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Why I only recently started designing logos

My love/hate relationship with the art of branding

Folks who work in advertising will tell you that branding projects are the ultimate graphic design job. The prestige that comes from designing that perfect logo for an exciting new client, or rebranding a Fortune 500 company and all the awards that subsequently follow for a job well done are the accolades these marketers and designers long for. I’ve always felt at odds with this thinking because I have never enjoyed making logos – but felt I was suppose to.

I found the process of designing a logo or developing a brand usually drove me crazy. Clients never seemed to trust my opinions and always wanted me to make the logo the way they pictured, and if I felt their idea could be better and advised them to go a different route they very rarely would consider to my suggestions. Usually I’d come up with a logo I was very happy with and felt would serve the company for decades to come, but after a number of rounds of client revisions we would be left with a shell of what the logo was meant to represent. Often times I was embarrassed at the final version, wondering why I agreed to work on the project in the first place.

I’m suppose to live for logos, strive for that excellence that can only be achieved in a perfect branding package, that’s what we’re always told in design school… but I rarely was interested. Was I a terrible graphic designer? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve designed lots of logos over the years, some I even like:


When I was in design school logos were fun…

The instructors would invent a fake client and send you off to make a logo. But, where these class projects mislead the students is the fact that there isn’t a real client – we would design anything we wanted, the way we liked, with no client feedback, criticism or round after round of changes. How could anyone NOT enjoy this? Sure your instructors might give you some guidance, but in the end we had final say. No one told you that when you get out in the real world your best ideas would often times be shot down by clients that have their own ideas and just want you to help execute them. They were hiring me for my ‘expertise’ and often times even believed that they trusted my opinion, but I found in large part they were only contacting me because I knew how to use graphic design software and they didn’t. I love my clients, but the relationship dynamic was definitely different when working on logo projects as opposed to most other types of design projects.

When I make an illustration clients are usually blown away. I know that sounds cocky, what I mean is that most of my clients can’t draw (or think they can’t draw), so when I am contracted to make them an illustration, they are excited and the project ends with a happy client. Most people believe that anyone can dream up logos, however, which is probably why budgets for logos are usually so disproportionate to the level of work they require. Often times clients don’t consider the unseen work that goes in to creating a great logo or brand: The research to get to know the client, their services, and business culture. What their competitors are doing so we can make sure we a) don’t repeat something that has already by done, and b) make sure our branding is better, which will help guide potential customers to choose our clients over their competition. We spend time worrying about first impressions as the logo is often times a customers’ first interaction with our client’s business, is that first impression important? Do their customers value design and first impressions? Most do. We worry about how the logo will look at various sizes, and in all it’s uses, colour and black and white, print, web and smartphones – it needs to read perfectly and look amazing 100% of the time. Clients often times don’t consider the years of experience we build learning this craft, and the past design mistakes we’ve made that will help guide our decisions saving time and money on their project. We need to be creative, but also very knowledgable in computer programs (mostly expensive computer programs we are shelling out for every month as most are subscription based these days) so we can deliver final logo files that will be usable for everything from billboards, signs, business cards, website, product packaging and a million other uses. I found, with a very small exception, clients never had reasonable budgets for logo designs, they expected me to be on top of everything I just mentioned, plus come up with a dozen concepts and go through as many rounds of changes as it took, for $500… if I was lucky.

Lucky me…

I started working at a large advertising agency after graduating design school. I was incredibly enamoured by big agency life – pitching to clients in fancy board rooms; planning focus groups to gauge the success levels of new campaigns; teams of designers lead by art directors, creative directors and account executives… it was all very exciting and I felt extremely lucky to be a part of this world.

It wasn’t long, however, that I began to notice patterns in the work our company was creating… the logos and ads all looked the same. I felt that if you placed all our ads on top of each other and held them up to the light, the logos appeared in the same spot, the headlines and taglines were the same size and placement, etc… there was a formula and the more I looked at advertising around the world the more I saw these same patterns were being used everywhere. Logo design was the same, there was always a small image or icon, and then the text would sit to the side or below. I lost count of how many local logos used ellipses or arcs in their design, a design trend that I’m sure was meant to show motion, energy, modern thinking, etc… or at least that is what the agencies would say to clients to get them to buy in to the idea. I’m not saying there isn’t amazing work being created, obviously there is, and much of it here in our city, but by and large I found that the veil had been lifted on the allure of big advertising. Freelancing for smaller less corporate clients was looking more and more like the right fit.


