know if I did the right thing, or not. I certainly do feel somewhat proud that I priced it at a very reasonable price, but I also quite foolish and stupid for failing to read between the lines, and not secure what would have been the largest job in my career. But hey, I do live to quote for another day.