Have you ever wondered what it costs for a new brand logo?
I’ve branded a few projects and startups over the years, most of which have turned out to be bad ideas. But as I sat here looking through the small pile of logos I’ve collected, it struck me that I might try to tell you the story.
Here’s my experience on logos and startups, mixed with a little advice to avoid them both.
Really, the answer for price of a logo should be $1, almost all the time.
At least for me, most projects are side-projects. I usually need something I can point to while talking to people. Something like a skeleton website, with a few drawings and a page or two describing what I want to build. For all ideas like these, VectorStock is your friend.
It is unarguably a sad parable of our art industry that the retail value of a generally useful design, such as any one of these, is exactly a dollar, of which I’m certain the artist gets only a part.
If your project has a whole team, and that team includes someone who fancies themself an artist, you can always task that person with making a logo for you.
logos for two of three startups where I’ve been part of a management team
Two Frame Films was the only successful startup I ever ran. The premise was simple:
It is possible to make money as an artist…
…you do it by using your art to advertise other people’s ideas.
We were video-makers for small business in general, and ended up specializing onto making Kickstarter videos. It all worked fine, and I suspect our same recipe would apply to many other art forms besides video.
However, I would not recommend trying to make money by designing logos:
1 – We’ve already shown the resell price on gently-used logo parts is a dollar.
2 – During this same time period I also sat on an advisory panel for the local community college and got to review portfolios of their graduating Digital Media Arts students. It was a great track, with branches in game making, audio engineering, etc. Yet still, four of every five graduates gave us a portfolio for graphic design. Also, talent placement agencies would regularly email me whole lists of potential creatives whom I might want to hire, and nine of every ten of those was a graphic designer as well. The field is beyond saturated.
Rarely will any non-artist teammates ever tell you that drawing your own icons is a bad idea, so let me do it for you: this is a really bad idea. Try to do it only on prototypes and side-projects.
Nobody else on the playa info team ever wanted to draw anything better, so my five-minute placeholder art became the official logo for the whole operation. It’s even printed on the camp badges. The size you see it above is the full pixel resolution I drew it at, as it was never intended to actually be used. That is exactly what happens with self-made art, and a very good reason never to adopt any.
Native iOS development sux, so the Musen project is on hold until I either stop using an Apple phone or find a way to get what I want out of a web-app experience. No real fault to the icon, though a professional could clearly draw better. That’s the other reason to hire a pro: a hobyist approach to graphic design is not equivalent to years of dedicated study and practice, I promise.
Clutter Hero was the concept some buddies and I developed for an entrepreneurship class in biz school. We all thought it was a pretty cool idea, and it went something like this:
If you wanted your stuff stored, we’d arrange the storage. If you wanted your stuff appraised and sold off, we’d have eBay experts on staff who could work on that, from our own dedicated warehouse. Want stuff donated or dumped? All possible!
Would this be a good, stable business opportunity? Very likely, yes.
Could you ever get someone to throw money or effort into helping you start a biz like this? Not a chance.
Why? Because it’s a labor-intensive operation and might someday make the owners individually enough money to have a nice house. But no investor would ever get rich off of it, so no investor would ever invest in it.
Oh, you have a serious project, and need a real logo?
Let’s talk serious projects.
My first was Magelight, the brand for all the photo/video art I made.
the Magelight logo features a $375 glyph along with self-designed elements
A pro designed the little swirly glyph for me, then I added the rest when I renamed from Magelight Photography to Magelight Media. I split the name across two lines because I was tired of hearing mag-a-lite and wanted to help folks ken that “mage” is a word by itself.
This was the actual company wrapped around any photo/video work I did, and Two Frame Films, above, was a trade name within. I did that so my personal art could and would always have a stable name separate from the commercial projects.
That was actually a pretty good idea for the business. Sadly, it means this logo has rarely been anywhere that matters. Probably the most poignant example of this, and the best treatment of this logo ever, was a short video bumper a buddy and I worked on. He did so much rockin-awesome work, and then I think I made like two videos ever where I could show it.
“Never go into business with your life partner.” I once taught a whole lecture with that as the takeaway point.
the Kitty Loves Monster logo was a $625 drop-in-the-bucket on an otherwise massively expensive and totally dumb operation
At some moment I had to face that this company was a vanity project where my darling spouse was hemorrhaging cash to literally buy himself popularity and stage time. He had no plan, usually resisted any attempts I ever made to steer him toward profit, demanded I never tell him what to do, expected me to solve all his tough problems anyway, had me pay for everything, and never thanked me for any of it. As you might guess, our marriage failed because of this business. Nine years later, I think I’m still mad about it.
