Feb 25, 2010

A Word About Logos

As the saying goes, a picture is worth one thousand words.  Nowhere is that statement more true than when it comes to logo design.  In fact, the term "logo" finds its roots in the Greek term, logos which literally defined means "word," but actually encompasses concepts like storytelling and analogy.  Which makes sense, because in some ways, a good logo succinctly encapsulates a company's story. 

If done right, a logo also draws attention, conveys memorability and reflects a business' personality.  Even if you believe, as Seth Godin does, that a great logo doesn't mean anything until the brand makes it worth something, if you do decide to create a logo for your firm (and opinions diverge on the need for logo, as discussed below), devote some thought to it or you'll be saddled with something hideous if you eventually hit it big.

So should a law firm have a logo? As with most topics related to marketing or branding, there are two schools of thought.

No Logo Needed 

Several years, Tom Kane of the Lawyer Marketing Blog (absolutely not to be confused with this one, as Tom's been around forever!) downplayed the importance of logos, arguing (somewhat like Seth Godin) that if your service isn't excellent, then a logo is worthless.  From Kane's post:

The point is, logos can be helpful if your product and service is excellent. Otherwise, it can truly give off negative vibes, and it would be better to not have a logo than to have one that generates immediate disdain. I like logos, but a logo is much less important than the impact of your legal services (both the legal product and the actual client service experience).

Dan Hull of What About Clients concurs, adding that a logo is really nothing more than your firm's look -- the patterns, letterhead and colors reproduced on stationary, business cards and the firm website.  Indeed, seems that a number of law firms subscribe to Hull's philosophy; even mega firms like this or this one which could readily afford a fancy logo, instead use simple typography that one might find on letter head in lieu of a logo.

Which raises a second point about logos:  great, professional design doesn't come cheap.  As I'll discuss, there are some low cost and even DIY options, some which are more preferable than others.  But if you can't afford more than a generic logo, you may be better off taking the approach that Hull suggests.

Tips for Logo Design

Let's say you want to take a chance on a logo - maybe you have a distinctive idea in your mind or perhaps you feel that it will make your firm stationary and business card look more prominent.  If that's the case, here are some tips for getting started:

1.  Identify what you like...and what you don't

Do you have a concept for a logo?  If not, there are plenty of resources to stimulate your imagination.  Steve Matthews of Stem Legal suggests SeekLogo.com, a tool that allows you to search a database of around 200,000 - though as Matthews points out, there are only 59 examples for law firms.  Even so, you may find inspiration from other industries. 

If you find that nothing resonates, you might find it useful to review examples of top logos, selected by others, such as this top 250 logo list or 20 great and 20 not so great logos.  It's also interesting to read a designer's explanation of what makes a good logoLogo Design Love offers a treasure trove of information on logo design, including samples and discussion of the design and redesign process (not surprisingly, Logo Design Love has a great logo!).

2.  Setting a budget

Once you've got a couple of logos in mind, you'll probably want to set a budget.  Great logo design costs money, which was something that I never fully appreciated until I actually explored the process.  Six Revisions rounds up a bunch of posts like this one that depict the steps in developing a logo, from idea to inception.  If you thought editing a brief or drafting a contract was time consuming, take a look at the design process: it's equally involved. 

3.  Design options for implementation

    a.  Professional designer or web company


With a budget in mind, it's time to find a way to implement it.  If you're able to spend several hundred dollars or more, you might decide to hire a professional designer.  Seek recommendations from colleagues, but don't stop there, as your colleague's tastes may differ.  In addition to references, you want to look at the designer's portfolio to get a sense of his or her style.  Where a designer is local, an in person visit is useful.  And for a designer who's in another location, a phone call is imperative.  You'll be working with this person intensively, albeit for a brief period, so it's best to get a sense of how you'll interact (a phone call also provides added reassurance that the designer isn't fly by night).

Another option for logo design is to commission the work as part of web or blog design.  Again, personal recommendations, followed by a review of the company's portfolio is important.  In addition, if you see a logo on a site designed by your web or blog developer, don't assume that the web company did the design.  Many times, customers hire a web company and provide their own logos that were prepared by another designer.  So if you choose to use your web company for logo company, ask explicitly about their design experience and whether the company actually designed some of the other logos at the site.

b.  Online options for more affordable design

If you can't afford a professional logo design now, not to worry.  There are plenty of mid-range options that you can locate through the Internet.  Results vary, but with some due diligence, you can may be able to find a satisfactory logo at a reasonable price.  On line options include:

1.  Craigslist and intern websites

Several designers offer logo creation services on Craigslist for fees ranging from $60 to $199. You probably won't get anything high end, but again, check the portfolio and see if the designer's work appeals to you.  Another option for low cost work include websites like UrbanInterns or College Helpers where you might find new grads or students looking to build a portfolio and thus, willing to work for less.

2.  Elance, Odesk and freelance sites

Instead of hiring someone for a flat or hourly fee, you can also bid out a logo project at sites like Elance.com or Odesk.com.  You can sign up and provide some details about your project, and set a cost cap and see what kinds of responses you generate.  Both sites include information about a designers' work history and feedback from other customers and provide an escrow type account to hold money in case there's a dispute later on.  As an alternative, you can search for designers by project (e.g., design or logo) and directly contact those who've done work that you like.

3.  Design Contests

Several sites, like 99 Designs or Cullego allow users to run a contest to select a logo.  Essentially, users offer a prize and a description of the project, and designers submit a proposal, with the winner collecting the prize money. While I've seen law firms use contest design sites, I don't recommend them.  Though characterized as crowdsourcing, in my opinion, logo contests are a way to get free work on spec, which isn't fair (would you work on spec?)  In addition, there are a host of other concerns about logo design contests, including the likelihood of attracting low quality or inferior design, winding up with potentially plagiarized work and the legality of contests.  (For another view of crowdsourcing design, see here.

4.  DIY Sites

Some online sites allow users to design a logo themselves, by mixing and matching stock images, fonts and colors in an online template.  Some of the online sites  like LogoYes offer decent variety and themes; you can design the logo free and then pay $69 to $99 to purchase it.  Logoease offers a similar concept but it's free, though its choices are more limited.

Conclusion

Though a professional logo can be fun to create and add some distinctiveness and pizazz to your website and business cards, ultimately, your logo won't carry much value unless you do the work to back it up.  Oddly, when it comes to something as visual as a logo, seems that substance trumps form.