Branding is a complex process. To execute it effectively requires at least a dash of knowledge in fields as disparate as psychology, graphic design and marketing. To cut costs, startups often put their faith in an amateur designer - perhaps a family member or close friend who appears to know their way around Photoshop. The temptation is obvious - get a perfectly serviceable logo for little to no cost. But a budding entrepreneur dismisses the value of professional branding services at their peril. In this article I'm going to look at just a few common blunders committed by amateur logo designers, with a quick look at the potential business consequences.
1. Not Doing Any Research
Often an amateur designer will enthusiastically jump into a branding project without considering the context in which their design will be viewed. You might think that the results look good, but what if you end up with something that's too close to a competitor's logo? At best that's embarrassing, but at worst you could be accused of copyright infringement. Or perhaps the quality of the design will simply fall well below the standard set by others in the market. Thorough research doesn't just ensure that nothing goes wrong, it also helps to ensure that your brand identity is a perfect fit for your startup.
2. Choosing the Wrong Font or Colour
It's safe to say that there are thousands of fonts and colours to choose from, and only a fraction of those will be suitable for your branding. This means that it's far easier to get a logo wrong than it is to get it right, and an amateur isn't necessarily best placed to make that judgement.
A quick Google image search shows me that the internet is festooned with oversimplified colour charts, each one applying various attributes and personality traits to the seven colours of the rainbow. They fail to capture the complexity of colour, how we perceive it, and the myriad connotations it can hold on so many levels, from the personal to the cultural.
Similarly, different styles of font have different personalities and associations. It might look good, but will it send the right signals? Does your designer have the nous to check the license and usage rights? Is the font clear enough to be read comfortably at any scale? There are many potential pitfalls that could spell trouble for your startup down the line.
3. Over-complicating the Design...
Part of good design is knowing what to keep and what to leave out. An experienced designer will have little hesitation in throwing something away that they've toiled at for hours if it isn't right for the design or for the brand. Conversely, I've seen many entry-level designers endlessly adding 'cool' features to a logo 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' style, only stopping when a creative director steps in to offer some solid critique.
Without that experience and self discipline, amateur designers often create logos that look like an absurd piece of abstract art, not the clear, effective piece of visual communication that your startup needs.
4. ...or Under-complicating the Design
Perhaps worse than over-complicating a logo design is having no design at all. This can happen when the person making it has no creative or design background whatsoever. I'm always at pains to point out that knowing how to use Photoshop doesn't make someone a designer. It's just a tool like any other. I know how to use a spanner, but I wouldn't suggest that you hire me to fix your car.
Yet still, for some reason, there are entrepreneurs who will merrily hand over the fate of their brand to printers or signage companies, who dutifully pick any font that takes their fancy and cut the business name out of whatever colour PVC they happen to have in stock.
What message does this send? Maybe that you don't think your business has the potential to make professional branding services worthwhile. Maybe that your business doesn't care about the details. Whatever the message, it certainly isn't one a dynamic, optimistic startup should be sending.
5. Using Stock Images
Making a logo is easy and cheap. All you need to do is visit a popular online stock image library, pick a distinctive illustration that suits your business, and write your startup's name below it. Yes, making a logo is easy.
Making is easy. Designing isn't. And there's a reason we go to all the trouble. Basing your logo on a stock image means that there's nothing to stop another company coming along and using that exact same image. An amateur designer might not be fully aware of the implications.
Suddenly your logo isn't the unique symbol of your brand identity that it's supposed to be - it's a mark of shame, especially if that other company uses it in a way that unintentionally undermines your message or creates unwanted associations. You'll also never be able to copyright it. Developing a business is challenging enough without that kind of setback.
I'm not trying to completely discredit amateur designers. There is such a thing as a talented amateur, and even the best designers in the world had to start somewhere. But starting a business is a big step, and branding can be make or break. Is it really worth taking a chance?