Stock logos and the demise of customization

This past summer, my wife and I discovered homemade ice cream. Sounds nice, right? No, it’s not nice. It’s flippin’ awesome. You don’t know until you’ve tried it. And, like the ice cream, there are many things in our world that we just buy off of the shelf. Donuts, cereal, shoes, clothing, bikes… all of these things are made in stock varieties that everyone just passively lives with. I often imagine how wonderful it would be to have custom-made shoes — shoes made just for my peculiar feet. I have a sense it should be that way; I feel that something has been lost by quantizing the options I have to choose from. But there aren’t any cobblers in the yellow pages.

Perhaps logo design is going the way of cobblers. Only the wealthiest buy custom-made shoes — they have become a luxury. What’s mass-manufactured is good enough for the, um, masses. Maybe only the wealthiest will contract custom logos. As for everybody else, consider this list of prefab-logo mongers that I put together in 1 minute with a google search:

Maybe logo design is going that direction, but I don’t think so. I think that there will always be savvy businesspeople who know that their brand identity needs a logo that is part of the uniqueness and differentiation of their product or service. How can an off-the-shelf logo do that? Does a savvy businessperson buy a stock business plan and a stock marketing plan, or do they craft them to suit their vision? Do they use stock product designs or do they engage in the process of creating a unique product? Similarly, a savvy businessperson will participate with a design professional in the crafting of a custom logo suited to their vision and the brand that will arise.

And yet stock logos abound, soon more so than ever with the popular istockphoto.com weighing into the fray. It’s no surprise that I hear a lot of negativity about this new development. I think most of the concerns can be boiled down to these three points:

  • A generic logo speaks to a generic identity. Pretty obvious.
  • Stock logos undercut the value of professional design. This the biggest concern for smart designers. If potential clients can just go to an online warehouse and buy a logo off the shelf for a fixed rate, why would they consult a professional and pay (generally) more for a custom logo?
  • The proliferation of stock logos perpetuates the perception that logos are a commodity, and you can get one anywhere.

These are all valid concerns. Some businesspeople will always look for ways to cut corners. The growth of stock logos makes this easier than ever. But there will also always be savvy businesspeople who will make the better choice and work with identity design professionals to create unique logos for their unique visions. So it’s not the end of the world. I actually think there are some benefits to istockphoto.com jumping on the already existing stock logo bandwagon.

  • The istockphoto.com logos will, arguably, be better than MS Word clipart, or Art Bombardment 8 Billion Clip Art Files collecions. They will be created by graphic designers and will be editable and scalable at the very least.
  • They will also be better than “logos” created in MS Paint. You’ve never seen such a thing? Really? If you haven’t seen a homemade MS Paint (MS Word) logo, then you haven’t really lived. It’s quite an enriching and affirming experience for a graphic designer.
  • Since the istockphoto logos will be made by designers, designers will be paid for them. And since it will be designers all over the place contributing (not just from one company), there will be some diversity.
  • Istockphoto.com’s pricing structure seems better than some of the others. $35 for a logo? Really? Would you contract a lawyer to draw up your corporate charter for $35? If you would pay $35 for either of these things, you’ll surely get what you pay for. Istockphoto’s logos will range from over $100 to almost $1000. That’s a little bit better. Stop yelling at your monitor. I said it’s better, not good.
  • Istockphoto.com will offer exclusivity on the logo designs. That means that, unlike istockphoto’s stock photos, if you buy a logo, you won’t have to worry about your competitor down the street, or someone completely unrelated, using the same graphic. That’s absolutely brilliant — it’s sound common sense.
  • As always, the existence of off-the-shelf logos will highlight the value of custom logo design. A lot of inexperienced businesspeople are looking for a little widget to put next to their company name on their business cards. That’s what they’ll get with a stock logo design. But good logo design isn’t a space-filler. It’s magic. The logo mark goes with the company name and vision like it was born there.

So don’t worry. Because there is intrinsic value in custom, professional logo design, there will always be a need for custom, professional logo design. But as designers, we must be more certain than ever that we provide that value. Don’t give clients logos they could have bought off a virtual shelf somewhere. Give them the power of custom identity.

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Posted in Design, Marketing