Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Problems of a Go-To Guy

I’m no graphic designer and I have no formal training in graphic design. I do, however, know how to use Photoshop pretty well and I can get pretty polished results very quickly. It means that one of the job’s I’m unqualified to do but I occasionally get asked to do is the job of designing company logos.

Usually these informal ‘commissions’ come to me through friends or friends of friends and I’ve become the go-to guy when people need a logo designing within a day that should have been done months earlier through a professional design agency. I’ve now designed logos for various small enterprises for too many years to count. I’ve designed logos for TV production companies, consultants, accountants, hotels, and even a park. How I get stuck with this work is always a surprise because, in my scheme of the world, I assume that if a project costs hundreds of thousands of pounds to build, it should really have a professional designer working on the logo. It shouldn’t be left to a friend of a friend to come up with a design the night before an important meeting.

But that’s what usually happens. I’ll get contacted at the last minute to make a logo for barely enough money to buy myself a hot meal and the client will demand the kind of results that would normally take a team of highly paid designers three months to put together with a budget of thousands. Obviously, my efforts will fall well short of what the professionals would produce but, in my defence, I’d say not by such a big margin to justify their high wage or, indeed, my own pitiful retainer.

I’ve read some theory of design but very little of it makes much sense to me except the only obvious golden rule: keep things simple. In fact, in many respects it’s the only rule I know about design. Logos can be especially ruined if they try to do too much. Colour should be carefully managed and shape shouldn’t be too complex. The world’s great logos are always simple. It’s the bite out of the Apple apple: a bite so simple that doesn’t even have teeth marks. Disney is three black circles in the shape of Mickey’s head. Shell just has a simple yellow shell with a thick red stroke around it. Audi is four linked circles in a row. Nike is just a black tick. Think about that: the biggest sports goods manufacture just uses a simple black tick.

And that’s the reason I enjoy working on logos. There’s an intellectual game to had in finding some simple way to convey a message through a shape. My most successful logos have been just that. They’re the ones for which I retain the most pride. However, they’re rarely ever the finished product. Problems always arise when I send my logos off and others start to have an input.

For example, I might submit something like the following, but before you cast you eye down the page, I should add in my defence that I just created this in about a minute and a half for the purpose of this blog post. LOGO1

The name ‘Quadrant Media’ is made up, came to me after about a second’s thought, and the logo took about as much imagining. There are things wrong with this logo. Given an hour or two, I know I'd come up with something better. Yet having said that, this was the first idea I came up with and usually the best ideas come first.

So imagine the scenario: I’ve worked late into the night and, at 4am, I’ve finally sent off a number of logos to a client. One company demanded something like ten distinctive variations in about as many hours. It was crazy and a very long night with some very weak variations.

I always hope they’ll simply choose my favourite and that will be the end of the job once I’ve sent them a high resolution rendering of the graphic.

Most of the time, that is the end of the story but in about one case out of five, it’s only the beginning…

That’s when clients have people of their own, who also claim to be adept at Photoshop and they will begin to modify my design. I’m unaware of all this, of course. Sometimes they’ll do it alone. Sometimes a committee will form around some desk where some poor shmuck has to take the suggestions of executives and translate them into an updated logo. So, remember, the logo I submitted might have looked something like this.

But a week later, I’ll get an email along the lines of, we liked your work but we modified it to match our company livery. This is the result.


Okay, I might overstate their efforts a little but it's generally along these lines. And it’s at this point that I run full pelt into a wall hoping to reach that blessed state unconsciousness where the stupidity of the world doesn’t affect me. God knows, I try to preach to people that simplicity is best and that only a 13 year old girl is impressed if you have 12 different fonts on your page and imbue everything with an outer glow effect. I try to explain how Sir Jonathan Ives is right to hate skeuomorphism and not everything looks better with a drop shadow and a queudo-3d bevel effect complete with lens flare. Yet none of this makes any difference. These things continue to happen and I continue to suffer in silence. It’s the problem of being the go-to guy. I’m the first guy whose opinion can be ignored.


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