127 Responses to Ode to the amateur logo

  1. CantHelpMktg says:

    I would add about the one comment…

    “I wouldn’t feel good creating the logo she ended up with. I don’t even think I could do it, because it just isn’t right.”

    As a freelancer I learned very quickly to do a bunch I liked, and do a bunch in “Desktop Publishing” mode…what you or I might call “cheesy,” and present them all to the client.

    In the end, their money spends the same, as crass as that sounds. As much as I hate to admit it, 75% of what I’ve created for small mom-n-pop shops is not “portfolio worthy” but simply pays the bills. I get disappointed in client choices alot, I talk them out of wierd stuff sometimes, sometimes not. I get over it.

    In the end, it’s what *they* want and like, not what *you* want and like. I prefer to give a client a “sub-standard” logo but leave with a smile on their face that keeps them coming back. Maybe on those return trips you’ll have a chance to walk them down a better road.

    Also I think what John might be hinting at is that “nice and clean” and “professionally designed” is itself not the look some companies need. Sometimes awkward, amateur, and simplistic projects exactly what is needed.

    REMEMBER: “The customer is always right…even when they’re wrong.”

    ALSO REMEMBER: Pepsi and Coke’s agencies can stumble, so can we.

  2. Gary Burkhart says:

    What a great article. This is what most designers have to balance each day.

    The customer comes to you, as a professional and you give them a product that you feel best represents their company. However, you don’t always see eye to eye.

    What is great about this article is that I see Lori’s point and agree with it, by the way. However, what John says makes a lot of sense. It comes down to the cardinal rule of development and working with customers. Listen.

    If you understand their vision, you will better come up with a product that realizes it. If you’ve built trust, then they will listen to your opinion.

    Thanks for a great read.

  3. Helen Khusit says:

    I always thought that a logo is either icon or a wordmark. What the client has here is an illustration (stylized, streamlined but illustration). I too can see it in an ad in Yellow Pages, on the brochure, on a flyer, but not on a cap, button, or envelope.

    I totally agree with Lori that as this “logo” is not working (simply because it is not a logo). But, on the other hand, it is her job as a professional to talk the client thru the design process, maybe show logos of similar businesses and create a logo with all the traits that her client wanted to convey about her business. Unfortunately it’s easier said than done.

    Lori, I really sympathize – I too have several projects that after so many hours put in, I cannot even include in my portfolio.

  4. OBXartist says:

    I completely understand John McWade’s comments and the appeal for humility from “CantHelpMktg”. However, I could not disagree more with John’s conclusion. If I were shopping for such a service I would definitely have picked the company using Lori’s original logo over the company using the client’s version. The client’s logo is hackneyed and amateurish, largely composed of stylistically inconsistent and dated clip art images, will reproduce horribly in many production settings (how we see it here is likely the best if will ever look), and the primary image appears to have been ripped right off the packaging for some “girly” My Little Pony toy. Are little girls the only kids who would benefit from this therapy? My point here is that I would associate all of these negative reactions with the company operating under the client’s logo. Accurately or not, based simply on their logo, I would assume the client’s company to be the less professional, less qualified, lower quality option of the two choices. Granted, I’m a professional designer, but I think many people would make a similar decision. And the client is NOT always right. Sometimes it is your responsibility as a designer to protect your client from themselves. In this arena, you are the professional, not the client. You do your best by them but, yes, sometimes you do have to walk away. Certainly, Lori could have held her nose and muddled on through with the client hoping for future work but, you know, every single project with this client (business cards, brochure, website, etc.) would have proceeded along the same path as this logo project and at the end of it all the client will be frustrated and Lori would be angry and dissatisfied and probably making minimum wage for her work. Life is too short for that.

  5. Silvio Pietrosanti says:

    I like this talk so much!

    I agree with John about different “feeling” between Lori’s logo and the other, but I think that Lori’s one it’s “really” a logo (although cold) meanwhile the other is an “advertising page”. What is the edge between a logo and a “promo”?

    What do you think about it?

    Bye!

    (PS Sorry for my English :-) )

  6. I had a similar experience recently. I was asked to design a logo for a local seafood restaurant. After working on the project for many hours, I presented several concepts that I thought were very upscale and exciting. The client loved them all. I went back to the office happy until I got a call the following day. The client’s father hated all of them. At a second meeting I learned that another sibling had drawn a fish when he was about ten years old that the father had an attachment to and wanted it used in the logo. I steamed and stewed and thought about throwing in the towel. But I didn’t. I redrew the amateurish “fish,” keeping all the basic character, and presented it as part of the new logo. Turns out everyone was pleased with the resulting design. Not every design can be an award winner, but that’s not to say that it should be an embarrassment either if one has done his or her job well.

