How Many Different ‘Looks’ Should A Logo Designer Create for You?
It’s the age-old question of logo design, isn’t it? At least it’s definitely one of the first things I hear when I’m approached by someone about a logo design. “So, I need a logo designed, and I need three different looks.”
What I find ironic, though, is that, invariably, no one is ever necessarily looking for a bunch of looks. In other words, it’s not like the client said “I need 10 looks and 30 revisions to each of those 10 looks,” and it’s definitely not like that’s what the designer was looking to produce when the work first began.
In fact, I would say that in probably nearly every instance with few exceptions, neither party wants that. When it happens, both parties usually find it frustrating, not worth the time or the money, and walk away with mutual feelings of not really liking each other, and of not being totally satisfied with the final result.
And yet, somehow, it has become all but universally assumed and accepted—by clients and designers—that that’s just how a logo design process goes. You do three looks, and follow that up with the client sending you back to the drawing board 50 or 60 times. I mean, how else would it go, right?
Well, IMHO, I don’t think it has to go that way at all. So then, you ask, how should it go? How many versions should I expect when getting a logo designed? Well, here are three considerations that are going to help you answer that.
Question No. 1: How passionate is the client about their brand?
Does the client really care about their brand? In their mind, does the logo need to be right, or just ‘good enough’? Does it need to mean something and speak visually with force, accuracy, and excellence, or do they ‘just need something simple’?
In other words, is the client passionate about his or her brand? One of surest ways to guarantee the excellence of a logo is the client’s own deep sense of conviction when it comes to the brand’s excellence. If the client has conviction when it comes to the excellence of her product or business, that will translate into urgency when it comes making sure the branding is excellent and accurate. In other words, she’ll know what she wants because she cares a lot, and if you’ll just listen, you’ll find that she’s telling you about it in detail.
If the client really cares deeply about the work, half the work is already done before you ever even sit down at the table. If she’s passionate about her brand, then she already has a clear and well-defined vision for what the project needs to look like and feel like if it’s going to accurately represent her brand. And even if the details aren’t there, they really are there, just in seed form, at which point all the designer needs to do is listen well and direct the research in order to bring those details out into the open.
So, does the client really care about the work? If yes, the direction will already be there in seed form, and with the right kind of listening, it’ll grow into a plant fairly directly. On the other hand, if the client doesn’t really care about the work, both the client and the designer are probably going to be in for a long and unpleasant ride.
Question No. 2: Does the designer really know how to listen?
This is the real lynchpin issue. Assuming that the client is a good client—which, for me, entails two things: 1) they’re willing to honor my price; and 2) they’re willing to honor and participate in the process—the designer’s ability to listen is The Defining Feature that distinguishes good design from bad design.
If the designer does not know how to tap into the client’s mind through effective listening, then they’re never going to arrive at an effective visual solution.
There’s a lot of talk about ‘nightmare clients’ in the design world; i.e., the designer presents the work to the client, and then ensues an endless, vicious cycle of revisions upon revisions upon revisions, the client’s frustrated because they’re not getting a good product, the designer’s frustrated because they’re making five bucks an hour on the job, and everybody just wants to be done.
In reality, however, that process is not due to nightmare clients. Authentic nightmare clients can be weeded out before the contract is ever signed by filtering prospects through the two criteria I mentioned above.
“Nine times out of ten, a bad experience falls squarely and entirely on the shoulders of a designer who has failed at his primary responsibility, which is listening to the client.”
Nine times out of ten, a bad experience falls squarely and entirely on the shoulders of a designer who has failed at his primary responsibility, which is listening to the client. It doesn’t matter how creative or artistic a designer is. If he isn’t a good listener, no amount of ‘looks’ are going to be good enough—not three, not 10, not 20. In fact, he’ll probably end up creating 50 or more versions of the logo by the time it’s all done, and not a single one will be really satisfactory for either party.
On the other hand, if the designer is a good listener, then, again, he’ll often have a real solid idea of the direction he needs to go before the ink on the contract dries.
Question No. 3: Is the designer a creative and effective visual communicator?
This is one of the easier, more straightforward things to evaluate. Is the designer creative? Does she demonstrate that she can create a range of visual styles? Can she make something that looks distinctly feminine (e.g., a salon or a spa) versus something that looks distinctly masculine (e.g. a construction company)? Can she create a look that’s appropriate for a circus, a law firm, or a bbq joint, respectively?
If everything she does has thick black outlines, has the same generic look whether it’s for a hospital, a wine label, or a plumber, if it all has the same ugly, heavy drop shadow—in other words, if she has no creative flexibility—she’s probably not going to be able to adapt to the client’s vision even if she’s able to see it in her own mind. Cases like this typically end up in the same ’50 versions and endless revisions’ scenario simply because the designer can’t do anything else but put thick black outline on everything. She’s just oblivious to the fact that that doesn’t look good.
So, clients, the moral of the story is this: If you really care about your brand, make sure you look just as hard at the designer’s portfolio as you do his or her prices. If you fudge on the former for the sake of the latter, you’re probably going to end up with something you’re not happy with, and you’ll just end up paying for your logo again when you have it redesigned later.
In any case, back to the point. If the designer has a wide-ranging visual voice, if she has obvious creativity, and if she has the ability to take input and turn it into something that’s a visually-accurate translation of that input, then, once again, the path should to the right logo design solution should be pretty direct.
Conclusion: Direction is needed, not guesses; solutions are needed, not options
In reality, the best path to an effective logo design is not guesswork, but a clear sense of conviction and direction. Guessing is great when the direction is unclear. Options are great when there’s little or no ability to provide a solution. But nobody really wants options; they want solutions.
I suspect that it’s the fear/assumption that there is no solution, or that there can’t be a direction, that drives the idea that multiple looks and tons of revisions are needed. When it’s assumed (consciously or not) that the designer won’t really have the ability to understand what the client is trying to accomplish, or that the client is fickle and has no idea what they really want (which is always false if they really care about their brand), the best safeguard is a lot of guesses, options, and revisions ad nauseam. And that’s a warranted assumption, because there are so many designers out there—even incredibly-talented designers—who have never even considered that their primary responsibility as a designer is to break out of their own ideas of what they think looks cool, and really listen to the client.
So…how many looks?
When the client is passionate about his or her brand, and when the designer really knows how to listen and has a pretty good degree of creative flexilibity, there’s no reason a logo design should require ten, or five, or even three versions. (And there’s definitely no reason why there should be an endless, frustrating cycle of revisions upon revisions.)
If all those things are in place, I think one version (and maybe some slight modification to it) should be enough. And, most of the time, I find that that is enough.