logo warehouse

Logo design should not be approached with the goal of filling that blank spot on the top of your letterhead. It is not the time to recklessly do something trendy and cool. Most importantly, it is not about getting a task off your to-do list so you can move on to selling widgets to your customers.

The logo design process should provide value far beyond the delivery of a symbol.

Design is not a product

Many logos however are being sold simply as a graphic. Crowdsourcing and online logo warehouses make the purchase quick and easy with little need for any true understanding. Both the client and “designer” are released from investing in developing a deep understanding of brand, strategy, marketing and design principles.

By removing the requirement of understanding, logos can be sold as if they themselves are widgets with plug-and-play compatibility — a generic product that can be applied to whoever wants it.

crowdsourcing vs brand identity designer

Understanding is a service

Logo design should always be considered as part of a larger brand strategy. It is an opportunity to develop cohesive and consistent messaging tailored to a specific set of customers. To accomplish this requires customization, knowledge and skill. It demands that design is viewed as a service and not a product. It requires strategy.

Without a complete and well thought out strategy, you can’t successfully influence where a company is heading. A bank won’t hand money to a company that operates without a strategy, and, over time, neither will customers. They will choose to buy from a company with a solid strategy, a consistent message, and a defined direction — one with a strong brand.

While a graphic designer can help with the nurturing, a logo alone is not the solution to developing a strong brand. This strength can only come from understanding. The company must understand their business, competition, market space, preferences, trends, strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly why customers should care about them.

Understanding goes the other way, too. If their customers can’t understand what it is that makes the company unique and why they should care, then they cannot develop a connection. No connection, no strength.

One of the greatest values a graphic designer can provide is the ability to successfully translate this understanding into a visual brand.

Understanding is the missing link

Online logo warehouses and crowdsourcing put the onus on the client to ask the right questions, to validate the answers, and to translate that information into the selection of a graphic. In doing so, they remove the most critical part of any identity project — the focus on developing an understanding.

A graphic designer must provide a bridge of understanding between a company and its audience. They must ask the right questions, pushing the client for authenticity. They must then validate the responses, making sure there are no gaps in understanding or differences in thinking. They must provide direction and guidance built on strategy.

Logo sweatshops and crowdsourcing websites pretend this “little detail” has no value. They thrive on clients believing a logo is only meant to fill an empty space.

So I need understanding and not a logo?

No. You need an identity built on understanding, and the cornerstone for that is a logo. At the end of the logo design process you want:

1. A Creative Brief. A document derived from answers to hard questions. Developing the creative brief is vital to solidifying direction, objectives, audience and tone. In almost all cases, this is not an easy document to create.

2. A Partner. The designer should become part of your team. They should be available to provide support and advice throughout the project and into the future. As a partner, they must remain aware of your evolving brand and how best to leverage it.

3. A Logo. The obvious deliverable, the logo is part of a larger branding strategy and must meet all technical and creative requirements for the foreseeable future.

4. A Roadmap. You need to be armed with a strong sense of where the visual brand is heading and how it integrates with your marketing plans. At a minimum, this may be in the form of guidelines for the use of color, fonts and the logo itself, but often involves mock-ups of the brand in action.

But it costs more

Yes, but you receive better value. Hiring a graphic designer ensures there is a solid foundation for your visual brand built on understanding. This is certainly worth more than a graphic that looks cool but leaves you floating with a hollow and unauthentic reflection of your brand.

The most loved brands, the ones that last, are authentic. They are not a cheap veneer that peels away over time. Authenticity requires understanding. Understanding requires experience. Experience requires time. Time costs money.

Logo design and branding are not about getting an item off your to-do list. It is an ongoing exercise in fostering understanding and there is no $99 solution for that.

Steve Zelle is a designer and brand identity consultant based in Ottawa, Canada. He operates as idApostle and blogs through — Processed Identity. You can reach him through his website or on Twitter.


