How to Select a Firm to Design a Logo

Sooner or later, you're going to want to communicate your business visually with a simple logo. It's perhaps the universal truth among all companies, from Apple's crisp apple to NBC's showy peacock. But knowing what to look for in a design firm and what the logo itself should be can be a tricky process.

To help take some of the guesswork out of it, I spoke with Nancy Essex, a partner at local design consulting firm Essex Two. The company has been around since 1989, working with a range of clients from Oprah in her early days to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Essex explained what tends to get overlooked in hiring companies such as hers, and also how open-minded you should stay throughout.

What are the criteria people should look for in hiring companies such as yours?

Nancy Essex: Well they should look for experience, definitely. They should make sure that the company they're talking to has experience and recognition for the kind of work they're looking for. They should also talk about the process -- how they come about the solutions they present. A lot of companies will outsource or crowdsource. A lot of companies will just pepper you with solutions that may or may not be grounded in the reality of what your business is all about.

If that's what you like, you're going to get something for less money. But if you want to cut some tailored solutions, a design firm that's going to walk through a process of discovery in terms of what's important to you and what values your business embodies? It's important to know that the design firm has experience doing that, so it'll bubble up visually.

And you want to call references. There's nothing like a happy customer that'll bring in more happy customers.

So they should just call up Oprah?

Yeah. Good luck!

You mentioned the process of discovery. What is that typically like after someone hires a company? Are there regular check-ins or do they agree to be presented a couple of options by a predetermined deadline?

What happens first, when somebody calls us, we will sit down and ask them all kinds of questions to understand the business, what it does, what it sells. Also to find out what kind of values that company is going to embody. If you want to be the best in customer service, we want to make sure we keep that in mind as visual solutions that'll percolate up in the creative process. If you're somebody who wants to communicate the extreme level of quality or the best price for the product, then those kinds of things inform the decision making in terms of what the visuals will look like?

How often does the opposite happen, where people come to you with something very specific in mind and ask you just to execute it?

It happens more often than we like. We've been around doing this for 22 years for a reason. We have skills in this area. So when somebody comes in and says, "Hey, I just want an orange circle, and that's going to be our logo," our response is always, "Well, tell us what you like about orange circles, tell us why that represents your company?"

It's not that they want an orange circle; an orange circle may be perfect. The important aspect is why they want the orange circle. Sometimes what happens is there are pre-conceived notions of what their customers respond to. If we can get to the bottom of why they chose that, we can get them the best orange circle they've ever seen or we can find out if the orange circle isn't a fit. That's the difference between a crowd-sourced solution and something you'll get from an experienced design team.

What are some common mistakes or clichéd ideas you see from clients?

One of the things that people do all the time that we have to help them through is saying, "I need a website!" First of all, everyone needs a website to some degree, but sometimes what you need is a landing page or a sales page. Sometimes what you need is a site where you can create a dialog with your customers, a blog site for example. Clients come to us feeling they need a particular vehicle for communication and what we try to do is talk through the reasons why they feel they need that, and that helps them assess whether that's what they actually want or if that's out of sequence with what they actually need. Sometimes they need a PR campaign, advertising, or an e-mail marketing process. Sometimes that's a common mistake, forming a preconceived notion in your head before you listen to what options there are.

Obviously this will vary somewhat, but what's a reasonable rate people should expect to pay for services like these?

If the price seems too good to be true, there's probably some costs that are going to be surprises at the end. If the cost is really high, you might be buying more than you need. It's kinda like buying a car, you can pay as much as you have. Not to denigrate the services they offer, but if you own a small business, you have to really make sure you're not buying more than you need. But you also need to make sure you're not diminishing the importance of what you're buying. The logo is the tip of the iceberg of your brand. It sets the entire tone, and if it sets the tone correctly, all the other materials can work in sync and get you exponential attention and memorability and all those good things you need as a brand.

If it's not in sync, if the logo is inaccurate, generic, or too timid, the rest of your materials have to work really hard. Chances are you're losing opportunity.

How long does the process take?

Longer than clients want. [Laughs.] It always depends because in creating a logo there's a lot of left-brain analytics you can apply. You can kind of schedule those. But there's also a whole suite of right-brain activity that has to occur that's a little less predictable in terms of creating a hard and fast schedule. The long answer is you can imagine within a couple of weeks being able to see the first responses. You have an opportunity to work with your design firm, and maybe you need something fast for a trade show, and you may pay a little more for speed. But it's nice to have a little gestation period so you can let ideas marinate a bit before you present them to the client.

One thing I wanted to say is that small-business owners have an opportunity to have a little fun with this, too. There's something memorable about it. People remember story, creative imagery, metaphor, and as a business owner, thinking about how to present themselves, allow yourself to play with the idea. Just let yourself play with ideas that might seem ridiculous at first. Sometimes the best ideas come out of the most ridiculous seed points.

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