A logo does not cost $12. – life+running

A logo does not cost $12.

graphic design isn't about making things look pretty — though, this graphic is purposely pretty // lifeplusrunning.com

Graphic design is not about making things look pretty.  Design solves visual problems. It’s about effective communication. Pretty is just a fortunate side effect of most designs.

In a world of “graphics artists” and self-proclaimed designers who are to design what joggers are to running, why should I be surprised to see pre-fab logos for sale for $10-12 each? And that these “logos” are being repurposed/reused for different clients?

The words “pre-fab” and “logo” do not belong in the same book, paragraph — let alone sentence. Unless the sentence is “A logo is not something that can be pre-fabricated because logo design is unique to each individual’s needs.

This post isn’t about logos. Or about the insane prices that non-designers posing as designers are charging for their work.

I’m educating you on real vs. fake designers. I’ve heard too many horror stories about clients getting burned when working with a designer that he or she thought was legit. Fake designers typically count on the client to tell them exactly what they want, and are essentially pixel-pushers and color changers. What if the client really doesn’t know what he or she wants? And what if, like most cases I see, the client wants something that is completely different than what is best for their brand? A fake designer selling $12 logo designs probably isn’t going to create a legit logo solution — just some pretty pixels.

Real designers are problem solvers. This is what sets us apart from those who want to earn a little extra cash by learning Photoshop on YouTube over the weekend.

I’m not saying that you HAVE to have a fancy schmancy art school degree in graphic design to be a real designer. Though, having that degree typically means you’ve been versed in all the key skills that graphic design.

I’m also not saying you always have to go with a real graphic designer* (though that would be nice), but instead, I’m asking you to do your research before choosing a designer so you know what you’re going to get.

A graphic designer possesses these qualities (designer folk — please feel free to discuss edits to this in the comments section):

  1. Problem-solving skills. yes, you make things look pretty, generally, but you ask the appropriate questions to get the best vehicle for communicating the client’s needs.
  2. Self respect, and respect for the profession. No self-respecting designer would ever charge $12 for a logo — unless their hourly rate was $12, and the logo took them an hour. But if it takes you an hour to crank out a logo, then clearly, you haven’t put enough thought into the design. And no self-respecting designer would create a purple-polka-dotted-unicorn-comic-sans blog header just because the client wants it. Nobody … unless you are selling purple-polka-dotted-unicorns, in which case it would be an appropriate solution (even the *cringe* comic sans).
  3. A level of perfectionism. Graphic designers are born from the most OCD human beings on the planet. Things communicate better when they’re in harmony, and harmony is created by noticing the little things — like how pieces line up together, and the thickness and quality of line, to name a few little things.
  4. Ability to rationalize. A design shouldn’t exist because it “looks cool” or because you wanted to create something that looked just like something on Pinterest (in fact, that latter part is illegal). A real designer can answer a client’s question of “why?” with a real answer. This is why I always share my process when revealing a new design.
  5. Basic understanding of design elements and principlesI can’t name all of them anymore, but I use each of them every day without even thinking about them because I was trained to do so, and that’s how I operate.
  6. Knowledge of graphic design history and trends. A graphic designer should know history of design in different eras to help guide the design process. And a designer should keep up on current trends, but whether or not trends are appropriate for application in a design is up to the problem at hand (non-designers will almost always try to design for trend first).

Alternatively, how do you know you’re working with a fake designer? Here are some red flags.