David, I’ve been trying to make the case to clients and colleagues for years about why crowdsourcing is a losing proposition. This post and particularly the graphic does a more succinct and eloquent job than any of my diatribes. Thanks for sharing, I will be sure to connect folks to it.

Poignant post. This is exactly why, when a client approaches me about a logo, I make sure to be proactive about presenting the complete array of brand identity to them. Even if this is done passively, simply asking if they’d like to have that work done seems to pique the client’s interest: “shall we move ahead and incorporate this logo into an identity for your company, including…”

Hi Steve,

Great post!
And not just for designers.
We need more information like this to be made available to clients about the distinction between a logo and an enduring identity.
There is a definite disconnect between what designers know and clients understand.

Now, someone who finally talks some sense. The challenging part of all of this is getting the client to understand and how to convey the message to them when they just want to “get it done”.

This makes me think of 99 designs… hmmm…

Hey Davey boy, or is it Stevie, whatever, listen up Sunshine. I Got a lovely little project to throw your way. Should be right up your graphical alley if you get my drift. Bit tight on the ol’ budget. We only have $85 but if you’re up for it, I’ll see you get plenty of free publicity. I’ve got a lot of Twitter followers and a blag, sorry blog. It’ll be a shame if you can’t do it, I’ll have to get this geezers lad to knock one out double quick but it’ll be your rep down the toilet when it hits my Facebook.
Let me know if you’re game.
Cheers mate.


PS. If you could see you way to giving me a receipt for $500, you’ll be helping me out no end. Got the tax man after me for some undeclared income on some dodgy stuff I unloaded to a punter. Cheeky bugger!

Great thoughts, Steve.

This should be required reading for new clients, to help them better understand the process and the value a great designer brings. Not all clients can get on board with this sort of thinking, and that’s when we part ways with a prospect. It’s much easier to make a beautiful logo than a beautiful logo that is backed by thoughtful strategy, client buy-in, and future plans.

Great insight Steve. “Design is not a product” It is, however, a process.

If we look at history and the post World War era of the 1950s, companies and corporations learned that simply applying a logo, that didn’t uniquely distinguish the brand’s image against it’s competition, wouldn’t differentiate them enough to make a difference. Designers like Paul Rand led the way in establishing research and developing a process to uncovering insights that would separate brands in their markets. Thus, the explosion of ad agencies on Madison Avenue and their ability to utilize identity strategies that would take brands far beyond their competition – allowing for HUGE growth in their market share.

Can we contribute this to identity strategies that embrace a process that Steve is telling us here? Hell yes. Can crowdsourcing be effective? Yes it can, but only if it includes a process that nurtures leadership that understands research and insight building to make design decisions.

Today, our culture encourages us to find more efficient ways to build brands. And we can always learn from over spending when it isn’t necessary, media costs have become ridiculous, but cutting out the crucial processes that effect lasting branding efforts is like removing the Turkey from the Thanksgiving dinner. It just doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

Thanks for a great article Steve.

Excellent Steve!

People who want quick logos do not make good clients or business owners. I only work with folks who care about their companies enough to make the investment. I originally disliked my own logo — it made it hard for me to feel good about my biz. Then I designed a logo that reflected who I am and what my experiential difference is. It changed everything!


Well put, Steve.

So much of our business culture these days is attracted to these off-the-rack solutions. Although one can’t help being frugal in the early stages of starting or restarting a business, there are some places you just shouldn’t cut corners.

I’m glad you took the time to state the differences. Thanks for the post.

The mass marketing of logo design is quite apalling and misses the mark every time. Hopefully more companies will educate themselves on the importance of a strong identity system before the increasing saturation of cheap logos and shit design consume the masses. :P We can all hope.

Thank you for sharing the article! Great read!

I appreciate all of you taking the time to write a comment. Thanks.

Bernadette, Jessica, and Kent, being proactive is exactly what designers need to do. We shouldn’t assume clients know all we expect them to.

