There. I got that out of my system. I get so frustrated (read: stressed out) when a potential client says “I just want something simple. Let’s not make a big deal out of it.”
To illustrate my frustration, I’ll start off with an old Chinese folktale that I vividly remember from my childhood. (Reading Rainbow? A used book from a library sale? Can’t remember.)
The tale of the Chinese emperor and the picture of the rooster
Once upon a time, there was an emperor who was extremely fond of roosters, and so one day he commissioned the most famous painter in all his realm to paint him a picture of a rooster. The painter replied that it would take him three years to accomplish this. The emperor was secretly rather annoyed, but in the end he agreed.
When the three years came to an end, the emperor summoned the painter, but on seeing that he was empty-handed impatiently demanded: “What about my painting of a rooster?” The painter remained perfectly calm, took up a piece of paper right where he stood, and started to paint. The brush flew across the page, the ink danced. With apparent ease, he produced the lifelike image of a rooster, capturing its very essence. It took him less than three minutes to complete. On seeing this, the emperor was furious and could stand it no longer: “Have you been deliberately deceiving your king? Is this some act of rebellion? It took you just three minutes to paint that picture; why did you make me wait three whole years?” To which the painter replied: “Sire, first please calm your fury; and when you have done so, follow me and see for yourself.”
The painter led the emperor to a large house and opened the door, and on looking inside, the emperor realised that the house was filled to the roof with sketches of roosters. Then the painter spoke: “These are my efforts of the last three whole years. Without those three years of labour how could I possibly have produced that perfect rooster for you in less than three minutes?”
(H/T to LeftHandedDesign for the exact text)
The moral here is that a LOT of work goes into “simple.” In the design world, this means lots of steps and considerations.
So what are they? Why is your designer freaking out when you say “I just want a Simple Logo?”
First of all, simple to you and simple to the designer probably mean two very different things. To you, it may mean, “whip something up in a few minutes and don’t charge me much.” The problem is that you’re unlikely to get an icon that represents your company well without putting in any creative time and effort. “Simple” to your designer means lots of work. Lemme explain.
First of all, there’s the process we need to go through in order to get to the Simple Logo. Apex Creative does a good job describing some of the steps:
He lists things like starting with a design brief, so you and your client both agree about what your company’s personality, (see my earlier post on branding for more of my strong opinions on the matter), doing lots and lots of research to see what’s out there already, rounds of initial sketches, revisions of said sketches, finalizing, and revising for various media, etc. As you can imagine, this can take weeks (/months). Every designer has their own process, but the basic steps tend to be universal.
Second of all, there are factors the designer needs to take into account in every sketch/revision presented to the client. To me, this has always felt like juggling. Creative Bloq, a popular design blog, shares a decent list of things your designer is thinking about when designing your Very Simple Logo.
To summarize, the designer considers factors like: What are people used to seeing in the industry? What has worked in the past, what hasn’t? How will this logo reproduce in various media? What is painfully cliche and what is innovative? Also, don’t forget the brand message you/they worked out in the design brief!
And I’ve added two more Very Important Considerations that I haven’t seen mentioned. The first one is: how far can I abstract this idea until it becomes too obscure to relate to? And my all time favorite consideration: “what does it look like that it shouldn’t?” (Let’s just say I learned from my mistakes…) This is a link to some awkward R rated examples of what happens when you forget this last step. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Now let’s get back to the “simple” part. When clients request a “simple logo” it takes longer. Wait, longer?!? Yes, longer. Because then I need to add time to do one of two things; either keep plugging away at creating new concepts until I come up with the perfect zippy image; or two, take what I’ve already done and pare down, and pare down, and pare down until all I’m left with is a perfect, simple, icon. Either process needs to end up with a mark that personifies everything the client wants in their Simple Logo.
And that symbol has to comply to the following standards:
- clearly visible across all media
- an obvious, recognizable shape at any size
- made up of as few parts and colors as possible
- with enough defining edges/corners/curves to be dynamic yet not so many that it’s messy
- conveying the most information possible
- unique yet clearly part of the industry
- successful in portraying the personality of your brand
Whoa. that’s a lot for a Simple Logo. Because simple has to be precise. Anything else is boring.
Client: Yikes. Sounds beyond my budget and schedule. Since I just want something Simple, I’ll go on Fivrr or play around with an online app. Shouldn’t be a big deal. Let’s get this up and running by next week.
Yes, you could go on Fivrr, but there are differing stories of what you end up with. Remember, these guys are designers just like me, and they can only spend so much time on a $5 project. So what do they do? “The Startup” on Medium.com posted this enlightening experiment he conducted on Fivrr: good-design-can-make-the-difference. Turns out, just as we designers suspected, the way a Fivrr designer often creates a $5 logo is by copying something fabulous online and passing it off as his or her own, or by downloading an icon and doctoring it. You could go with that option, just be aware of what you’re getting.
But what about using one of those online widgets or apps for logo design for the layperson (something like Logomaker)? Well, you are welcome to use one, but keep in mind you might want a briefing on color theory, color implications in the international market, layout, composition, cliched images, contrast (it’s not just about color), typography, overused typefaces, legibility vs readability, consumer psychology, marketing, branding, a history of design in the 20-21st centuries, responsive design, vector vs raster images, the print process, what not to do…you know. A few things.
Because Simple isn’t so simple. Good luck!