When Logo Design Comes Together, It Just Makes Sense

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Long gone are the days when Paul Rand showed up at your office with just one logo proposition, and a shiny catalogue -with your brand’s storytelling in it-. If you felt the need for some modifications, he would tap your fingers saying ‘This is my job and this is THE solution for you. I know what I’m doing, I’m the expert here.’

This article’s photo is a logo design I’ve made for a client in the construction field. But the red dot, all the titles and the pic surrounding it wasn’t my design. I don’t want to generalize but most businesses are fighting against simplicity. The more they add the better. Sometimes, as much as you love your clients, you can’t keep them from making modifications. I will talk to you about it but also design’s best practices, cheap solutions/work and the role of designers.

Logo design is complicated, all access to the technology made it so.  As a consequence, it often goes wrong or misunderstood. When that happens -mostly based out of cheap work-, most businesses think that there’s nothing to add or change about their logo: ‘Oh we’re good! It’s perfect! Don’t even touch it’. A ‘sane’ designer will never step into your business and start saying: ‘Ok, let’s talk about this logo first…who did it? Seriously? It’s not good. Shall we change it, before doing anything else?’ I bet he/she would never have your business right?

Let me introduce you to the objections that pop into your clients’ mind when you send them ‘change’ alerts:
-Some designers like to throw their peers under many buses, the only reason they need to do this is to find -to their dismay- that somebody gave a concert -and actually got paid- before them. Ego situation.

-We already registered the logo ‘we went through the cumbersome trademarks registration process, and we paid huge amount of money for it. Money we spared from the previous cheap logo work, and which was well invested.’

-What has been done before is not garbage, ‘we’ll stick to this identity no matter what you say. Even if you bring proofs that it’s really NOT working’

-Even if there are some changes to be made, we hope they are going to be small and the work will be cheap. Changing a logo is easier than creating it from the ground up right?

After the concert, you -designer- are hired for another job, maybe the webdesign part. Which is cool. Things get complicated when you start looking for elements -not crafted by you- to incorporate them into your design: fonts, colors, proportions, positions and space etc. This is the moment you start asking  ‘Can I get the graphic charter?’…silence in the room, you’ll raise eyebrows and put yourself and your fellow designers in trouble. For a reminder, the graphic charter is a 50 or 60 -sometimes more- pages document which contains every technical parts of your identity. All its rules. For example, black and white visuals. Fashion industry uses a lot of them. For your next ad campaign, will your logo be visible when placed on a black and white photos? Where exactly should you place it? All the answers can be found in the graphic charter.

There’s a war outside still raging: expensive vs cheap logos.
I’m not against cheap solutions. Why investing huge amounts of money and efforts in your identity when you can: do it yourself, watch a tutorial, run google for examples, ask feedback on forums. No need for fancy designers. Again, I totally agree and I know your thoughts:
-Cheap is good, especially when you are just starting your business and you are very busy; you think there are other top priorities investments: equipment, offices, exploitation bills, salaries. Design is a ‘fanciness’ you can’t compromise your business over. Clever Google searches will help you find the next freelancer vying to make the most out of your hard earned money.

-Designers are copying and pasting stuff around and make it looks like it’s total sorcery… come on! This is not as hard as programming a financial app or building a marketing plan or even doing your taxes. It’s just pixels. Cheap service.

-Your audience will easily forgive your amateurish look, because these are your baby steps, everybody starts somewhere. If they are really interested they’ll value what you have to say rather than how your business looks.

-No need for storytelling, because there’s no story yet that matches your logo except the first letter it represents which is the same as your business name’s first one. No designer will come in your office and start opening a PowerPoint presentation which will explain your vision, how it will fly for years/decades to come in your customers mind. The strategy, etc.

-Why bother registering a temporary logo? When you’ll have the budget you’ll do that. First thing first.

-Your website and logo are not linked. This upper left side of your layout is where your logo will stay, you just have to tweak its color a little bit and you’re done. Again the audience will focus on your content, not the design. They’ll skip the logo.

-If you change your identity your audience will get lost and it will have a negative impact on your sales. This is what you’re most afraid of.

I think Design is all about team working. Cheap logos, make the next designer you’ll hire spend more time second guessing the color you’ve used, and then realize that it’s not the same on your business cards – plus I know there are thousands of them left in a box somewhere in your office- , don’t come with a vision, a glimpse of a strategy and a favorable ground for a successful branding. They don’t come along with this graphic charter bible I told you about lately which will solve all your future visual and graphic issues but will also keep you from adding irrelevant elements to your identity. They are doing more damages than good and you’ll feel very limited the day you will want to push all your brand experience further -if there’s any yet-. You’ll start the work all over again, and spend more money in the process.

