Given iStock’s size in the marketplace, I imagine there’ll be thousands of uploads. Wouldn’t that need a boat-load of copyright policing?

“We are placing the burden of checking for trademark-ability on the client.”

Oh. I see.

That’s a big burden. And while many designers won’t do a trademark search (that’s where trademark lawyers come in) what they will do is conduct weeks, possibly months, of research into the client’s market, competitors, history, goals etc. So if there’s a decent chance of copyright infringement, it can be picked up early.

One thing I’ve learned during my years as a designer is that a logo in isolation is like lipstick on a pig. It needs to be treated as part of an overall identity strategy, not picked off a shelf. This is no different from the “make your own logo” websites out there, or the logo contest spec work sites that harbour an equal amount of “design” nastiness.

iStock’s actions shouldn’t make designers worry

Many a professional photographer succeeds despite stock photography, but I am concerned for those small business owners who will undoubtedly find themselves in the middle of a legal battle, and for those professional designers who will undoubtedly find their work copied time and again by hacks looking for a quick five bucks.

Good time to be a trademark lawyer.

More elsewhere:


I agree with you whole-heartedly with this. Whenever a “designer’s” profitability rests on designing as many logos as possible, while spending as little time on each as possible (think design contests) jacking other people’s work is never far outside the realm of possibility. It will be certainly be interesting to see how this plays out, especially with iStock’s recent $10K “guarantee” that all their images are legit.

BTW – thanks ever so much for the link to my article. Appreciated.

sadly david, too many people are unaware of the work that goes behind designing a logo. too many small clients think very little of that aspect of things and istock just added to the lack of educating them. i had a client who asked me how much for a 4×6 flyer design for his nightclub monthly, i gave him my price and he literally laughed at me and said “no thanks, i have one of my bartenders do it for $50 and they look great” : needless to say the designs look like they were designed by the guys feet. hope all is well, lorenzo

It’s an actual disaster. You’re spot-on David with your concerns about copyrighting. But for me Lorenzo, I think, has nailed it: too many clients don’t appreciate what’s involved in identity work. It’s our job to help them understand what’s involved and what a great identity can do for them.

We’ve already seen how various iStock elements have started to appear in logos all over the world. Imagine how bad it will be when they start churning out actual proper logos themselves?

This will make a mockery of what we as designers are trying to do. The fact that iStock are making these logos ‘unique’ (i.e. only downloadable once) will lend real weight for those who are not educated in the finer aspects of identity design. I can just imagine a client saying “Yeah it’s not one of *those* logo sites where everyone has the same logo; mines is a one-off don’t you know.”

Jesus wept.

The comments about this on TechCrunch made me smile. Comments such as ”this could be the death of the design industry” – hardly.

It’s all about education and holding the clients hand, especially the smaller clients.

Let the un-educated have their word-art, vectoriffic logos. Once they notice it isn’t the timeless masterpiece they hoped for, they’ll soon come begging, cup in hand, to the pros for a proper job.

Thank you Martin.

I agree Abbas. Unfortunately it seems only about 1 in 4 clients truly understands the concept of design which is an indicator to usually how they run their business which in turns tells us why only 1 in 4 business come close to succeeding. There, I tied a good logo into whether you live in a shack or a mansion, ha!

I don’t know what’s the worry because the chaps who are gonna purchase a stock logo is never gonna hire a professional designer in the first place because they don’t see any value in a professional graphic designer.

I’m with you on this one David.

It always angers me when people offer up this very sub standard design options.

Sadly though, there will always be a market for this sort of trash and i’m sure it will make iStock a lot of money

Just to clarify the $5 is a bonus… Logos are selling for $200-$800 with 50% commission…
I don’t think it will effect the market of custom logos at all only compete with companies like brandstack… Which are totaly different markets… as for the legal aspects I’m sure istock knows there shiz when it comes to this…

Steve, that’s a hefty back-up for copyright infringement. Do you know how much a typical trademark attorney will charge to register a mark? Or is that as bad as asking how much for a logo? Knowledgeable about law I am not.

Lorenzo, sadly, yes, but happily, there’ll also be those who value good design. Moves like this don’t help, that’s for sure, but let the spec sites and pre-fabricated symbol sellers fight it out amongst themselves. Rather them than me.

Martin, you can equate the mockery to logo design contests. It’s another reason to focus on our own games, upping them to further widen the gap in quality.

Abbas, another comment that brought a smile to my face, “This is awesome news. I need to brush up on my Photoshop skills.”