  7. I agree more with Lori and Michael. As professional designers, it’s our duty to guide the client into making smart marketing decisions when it comes to their branding. If I were to see both logos in the Yellow Pages, I would pick the organization using Lori’s. It visually tells me this organization knows what it’s doing. The client’s pick doesn’t do that for me at all.

    Plus, Lori did what all professional designers do, and that is understand that a logo has multiple applications. It must work well in both black & white as well as color and pass the postage stamp test (design that can stand up well at a very reduced size). Then there are the embroidery, silkscreening applications and signage to think about.

    I have had several occasions where the client just didn’t get it. It’s especially frustating when it’s for a worthwhile organization, like Lori’s client, who is helping enrich children’s lives. However, in these cases, it’s better bow out sooner than later and to pursue clients who value your work and your style of design. Most of us become independent designers because we love the business of design and have the freedom to turn away work that isn’t a good fit.

  8. dhogan1999 says:

    I agree with OBXartist and disagree with John. Firstly let me say that I am NOT a professional designer, just someone who enjoys it as a hobby. Secondly, as a consumer, if I were flipping through the phone book or, more likely, searching online for the services of this type of business I would respond more to Lori’s first design. The customer’s final design looks cheap to me and I would infer (whether correctly or not) that they are not qualified professionals but, at best, well-meaning amateurs. I’m not just guessing as to how I would react, I have reacted this way when searching out businesses in a particular niche. If I am searching for what is basically a commodity, then it might not matter as much. But when I am looking for niche services I will gravitate towards those with the most professional image.

  9. Kathryn says:

    Great conversation! I have encountered this a few times and work through it. The difficulty I have with ending up with the so-so design that the client favored is feeling like they haven’t gotten the benefit of a broader view of the impact their design has — they’ve paid me but haven’t received the service. I don’t feel good about it, satisfied, and wonder how others live with that end result. Thanks!

  10. Taryn Tarantino says:

    The problem is Lori’s logo missed the emotional connection the client wanted. Seems like there was a communication problem — either the client didn’t accurately convey the business needs, or Lori didn’t accurately hear what the client wanted. Now the client has a “logo” that tells the story, but it lacks credibility. (I wouldn’t bring my disabled child to that business because it looks very “underfunded.”) In this case, the story isn’t enough — this logo should also convey “trust,” and it doesn’t. I think it’s a miss for both business owner and designer. :-(

    • Elliot Nartey says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. We “professionals” are sometimes too arrogant and forget that besides what they pay us for our services, our clients collectively give us a profession. We must endeavor to hear them out fully and make their dreams come alive (as in Karen’s fish-logo case, above).

      My experience has taught me that instead of bitching when a client is not entirely happy with my “professional” work, I often do stellar work when I sincerely endeavor to make the client’s dream come alive. In the end, both of us end up happier and I richer. Just listen well to the client, and put in your best for the client.

  11. CarricDesign says:

    By adding certain elements to the ‘corporate’ logo (for example, a child rider on the horse with their head thrown back in laughter and a wheelchair just outside of the world, behind the horse), it is possible that the ‘corporate’ logo could be made more friendly.

  12. chris Cummings says:

    I went through a similar experience, and my design mentor told me I was really just trying to please myself. I have to admit this was true and a good lesson. John’s advice is well said.

  13. Holly says:

    I have found that clients confuse a logo with an ad. It seems they want the logo to sell the company all by itself. I love ambiguity with logos, but that may be the artsiness in me:) Is artsiness a word?

  14. Pug Logic says:

    Lori, I think you’re right about meeting in the middle.

    I can see how the client’s amateurish rendering could rub any designer the wrong way (it does me) but the most powerful image in her ‘ad’, to me, is the empty wheelchair that looks like it’s just been abandoned by the right-hand child, who is moving toward the horse.

    Incorporating a subtle “empty wheelchair” image into a graphic that shows a horse with an obviously young rider might have become the halfway point between clean/stylish and campy/storytelling.

    I feel your pain!! :-)

  15. BB says:

    While John raises some very interesting and important points about working with clients, I have to agree with OBXartist. Yes, logos can tell a story, but that’s also what your name, your tagline, and your core messaging are for, and a story-telling logo could be needlessly redundant as well as amateurish and difficult to work with. By themselves, the Nike swoosh and the new Pepsi logo say very little. But in context with other elements, they’re simple, elegant, versatile and timeless. The final Open My World logo looks like something out of My Weekly Reader ca. 1949.

