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Uh-oh – bad logo

17 February 2015

Good graphic design means memorable images, eye-catching typography and – perhaps most importantly of all – great logos. Logos that grab attention and leave a lasting imprint in the viewer’s mind.

A great logo is essential for any business to communicate with customers. It’s absolutely vital to achieve a prominent brand.

So if you’re a graphic designer, you might as well double that need for a brilliant logo. You’ve got to prove it gets top billing in your repertoire. It simply has to be an outstanding part of any designer’s portfolio.

A great logo tells potential clients you’re a great graphic designer. And a bad logo? It tells them to stay away.

But what if you inherit a bad logo? What if your client comes to you with the artistic equivalent of Mrs Brown’s Boys? What if they’re proud of a logo crummily concocted with a few mismatched Crayolas and a car-boot-sale-copy of Microsoft Paint?

What if your new client wants you to spread the logo across the front cover of a gorgeous brochure? What if their atrocious logo is going to ruin your splendid new web design?

Can you work with a bad logo, or will you let it wreck a lucrative relationship?

What’s the best approach to dealing with a client who’s convinced a catastrophic symbol is the next Nike swoosh?


The tactful approach

It’s not always easy being tactful. Especially when you know you’re right. Especially when you’re a creative type who knows you’re right.

But sometimes a little diplomacy works wonders. And, tackled correctly, a tactful approach will not only encourage the client to see your viewpoint, it will also earn you some well-deserved designer respect.

So point out the practical or technical reasons why the logo doesn’t work. Mention the outdated colours, the unreadable font or the redundant little ‘Ltd’ left dangling from the end of a word. Say you can’t use the logo on certain types of background, or the shape isn’t suitable for a web screen. Tell them it’s not been created in a way that let’s you make enlargements, or that the intricate detail will be lost if it’s scaled down.

Remember to compliment the original design for its previous success, but remind your client it’s preferable to be at the cutting edge. Urge them to see the benefits of great branding – especially if the firm is likely to expand thanks to your wonderful new design.

And if the existing logo looks too similar to a competitor’s brand (a frequent failing of amateur designs), a few mentions of creative integrity (or copyright infringement, if you must) will prove difficult to argue with.


The honest approach

Say you don’t like the logo. Explain why it doesn’t work. Mumble the words, “Sorry, but…” if you think it’ll soften the blow.

Ask what the client really reckons to the offending logo. Chances are, they’ve had misgivings for a long time, and could be looking for a simple reason to update or replace that tired old symbol of a previous CEO’s stranglehold.

Of course, before offering your expert opinion – before saying your client’s red-on-green brush-script logotype looks like it’s been spat out of a dinosaur’s rectum – make sure it’s not been created by the company’s managing director. Or, worse still, the boss’s teenage son just before he embarked on that ill-fated bungee-jumping holiday.


The creative genius approach

Oh. My. God. What on earth is that chromatic aberration? I have a masters in graphic design! I’m an artist, darling. Don’t burden me with bastardised pantones and discordant visuals. The Comic Sans is hurting my eyes! I think I’ll need a double hit of espresso to recuperate. Let me take care of the artwork, and you can deal with the less important work.

Okay, so maybe not that. But maybe a bit like that. You’ve been hired as the designer, after all. You’re a professional, and your opinion should be not just valid, but valued.

It’s never been hip to be square, so clients often assume they can’t come up with design concepts because they don’t think outside that particular box.

It’s easy to offend with pomposity, but hinting at a little eccentricity or quirkiness is surely a designer’s obligation.


The salesy approach

You know your client. You know your own sales technique. Some of us could sell dung to a donkey sanctuary, and others, well… We’d struggle to bag a couple of quid for the nation’s gold reserves.

Nevertheless, indulging in a little sales patter shouldn’t be beyond anyone in business. If you can’t be proud of your own product, how do you expect would-be customers to see the benefits?

We’re not advocating the pushy gibberings of a second-hand car dealer (although if the cap fits…), but it’s just silly to waste a potential sales opportunity.

Any bad logo can automatically be viewed as a redesign in waiting. And if the rest of your client’s materials are equally poor, a full rebranding exercise should be next on the list.