In conclusion: branding is the bridge between logo design and marketing efficiency. Designers? I see them like conductors: they write the partition that triggers the emotional responses you need from your audience, sit down next to you and nail the brief, work with you to make sure all your modifications are done without drifting you away from your vision, tell you a great story, get in touch with your printer when something goes wrong, talk with the branding experts and marketing team, give you a vision and a competitive edge ahead, make you feel different, are aware of all the possible things you can do with your logo and some that you can’t. What’s designing a logo compared to all this? Just the tip of the iceberg.

Does it make sense? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. Do you consider Design as something fancy or helpful for your business?

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How I Started A Graphic Design Business In Cameroon

LionelThis is a guest post I wrote a few months ago, I’m the Owner & Designer at KILIFORI a communication agency in Cameroon. I think it really increases our learning curve and everyone involved can take something positive away from it. What we need in order to build successful Africa Businesses are inspiration, guidance, and instructions! It’s starting with a short interview that was conducted by Dr. Harnet Bokrezion for Africa Business JumpStart followed by my blog post. 

Lionel, thanks for submitting a guest post, please tell us when did you arrive in Cameroon?

I left France and arrived in Cameroon in June 2012. This was actually my second attempt to come back to Cameroon. The first was in 2009, but I think I wasn’t ready yet at the time and it was a challenge to leave my comfortable life in Europe behind. I even had the opportunity to live in the US where I was back in 1999. But something was always calling me back to Cameroon. I have been here almost two years now.

Why did you decide to leave Europe and start a business in Africa?

I like to say that I love competition, but if there is no competition like in Cameroon it is an incredible opportunity and I simply wanted to use that. My business is in the area of ‘graphic design’ this is something that is fairly new to the continent at large. You don’t need to convince a Westerner about the values design will bring to his or her business. But in Africa it is a completely different case. How do you convince an African business that struggles with  internet access, electricity cuts, and management issues to focus on design and branding? That’s the challenge. Yet I wanted to bring design into those areas and businesses, because they need it the most.

How was the process of setting up your business in Cameroon once you arrived there?

In Cameroon registration takes some time – about a month and half. The government does not really assist your business at any stage and neither do the banks. Huge companies are the only ones that get some attention, but not the SMEs. We are all start up owners really, most of the people I know anyway.

What are your lessons or tips for those who want to start a business in Cameroon or other African countries?

It is good to get some contacts and maybe even customers before you register, that will keep you going in the beginning. Opportunities are vast but everything in this country takes time.  People are not ready for what you have to offer so you need to stop selling to them and start teaching instead. The real key to success is perseverance. I’d be glad to be in touch with Diaspora or foreign business owners who would want to settle down here – they can contact me.

 

How I Started A Graphic Design Business in Cameroon

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There are so many good vibes I know about Africa. Its warmth, its generosity, its landscape, its people, and its art. African’s art is so vibrant and beautiful. But the reality is that much of this huge talent and potential often goes down the drain and that saddens me.

I’ll always remember the day when I visited my uncle’s house. We were sitting in the living room, watching some local advertisement on TV – it was a cosmetics ad, the visuals were ugly and badly executed, like they were made in the 70’s – and then my uncle mused. “I really admire Africans who are building things. I mean…real things,” he said. “There’s a great deal of creativity involved in manufacturing. I don’t know about your work, son, but there’s one thing that I’m sure of: It’s not the same. You do all that design stuff for businesses, but marketing is not creativity… and there are so many people who kind of do the same thing. I talk to them every day!”

His words left me aghast, it wasn’t the first time –and certainly may not be the last– that I’ve heard something similar since I landed in Cameroon, two years ago. But why am I still having a hard time to deal with it?

Fortunately, -I guess- I can explain it!  Let’s go back to where we were:  what did they tell you about Africa?  It’s a rich and beautiful continent, right? Great tourist destination! Most people will tell you great stories about South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, or Kenya. But you’ll never hear much about other African countries. Here’s a fact: tourism is a major development factor.  It can change mentalities, drive business, make the market in those countries more competitive and hence they will craft better products as a result. Those are the lucky ones, but what about the other countries? They clearly don’t have this kind of exposure.

Slowly but surely, their business owners became only driven by profits. Bear with me, that’s the most dangerous part: anything is good to make money and even mediocre products can make your business tons of money. “Creativity? Innovation? Competitiveness? Customer care? What for? We want profits, we need to survive! We’ll pump more and more products out there, make some import/export and staple food businesses” They say. “That will be great.”

I am not thinking that this is the “African way of thinking”, this is an issue all over the world, but the feeling runs deeper where poverty, lack of education, diseases, lack of energy and technology are involved.

Will the profits last forever? It’s easy to forget that good first impressions cement the path to good communication. Every step and every contact a company makes is a precious occasion to win new customers. I am just stating the obvious there but, unfortunately, things are not going this way. Because we live in a greedy society.

