Questions You Should Ask When Commissioning a Logo Design

I have seen respect for design sink to a new low this week as I witnessed a stock logo being pitched to a client.

As a graphic designer, I respect the value of a good logo that truly represents it’s business and the positive attributes that the artwork can bring to a business, such as better brand recognition, understanding what the business does best and establishing a desired mood to associate with the brand. When someone asks me to make a logo, I have a bad habit of asking for less that I should in fees for the work because I love logo design so much but I would never short-sale a client on the quality of my work. I typically research the client, the industry and logo archives, such as Logo Pond and Logo Lounge (where I actually pay money to look at logos), then I create a word list and try to challenge myself to combined list items into synthesized icons. I try combining 2 objects, 2 ideas/emotions, objects and emotions, and lettering with objects. I refine sketches and make new combinations. I strive to make something that best represents your business and only your business. If someone else tried using your logo and sticking their name on it, it shouldn’t work because your logo is to unique to you.

Stock Logos for Sale

I don’t buy stock logos that can apply to many businesses and slap your name on it.

As a client, which do you want? A logo that truly represents you since it was researched and refined to perfectly and uniquely represent your business OR a logo that literally and legally, could be used by your competitor?

Do you go to a professional designer for a custom logo or do you go to a designer so that they can re-sell you a stock logo that they literally downloaded for a small fee and did absolutely nothing creatively to it, to then charge you high fees upon delivery to you? Would you be happy paying for a ‘professional’ designer to charge you a huge mark-up on something you literally could have picked up on your own? Would you feel like you paid for something of value? It’s likely the answer is No.

Imagine the belly flop of your marketing budget if someone else was legally using your same logo since it was sourced from the same stock logo website. Every time you print a flyer, people may think of your competitor. You would have to buy a new, legit, logo and then re-print all of your materials and collateral or risk marketing for your competitor.

Or worse…

Imagine the stock logo was illegally being sold on the website and it was actually an infringement of someone else’s copyrights. Now you have opened up the door for massive lawsuits as the copyright holder has a legit claim to you making money by using their stolen artwork. Don’t hold your breathe thinking that stock logo vendor is going to indemnify you.

A good logo is worth more than every cent you paid in most cases. With the value that a good logo can bring, it will more than pay for itself with increased business for your company.

The Possible Cause of the Problem

I think the problem of business owners being swindled by cheap design and unethical designers stems from the fact that most people do not understand the value of design, what makes good design and what questions to ask when commissioning a logo design. I am going to tell you what key questions to ask so that you can get the best design possible for your business. I love design and I love seeing good design; whether you go with Concept Incarnate™ or another vendor for your logo design, I only want you to have a good logo. If you have a good logo, you will be elevating the value, exposure and appreciation of good design; I hope to have a small hand in this, one blog reader at a time.

The Questions to Ask

Ask about Licensing or Intellectual Property Ownership.

Typically, a designer will want to keep intellectual property ownership and provide a license to use their artwork. If you want ownership and the full rights transferred to your business, you will need to pay significantly more in fees. In most cases of a small business, a license to use the work will be enough; if you are a larger or higher profile business, you may want to see the full ownership of a logo if you can afford it.

For a logo design, you will want an exclusive license to the final logo. This means the designer can’t slap your competitors name on the same icon and re-sale it to them.

Ask about limitations to the license.

Will there be a cap to the number of print runs the logo can be used or limitations to region or time? This may play a bit more towards a brochure design, but it can still be applied in logo design.

For instance, with a brochure, you may be limited to 20,000 or 500,000 prints (whatever number the designer and client agree on) for a certain fee; any prints above the approved quantity may be subject to additional fees. Perhaps the license is limited to be only used in a certain city, state or country in print form. Perhaps, the fee only covers a license for a 5 year period. Make sure these restrictions will work for you and you have the opportunity to extend or expand licensing for a fair fee later on. What if you were only permitted to use a logo 2 years, and then the designer did not want to re-new their license? Then you would have to re-print all of your marketing materials with a newly commissioned logo after 2 years.

Also, ask about modification rights.

Some designer’s will not allow you to modify the artwork, some will and some will allow it with extra fees. If you do not think you will be hand’s on with your logo and will leave the design updates to the designer, then you do not have to worry about this. You may want to ask for different services of logo + wordmark relations in the artwork licensing to avoid needing to modify the logo on your own… such as a horizontal logo + wordmark AND a seldom used vertical + wordmark layout. If you foresee yourself changing the colours or curves of the logo on your own (and you think you are trained and experienced to do this), you may want to pay the extra fees for modification rights.

Ask if they will be generating a logo that they creatively generated out of their head OR if they will be re-selling you a stock logo.

Why be shy? Ask for the truth. Make sure you know what you are paying for.

Any designer should be proud enough to say that they will be making the logo from scratch. If the designer is unwilling to answer, you probably don’t want to go with them for your logo design.

If you find that all of the designers you are asking for estimates are proposing re-selling you a stock logo, perhaps you are asking the wrong crowd of people or the designers are trying to work with an unrealistic budget by going down this dark path.

Ask to see examples of other logos made by the designer

Look at the examples and see if the logos samples are unique to the businesses they represent. If the business name changed, would the cleverness of the logo be lost? Do the merged icons/ideas of the logo look like a true, inseparable, synthesis OR do they appear to be forced together?

Do the samples look good at small and big sizes alike?

If the logo can’t scale down to a half in by a half inch, and then back up to fit on a billboard, it was not well thought out.

What file formats will the design give to you?

Unless you have design programs in your own office that can open .Ai, .PDF, .EPS, .PSD file formats AND the know-how to use them, getting just the designer files may not be enough for your everyday usage. You’ll need a PNG file with a clear background at a fairly large size and at a smaller size at the least. If you can get a JPEG version of the file too, grab your hands on it. These formats will let you put the logo into your .PPT files, Word-based proposals, and social media accounts.

You should still get the designer files though. Try to get a PDF, AI or EPS file from the designer for those occasions that you may need them, such as for a shirt embroidery or signage. The outsource vendor will most likely be able to handle those file formats and it will ensure quality on the specialty print jobs. The vector based files will be able to scale up and down onto any sized application, such as billboards and business cards. Without these files, the vendor may charge you for the time it will take them to trace your JPEG file to make it scale-able.

In Conclusion

I am hoping these questions will help you better choose your next logo designer.

Also, as a tip, don’t ask your next  designer for  discount on the logo design license because your previous commission was bad; that money went to someone else and did not support the expenses and value your new designer is bring to the table.

Here is another article about logos that I have written: Characteristics of Well Designed Logos .


Ellice Sanchez

About Ellice Sanchez

With six years experience in design, Ellice has done work for clients such as San Antonio Parks and Recreation, the City of San Antonio, Delicious Tamales, The US AirForce, Christus Santa Rosa, the University Health Systems, Sunset Station, Sushi Zushi Corporation of Texas, San Antonio Conservation Society, NIOSA, the San Antonio International Airport Concession, Representative Ivory Taylor, the Vidorra Condominiums, American GI Forums National Veterans Oureach Program, Republic National Distributing Company, Lifetime Fitness, Mr. W Fireworks, the RK Group, Pape-Dawson Engineers and other companies, working on projects ranging from signage, business cards, content management, design support, website design and coding, flyers, billboards and e-blasts.

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