Many designers are outraged by the increasing number of spec and crowdsourcing sites offering logo design work for extremely low prices. But what kind of service do these sites really supply? London design studio Mat Dolphin decided to try and find out.
One of the services we offer as a design agency, write Mat Dolphin’s Tom Actman and Phil Cook, is logo design. No surprises then when we recently stumbled upon another agency offering the same service. So far, so average – the majority of graphic design agencies throughout the world do exactly the same. The difference with this one, however, was the costing of their work. $42. That simple. For $42 you can get a logo designed with two rounds of amends and a number of different file formats sent to you.
Sceptical of the quality of the work, and a little surprised at the pricing structure and business model, we shared the find with our loyal Twitter following. In short, the ever opinionated ‘design community’ weren’t too happy about the idea of logos being punted out like Happy Meals.
The general consensus was that the time it takes to research, brainstorm, design, develop, artwork and subsequently amend a logo of a relatively decent standard could not be sufficiently covered by such a small cost. This got us thinking. We decided to conduct an experiment.
Dolphin Plumbing Services
Googling ‘cheap logos’ gave us plenty of options for ‘quality logo design services for a fixed low cost’, so we pulled on our fictional overalls and got in touch with a company offering said service to enquire on behalf of our newly-imagined business – Dolphin Plumbing Services.
Commissioning a cheap logo simply to sneer about how we reckon we could have done a better job would be too easy and wouldn’t achieve a huge amount. Instead, we wanted to approach the company as if we had no experience or interest in graphic design and see what the process is like for the ‘average punter’.
We made a point of letting them lead us and not getting all ‘designer-y’ with them. This wasn’t an opportunity to lecture them about kerning (for this experiment we didn’t care about the quality of design) we simply wanted to explore the process of purchasing a logo to stick on the side of our non-existent van.
We found a company offering bespoke logo designs and unlimited revisions for £25. We would give them a fair amount of feedback to deal with, nothing too unreasonable, just enough to get our money’s worth. They also promised a 1-3 day turnaround for all artwork and amends, so we decided to hold them to that and chase them if they were late. An email was sent….
Hi. My name is Phil and I’m after a logo for my plumbing company. It’s called Dolphin Plumbing Services. We’re a two man company. We offer great value on all your plumbing needs. Services include: fixes for burst pipes and leaks; bathroom/shower/WC and washing machine installation; radiators. We’re based in East London and offer a quick, clean and affordable service. We need a logo for use on our website, invoices and the side of our van. I’m not fussed about what colours you use or anything like that. I just want it to look nice and professional. Can you get back to me ASAP with details on what happens next?
All the best, Phil
The same day, we received a response asking for payment! We eagerly handed over our bank details (with-out any guarantees, to the random internet company we’d never heard of two hours previously) and waited.
Less than an hour later, we received an email granting us access to our own personal account. We were told to wait for 48 hours before receiving the initial designs. So far the process hadn’t been too painful, we’d done our bit and the real work was now down to their designers.
Two days later, an email with the subject ‘Your first design samples’ was sitting in our inbox. We logged into the account and saw the six designs, shown on the previous page, awaiting our feedback. Ignoring the quality of the initial designs, for the time being, we had a starting point.
We wanted to ensure our revision requests were reasonable and similar to the kind of feedback the company would usually get. We weren’t interested in testing their patience for the sake of it. Another email was sent.
Hi. Thanks for sending these over, looking good. I like version 2 but think the picture of the dolphin looks too cartoony and a bit childish. Is there any way you can make it look more professional and grown-up? We provide a premium service for our customers and want the logo to reflect that.
Once again, we sat tight, staring at our inbox waiting for what could potentially become the brand new Dolphin Plumbing Services logo. Can you feel the tension building? The next day another email arrived letting us know that all we had to do was log into our account and we would find the latest logo designs waiting for us! These are shown below.
This time around our feedback was pretty simple:
Hi. Thanks – these are superb! Can you make the dolphin look like he’s coming out of the water? He looks like he’s behind it at the moment. Also, can you move the splashes a bit further away from his face? Regards, Phil
This didn’t prove too much of a test for our new slaves, who responded with the changes, yet again, in just one day.
