A memorable and effective logo design is like the ballet: It looks easy, but it represents thousands of hours of hard work and sweat, research and thought, plus an occasional dose of frustration, distilled into a tiny beautiful moment. Within the field of graphic design, logo design is a subspecialty that commands high prices, and for good reason. However, there are now plenty of websites where, for nominal fees, anyone can commission a logo or create one themselves by choosing from a kit of icons and typeface options, mixing and matching to their heart’s content.
This development was inevitable, and many professional designers hate the thought that their years of training and expertise are not valued by potential clients who think design services are overpriced and that their kids could do just as good a job designing a logo. It’s almost too easy to make fun of the whole thing as a design travesty, etc.
But assumptions aside: Is it possible to commission a decent logo from one of the interactive places? We decided to find out.
I invented a company whose sole product is called Cat Crunchies, and randomly selected a logo design website. It promised four separate logo concepts (though you receive only one as a final) created by two dedicated designers, with 48-hour turnaround, unlimited revisions, and a money-back guarantee. With a coupon offer, the lowest-priced package cost $39 (normally $149).
On each round of comments I gave deliberately ambiguous feedback. In an ideal world, when this happens a graphic designer comes back to the client for a quick conversation to clarify and learn what he or she was really hoping to see. Because my only option for phone contact was with a very nervous-sounding project manager working out of what sounded like a telemarketing room, I was never given an opportunity to communicate directly with the people responsible for bringing my vision to life.
Exact name to appear on logo: Cat Crunchies
Slogan (if any): Vegan, gluten-free treats for cats
Preferred style of logo: Modern
Look and feel: We want to convey the feeling of love for your cat and wanting to give him or her the very best healthy treats.
Additional comments: Comes in six flavors, provides 12 essential vitamins and minerals, cleans teeth and promotes healthy gums, responsibly sourced ingredients.
I added a random photo of my own cat, who sadly never made an appearance in any of the logo versions.
Started in a garage in Brooklyn in the fall of 2017, Cat Crunchies aims to give cat owners a healthy alternative to heavily processed treats found in supermarkets. We give 15% of profits to animal shelters and sponsor quarterly Adopt-A-Cat fairs. Every batch of Cat Crunchies is baked by hand and packaged in our signature tins.
Based on the information I provided and the above criteria, ideally the logo would allude in some way to a cat, perhaps communicate the idea of a crunchy treat as opposed to a daily meal, and also emphasize a healthy, small-batch, socially responsive vibe. I asked for “modern,” so I was hoping to see clean, contemporary-looking solutions to the assignment.
This solution was puzzling from the get-go. The Disney quality of the illustration doesn’t fit with any part of the design brief.
Client request after round one: Can we please try different and fewer colors, these look cartoon-y, and a more modern style of letters? Note: It isn’t only the colors that’s lending this one its cartoon vibe; it’s the illustration style. The designer needed to read between the lines of what I asked for and what I was objecting to, in order to fully resolve the issue.
What I got back? Salmon pink makes an appearance and the typeface has gone from a vaguely thorny serif to a squared sans. Not more modern, but definitely different. Cat remains the same.
Client request after round two: I like the colors better, but the cat looks very feminine. I worry that cat owners will think these treats are just for girl cats. Is there a way to fix that?
Resolution: Disney cat is gone, replaced with Maneki Neko, the lucky cat charm popular in Japanese and Chinese cultures. Huh? Less feminine perhaps, but not more appropriate—in fact, that kind of came out of nowhere, and doesn’t suit the brief either. Many people associate the color pink with femininity, so the designer might have tried to address that by presenting another color choice.
Navy blue and maroon are odd color choices for this project, considering they are most often seen in conservative palettes used for banking and/or insurance companies. Nothing about the color choices feels organic or food-related, says “cat,” or communicates anything about the use of natural healthy ingredients.