Michael, how much money it’ll make is yet to be seen. If you think of it as glorified clip art, the prices will just keep falling and falling.

I used to love iStock because of it’s wide range of images available. Especially if you’re looking for something like a polaroid and other seemingly random items.

But, this Logo business–in my opinion–is pretty much a huge slap in the face to us designers who make up a large amount of their client base.

Ditto everything said about this. Talk about the worst business move a company could make. We will never renew our credits due to this conflict of interest from a supplier.

I agree with Ram. Professional logo designers have a specific target market. iStock will appeal to a completely different target market. It’s like asking a BMW driver to switch to a Dodge…just not gunna happen.

I’ll be very interested to see what happens when the first copyright infringement case comes up. It’s all right saying ‘buyer beware’ but I don’t think that discharges your responsibilities as a seller.

I see parallels with istock logos and some music sites where the site provides a platform for people to download music illegally. If istock provides a platform for people to acquire ripped off ideas is that the same?

Time will show! It is a wide market. We must get more clever in what we do and protect our work, talk to your clients and work harder! Good luck!

In my experience, some clients can be educated by designers, other clients cling to the cheap knock-offs and refuse to broaden their mind and open their eyes. Once I see that there’s no point in my client education, I let them go and get their cheap deals. I think over time iStock and similar sites & services will do the educational job for us, designers, and we’ll see those clients coming to us and begging for help. Which is good, then we can triple our rates and that would teach them a lesson not too be greedy and cheap next time.

Thanks for all those handy links you’ve interspersed this post with, David.

So it’s not just me who had one of those iStock Photos’ marketing emails about this “service”this morning.

I use iStock Photo from time to time, but now, I feel their professionalism has been tainted by this shambolic practice.

Here-here to what David Buchanan stated about the first copyright infringement case…I bet that would be in the Twitter trending topic list for a while, damaging their own business.

I hope Shutterstock and Dreamstime don’t take the same route. It could be contagious!

If someone would explain (again and again) to clients that they would buy just a generic icon, which may or may not anyithing to do with the company, as opposed to a thoroughful process of crafting a brand concept, where the logo is just a part of the whole, the price is fine. Dumping rejected icons for $350 is not that bad.

100% agreed with you guys, professional logo designers won’t be out of clients, in no possible way. Thank God there are a handful of clients that value design, branding and the overall identity of their company. From what I see, here, in Brazil, is that a huge number of clients undervalues the power of design ( and a lot of them still goes well on earning money ), and some clients want to have that cool stuff for their company. Cool stuff the blends well with their way of work, and how they run the business. As a designer, I try to get those clients, and create the best design and the best relantionship I can, cause that precious client, normally has friends that think alike, and he will remember me when a friend asks him for a designer. Thats the best marketing ever. Also, this kind of people, don’t laugh at you when you give them your price.
For the other clients, those that don’t believe in design, branding etc, ClipArt Logos will do their work, cause they won’t even know what to do with a branding manual.

Thank you guys…

it still scares me this overall marginalizing of our profession. I’ve been seeing ad agencies, cities, professionals, etc., people who know better!, starting to use crowd sourcing and contests for everything from logo to brand to ad design. it is hard to educate someone when they don’t come to you in the first, second or third place. it’s not like they run in the same circles as us. their access to information on the damages that could happen doesn’t get to most. sorry, it scares me. I’m trying to keep optimistic even so, however. when the economy gets back up and running, hopefully our industry will as well.

Just like in any other stock situation, I’m sure you’ll be able to tell what’s stock and what’s not. The best logos, the ones that are integrated to work precisely with a client’s business, will never be stock. True designers will always have some marketability no matter what cheaply priced alternative pollutes the design landscape.

There are some interesting reactions to this article, and I have to say how surprised I am to read the news that they are starting to offer this service, if not only purely from a legal perspective – it seems like a mine field!

Just how they are going to govern the designs will be interesting; surely the whole process is going to require a huge amount of administration to ensure the designs are legally acceptable, I’m not sure if placing this responsibility on the designer is really going to be effective – I can see the lawsuits flying in already!

As for the general effect of selling logos on a stock site – the comments have been quite interesting. I don’t think it is “undermining” or “degrading” logo design in general, at the end of the day if a client wants a successful and unique design they will have to approach professional designers, there is simply no way around this!