The final round
By now, we were getting to the point where the discussions had gone far enough to get a reasonable idea of the process and it was time for us to wrap this baby up. We issued one final round of feedback, for good measure:
Hello. We’re definitely getting close – looking great. One thing we would like to try is putting the whole thing inside a circle. We might make stickers you see. Is this possible? Would be good if we could see the circle in a few different colours (not blue). Let me know if this is OK. Thanks, Phil
Which resulted in the following:
Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to proudly present, the logo for the finest fictitious plumbing outfit since Super Mario Brothers – Dolphin Plumbing Services. Job done.
The feedback about the colour of the circle had been completely ignored but we pretended not to notice and responded with a grateful approval and requested the logo as high resolution JPGs, PDFs and vector EPS/AI files. These were promptly sent the next day.
With the experiment concluded, now it was time for the analysis. The easiest thing here would be to tear the design work apart and criticise how it simply wasn’t very good. It wasn’t. But it seems as if that would be over simplifying the point.
We paid an incredibly small amount for what must’ve taken somebody, somewhere, a reasonable amount of time to do. Whilst it’s impossible to say exactly how long it would’ve taken, was this time and labour all covered by our measly £25?
As designers, our time, creativity, experience and technical skills are the only things we’re actually selling. And we’re not surprised that these things being undersold for a fraction of the cost proves irritating and perhaps even insulting to the majority of designers.
But does the plumber who simply wants something to stick on a business card really care when he can get the job done for such a small amount of money? The process we went through was quick, easy and required very little hassle. Assuming the role of someone with limited knowledge and opinions on typography, layout and colour, the service offered to us was more than agreeable for what we paid.
However, there is still the angry mob of designers to deal with. Why are they angry? We don’t think it’s because their cover’s been blown and they can no longer charge huge amounts of cash for knocking up a quick logo. The issue, in our opinion, is more the fact that taking shortcuts that allow the work to be produced for a sum as small as £25 both creates work of a lower quality and lowers the value of what we do.
Fit for porpoise?
Like many other products and services, it’s never going to be hard to find a cheaper option. But, as the painfully obvious saying goes, you get what you pay for. Buy a cheap car, it’ll break down more often. If Phil the plumber decides to go for the £25 logo purely based on cost, his service simply won’t look premium. Maybe this won’t be a problem as many of his customers aren’t going to care too much about the typography when their kitchen is flooding, but as I’m sure most people reading this will know, design matters.
Maybe he doesn’t want his service to look premium? He’s a down-to-earth guy making an honest living for a fair price and he wants his logo to reflect that. Fair enough. But at no point throughout the process were we asked any questions about this. It was far too easy to let the designers get on with designing what they thought was right for a company they knew next-to-nothing about. Without this knowledge, can you really create something of any value?
So, the design is never going to be considered at any great length – because there simply isn’t the time to do so – and there’s a good chance the final design may not be appropriate for its purpose.
The end result? Cheap design that looks cheap and is less effective.
The way forward
But is there a place in the industry for logo design being sold in this way? Unfortunately, yes. People or companies who aren’t particularly interested in the way they present themselves can’t be blamed for spending as little money as possible on a service they don’t see value in. Is it damaging to the industry as a whole? Again, we’re afraid the answer is yes. Poor design can never be a good thing.
So what happens now? Do we rise up and fight back against these companies? Do we boycott? Drop our prices to £20 a logo? Feel free, but we won’t be joining you.
A far better defence is to produce well-considered, fairly-priced design that includes the client in the process, asks the right questions, challenges the brief, considers the problem from the client’s perspective and provides an effective solution. This, done well, is the only thing that can differentiate what we do from the ‘lowest price gets the job’ outfits.
The conclusion of our experiment? You get what you pay for. The important thing to remember is to make your service good value, regardless of how much it costs.
This article originally appeared on the CR blog. To contribute to the debate, go to crmag.co.uk/zqQ5z1. More examples of Mat Dolphin’s work (as a design studio, not
a plumbing service) at matdolphin.com