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The Problem of Logos

It doesn’t happen with every project, but it’s not exactly uncommon either: a client comes to us with an idea, but no logo or identity work done, and asks for a website. Of course, they also want a logo as part of that design work, but as they are focused on the website they often aren’t thinking about identity, or about what else they might want to do with a logo. Nor are they exactly sure what the logo should say about them.

Logo and identity work is difficult. It’s time-consuming, intense, emotional, and core to the business of the company we’re working with. In larger companies, you sometimes have many people involved in providing design input and direction, and too many cooks in the kitchen can definitely spell trouble.

From our point of view, the problem really comes down to two things: first, clients don’t usually realize they are asking for identity work when they ask for a logo, and second, they don’t really want to pay for our involvement in a lengthy strategic thinking and marketing process, because after all, they just want a logo.

But all too often, that’s what’s necessary. After all, if we do our job right, a logo should express many things accomplish many things for a company:

  • demonstrate quickly and easily what the company does
  • express the company’s values and vision
  • be visually memorable and quickly recognizable
  • unite the company’s management in their opinions about what the company does and why
  • work in various mediums and formats, from business cards to animations
  • work in color and in black and white

It’s a big job for one little graphic!

When I was a student at the University of Southern California, the school had recently gone through a rebranding process. The end result was a new version of the USC logo, which even to the untrained eye wasn’t massively different from where it started. When students talked about the new logo, remarks usually sounded something like this: “This cost $1 million! I’d have done it for $50!” Students were incredulous that it should take the university a year and a million dollars to come up with a small visual difference in the school logo. But what students didn’t see, was a no doubt lengthy, time-consuming and completely necessary process that the company doing the new identity did of understanding and defining what USC was doing and why, and of finding consensus for that vision among such widely different groups as the USC School of Dentistry and it’s School of Fine Arts. And that’s before they even started thinking about how the logo might work when printed very small on a black and white business card.

This process, often referred to as identity work, is an enormous job. Try it sometime! Get three people in your company together and ask them to come to a consensus on the company values, goals, and purpose—and then to try to express that visually. Whew!

The Hop Studios edition of the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook ties the cost of a full branding/identity package to the revenues of the company involved, and prices start at $15,000-$30,000. The handbook indicates that a pure logo design project (no other identity collateral is created) ranges from $5,000-$12,000. And the edition we have on our shelves is a few years old, so these numbers may be even higher today.

When a client comes to us asking for a website, it would be a major bit of sticker shock to see an addition $5,000 tacked on for logo work, much less an entire identity package!

And sometimes, a logo is just a logo. We certainly have clients who don’t want to do a full identity analysis, and in fact, don’t really need more than their name presented in a tasteful font. The challenge for us is understanding which clients are which, when clients themselves may not know what they need.

We continue to ponder appropriate pricing for logo work, especially for our smaller boutique clients. They deserve a mark that represents them well, but simply can’t afford to invest the kind money traditional guidelines say should be involved in creating a logo.

What do you think? What should a logo, that single visual representation of everything your business is and does, cost?

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