YOUR BAND DOESN’T NEED A LOGO

I turned my focus to what I love most, music, and started designing albums, posters, and websites for bands. I spent years telling these bands they didn’t need a logo. I felt that new or young bands with fancy slick band-logos looked kind of cheesy or silly. My attitude has been that bands should redesign their entire brand and visual look with every album. I don’t mean their wardrobe or hair, just talking about album art, typography, website, etc… Shake these items up with every album and you will keep your audience guessing and hopefully always seem fresh in an industry that can turn on its heroes quickly.

That said, there have been tons of examples of band logos
serving groups very well over the years…

But, in my opinion, when you’re a new band playing at a local bar for 12 people, your slick glossy logo-banner hung across the back of the stage just seems like you’re focusing on the wrong things and turns me off. Just me? probably.

Designing for music clients has become my life, and I love it. I’ve worked with many of our country’s biggest bands, and many acts that no one has ever heard of. Each artist and album has a different story, and I love every minute of helping craft visuals to help move that story forward. Looking back, I wonder sometimes if my years of recommending to bands that they don’t need a logo was because I actually believed that bands don’t need logos, or whether it was my way of avoiding a task that I largely didn’t enjoy.

NO THANKS, I’M “BUSY”

Designing albums, posters and websites was going so well infact that I spent years saying no to logo design jobs. It felt liberating to have enough work that I could pick and choose what kind of jobs I wanted to work on. For years I’ve received at least one email a week from someone looking for a logo, and always found creative ways to pass on the job. When I consider how many projects I walked away from its scary, but then I remember, those clients probably only wanted to spend $500… so saying ‘no thanks’ was for the best. But, at the same time, didn’t I become a graphic designer to design things? Why turn down potentially great jobs just because the email subject line included the word “logo”.

BUT YOU’VE BEEN MAKING LOGOS ALL ALONG

I realized last year that almost every album cover I’ve designed has required me to inadvertently create a logo. Stylized band names and titles end up becoming logos whether that was my intent or not. Usually the typography I choose to display a band’s name on their album ends up also being used on posters, t-shirts, the band’s websites and more — so in that respect, aren’t all these album covers really just logo projects?

While I didn’t design the logo for Upstreet Craft Brewing, the PEI based brewery team has been hiring me for more than two years to design all their beer labels. One could say I’ve designed a dozen logos for Upstreet under the guise of being beer labels as each label has required unique uses of typography and imagery in order to create an identity for each beer. Its easy to look at these beer labels as logos…

So here I was – feeling steadfast in my stance that I don’t design logos, but when I look back at recent work, I was developing brands and logos every day. Had I been tricked into working on logo projects? Or was I fooling myself all these years in thinking I didn’t like to design brands and logos? Seems more and more that my stubborn avoidance of logo projects was unfounded and it was time for me to give them another try.

Back in the game.

As the calendar rolled on in 2017 I found myself accepting a couple logo projects – my first in a VERY long time. I reluctantly entered back in to the branding game. But this time it would be different as these projects were for people I knew, friends and colleagues with similar taste in music and movies… I took out my sketchbook and started putting down concepts and as designs began to take shape I sent them off to my clients and waited, apprehensively, for feedback, assuming it would be negative. But it didn’t go that way, all three clients were happy, and within a round or two of fine-tuning we had settled on final logos. That was painless, maybe even fun:

Based on those experiences, I took on some other logo projects with similar results. These were fun and I was happy with the process and final products:

What has happened? Have I grown up? What was it that I hated so much about designing logos in the past? Did I just spend a year working on logo projects I’m proud of? Could I go so far as to say that it was actually fun? So many questions…

So it appears I’ve come full circle. I won’t go so far as to say logos are my favourite thing to work on as Album Covers and Poster Designs are still top in my book, but it does feel good to think that a logo project could be something to look forward to. Logos don’t have to feel like big advertising. They don’t have to follow formulas. And we don’t have to fight with clients every step of the process. I’m definitely going to continue to build on the success of a fun year of designing logos by accepting more projects in 2018, I want to see where this new love will take me. But, don’t expect to see too many arcs or ellipses in my work any time soon…

Looks like me and logos are going to be ok.

end.

(click here for more of my blog posts)



PS: FULL DISCLOSURE: My year wasn’t 100% golden where logos were concerned. There was one project where my client knew what they wanted and asked me to pull it together for them. I went through multiple rounds of designs, but they eventually took their work to someone else (without telling me). I saw the final logo when it was released and it was drastically different from what the client had told me they wanted, which leads me to believe that the other company also wasn’t able to nail the client’s vision. The new designers did manage to talk the client in to a new concept however, and the final logo looks awesome. Its beautiful, in the end probably for the best. One negative logo design experience out of around ten means I still had a pretty great year!

Get at me if you have a project you want to discuss.
Email Jud

About the Author

Jud Haynes is an illustrator, graphic designer and musician living in St. John’s, Newfoundland (Canada)

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