The submissive approach

Witty one-word retorts and expert quips are easy to imagine – usually several days later when you’re worried you said something embarrassing or failed to speak up in your own defence.

But not everything must be a battle, and there’s no need to win them all. Accepting you’ll submit to a bad logo from the outset may save loads of stress, and possibly open your eyes to a fresh approach.

Okay, that typeface is horrid and the clip-art character’s a cliché. But if it works for your client and if their customers are happy, there’s a lot to be said for familiarity. There’s even a challenge to be met by producing great work in spite of shabby symbols.

Not everything has to be beautiful. Not every design needs to be art. Not every agency can control the customer’s rampant brand.

Just make sure to remind your future clients the best bits were all yours.


The dominant approach

You’re the graphic designer. You’re the expert. That’s why you were appointed for this project, after all.

An assertive approach demands respect, and it’s much more easily achieved if you already have your clients’ appreciation. Holding firm to your ideas (and ideals) will in many cases reassure your customers that you really know your stuff. You’re the right designer for the job.

Your experience and wisdom are why you’re being paid – albeit not at the level of design consultant. If your client has appointed designers in the past, they’ll be aware of the need for anyone in a creative career to make their own mark.

Don’t go overboard with technical terms, but don’t be afraid to use a little designer jargon if it’s the right word for the job; any client who’s willing to offer a professional opinion on logo design should be prepared to deal with real-world reasons for creative decisions.

Advising on colour choices go hand in hand with vector rasterisation. Suggesting a few simple modifications and updates show you’re working in the client’s best interests rather than your own.

A redesign may be the result. A few tweaks might be a suitable compromise. A complete rebranding package could be on the horizon.

Just remember to return the respect.


The Steve Austin approach

We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can make it better than it was. Better, stronger, funkier…

If your client won’t budge, or if the logo’s not inherently bad but simply badly built, a clever approach can be to tweak it based (as loosely as you can manage) on the original idea.

Be careful not to infringe on the previous designer’s copyright, so check ownership of the logo before you open Illustrator.

Of course, you’ll need to use all your tact and diplomacy to explain why the existing design doesn’t work, and the results will almost certainly be compromised by current constraints.

It’s an unlikely way to produce a six-million-dollar logo, but at least you’ll not need bionic mouse-clicking fingers to swap a few colours or update a tired old font.


The over-excited approach

Maybe you really hate the old logo. Maybe you’ve simply imagined a vastly better visual that could take the advertising world by storm.

It’s hard not to feel motivated by an enthusiastic designer bouncing around like an over-excited spaniel, so don’t hesitate to get that inspiration across to your client.

Okay, don’t phone the company’s managing director at 4am demanding a rendezvous at the nearest 24-hour petrol station, but a positive attitude in your next meeting will be a boon.

Flatter the client with compliments. Demonstrate the appeal of adding a fresh identity to their excellent product. Explain why your trendy new design will accompany the firm’s impending success.


The humorous approach

“Hahaha, that’s a good one. That’s really funny. Oh wait… You don’t really mean this logo, do you. Do you..?”

A nod and a wink and a joke at the logo’s expense should be attempted only if you’re on great terms with your client, you’re smiling at the time, and/or you’ve got the balls to carry it off.

Don’t forget that suggesting a current design was the result of a colour-blind chimpanzee’s first experience of felt-tips could risk offending the business’s boss. Especially if he drew it himself.


The la-la-la approach

La-la-la, we’re not listening, we’ll design a new logo anyway.

Daft as it sounds, it’s surprising how many designers get stuck in to artwork and take it upon themselves to create a brand new logo without consulting the client. As if a logo is simply a small piece of the current layout, rather than an integral part of any company’s identity.

It’s not just a high-risk strategy in terms of time wasted, it’s also a sure way to tell your client you think their existing ideas are rubbish. What’s more, it shows you don’t pay attention to your brief.

And if you’re hoping for payment for your stylish new symbol, you could go home empty-handed, even if your client loves your idea.

So bury your head in the sand, by all means. If the client’s a pushover – or simply hadn’t considered a replacement logo – you could strike lucky.

But wouldn’t it be wise to simply speak about it first?