The problem is these days anybody can be a designer or a photographer and so on. There is no restriction and all you need it’s a computer, some software (ripped or not).Beside this are some smart guys (see iStock) that have full interest that this kind of bad habits persist and as long as will exist people willing to pay little money for poor jobs and people willing to do poor work for little money, this will go on and on and on. On the other hand we have lower wage countries like India, China…. even my sweet home Romania, or worse, countries like Canada, US and some of the European countries that will support underpaid work and situations like this will occur more and more often. It all start with our education. Designers have been so self-centered for so long and only now they start to gather around an idea, when things are going to go bad. What we need it’s a structure, sort of like doctors or lawyers have, and only people that have a certain amount of knowledge and experience can work in a certain area. But this means that every designer to stand up and fight for his profession. I feel sometimes humiliated by some so called designers or some potential clients, when they tell me that you don’t need years of design and hours of work to get a job done, and that even a monkey can be a graphic designer, that the only thing you need it’s some stock inspiration and a computer. And I feel like screaming. We should all think that behind our work are years of study and hard work, lots of money spent on studies, books, materials, hours and hours of reading and research. Evan if you are 100% inspired you can’t do a great job in 5-10 minutes. You can draw a logo in this much amount of time, but you can’t do the research for a good identity or have the time to talk with the client, to understand him and his needs. Everything connected with design, photography… art and crafts in general it involves lot of love and tons of respect for ourselves, the others and most important for our work.

No! it’s not a disaster, it’s just a damn good business for iStock, that now owns some of the best known stock websites (too many in my opinion) The biggest problems that there is no law to prevent the monopole on the internet services of a certain company. Something like “I’m not buying from you, I’ll buy from the other one”, but the other one, slowly becomes the same one. And this same one has the arrogance to under rate our work and capabilities, to let the monkeys do the work of an astronaut. Why this happens? Simple! Because we let them.

All the best to you all.

I think it’s important to distinguish between clients who are injudiciously frugal and clients who are intimidated and confused by the process of recruiting a professional designer.

I mean, if it’s anything like web design, they have no idea how to find you and rely almost entirely on fruitless Google searches and poor recommendations from their equally clueless colleagues and friends, they’re worried that the costs will be astronomical and they’re embarrassed to ask, they have no idea what their budget should be because they don’t know what good design costs and can’t very well ask you and expect a sincere answer, and they don’t know how time-consuming and attention-demanding the whole process will be or whether they’ll be able to oversee it.

Having a non-designer find and choose and work with a designer can be as unfamiliar of territory as it might be for a designer to select a suitable therapist. How are you supposed to find someone good if you don’t know how to start, or what criteria to operate from? You need a designer to hire to a designer, practically.

I think there’s this attitude of “Oh, clients are stupid and cheap, we have to pull them on a leash to get them anywhere” but I think most of them are just lost. Good design isn’t just about a great logo; the second you start designing for money, for real people and real companies, I think there’s a service element to design too. Promote, get the word out, give clients a roadmap, have a compelling spiel on why professional designers are necessary and cost-effective, show them that this won’t be scary and that it’ll pay off financially, and say things like “If you don’t choose me I understand, but I really think you should…” so that they know you aren’t just fucking with their heads.

I think over time designers will have to step this service aspect up a notch or two. But if they do, it’ll blow new “innovations” like iStock away.

Hi David. I read Ronnie Lebow’s article, too. Great read.

Why are all designers not getting together in one big platform? “Revolution of the Designers”. Let’s face it, we are just talking, criticizing but we are not acting.

As the Internet is growing faster and faster, all the designers should come together at one website. Here potential clients could be informed and educated about what’s right and what’s wrong in this industry.

hi Choppet,

you are part right, but you miss one thing, we don’t talk about the ones that are “lost” (that I also consider fair to give as much help as I can), we are talking about the ones that know exactly how much a design costs, but they deliberately underestimate the cost for their own financial wealth (no matter what that means to the others) and I talk about the ones that are so ignorant and arrogant that they don’t care about how much work it involves (the ones that don’t want to listen because they think they know everything), but most of all, we are talking about the ones that don’t respect other work, skills, talent, investment…. bla bla

all the best

I generally don’t design logos for clients, but for the handful that I have created it’s a lot of work.

And policing copyright or trademarks will be very interesting as in how are they going to do it.

I’m dealing right now with a company in CA that has taken content from my website that has a registered copyright. People whether clients or not can be completely clueless.

If designers feel strongly about this issue, they should take a stand, cancel their accounts and boycott iStock.

