The website reads, “We understand the budgets of the small business and non-profit organization. Whether you’re looking for a new logo, re-creating your current one, or looking for advice on what’s best for your business identity, let us assist you in the decision-making process.” And all for $299? That’s right. A logo design, stationery system, design manual and camera-ready art for less than 300 bucks and all in 10 days. Wait a minute. Camera-ready art!? Oh yeah, it said they’d provide digital files upon request. They also said they could “chrome polish your existing logo.” Hmmmmmm.
I just had to find out how this works. What’s the process? Maybe I could learn something from LogosRUS.com. (OK, that’s not the real website; the HOW editors told me I couldn’t refer to the actual site I used. Wimps.) If I could subcontract LogosRUS.com to do identities for my clients it would cost only one tenth of what I pay my staff to work on a logo project with me.
Here’s the way I presented it at our weekly staff meeting. “If we were to charge between $5,000 and $10,000 for a small identity program, (and that’s without a standards manual), we could job it out to LogosRUs.com, we could all go skiing for the rest of the month, and still come back with a fat bank account.” Besides, I can’t resist a company I’ve never heard of that touts itself as having designed “thousands of logos” and is “a corporate identity firm having worldwide dominance in the logo design industry.” Hell, this ain’t no Landor or Pentagram. This is LogosRUs.com! A real website we found in a real print ad in a real business publication.
OK. Who should we test this process on? We weren’t willing to risk a real client’s budget on this, and I didn’t want to conceive a phony assignment for these folks to work on. I’m on the 12-person Advisory Board of Western Art Directors Club so I brought this up at our annual meeting. There was one caveat, however. The Advisory Board had recently asked our esteemed senior member Sam Smidt to create the new identity for this 40-year-old organization. The Board thought this could be an interesting process, but agreed that we could not let this charade interfere with Sam’s commission. We’d just do it for fun. The plan was for WADC to come up with the cash, I would play the role of the client, and no matter the outcome we would not use the logo or publish the results.
So, here’s how it works. The first thing you do is log on to their website, plug in your credit card number, and wait 24 hours for them to do a credit check. They’re very cordial in the preformatted e-mail. They let you know once your credit card is approved that you will be receiving a questionnaire to fill out. When I received it, it consisted of 15 multiple-choice questions. This makes it very easy because the client doesn’t have to come up with any answers. They’re all right there for you. Most of the questions are the expected ones: “How long have you been in business?” “Who are your customers?” “How is your logo going to be used?”
The last question is the one that interested me most: “If your business were an animal, which would it be? Tiger, Lion, Elephant, Cheetah, Cat, Dog, Eagle, Crow, Giraffe, Kangaroo, Octopus, Shark, Horse, Crocodile.” What? No Whales or Woolly Mammoths? And no place for write-ins, either. Well, we’re a big organization that’s been around for a long time so I just clicked “Elephant.” My curiosity was piqued, but I’d have to wait 10 days to see how my pachydermal response would influence their approach. Another cordial e-mail thanked me for filling out the questionnaire and told me three designers would be put on my project and they’d each make three logos.
The best part of this process is that you aren’t subjected to face time with some egotistical design guru who’s going to have a personal opinion and attachment to your logo. I remember Sam Smidt telling me a few years ago, “The day may come when you can go to a website to get a logo, key in your credit card number, click on Saul Bass, Paul Rand or whatever designer whose work you admire, and you’ll get your logo instantly.” Well, I thought that time had finally come, but it was going take 10 days. I now have some sense of the suspense a client must go through as he waits weeks or months for us to give birth to his identity.
But the hardest part for me was wondering if we were really going to get a logo. For all I knew our money had just gone into some Swiss bank account, along with that of those “thousands” of other organizations who had logged on to get an identity for 300 clams. My fears were put to rest when we received a phone call from a designer at LogosRUs.com. He acknowledged receipt of our e-mailed questionnaire and had a few additional questions. He asked if we wanted a symbol or if we just wanted the initials of our organization. I told him to explore both. He wanted to know if we would consider the shape of the West Coast in our logo. I told him I didn’t think anybody would recognize it unless he also included the shapes of each individual stateon the left coast. He said he’d look into it.
Then he asked the most unexpected question of all: “Is there any particular style you would like?” I had an overwhelming urge to call Sam and tell him his prophecy had come true, but I was committed to leave him out of this process. I responded with, “No, but if it was a little bit Bass, a little bit Rand, and a healthy dash of Landor, I think you’d have it.” The response was a curt, “Thank you Mr. Tharp. We’ll e-mail your logos to you in 10 days.”
Exactly 10 days later, almost to the minute, I hear, “You’ve got mail.” I could hardly wait, but I wanted to share this experience with someone, so I rang up WADC president Eric Goldsberry. I got him on the phone and we both logged on to view our proposed identity.
“Make some nice hot coffee, sit back and relax as these new logos for you will be an art spectacle,” appeared on the screen. I immediately felt this was off to a bad start. First of all I hate coffee. Second, how can I relax? I’m getting six logos for half the cost of a tune-up for my Saab. I’m stoked! The most unsettling thing about this introduction was that they consider their logos art spectacles. That’s why I got kicked out of the fine-arts department in college and sent down the hall to the graphic design department. A logo shouldn’t be a work of art. It’s a communication device. Now I know why this logo only costs $299. It’s not an integral part of a well thought-out identity program? It’s just a logo, in and of itself.
As we scrolled down the page it was obvious that three different designers had worked these logos. The first three were very conservative circles with lines in them (Bass), the second three were lively monograms (MTV) and the third group consisted of three sets of colorful initials in black boxes (Rand). They all had one thing in common: They were all hideous. In a funny sort of way. There were no sketches or rough layouts showing a thought process. Just nine 2-inch, computer-generated, finished-looking logos. It seems that anyone who can hold a potato and watch TV at the same time can be a graphic designer these days.
It was a tough decision, but LogosRUs.com makes it easy. All you have to do is click in the box of the one you like. I arbitrarily selected No. 5. Then a box popped up with the heading, “What are your comments about the chosen logo?” My response: “It is lively, contemporary and colorful.” Then another box comes up. “What changes do you want to the chosen logo?” My response: “In your preliminary questionnaire you asked if we had any color preferences. At the time we said we were open to suggestions.’ However, after seeing your color recommendations we wonder if you could make the colors a bit more West Coast?’ We are, after all, the Western Art Directors Club. The orange in your logo can represent the setting sun, put perhaps the purple-blue color could be a little more sky blue.’ Also, if you remember, one of our primary applications of the logo as you requested is for a rubber stamp. Because your logos are all multi-colored, I assume it would take two or three stamps, each using a different color ink, to stamp the logo. We are concerned that some of our senior WADC members would have difficulty registering all three colors. Finally, in response to your last query in the questionnaire we checked ‘Elephant.’ Therefore, can you make the logo bigger? If this is not possible, perhaps making the type smaller would make the logo appear bigger.” You never get answers to any of your questions. You just get another friendly preformatted e-mail that says, “You’ll get your revised logo in 24 to 36 hours.”
24 hours later we received three new logo variations. The new “western” colors were there and each logo filled the entire screen this time. I guess that was their response to our “Elephant” answer. I chose No. 3. It was the biggest.
LogosRUs.com’s clients must hire them simply because they exist. Certainly it’s not because of their logos. But maybe that’s all some businesses want, and these guys just came up with a way to make a living at it. Who am I to pass judgment, anyway? We got our logo, and we sure got our money’s worth. But we contracted with Sam because of his reputation and his work. I wonder what his identity is going look like. We’re not paying him anything.