Logo Design Love

For graphic designers and all who love logos.

Beyond the portfolio – why being a great designer isn’t enough

Australia-based brand and marketing strategist, Bernadette Jiwa, talks about the cracks that can be hidden by a competent-looking portfolio.

brown leather

You know you’re good, the best around perhaps. You know what your design chops will add to the lifetime value of any client’s brand. There’s just one problem. Potential clients find it really hard to differentiate between the ability and services of logo and identity designers purely on the basis of a good portfolio.

Your portfolio alone doesn’t necessarily tell the full story.

During the course of my consulting work I’ve contacted a number of designers about their brand identity services for clients. I did the research online and my initial contact was made on the basis of liking both what I saw and read about the designers. I’ve contacted a range of international designers, from independent freelancers to large established brand identity agencies.


What I discovered



Size isn’t everything

The experience of interacting with a large agency which has been established for decades was a real eye opener. I filled in the contact form on their website, hit submit and was taken to an error message saying their subscription to the service had lapsed. I contacted their senior partner by email with my enquiry and let him know about the form error. Three days later I got a one line email and no thanks, acknowledgement or apology about the email form. Wow! At this point I checked again and the form still wasn’t working. This agency was plainly screaming at me from its’ big corporate rooftops that they didn’t need my business.



Communication matters

Generally, I was sent a blank brief template and a nice generic sounding email within 24 hours of making email contact.


One successful designer emailed by return asking for more information and explained why it would be helpful to me (not her) in the long run to have as much information up front as possible. She also attached a copy of the AIGA Client’s guide to getting the most out of the design process (PDF download). Not only did this make me feel like my business mattered, it told me that she really cares about what she does.

Fees have fuzzy edges

When it came to discussing fee ranges things began to get very fuzzy. Of course clients understand that without a fully defined brief it’s not possible to get a firm quote, however it must be possible to give typical ranges for services as David does in his FAQs
.

When pressed for a ballpark figure for identity design I was told by one agency that they had worked on projects ranging from $500 to $60,000 in the last 12 months and asked where I thought the project fell in that price range $100s, $1000s or $10,000s? This left me wondering what difference I could expect in the service and end result for a project costing hundreds as opposed to tens of thousands of dollars.



It’s easy to stand out

Try this. Head over to the portfolio page of three freelance identity design websites. Cover the logo on the page header and ask yourself; 
“What’s different about this?” 
If you mixed up those web page headers would you know who was who? Probably not.


Worth thinking about?




Takeaways for designers



Communicate

Good communication like great design is an art. How you make your potential client feel from the moment they start interacting with you is as important as the work you do for them. That interaction starts the moment they hit your landing page, read your blog, hold your business card, dial your number or fill in your contact form. Timely and transparent communication works.
Every client wants to know that they matter. Making them matter is why your business exists.



Differentiate

Yes, the quality of your work counts. Of course it matters that you can turn out stunning, unforgettable identities.


But generic is as generic does.
Your edge needs to be obvious right away. It needs to be expressed in every single aspect of your business and not limited to your portfolio.


“Don’t try to be the ‘next’. Instead, try to be the other, the changer, the new.”
— SETH GODIN

Also by Bernadette Jiwa:
Beyond the logo… “I love this!” moments
Sell what Google can’t optimise

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities

22 appreciated comments

  1. wow great post, really makes me think as I’m in the process of redesigning my website.

    hmm… I’ve got a lot to think about.

  2. Thanks Matthew, glad you found it helpful.

    I happened upon a really interesting design site recently. What I think is great about Reese’s site are two things mainly.

    Firstly the lack of clutter of any kind. It’s one page and the user has only two actions they can take on that one page, contact or view the portfolio.

    Secondly Reese sets out the agency’s stall perfectly. I know exactly the type of clients they work with and in what price range without having to read more than a few lines.
    I know what they stand for by reading the first paragraph.

    Take a look http://www.designbyreese.com/

    Good luck with your redesign!

  3. Hey,

    I think that great designers are also excellent communicators. They use visual symbols and representations to synthesize and extract the essence of a story, message or concept. Intuitively they are good at showing what their style is and how they are or can be different. But definitely, there is a fine line between being expressive and making your point come across the right way…

  4. Hi Bernadette,

    Wow–thanks so much for that commentary (and your email :). I appreciate how your piece here is more analytical and in-depth than a lot of what we see on blogs (list posts, ‘how to do something super fancy in photoshop’ etc)

    If it is of help to others, here’s some background on what drove the thinking behind our site & content:

    1. A couple years ago, I’d gone through maybe 20+ mockups in an attempt to redesign our site. I was frustrated, looked way too long at trends, galleries, etc and each mockup felt too fluffy, too hollow, too short in its potential life cycle.