Djoaniel, In your opinion, why do clients want to ‘get it done’? To save money?, they don’t see the value? . . . Unfortunately, ‘getting it done’ often sacrifices their own long term success.

David, thanks for the great comment and unbelievable offer! ;-)

Tim, good point regarding the type of client that will buy into long term thinking. In your experience, what are the kind of questions you ask to make sure your clients are on board?

Stripeyhorse, Love your company name. Thanks.

Bruce, I appreciate your taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. No doubt, we will be seeing more design crowdsourcing. Do you believe crowdsourcing is possible without sacrificing the depth of understanding traditionally required for a designer to do a successful job? I can’t see this happening but would love to hear more.

Giulietta, I would love to hear about both your old and new logo and how it has affected your business. Any chance you will share this?

Leighton, thanks for adding to the discussion. You make a good point about the need to be frugal when starting a business. In my experience, the clients that do not want to spend money on design are often the same ones that don’t spend time developing a business plan, positioning statement, or considering their brand. Have you been successful in getting a frugal client to invest in design? How did you manage to do it Leighton?

Steve, you asked: In your experience, what are the kind of questions you ask to make sure your clients are on board?

That’s tough. Of course, the obvious turnoffs are when the client focuses on what *they* want, rather than what the brand needs–or sees those things as interchangeable, unable to separate them. We try and run through the basics of our process, and get client feedback from that. Any responses that focus on getting a logo “faster” or giving creative direction in the very first meeting are red flags for us. Sometimes it’s just a gut instinct.

And this might sound crass, but honestly, money is probably the number one area that tells us if someone will be a good client. It’s not foolproof, but if a client doesn’t balk at our fees, we know that they understand at least basically the value we bring to the table. Others who are taken aback by professionally-set prices aren’t likely to be convinced by us. And we’ve attempted to sell “thrifty” clients on the value of design, but typically it has not been productive if they don’t have some basic belief that design has value. There are MANY more clients out there willing and able to pay professional rates for great identity and design work, and we focus on finding them.


I agree. As designers, it is our tacit responsibilty to educate the companies as to why they need our services. I’m having difficulty getting one client in particular to understand how much it is worth to him monetarily to invest in his identity. I am looking for a comprehensible way to communicate this, as I have yet to succeed.




Allow me to clarify. There’s a difference between a client being frugal, and being cheap. Not being wasteful with your resources when starting a business can make or break many new ventures. Most of the time, being cheap is a trust issue.

If a designer can show the client that they can be trusted through careful thought and explanation of their process, and respond tactfully to their questions, then hopefully trust can be earned and they will invest. Show them that they are in good hands.

And even after all that, there are still those that are just plain cheap. You will likely never convert them and know when to move on.

Tim, Thanks for the follow up and the insight into your approach.

Jess, I can relate to the ‘grumble’. Both Tim and Leighton provide good explanations regarding dealing with those being thrifty or looking for cheap solutions. Can you get your client to understand the amount time/thought he should put into his identity? If he values his time, he may be able to relate to investing in yours. I sometimes pass on a copy of “Do You Matter” to potential clients. It is a quick read and can help get them into a productive frame of mind. (http://www.doyoumatter.com/). Good luck!

Leighton, Thanks for the follow up and clarification.

Readers that enjoyed this article might also enjoy “What you won’t get when crowdsourcing your logo” at Leighton’s blog. (http://leightonhubbell-blog.com/logo-design-articles/what-you-wont-get-when-crowdsourcing-your-logo)

Great post, Steve. I’d like to point out that “David” above is posting a link to my blog while trying to cheekily pretend he’s me. He’s not. I don’t really care if he agrees with me or wants to spoof my post but the tax deduction line is out of order.

I’ve been involved in purchasing both $85,000 branding projects and $85 logos and similar price ranges in developing websites. There’s a time and a place for both. The series I’m doing is designed so that the people that can only afford to spend $100 bet the best bang for their buck. And before the series is over, I’ll be talking about when going the low budget route is detrimental. Although I don’t agree with everything you wrote here, you present a very intelligent argument and I’ll link back to this article when I do if that’s okay with you.