My business strategy for Africa: Teaching not Selling

So I start the way forward with my business in Cameroon by teaching. I am in it for the long-run, and this is what I ask my potential customers:

What is a company’s greatest asset to:

  • Gain exaaa2posure
  • Bring professional credibility
  • Tell a great story
  • Define a clear vision
  • Differentiate itself from the competition
  • Drive great marketing and management results
  • Make people believe
  • Make a long lasting impact

Take a wild guess?

It’s its logo !

Let me tell you what most businesses do. They ask interns to do it, or they buy cheap services. Why they do it? Because it simply does not as important as the business plan or the financial strategy in their schedule. So many in Africa get trapped into clichés.

Clichés are easy symbols we associate with things, people, cultures or countries. In Africa, eight or nine businesses out of ten will get an African continent as a logo. Make it worse, they use a country flag; and even worse than that, the planet earth.

[note by Africa Business JumpStart admin: Logo with African continent? Ok, we are found guilty of that]

So how can you increase your image and professionalism in front of investors or bankers when your competition already pitched to them with the same kind of identity?


Let me bring you a real case study: AGS

1/ The Brief

I will drive you through the logo design journey of the company Africa Global Strategy (AGS). AGS is a resin maker and supplier for the building industry. Their offices are in Cameroon and they are really great at what they do. In some parts of Africa, the humidity is so strong that the house walls start cracking and the paint forms crusts that can be removed with your thumb. ABS has a solution for that: its original resin solution can keep building foundations sealed to any form of moisture.

Problem: AGS did not have a logo.

2/ Ideas & Brainstorming

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Resin is about chemistry, molecules, a perfect balance, symmetry, a harmonious blend of small elements. These are examples, just keywords.
I write everything that cross my mind on a board. Mind mapping ideas helps me to be more focused and specific about the actual issues raised during the client’s brief.

3/ The Pen is Mightier…

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I always start my projects on a paper, it gives you freedom. You can erase, get a feeling of what is right or wrong, and make quicker decisions.
And it allows you to explore multiple ideas faster. Sketching injects a human touch to a concept.

4/ The Software

Once the sketching phase is finished, we can –finally- open our favorite software. Import our sketch and start having real fun. I use Adobe Illustrator. I find it to be very efficient. Corel Draw, can also do the job. The key is to master the tool, and stay in the vector world. Again, these are just tools. The software does not guarantee a successful logo.

“Molecules have perfect blueprints, shapes, balance and foundations”

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“Building a house is also about chemistry and foundations”

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“Then come the choice of typography.  It can take hours, days to find the perfect one…”

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“Until everything is fully assembled.”

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5/ The Rendering & Presentation

Crafting a logo is one thing. Leaving the clients all alone from this point on is a really a big mistake. I think this is particularly the case in Africa where professional logos and branding are just taking off. So I really take care of delivering a presentation to my clients that tells their identity story, and the multiple directions they can take to give a better dimension to their products or services.
The best logos are those that leave room for some imagination. Clients can use them in multiple ways: animation, t-shirt design, print materials, anything goes.

“Great logos should stand the test of time….and colors”

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“Give the client some vision”

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Final Thoughts

I think that design is at the intersection of art and technology, and both are forms of communication. As human beings we need to express ourselves, point at what is wrong and make a change; make our lives better. Designers and artists feel that sense of urgency. Through the different and unique ways they look at the world, they are problem solvers.
Telling ourselves that creativity is only living in palpable things, -and only concrete products can make money- is denying the right to every company in Africa to be different without having to pitch their products or services at meetings each time.

My uncle is 60, he is old school. But hey, prospects say “No” too!  He could still be your next big customer.

How will you make him buy your products or services?

If it is  all about the price then you will become a commodity; he will buy from you once but don’t expect him to come back again.

What if he needed more?

Your logo gives away more than you think. It defines who you are, why you started your business, your vision all those things that make you different.

African customers are very brand aware, and this is why your company needs a logo. They would say: ‘We want to belong to a brand and be proud of it. We want to tell people around us that you are the best.  “Yeah, yeah that logo with the blue bird flying, that’s them!” We’ll say. We will always bad mouth products or services we don’t know, and run to your competition with the brand. Because we don’t know you, but we know them.’

Are we in the end not all a little like that?

So how will you make us love your African brand?

Thanks

I want to thank Ms Harnet Bokrezion for being such a beautiful soul, having beautiful projects for Africa, and giving me the opportunity to speak on her blog. I think that change will come one pixel at a time. And we are very lucky to witness it. I really love what I do –helping businesses get the most out of themselves through great design-, and I really love this continent. Maybe that’s what keeps me going. It can get really tough at times and you may face many disappointments along the way. Don’t worry, keep trying! Because as they say once you can drive in Africa, you can drive anywhere.

Lionel Thomas- Owner & Designer at KILIFORI