  1. No questions or comments to the client’s design revisions are made by the designer. When a client asks for a revision, I usually ask why the revision is being requested. Usually when I dig deeper, I find out more about what the client REALLY wants. You might think you want pink hearts, but really, you just wanted the graphic to be warm and friendly. And when a client asks for a revision that’s a really great addition to the design, I always comment on their revision, and why the revision makes sense. Fake designers won’t do this because they’re just pushing pixels around on the screen at the client’s whim.
  2. Flat rates on things like logos, websites, or other multi-faceted projects. Logos, websites, brochures, and other pieces are NOT one-size fits all. The only things I charge a flat rate on are things that I know will typically take me between 1-2 hours to complete. Logos can take between 1 and 100 hours depending on what the client’s needs are. And keep in mind that a logo has to represent an entire company and everything that company does. So the a logo for Green Circle Company, that only sells green circles, is probably going to take between 3-5 hours, where a logo for a larger brand, like Pepsi, probably took more than 200 hours. However, if you’re working with a seasoned designer, that person may charge a flat rate for some of these larger items because that person might have a good idea of how many hours it will take. Be mindful of the hours involved in creating these items vs. the quoted price (e.g. a multipage website shouldn’t cost $100). Ask for an estimated timeline so you have an idea of when to expect your design, and how many hours it will take the designer.
  3. While we’re talking about rates … Rate that is less than half of what a professional designer quoted you. This is a good rule of thumb, however I work fast, so it might take me less hours to complete a project than another designer. I’m also only 6 years into the profession, while those who’ve been designing for decades might charge $100+/ hr. Just be mindful of designers who aren’t students who charge $20 or less per hour (for their regular rates), and inexpensive designers that only offer piece-wise rates.
  4. Multiple sales of the same design. Exceptions are invitations, and things that can be re-used for different clients and purposes. Selling the same web design, blog header, or logo multiple times is a MAJOR tipoff, since these items should be customized for the individual need.
I would seriously like to see some sort of certification for graphic design. Again, I don’t think that going to design school makes a designer — there are plenty of people who went to design school that are terrible designers, but on the other hand, knowing photoshop doesn’t make you a designer either. Certification would be a good way to help keep the profession to the professionals, regardless of their other credentials. If you know what you’re doing, please do design. If you just like to make your own holiday cards in Publisher, please don’t call yourself a graphic designer.

This concludes my rant.

If you’d like to read a better-written post about why design isn’t Burger King, see my friend Stephanie’s post.

And if you would like to know why design school sets professionally trained designers apart from the rest of the pack, read my friend Kelly’s post.

*Even fake designers have their place. If you need something for a presentation tomorrow, then pay $12 for a graphic. If you’re a start-up company with no budget and need something pretty or somewhat professional looking to get you by until you can afford a real logo that represents your company, then hit up a fake designer for an inexpensive solution graphic.


Do you have any people trying to be in your profession without any training?

6 Comment

  1. Aside from the fact that I might be a jogger pretending to be a runner, I really appreciate this post, because it is not something I know anything about. I have paid to have my blog redesigned and she was SO great about asking questions and letting me have amazing input, and then with you designing Nutty Butter you were able to really ‘read me’ and the product without me having to do much of anything. I have been happy both times, but I do think that it would be great for there to be some sort of certification or legitimacy to your profession…for your sake if nothing else. When we were training to be teachers we used to get upset at people who did alternative licensure, because we felt like we had ‘put in the time’ and they hadn’t. In retrospect, you don’t learn anything about being a teacher unitl you are out there doing it, but I can understad the idea of imposters…real or not. [Can an imposter be a real imposter?]

    1. Calee says: Reply

      First off, anybody whose run 12 miles is NOT a jogger. Joggers go around the block. Runners are dedicated, no matter the distance.

      Also, I forgot to mention that this is why I don’t charge for workout regimes. I’ve had ppl ask what to pay me to train them and my answer is always I am not a trainer and it would be wrong to take money and since I don’t have the training I can’t customize workouts like real trainers.

      1. ^. I correct people when they call me a jogger.

        There needs to be more honest people in the world like you (and us). I would only ever dream of charging people of actually making a site (not designing). People pick my ear all the time for health and fitness tips, but like you I’m no expert at all.

        1. chimes says: Reply

          Agreed. And actually, thanks for mentioning that because I need a disclaimer somewhere on here … footer.

  2. Ugh, I love this whole article. It explains about 99% of the reason why I have a hard time getting freelance work. More than once I’ve been approached with projects, and when I tell them what I would charge, I never hear from them again. And I don’t charge outlandish rates. I charge for the training I’ll use to put in it. But they want the fake designers’ prices.

    Oh, not to mention the time a friend asked me to work on her husband’s business website as a ‘pro-bono’ piece, for free.


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