Steve I agree with everything you’ve said…but I think you are mistaken in associating good logos so strongly with good businesses and vice versa. I think it makes very little difference to the success of a brand whether they have a good logo or not.

I think it depends more on whether the client understands their own business and how brands work.

I’ve read a few comments on here about how this information needs to be made available to clients, if you, the designer, haven’t been making this information available to clients already then you’re not giving them a brand anyway, you’re simply giving them a nice logo.

A good brand doesn’t need a nice logo (although it certainly helps). There are many instances of bad logos attributed to very successful brands – T-Mobile and Kappa are two of my pet hates.

If you have a client that understands branding then I see no reason why they couldn’t turn a crowd sourced logo into a successful brand. Most big brands have little or no contact with the originator of their logos, the brand building is done by specialist marketeers, either internal teams or external agencies, not the logo designer. Now whether a client who understands branding would elect the crowd sourcing route is another question, I’d like to think they wouldn’t.

Point I’m trying to make is that the logo is such a small part of the brand. Given enough time and enough money any average logo crowd sourced or not, if marketed properly and given the correct brand associations can become an icon.

And no I don’t support crowd sourcing and I’ve never participated in the process.

David, you’ve refuted your own argument with this line: “Given enough time and enough money any average logo crowd sourced or not, if marketed properly and given the correct brand associations can become an icon.”

Most clients will not have the resources to make up for the poor logo with top-dollar positioning and ubiquitous, gigantic advertising budgets. So, they NEED to have logos that are strong conceptually, with razor-sharp execution. Most clients will have far fewer audience “impressions” than huge multinational corporations, so they need to utilize each of their brand touchpoints to their fullest, and that means creating a harder-working identity than what you describe.

David, Thanks for joining in.

I agree with much of what you bring up:

• A logo is not a brand

• Identity designers should approach a logo as part of a larger brand identity

• Logo design should not be about making something pretty

• Much of the success of a brand lies within the company and their ability and willingness to invest and nurture it

• With a lot of money even the most hideous logo can be part of a successful brand (Google is one of my pet hates)

As Tim points out, small and mid sized companies do not have the budgets large corporations like Kappa and T-Mobile (or Google) have to overcome a poorly designed logo. 

For the average company, a logo is the primary visual identifier of their brand. Having to overcome a logo that is inappropriate, does not print in black and white, is similar to their competition, limits growth, is generic or cliché does eat into their time and budgets. Why work to overcome something that can be done properly from the start?

I really appreciate your taking the time to post your comment David. Always great to have discussions.

I am the enemy.

By day, I’m the ‘production guy’. By night, I’m a designer. Specifically, I am a logo-on-spec, online-competition, winner-takes-all-and-the-losers-cry-like-a-baby logo designer.

And, I agree with your article 99.9%.

But let’s talk about that 0.1% which makes the 99.9% mute.

Yesterday, while I’m wearing my ‘production-guy’ hat, I see a new logo created by a brand-identity firm so reputable, so famous, so big, you cannot pass a day without seeing a dozen marks they have designed for famous corporations…

And this logo was the worst piece of sh*t I’ve ever seen.

We were doing reproduction tests on various media. However, the mark doesn’t work anywhere but crumpled up in a trash can.

Going to a dedicated design firm does not guarantee a better result. This mark was not, as you say ‘better value’ and ANY online crowd sourced resource would have done a better job. I repeat. ANY!

Lastly, aren’t these arguements slightly reminiscent of…

Typesetters saying the Macintosh would never replace Linotype because desktops are inferior.

Photographers saying online stock photos would never replace them because stock photos are inferior.

Programmers saying oversees competition would never replace them because other programmers are inferior.

