25 August 2005

[design] Whither Logoworks?

A recent star in the design world, Logoworks, is taking the country by storm it would seem. Buoyed by positive commentary in The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, and The Origin of Brands Blog, amongst other places, it is currently attracting great business, and also great criticism.

One thing designers really really dread is the logo mill. Companies will churn out low-cost solutions for small businesses who desparately want identity materials but don't feel they can lay down the few thousand it can potentially cost to have a qualified designer do it the way it ought to be done.

For a price of just a few hundred dollars, Logoworks promises that your enterprise can get first concepts back in a few days and a complete logo design within about a week. Thier most inexpensive package, at $299, provides 2 designers working on your brief, 4-6 concepts as results, and tw0 rounds of revisions. There are two other levels of logo design, that provide more designers turned to the task and more concepts to select from.

One would compare the traditionally comparatively high-priced route with the Logoworks route and wonder where the discount comes from. The corporation itself is (currently, at least) making money hand over fist according to reports, so corporate isn't missing any meals (or mortgage payments).

The way you get such deep discounts is off the backs of the people working for you, of course. Graphic Design is a highly skilled profession, and design professionals who hit it can be expected to be paid rather well for thier work. The Wall Street Journal (via the desgin 'blog ThePreparedMind.com) lays out for us how Logoworks gets its designs:

The pay scale fluctuates. Designers are designated at expert, midlevel, or entry-level rank based on a point scale of 0 to 100. They all start at entry level, and their points and pay go up and down based on how their designs fare both with clients and with their peers. For instance, entry-level designers get paid $25 per project; midlevel, $30; and experts, $40.

“Expert” designers get paid only $40 for developing a logo??? reacts Chris Gee, the 'blog's author.

Indeed. Therein lays the one of the weaknesses of the Logoworks business model. Most budding designers have debts-school loans, the cost of living, and that-and even the most beginner economist should get some idea of just how much work one has to do to "keep the wolf away from the door", as Chris Gee aptly points out. Also there is the point of asking desperate designers to do professional work for next to nothing, which is just offensive to me (and should be to anyone who believes that professional work deserves professional recompense)

Designers sign up with the site and go to a private area where they obtain creative briefs and upload the results of thier work. Logoworks apparently does very little checking for copyright infringement, operating primarily as a broker connecting designers wishing to sell something to customers wishing to buy (but who don't have much money to spend). This laissez-faire approach results in two things: an abundance of banal design (admittedly this is a subjective reaction, but, though there was some very professional looking content there very little of it moved me) and copyright infringement.

There is evidence available suggesting that Logoworks designers, in thier drive to complete designs, make slight changes to existing logos and upload them as thier own work, or else coming up with designs that could be, at the most generous, be seen as merely deriviative (based on others' work) and still litigation-licious.

The highly excellent 'blog, BAD DESIGN KILLS!!!, has a gallery of apparent Logoworks ripoffs here. Some, like the one for the Dutton Auto Body Shop firm, were clearly taken from extant work (an edgy logo by Mark Fox) with little alteration and no credit at all. Some of the logos challenge the eye to figure out where they were changed, if at all.

This is not to say that, certainly, design is somewhat incestuous; designers are influenced by other designers and also by other design. We are immersed in design 24/7/365. But, if the line between influence and plagiarism is hard to define, it's easy to see when it's been crossed.

Designers design. They aggregate influences, input, and what the client wants and create something that is per se original. This original work can pay homage, honor its roots. But between the inspiration and the result, a designer should be doing something creative, taking the influences and melding them into something that is, at least, a little unexpected. Since, in a way, everything being done now has been done before, you wouldn't think that it were possible, but somehow it happens.

Paul Rand took a circle, lines, and dots, used printed circuits for inspiration, and came up with the Westinghouse logo-a classic of design that is still being used today.

At the very least, wholesale borrowing of someone else's design is no better than simple theft. And designers, no matter how desparate for work or a paycheck, should be above that.

Sure, Logoworks is storming the castle now, but they are burning the candle at both ends and the middle, and the result will be a lot of bitter designers and unimpressive though professional logo art which will just degrade the visual landscape. We all lose. And, as soon as the profits begin to decrease, count on Logoworks to leave the scene.

Supplemental reading:


Jim said...

Sam -- if I were a buyer of logos, I would make this distinction, is the logo for longterm use (company or product trademark) or shortterm (an event, sale, flyer). For the former, I would expect to use a professional designer and to pay a professional-level price. For the latter, I would just want something fast, flashy, and cheap. That being said, having actually been a purchaser of design work in the past, my impression is that prices for high-end work are held low not by Logoworks type operations but by professional designers who work for corporations and then moonlight small jobs on the side. They have the talent and facilities needed to produce camera-ready creative artwork at very reasonable prices. That is who I always used.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...


You obviously have a finer sense of what you want than most people.

So far as my experience has gone (not far, to be absolutely truthful) there seems to be a great deal more need for long term logo applications than short term. While there are short term logo applications I've seen locally, it's usually for an event rather than a flyer or a sale-logo applcations in the latter two usually seem to involve just repurposing the main logo.

If Logoworks and its ilk aren't changing the equation themselves at this point (WRT designer wages), I'd say that by the volume of business they do (huge) if they aren't yet, they will soon.

The real damage that I see being done is by the plagiarists, though. An unuspecting consumer buying a Logoworks design that is simply reworked extant work might also be buying themselves a lawsuit. You may have heard how Apple defends thier marks. You're no doubt aware that the aren't the only ones who take protecting thier image seriously.

And, this is entirely subjective and entirely me here, if a tree such as this produces poison fruit such as this, despite the preponderance of harmless (or even beneficent) produce, that gives me the feeling that something is rotten down at the root. I lose faith in the business model. At the very least, I think it's horribly irresponsible on Logoworks's part to open thier system in such a way. The designers who plaigiarize get what they have coming (they should have known better). The customers who buy the tainted product are really being harmed, and the image of design and designers is being bruised. I care about that.

I see your point about the inexpensive freelancer hurting the pay scale, though I'll have to disagree with you just a little. Alternative (or lower) rates of recompense have been around for a long time (I myself am not above bartering for something in kind or doing a 'free' job to get exposure (there is still value in the 'free' job-real world portfolio pieces)) and the presence of those artists haven't seemed to have hurt designers too much in the way of wages.

Again, I'm not necessarily trying to contradict you there, I just have a different impression.

Thanks for the insightful comment. Always appreciated.

Jim said...

Sam -- it may just be the difference in locations, with all the big corp headquarters in St. Louis, and the big publishing companies, and ad agencies, there are probably just more guys looking to use their equipment at work (Stan, don't even say it!) to make a little extra money on the side

Jeff Kearl said...

LogoWorks has always had very strict rules about its contract designers creating original work. There is a substantial check and balance system to prevent plagiarism. And to clarify, the logos in question were never sold to customers. They were used in marketing brochures. We've served about 35,000 small businesses and never had an issue. Lastly, we offer everyone of our customers a trademark search and application service that starts at only $149. We strongly encourage our customers to do this.

We also think our designer pay rates are fair. Each time we add more designers to our network we receive many times more applications than we have positions available. We are also working on several ways to to give our designers a greater variety of work as well as pay them more.

There certainly are pros and cons to our service vs. a traditional designer for customers. That said, over 98% of our customers say they would refer another business to our service and our referral business is significant.

I'm not surprised that some designers are upset with the model. We charge a lot less than a traditional designer. In many cases, we are a competitor.