I was busy rebooting my life and needed a new logo for a whole new branch of art I’d just become obsessed with.
the $575 “suntiger” logo represents my Latter Earth fantasy world
Writing had become important to me. I’d just started a series of stories with a lead character who descended from a clan of warrior-mages called the Suntigers. I knew this was going to be a big project for a lot of years, and I wanted a powerful logo. I wrote into the design brief that I wanted something more like a family crest than a business glyph.
Eight years later, the world is called “The Latter Earth” and the logo design is something I still use, even as the dominant feature on book covers. This is the best investment in buying art that I’ve ever made.
This, arguably the best logo design on this page, is a side project that ran away with itself.
this logo was our $898 mistake
The theory went like this:
1. I build apps. 2. I am going to biz-school. 3. I soon will build an app that makes me money.
What app would I build? “Plots: Storyline Tools For Writers” was the best choice I found.
4. Thus it was worth throwing everything I could into the project and I got a really good logo to blazon the top of every planning document I penned.
Let’s be clear, anyone who knows how to make apps gets a lot of suggestions from friends on what apps to build. Most of them sound like challenging Google. Sometimes Facebook instead. What I had with Plots was an actual good idea, one even my biz-school professors seemed to like.
I was certain this was going to be the-project-that-worked. I could line up a whole party of people who believed I was a bright smart entrepreneur and able app-builder. I was going to get a small bit of support from this person, leverage that network connection to turn it into something larger, hire three folks to help me, and in about two years I’d have a running software house, of which Plots would be the first of our many lucrative products and services.
But then biz-school ended and real life took over once more. All my friends carried student loans and had to go work for big corporations; they certainly had no more time for startups. Other folks who’s help I needed would tell me it was a great plan, but wouldn’t ever lend me their weight to make it happen. I ended up just going it alone again, and if I’m building things for just me, well, other projects always ended up having a little more immediate need.
The Plots effort just fell to the back burner and eventually died.
(Even at a thousand dollar price tag, this entrepreneurial error was still orders of magnitude cheaper than Kitty Loves Monster.)
As Plots was the product, this was the dev house, and now it’s the framework made by that dev house.
the Octoboxy contest started with a mid-range bounty but we awarded two winners instead of one for a total of $908
Octoboxy is the name for the web-app framework that I’ve been building for years. It’s the name of my professional image, and if anyone ever did want to hire me and my friends to build them something, it’s also the company. My dream is someday someone buys all the intellectual property from me for… oh, say, twelve million? A friend once told me twelve is a comfortable number of millions.
I’ve hinted that all my serious logos come from tournaments. I used LogoTournament for the first couple, but went with 99designs for everything from Suntiger onwards. One thing 99designs lets you do is award multiple contest winners when you fall in love with multiple designs, and that’s what happened here. I knew I’d find a use for the second logo someday, and very recently did, for an open-source library that spun off the main effort.
Logo contests have a bad rep in the art industry because they’re arguably exploitive: an artist can contribute hours and hours of effort, but if their design isn’t picked as the winner, it’s all worthless. Probably what happens most is non-winning designs get broken down by the artist into components, which are reused in later contests as well as sold for a dollar each on VectorStock.
My own take is I can not feel guilty about using a viable marketplace that does flow money to talented individual creators when I do use their work. Yes, the graphic design industry is beyond saturated with twenty people applying for every one job. That is exactly why marketplaces like 99designs exist, to mediate. Killing the mediators will not solve the fundamental problem of more world-wide talent than there are jobs.
Would I hire an individual designer by means of a less desperate forum? Yes! I have several times, just not for logos. If you need character design, environmental design, or concept art, then FurAffinity, ArtStation, or any of the other artist-portfolio sites are wonderful places to find talent. The problem is, logo-tourney contests are such a specialized solution to a specific type of problem, that I don’t think you’ll beat them. Most especially, you won’t get the breadth of prototype ideas when hiring a single artist as you do from dangling a prize in a contest.
Your morals, of course, are up to you.
Thanks for reading my story. Let me know if you want my help on building any projects.
If I like your idea, I might even draw you a logo for it.