The industries I mentioned above are still here, but they have changed and dramatically so. Furthermore, for many professions, the skill level has been democratized to a common denominator so low it’s difficult to call it a skill/craft/trade anymore. Photographers are especially vocal about this phenomena.

The excellent designers, and I mean drop-your-jaw-oh-my-god-thats-amazing designers are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the graphic arts population. The balance of designers, IMHO, are far below adequate.

My two cents,

— The Enemy.

Robert, Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for letting me know.

“The Enemy” While there is a lot to say regarding your comment, I will focus on three things:

1. Design is always going to be subjective. The fact that you did not like the logo does not necessarily mean it fails for the target audience.

2. The ability to reproduce an identity with ease has certainly been ignored by a number of “big name” designers of late. While I question this approach, I think in the right hands these identities can work well. Not much I can say without knowing what logo you are referring to.

3. I wrote a short piece on my blog (http://www.idapostle.com/logos-and-the-lowest-common-denominator/) after reading your comments about the similarities between changes in other disciplines. Much too long to address here.

Thanks for joining in (not my) Enemy.

We started StockLogos.com with the “warehouse” idea, but very soon it became something else. It is now a kind of visual match-making service between clients and designers. We realized clients browse the library to find a designer they like, then they buy their logos as an entry to them. Only after this initial transaction the real work begins outside of StockLogos. And this is great for all parties.

The best designers make the best money on the site and the lower quality logos hardly sell. There is no quality degradation because of the stock sites. Bad designers always existed. If anything clients now can see the ratings that clearly show what’s good and what’s bad by the opinion of other designers. I think this may even help clients choose the better designer.

Change is always hard and people want to denounce anything new every time. Yet, clients are very happy judging from the emails I got and designers make money and get new clients regularly.

Quite a late comment but I really feel like having to thank for a good post.
Steve, I think your points make a lot of sense and I’m glad you’re sharing them with the readers. Understanding is a difficult process on both the designer side as well as on the client’s one.


I disagree, Ivan. People don’t “want to denounce anything new every time.” If I see or try something new that I like, I’ll happily recommend it.

We’ve spoken in the past about your stock logo service, and I explained my reservations, because by definition, a logo cannot be “stock.” Anything created before a brief is in place is, in my humble opinion, more akin to clip art.

“Bad designers always existed.” We’re in agreement there. So how can you be sure that these same bad designers aren’t the ones rating the artwork on your site, providing the same ratings “that clearly show what’s good and what’s bad?”

Or is there some form of barrier to registration? Please excuse me if there is.

Thanks David for the comment. We do have the briefs and half of the sales come from here: http://stocklogos.com/briefs

The public rates the logos without any screening. Just like in real life the public will decide how much they like your logo without screening.

I of course understand that liking a logo doesn’t necessarily mean that a logo actually works as a branding element for the business, thus it can only be used as part of decision process the client has to go through.

We are also planning to create best logos section which is picked by professional branding specialists, so clients can rely on professional opinion as well. Thanks for supporting this idea.

About “the logo can’t be stock” opinion. I agree that branding has to be custom made for every client. That’s why I explained that the stock logos aren’t used as they are. They are simply a way for clients to find the designer who does the style they like, like picking a designer based on his portfolio. The real work starts after the initial purchase of a stock logo.

I don’t expect people outside of the site understand this, that’s why I’m explaining in detail. And this is why the whole logo warehouses are evil argument is invalid and no offense is taken.

About my denouncing anything new argument. I should have added: denounce anything new —they don’t fully understand—. Look at the iPad haters, all quickly changing their minds after they tried it. I’m not suggesting StockLogos.com is so amazing as an iPad, I wish I could, just demonstrating the argument.

First you have to “see” and “try” as you suggested. Perhaps you now see what is it all about after reading my comments. Trying would give even more insight of course.

Ah, excuse me. I thought when you said, “clients now can see the ratings that clearly show what’s good and what’s bad by the opinion of other designers” that you meant designers were rating the logos. ;)

Ultimately, I think you’ll have quite a challenge on your hands with your plan to have branding specialists rate designs, and it all comes back to the business name, “stock logos” regardless of how your service has changed.