It’s the economics of changing a specialized service into a point of purchase commodity. It’s not about design at all. iStock is a business trying to make more money by exploiting ‘designers’ who don’t maintain a full vertebra (which has been part of their business model for a long time).

Great article and resources. This is a topic that more designers need to hear. I still have fellow designers who don’t know what is wrong with sites that offer these sorts of services.

And I have to say the link for those who are “uncontrollably compelled to upload a logo” made my day!

“One of those things is that a logo in isolation is like lipstick on a pig.”

I love it! Funny and true! Logos are useless when not designed in context! :)

David, thanks for the article and keeping this subject top of mind.
I recently had a client tell me “I don’t need a new logo, I bought this perfectly good one for $100.” And btw, it perfectly sucked.
He hired me to do other work, but this doesn’t bode well for our relationship.

One thing we can do as design professionals is continue to educate on brand experience vs. cheap logo design. I have always encouraged clients who don’t want to pay for a thorough logo brand project to simply use clean typography. Good type beats a bad logo (which can actually hurt you).

And we can boycott iStock.

And we can keep talking to each other, and keep supporting those in our industry who are doing awesome work. That includes you.

It is most certainly true that a fair amount of trademark infringement will occur as a result of iStock’s decision to offer pre-created logos. However, reasonable designers can avoid such action by simply using a logo as inspiration.

True designers don’t just pull a logo off of a shelf and stick it on some business cards or brochures. Real designers will do their due diligence and research their client, learning everything they can about them. From there, if deemed necessary, sure, pick out a logo that you like that aligns with your client’s company and use it as inspiration. As long as designers aren’t purposely ripping one another off, all will remain well.

Tessa Carroll
VBP OutSourcing

I appreciate this article, but it isn’t surprising.

I have a mantra that my clients will find me, the ones that are unique, beautiful to work with/egregious to work with, and willing to pay (and yes on time *winks*). When I have scouted for new clients through cold calls, advertisements, or word of mouth I have of course run into the ones who scoff *sometimes really horribly* at hiring a designer.

I’ve learned that those folks usually scoff at having money to pay for the barest essentials like gas and food. But for clients who want to hire a dedicated & creative human being that will hopefully bring life to their project are always out there -please believe it.

As an artist I’ve always felt that there are so many other artists out there, whether they are the formally trained folks or the self-taught, renegade type I feel that sometimes our fish bowl gets smaller and smaller, and when a juggernaut like iStock rolls up and pumps out Print-On-Demand type logos we (the artists) get queasy and feel that our funds may dry up or our creative integrity will be diminished due to someone’s nifty thought of “hey lets automate logos for people – wouldn’t that be neat?!”

Not so. We aren’t just logo makers, we are designers, yes logos are fingerprints, majestic ones (yeah I heard the mutter of ‘not-all-of-em’) but they are only one facet of our ability.

If Jane Doe feels that it’s best for her to point and click the logo design to suit her fancy then I say go ahead, but remember there are many people out there who always admire & hire our services.

If you are “queasy” about the whole iStock thing, then research the Print On Demand Book Publishing fiasco. Oh yeah, it’s a multi-million dollar industry, but how many authors are NOT best-sellers in that regime…many. Trust me, I’m one of them (laughing out loud, and shrewdly).

The traditional publishing houses worried about the same aspect of “cheap” literary works circulating without the backbone of seasoned editors, queries, copywriters, designers and so forth. But as time has gone on their attention span has lessened to this since the appeal of the consumer has favored traditional publications over the out-of-the-box indys.

It’s a weird game of competition yes, but God gave you the talent to press forward (Yep, had to throw God out there). I believe you have to love this job if you want to survive, because so many times you’ll have hefty competition out there eating at you, naysayer belittling you, and even our fellow constituents judging your ability. So I’ll say it – don’t put iStock in your “Oh Sh*t I’ve Got Serious Competition” folder yet.

It ain’t competition; it’s just another convenience for the population with myopic design vision. Get a census chart of your surrounding population, slice it in half, and visualize one half are the clients that will target you, the other will head to iStock…still there’s a lot of clientele out there to rally up so go grab the half that’s yours (easier said than done I know, but overall doable).

Logo design is an intimate process between you and the client … but you all know that.

“huge opportunity for designers” = a simplified version of crowdsourcing and spec work. I’ve got an account with them and now after reading this news I’m seriously considering closing it. I originally opened my account to help other designers with their photography needs – not so much about making money and more about building a community. I don’t see how this is going to benefit designers.

