Low-Cost Logo Design Means Budgeting Failure

Low-Cost Logo Design Means Budgeting Failure

If you’re trying to expand your design portfolio, chances are you’ll consider sites like 99designs or Crowdspring. Sites like that are ultimately bad for freelance designers. These sites force freelancers to work on spec for clients who generally are not seeking to collaborate creatively, and often give little or no feedback. It’s a model with no respect for the creative process. I get the attraction — it’s a low-cost solution for small businesses who need branding quick. However, there are better ways for designers to reach that market. I believe offering clients low-cost logo design is a good idea. In this post I’ll explore why.

The Creative Process is all about Learning How to Fail.

And fail, and fail, and fail.

In fact, the more failed concepts you produce, the better your ultimate product is. And this is a huge part of how I price out my logo design services.

Ideally, you sketch hundreds of failures — and that conceptual labor is what your client is paying for. But not everyone is a big corporation who can shell out thousands of dollars for a complete identity system. I enjoy designing for smaller companies — start-ups,  entrepreneurs, and indy content publishers. But these nice folks can’t afford my hundreds of failures.

So — I scale the process. I work with the client’s budget. I sketch dozens of ideas, instead of hundreds. It sounds weird to say it, but I basically charge on a per-failure basis. How can I justify this? Like I said in this post, failures clarify the problems you need to solve, which is invaluable. The more I fail, the clearer and more effective — the more valuable — my creative solutions become.

You don’t make as much on these small logo design jobs. But they are so worth doing. Because they teach you how to fail more productively. Which is essential to developing as a creative professional.

A Case Study: Failures by the Dozen.

Four or five years ago, an independent record label commissioned me for a logo design. The clients — a husband and wife team — had some initial ideas (wanted lightning striking an anvil), but were open to whatever.

I started on my first batch of concepts. Usually, pencil and paper is the first step. But the budget was tight, and I already had the client’s concept as a starting point. So I decided to jump write into Adobe Illustrator.

You can see how I mix and match elements, introduce new elements. And you can probably tell by concept 12 that I was just itching to explore the gramophone thing further.

First twelve concepts for a record company logo.

But I cut myself off at twelve. Why? Because that’s where I could feel my brain turning a corner.

How Jazz and Improv Comedy Influenced My Process.

I was just starting to cook — so I stopped. I wasn’t being miserly with my ideas. Not at all.

I have a friend, a jazz musician who does these killer improvisations on guitar, jamming with other musicians. He told me about one rule he and his buddies follow when they jam. If they feel they are falling into a groove, they jump out of it. The idea is that the groove starts making decisions for you. You’re not creating anymore.

I realized that, with a restricted-budget design client, I had to think the same way.

So, after 12 concepts, I submitted the exploration to the client. We had a great talk. We weighed the pros and cons of different design elements. They wanted to see variations on the lightning bolt; they wanted the triangle with the anvil in negative space, the lightning bolt, the type, and the anvil. That’s a lot of things.

But here’s something else I’ve picked up. You never say no — and not just because the client’s writing the check. Because “no” stops the creative process dead in its tracks. Anybody who does improv comedy knows this — you say “yes, and…” to keep the scene going. If you have some brilliant idea of where you want the scene to go, something you think will be hilarious — watch out. Following that idea will co-opt the scene, forcing your acting partner out of their creative space. Like falling into a jazz groove, you lose the ability to make decisions.

Designing for a client is exactly like improv. You have to keep saying yes, even when — especially when — you’re not sure where the process is going.

Refined logo design concepts after client feedbackAfter trying out different variations incorporating all the elements they liked, by concept 5, I was trying to simplify. By #8 I stripped it down. By #11, you can see I was starting to have new ideas. And that capital “A” with the hammer and anvil in the negative space? Man I loved that idea. I really wanted to run with it, see where it took me. So — I cut myself off again.

The Final Product: a Low-Cost Logo Design.

What followed was another great chat with the clients. We ended up refining #10 above, and we spent a lot of time trying to solve some problems with the type. “ANVIL,” in the typeface TW Cent New, caused us no end of headaches. Back then I didn’t have Futura Bold, and had to make due with manually adjusting the weight of TW Cent New. That was a real headache and I know better now — a failure that I learned from.

Anyway, here’s the final combination mark I delivered:AR-final

It’s angular, bold, scales up and down well, and can easily be translated to 1-color jobs. Is it perfect? No. Is it the best creative work I’ve ever done? No. Did I deliver a functional product scaled to the clients’ budget? ABSOLUTELY. And I learned a lot.