This has been a week of transitions. On one hand my daughter graduated from college. On the other—I had to put one big project on hold and then a friend fired me. While I wish I was spending the majority of my time reflecting on my daughter's bright future I find myself mourning the loss of my projects.
I can't say either project's demise came out of the blue. The first client has been slow from the start with payment. But I know that as soon as their cash flow improves our work will start again. The second project had several warning signs I stubbornly refused to acknowledge.
A friend came to me last year looking for an identity concept for a new business. After discussing goals, writing a brief and compiling inspiration boards it was clear that the business concept needed work and we killed the project. Despite working several billable hours, I didn't send an invoice (mistake number 1) because it was clear that they needed to refine their business plan. And sure enough about sixth months later they were back with a new name and concept. This time they contracted with me for two things—a logo that could be applied to stationery items and a website and a business card design and production. As we moved through the design process it became clear that the brief we agreed to and their response to my sketches didn't quite match up (mistake number 2, we should have revisited the brief). And worse, the premium production methods they craved didn't fit into their start up budget. But somehow I kept digging in. Because the client is a friend I scrambled and designed additional work (you know, another mistake). My desire to please and to encourage them to feel ownership of the process was my downfall. I exceeded the allotted design hours times two.
Here is the rub
The identity is nice. It fulfills the original brief. It is visually simple, unique and a little quirky. (I will probably enter it in a couple of competitions.) It works well at a variety of sizes and in one color or full color. It absolutely fits the clients brand. And I am proud of the design. But ultimately none of that matters because the client isn't happy. What they really wanted but couldn't articulate was something hipster or trendy like this.
So while I mourn the work, I know that the design they want is not something I want to do. I understand visual trends. I subscribe to journals, scour the annuals and regularly read design bloggers. Being on trend is really useful when I'm creating limited-time promotional pieces or ads for my clients. But identity and logo work should be held to higher standards. Logos shouldn't be trendy—because trends come as quickly as they go and your mark will suddenly look out of date.
I believe that a good logo should be:
—easy to reproduce in the intended mediums
It should feel like the only right answer, or at least the obvious answer.
But simple design is tough. The client and the designer have to be on the same page at every step in the process. There has to be a clarity of concept and attention to detail from the first sketch through final print production. Work with this kind of focus and visual simplicity is deceptively hard. It is also incredibly rewarding—there is nothing better than seeing work created a dozen years ago still in regular use and looking fresh.
After 30 years as a practicing designer I'm entitled to my opinions—but I'm interested in hearing your thoughts. What do you think defines a good logo?
(p.s. Don't worry about me. I had two new business meetings last week and I can guarantee I'm going to work very hard not to make the same mistakes.)