    2. So what you see on the site grew from a strong desire to buck any current design trends. Not because that’s what the cool kids do, but I felt the strongest way for us to stand out was to strip out unnecessary fuss and do something that could work 20 years from now, or could have worked in 1960.

    3. The content evolved from there. We seek clients who want remarkable, usable design, not bells and whistles.

    For designers who want to position themselves apart from the crowd, figuring out your unique messaging, and building a site around that, creates a more intimate and memorable brand experience. It’s not a fast or easy process, but you’ll find it helps you attract more of your right kind of client.

    Thanks again, Bernadette!

  5. Thanks for the link Bernadette, I see what you mean about clearly setting ones stall out. It’s maybe something that I’ve overlooked somewhat in my redesign.

    I do like the simplicity of that site too, I’d prefer not to have to leave the site to view the portfolio but I can see how that adds to the simplicity.

    Many thanks for your input Bernadette! I’ve got lots more to think about!

  6. This article, really, could not have come at a better time as I’m currently planning out ways of really PERSONALISING every aspect of my design process/development. Thank you!

  7. Excellent post! I am currently in the process of re-branding myself and this article is a great reminder that branding doesn’t just come from a visual identity, but also from the attitude you have.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hi Reese,
    Thanks for taking the time to explain the process you went through with your website for the benefit of everyone.
    What’s also important to highlight is that the tone you’ve set on your website will carry through to every aspect of your interaction with clients. You have considered how to “brand you” in a memorable way.
    I bet your business card along with everything else you do and how you do it echoes your website design.

    Hi again Matthew,
    It’s often a lot more difficult to create unique identities for ourselves than it is to come up with something compelling for others as Reese points out.
    I’m sure you’ll work through it.

    Hi Ian,
    Thanks!
    I’m really glad it helped.

  9. Thanks Christa.

    Sounds like a lot of designers are rethinking their marketing and branding strategy right now.
    It makes great sense to hold a mirror up to what you are doing from time to time.
    Good luck with it!

  10. Hi Bernadette,

    Great article!

    Most business owners shy away from revealing their wild and wonderful personalities. They’ve been taught that it will make them “less” marketable.
    I originally did the same thing — until I realized I sounded like everyone else.

    One day I decided to be bold and fearless and be myself. Changed my copy and company name. As Robert Frost said, “I took the road less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”

    I encourage all my clients to do the same.

    Thx, Giulietta

  11. Hi Giulietta,

    Thanks!
    Most of us are afraid to stand out. We are so conditioned to fitting in from years of schooling that we’ve forgotten how to.
    I can see why you chose the name Fearless.
    I bet that once you discovered your own unique voice you found that you attracted more like minded clients making your work so much more rewarding.

  12. Wow… every time I find a post like this I end up feeling so small and at the same time I start to see everything with new eyes.

    I need to re-do most of my site now!

    Thank you for sharing, I’d like to add something more useful but sadly I think I’m not in any position where I can do so.

  13. Great advice. I also believe communication, honesty and transparency with clients is one of the most important things a design agency needs to get right.

  14. Hi Enrique,

    Finding your unique voice happens over time. I can see from your portfolio that you have clients from all over the world working with you so I’m sure there are plenty of things you are doing right.

    Designers are more than just their portfolios and their websites.

    Hi Stripeyhorse,

    Ditto. Honest signals are hugely important. Clients won’t buy from people they don’t trust no matter how good they are.
    (Nice branding for the dyslexia society).

  15. stef

    Excellent! Thanks for sharing!
    stef

  16. Jen

    This is a wonderful article. Each day I’m learning more and more just how crucial communication is.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Jen @adrinahdesign

  17. Thanks Stef and Jen,

    Hope it was helpful.

  18. I know it’s been a few years, but your link:

    “She also attached a copy of the AIGA Client’s guide to getting the most out of the design process (PDF download). ”

    isn’t connected anymore. Can someone point me in the right direction?

    K

  19. I tried finding it on the AIGA website, but couldn’t. Sorry, Katarina.


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