Given, the positive responses on their forum, no one seems to think this is a bad idea either.

its not much $5 but what if they never sell your logo? I could create 100’s of logos in minutes, however I agree with the others on here as well~ you have to be open minded in the design industry.

I feel this would be a good oppurtunity for a less experienced designer to gain exposure. I dont think the pros should participate in this, not for 5 dollars.

Hello Everyone! Please pardon me, as I am an uneducated tweaker and manipulator… I just ran across this iStock can of worms. and…….. my question is : Will they have a posting of the Logo’s they sell? How will any one know if someone has used their work? Isn’t it alot like throwing a grain of salt into a mountain of sand and trying to locate it? Copyright or not, isn’t it much like a patent (change a few minor details and it is no longer what was patented) I use to look through iStock images all the time but noticed alot of it was “ideas” that were presented in a variety of ways… needless to say I will never submit to them, nor acquire from them. Originality is PRICELESS… yet often overlooked. How do we ultimately protect our original work from profiting other peoples pockets? Please respond as I am sincerely seeking answers. Now I must search the net to see if I would be ripping anyone off on some of the fonts that I use. Most things I get from the net will say personal use only or to give credit to them if used commercially. I use fonts I’ve downloaded for occasional card designs that I sell to individuals to print at home.

I have just started my own graphic design business, and I have no intention of using istock, or any other stock photography or clip art, except that which I create myself. I know this is doing things the hard way, but I will get more appreciation from my work (and hopefully my clients will, too) by putting time and effort into what I do.

Some people do nothing but take photos and sell them as stock images, and that’s fine. But people who upload and download boxed logos are the same type of people who continue this world-wide trend of ‘something for nothing’. People, You get what you give.

@Lorenzo:”…no thanks, i have one of my bartenders do it for $50 and they look great”. – yea, I can just see it now: black magic marker freehanded on cheap manilla card stock with the black ink seeping through the back of the sheet.

@Kim Tackett: “I recently had a client tell me “I don’t need a new logo, I bought this perfectly good one for $100.” And btw, it perfectly sucked.
He hired me to do other work, but this doesn’t bode well for our relationship.”

Well, this should be interesting, just as wearing a flip-flop on one foot and a dress shoe on the other would be. His business will have a very eclectic look, because your good work (dress shoe) will look silly standing next to his $100 logo (flip-flop). Design must be unified throughout an entire organization, or that organization will become a disorganization, and fail. Although I don’t know your client, I wonder if they love their business, as their logo choice seems careless. It’s hard to love what we do for clients when some clients don’t love what they do for themselves or what we do for them.

I think everyone should read “Do You Matter? How great design will make people love your company”. In a nutshell, it makes a great argument for the holistic design that should be the hallmark of every company.

When I heard the news of this I just saw my career fly out the door – Thanks for standing up to this unbelievable exploitation of designers everywhere. What person in their right mind would sale a logo for $5. Thanks Istock for the handout but no thanks!

I am quite late in this discussion, but still.

I do believe there is market for these cheap ones, and that market often overlaps with the “bartender made it” one. I have seen respectable companies having logos, websites and business card acquired the “my nephew has a computer and a graphic software” way. I cringe upon seeing the results (am not a graphic designer, but do crafts and have interest in the arts). But – c est la vie i guess. Those companies will not pay for professional designers, also because sometimes the designers can be, face it, pretty arrogant and their work might seem (to the untrained eye) expensive. When the bartender or nephew can produce some word art+cli art thing in half an hour, they just do not see the value in investing in a professional designer. education is best:)

Whew! I’m not sure even where to begin. I can tell you that I believe very strongly in brand and identity design done right–from creative to business.

Yes, we designers have a bad rep for being arrogant. Some of us have even earned the “right” to be. But that does not excuse the lack of support and respect that we face when thrusted into the business community at large.

It’s tricky. I have found myself lowering my base price for logo/identity design due to the very same internet companies. Hum bug! But it is the reality of the world we live in (especially state-side).

What we are obligated to do is educate our clients, inform them of the very process that gives birth to a well-designed, accurately portrayed logo. The hours of work and investigation, once explained, will more often than not justify our pricing standards. Companies that are serious about their product and mission will understand that.

If you, as a designer, want to cheapen your portfolio for a $5 quick sale (lunch at McDonald’s)–that’s on your head. If you, as the client, want to purchase a $5 logo in favor of cutting overhead–you get what you pay for.

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