Client request after round one: I would like to see how it looks to play up the “Vegan” and “Gluten-Free” on this one since this is important to our customers. Can the colors look more like cat fur? [Note: this last remark was a deliberate attempt to be annoying.]
What I got back? Vegan and gluten free are now red instead of blue. No other methods of emphasis: change of scale, typeface, position were sent. Comment about cat fur colors ignored.
Client request after round two: Can we put the “vegan/gluten-free” into a separate little burst or a bubble? Also it would be good to try colors that look more like a cat.
Resolution: Half-hearted bubble drawn around existing words, with addition of a background color that is the same value as the red type, so the type basically disappears from lack of contrast. Second ask to try cat fur colors ignored. Designer appears to have given up.
This one was so depressing from the get-go (boring colors, unappealing blobby cat) that I almost didn’t attempt to work with it. Still, hope springs eternal.
Client request after round one: Could this one feel more exciting and show how owners love their cats? Maybe the letters are too plain, or the colors? [Note: This is a kind of typically vague client feedback. Unhappiness is expressed, but no real solid direction offered.]
What I got back? I have no idea what happened here. I imagine the designer with six YouTube windows open, texting, and microwaving a Hot Pocket while talking on a headset.
Request after round two: This one still doesn’t feel like it shows how you love your cat, maybe it’s the color or maybe it needs something that says love, like hearts or a hug?
Resolution: Holy crow. That heart is applied like a Band-Aid with no attempt to integrate it into the rest of the design. If the solution doesn’t work, solve it another way. Colors unchanged.
The initial try had a playful quality that I appreciated. Although the cat looked a bit like an insect, this one seemed the most promising of the four design options.
Client request after round one: I think this would look good with fun colors and if the word crunchies was not cutting into the cat. Is it possible to say “cat” without showing a drawing of one? [Note: this was not a direct request to take the cat out.]
What I got back? The cat is gone, never to return. Colors are definitely more “fun.” The word crunchies is still overlaid atop the word cat, though.
Client request after round two: The word crunchies is still cutting into the word cat, can you move it down? (Perhaps I should have asked for the restoration of the cat drawing just to see what might have happened.)
Resolution: I got everything I asked for.
Decision: So is this a good logo? Sadly, no. Just filling a client’s requests doesn’t make for good design; a designer has to listen to feedback then think on it and offer better solutions. Most clients don’t speak the language of design well enough to be able to say what they really want; a designer’s job is partly to act as interpreter, define and solve the problem, and make suggestions on how to get there. This logo has some worthwhile qualities—the use of a textured typeface that jumps up and down from its baseline for the word Crunchies communicates noise and activity, and overall the design feels lighthearted, suitable for a pet treat product. But the kerning on “cat” is terrible and the word cat is not properly centered over crunchies.
On all four options, there were no real explorations of other concepts or potential solutions on any version after feedback. Changing small details like a type color or adding a burst to an existing design that isn’t working tends not to solve the problem. If a client asks to put something into a bubble, chances are good the designer has to rearrange things, play with scale and maybe a different typeface. What I got back weren’t really new versions, they were just quick alterations on the first idea. It felt like there was no opportunity for the designers to play and experiment, to try other options as what-ifs … in other words, the fun part of their jobs seemed absent.
This is not meant as a critique of the talent or abilities of the people assigned to my project. It’s more an illustration of the basic fact that all design, and logo design in particular, is about communication and vision. The designers and I never spoke but went through comments provided through an online form, via a middleman who probably had a dozen other projects he was trafficking at the same time. Even at the busiest, largest design agencies a client always has a chance to meet with the people on the design team, hear what they have to say, engage and exchange ideas, and collaborate. That’s what was missing from this experience, and that’s how I ended up with a hot pink and lime green logo for my vegan, gluten-free, small-batch Cat Crunchies.
Know what it is to put your own design acumen behind a great logo design? Don’t just let it sit there. Submit it for consideration to the HOW Logo Design Awards, accepting entries for a limited time!