It’s amazing that you’re considering my arguments, especially because you were skeptical about stock logos since the beginning and you’re someone we all respect and look up to.

About the remaining points.

Under public I mean designers, clients and anyone who registers on the site. It’s mainly designers who rate because they are the ones who come back day after day so they are the ones count for most votes, but occasionally clients rate too.

Not a huge challenge, several famous designers are on the site under aliases because they are afraid of being labeled because of articles such as above, yet they want to be part of the community and spend some time working on the briefs for fun.

As far as the business name goes, I fully agree with you. We may have to make it clear in a tagline what’s it all about. Something like “Browse and find the designer you like.” But better wording of course. :)

I can’t stress enough how I really appreciate your criticism, views and ideas.

You’re very welcome, Ivan.

If the famous designers you mention are afraid of others seeing them on your website, you definitely have your work cut out. Not something you can fix with a new tagline, but you know your business better.

With regards to articles such as that above, Steve talks a lot of sense, so in no way should such posts be detrimental to professional designers.

Some designers are afraid of quick uninformed judgement therefore they work under artist aliases. It’s a rational decision from their part at this point. (It’s also required by site rules to avoid clients and designers hooking up outside of the site.) Eventually the industry will overcome the fear of this new business model and accept it as one of the ways business is done.

Steve talks a lot of sense when he talks about branding in general but also shows a lack of understanding of this business perhaps because he never talked to anyone representing stock logo sites and never participated in one of these communities. He doesn’t quote anybody from the stock logo industry, he doesn’t provide any insights from the community aspect. He doesn’t present any case studies. It feels like speculation, without context and without a deep understanding of the subject at hand. Looks like the only “research” done on the subject is looking at the home page of a few sites. Do correct me if I’m mistaken.

His whole argument is based on assumptions he makes about the working of this business model which are either not at all or only partially true. He also missed some evident facts. For example he failed to mention that stock logo sites do have briefs and personal consulting as part of the services.

I think incorrect information is detrimental to anyone reading it.

I respect Steve’s attempt to preserve the status quo and I applaud you for allowing me to express my point of view.

With Love

David, Thanks for replying to a few of the more recent comments.

Ivan, A bit of a late reply as I have been on holiday.

You are making quite a few assumptions about my research and understanding of logo warehouses. I have to date . . .

1. Worked with two clients that have used sites like yours
2. Spoken with several designers that have participated in sites like yours
3. Regularly visit forums discussing sites like yours
4. Read every article I come across discussing sites like yours
5. Created a community driven site (http://www.processedidentity.com) to explore the value provided by a logo designer versus sites like yours

In addition:

6. I am not trying to preserve a status quo in the design industry. (I am not designing on a light table, using Letraset and a ruling pen—although I once did—positive change is great.)
7. Asking a few stock ‘creative brief’ questions does not equal understanding

OK. Thanks for the clarification.

7. I agree. Full understanding is best, and is a different level of the branding business. The same designer can do both or decide to do only one or the other. One-to-one consultancy is the best for both parties and we encourage that with all clients contacting us. We have several talented designers that I direct clients to if they have the will and budget to do the work in that setting.

Ivan, your perspective is appreciated, but you said:

“That’s why I explained that the stock logos aren’t used as they are. They are simply a way for clients to find the designer who does the style they like, like picking a designer based on his portfolio. The real work starts after the initial purchase of a stock logo.”

This process is backwards. Style is a tool used by the designer to meet the needs of the client, based on the goals of a strategic design brief. The goals and needs of the market need to be established FIRST. A client shouldn’t be selecting something based merely on what she “likes” before consulting with a designer, otherwise the process becomes about personal preference, rather than the strategic needs of a company or organization. There are miles between what you’re selling, and the true craft of distilling a brand’s essence into visual design.

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