The avoidance approach

Time to be sensible? Hmm, maybe.

If you’re not a fan of confrontation and you’re looking for an easy compromise, the answer is simple: use the logo as little as possible. As small as possible.

The key is to reduce the old logo’s impact on your new design by employing some of the techniques you were taught at design school.

Change colours if you can, or at least make the logo monochrome. Tone down gradients, refine any fuzziness, tidy up bad letter spacing or redraw dodgy angles.

Scale down the logo’s size, and divert the viewer’s eye by emphasising the surrounding photos or patterns. Think about using the brand’s name as logotype, and confine the logo to its own segregated box away from the bulk of your design. Try dropping the logo’s main symbol or any of its accompanying clutter.

You may be pleasantly surprised.


The speculative approach

Similar to our la-la-la approach, but with a little more reasoning. Without spending a week drawing new ideas and poring over pantone books, try drafting a few sketches and samples for replacement logos, dropping them into your design and approaching the topic with your client at the next meeting.

Don’t assume your logo will be liked, and don’t even assume it will be noticed at first glance.

Simply make suggestions based on the great new design, proud corporate image and keeping ahead of the competition.

Try not to concentrate on costs, but make it clear you won’t be giving your logo away. Your expertise is worth paying for, and you’re sure the company will reap rewards.


The businesslike approach

You’re working for corporate clients, so ditch the design chat and talk to them in language they understand.

Put forward your refreshment proposals in terms of sales figures, profits, customer loyalty, target markets, board approval and brand recognition. Assure them you’re keen to invest in their corporate identity. Explain why a little money spent on design will generate long-term improvements and reach their financial goals.

Emphasise the importance of branding on the company’s image, and ask their opinions in businesslike terms.

If there’s budget, why not suggest a focus group? Drop in a few marketing buzzwords, and you may even become indispensible.


The wait-and-see approach

So you’re halfway through your magnificent new design. The website is incredible and the branding is looking to go global. If only that awful logo lived up to it all.

Perhaps now’s the time to suggest a replacement; maybe your ideas for a better logo could be dropped into the design during your next meeting. Better still, there’s chance your client could see that abominable old clip-art creation mixed into your beautiful artwork and realise it’s time to make those necessary changes.

And if not, well it’s not the end of the world. No one will criticise you for keeping the crud.

Just don’t forget to mention it when the opportunity next arises.


The Zammo approach

Just say no. No. Just say no to that nasty logo. Choose not to use it or decline the offer of work. If the client’s just as determined to keep the logo as you are to replace it, you can always walk away.


The blind approach

Can’t swallow your pride? No good at negotiation? Struggling to reduce the size, shape or colour of that terrible symbol?

Rather than worrying, arguing or walking away, simply pretend it isn’t there.

Create your concepts, build your designs and then, before submitting your masterpiece, insert that bad logo into the space you’ve reserved.

All you need do next is submit your invoice, shut down your Mac and pretend it never happened.


Posted by Dan.

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Spoon Media, Cleatham, Kirton Lindsey, Nr Gainsborough, North Lincolnshire DN21 4JN
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Company profile

With Walter’s you’re right at home. Spoon Media’s theme for Lincoln estate agent Walter’s immediately lets you know you’re dealing with a company you can trust – in this case the longest-established estate agent in Lincoln.

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When you’re working with a successful brand that’s been around for longer than two centuries, you can’t take any chances. Which was why Spoon Media’s gentle rebranding and carefully tweaked logo were the perfect counterbalance to an all-new, ultra-clean website with full content management, SEO copywriting and property search facilities incorporating bespoke MySQL databases. Needless to say, Walter’s new customers came very quickly indeed.

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Quest-eeze is a one-stop country store, animal feed retailer and online equestrian shop. Based in Lincolnshire, Quest-eeze supplies everything for the pet owner, horse rider and farmer on a local or national level.

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Spoon Media loves animals even more than our Apple Mac computers, so Quest-eeze was a natural business partner. Picking up a part-started website and semi-established brand allowed us to make our own little mark on Lincolnshire’s loveliest pet shop, extending to a complete online shop with secure payments and delivery database.

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