Form without Meaning

You know the drill. Two weeks before opening, a friend starting a new restaurant comes to you in a panic. He needs a logo. Fast and cheap. What do you do? How do you respond?

Or maybe you’re more familiar with the start-up that wants a complete identity for their business…”make it chic”; “make us look modern but with a nod to the traditional”. Or possibly the client who already has the design “in their mind” and needs a “professional” to make it reality. Or try some of these actual client requests on for size:

“I would like the design to be simple, yet refined (don’t want to have to pay a lot each time for reproducing). This logo will reflect our passion for the business, and our willingness to provide excellent customer service, and our team spirit.”

“We are looking for a designer to create our company logo for X Consulting. How quickly can you deliver?”

“Looking for nice logo design. Have design in mind. Should be easy.”

“We are not looking for logos that are just font styles we actually want a logo, a picture or sketch design preferably with a door or something that would just be distinctive even something to incorporate our name, a mock sketch or quick rough sample designs would be appreciated and would help narrow down the people that are going in the direction that we are interested in. Total freedom on this project is granted.”

“I need a simple but effective logo for an up-and-coming band. We want this logo to go on everything from t-shits to koosies and stickers. We want a logo that is as recognizable as the xx Band logo if you know what I mean. Simple but unusual enough to bring recognition up to the top tier. So I guess what I am getting at is that all that is needed is a kick-butt font as well as arrangement ideas. Anyway, as I said this could move into all kinds of areas from logos to CD covers to the business stuff for the label. Give me some good stuff guys. I plan to move fast, so really put your heads into it and get me something people are going to rave about.”

Don’t you feel appreciated? Valued for your creativity and talents? Know that you are contributing to something worthwhile and lasting? And what’s the kicker to all these client requests? Most want the projects done for less than $250. Hire a plumber to put in your kitchen sink for that much, and he’ll laugh at you. Why are clients so cheap when it comes to design? Do they not understand what we do? Do they not care? Have we lead them to crave logos like an expectant mother craves a midnight jar of pickles?

I believe that logo and identity design (or “branding” as the advertising mucky mucks call it) is like a veneer you put over particle board. Looks good on the outside, but it covers over cheap insides. Logos and their all encompassing brand identities don’t give meaning to a company or product. They just express what is already there. Unfortunately, most clients just want to look good, and they’ve been trained (by us) to know that their business must have a logo or an identity system before it can be successful. Form without meaning.

Here is what I’d like to suggest to clients: Forget about a logo. Go naked for at least 2-5 years with a logo-less, identity-less business and spend your time and energy actually becoming something. Then, once your business identity is firmly established, hire a designer to express it. And pay them well for it. If you can’t, just do everyone a favor and design something yourself.

And to designers: If you simply must pay a bill (which we all must do in between multi-million dollar award winning projects), crank out that logo in under an hour. I guarantee it’s going to look better than anything the client could have come up with even if it is meaningless.

At the heart of design is meaning and passion more than form or function. Let’s help people connect with the heart of who they are through design.

2 Responses to “Form without Meaning”

  1. Bruno

    It pisses me off, when clients (with money) refuse to pay for quality services, instead the choose the cheaper offer and end up with crap, “ALL the TIME” and for some reason they seem to not learn from their mistakes…

  2. Jonathan

    I set my price high and I don’t take it personal when they don’t call back. I even like to play around with the numbers to see how much I can get. Ask questions like “What was your businesses net profit last year?” or “What is your budget and turnaround time.” Matter of fact, these have become my first questions to ask. The best any of us can expect of ourselves with regard to fighting back the wave of crappy work that has infiltrated our culture and society is to stay determined not to be that guy. You know, the one doing the crappy work.

    You have to be willing to let stupid people be stupid. It’s not your fault they are that way any more than it is your responsibility to enlighten them. Do what you can do. Set a price that is fair to you and try to educate and advise the best you know how. Most likely it will simply serve to weed out the folks who are serious about making money and those who only want to look like they have it. It will free you up to spend your time with those who recognize good work and value your abilities (like your spouse or your kids or occassionally a really great client). It will save you a lot of sore feelings toward cheap plastic businessmen and the marketing industry that can put food on your table from time to time. Get to where you don’t mind seeing someone walk away from you. And last, pray for those poor wretched souls that just graduated college who are about to get schooled by a smooth-talking Ken doll dressed in a flashy pin-striped suit.


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