    Mr. Pietrosanti suggests that Lori’s logo is “cold.” I disagree. To me, it says freedom — and isn’t that what the riding center is all about? The logo could easily be warmed up by changing the blue disc to gold. One thing that wasn’t adequately addressed in this exchange is the importance of not just presenting a design to a client, but how you present it. Properly presented, Lori’s initial logo may have had a chance.

  16. Lou M says:

    I pretty much agree with OBXartist: I would not purchase services from someone with the second logo (unless I met them first and got a good vibe from them that overcame their logo’s inadequacies).

    Lori’s logo isn’t cold at all. Have you ever been on a horse?

    It seems to me that Lori’s logo conveys the airy, spacious, breezy feel of being on a horse. So, for a kid who wants to feel light and breezy, rather than constrained in a wheelchair, I’d much prefer Lori’s logo. Even the typeface is light and breezy, but also very warm and charming. It speaks to Freedom.

    Maybe Lori’s logo simply needs a color change?

  17. OBXartist nailed it completely.

    The “illustration” that the client thinks is a logo is simply awful. It looks like a little girl drew it in first grade art class. Good logos are iconic and memorable. I just looked at the illustration again and I couldn’t tell you what it was about. All it left me with is a feeling that this isn’t a real company.

    I think Lori’s version is very pretty, clean and corporate, but I agree that it doesn’t really capture the emotion it seems the client was hoping for.

    I also think OBXartist was right that sometimes it is the reponsibility of the professional to do a good job of understanding the client’s goals and then attempt to educate the client on the best ways to accomplish them.

    Interesting discussion. I doubt there’s a designer anywhere who has not had to face this situation.

  18. wendy says:

    Unfortunately I have run into this exact same problem. It was with a pro bono client that I was able to walk away from amicably, and I learned a large lesson, so it was well worth it.

    Generally my clients come to me to deliver them what I feel is the best design solution. This is not always the same as what they think they want. It is my job to assure them that what I present is the best solution to meet their goals, whatever they may be. That is what they pay me for . . . my expertise. They don’t just pay me because I know how to use the proper software.

    Convincing them isn’t always easy, but I see it as a large part of the reason my clients come to me.

    As designers, we need to explain what a logo is, precisely, and give examples to show them the real purpose of a logo . . . to be remembered, and recognized.

    One of the examples I often use to illustrate the silliness of this problem is McDonald’s. Image how busy McDonald’s logo would be if they believed this idea. They would cram burgers, fries, drinks, pies, salads, happy meals and etc. into their logo. Does McDonald’s sell all of those things? Yes. Do they need to show everything they sell in their logo? Obviously not.

    This “clip-art cramming” mentality also seems to be a frequent problem when you work with a client who believes that they are a designer, and as such wants to use you only to execute their idea. This is not a great client to have, as they are rarely happy with what gets presented to them.

    Learn to sniff them out, and decline to project if you can. And seek out clients who value your work, your opinion and your expertise.

  19. Brad says:

    Sometimes designs like hers work, and sometimes they don’t. The overarching issue is always how professional or “grass roots” do you want to appear. I had a client who sold used camera equipment from his stock, and we’d type, yes type, all the ads on an IBM Selectric typewriter (for those of you who remember Selectrics). His used cameras in these ads always sold out, because everyone thought they were getting “back-room” pricing. The ads looked well, amateurish. Bottom line: it’s all how you want to look.

    Whatever her cause, it looks like a good one, and I wish her all the luck in the world.

  20. Chris says:

    Wow, I’m amazed at the response for the final logo. Your logo shows freedom and would look great on shirts, hats, and all forms of advertising specialties. I don’t quite understand why the new idea for logos is to tell a story. Apple, IBM, Red Cross, Goodwill, etc. all have dynamic presence without the need for a story. I want a logo that creates a question and a curiousity. Use the new story logo in ads, etc. but with a simple logo. If it takes more than three seconds to absorb, it’s no longer a mark but an ad.

  21. david egerton says:

    The problem with the new logo idea is that whilst is is clean, it is also too corporate, lacks any real feeling for the target audience and does not (IMHO) engage the right tone with the brand.

    I think working from the chosen logo and injecting more emotion whilst simplifying the detail and using warm colours and pastels would be the way to go.

  22. Sarah says:

    I totally agreed with this article and enjoyed reading it. Lori, thanks for being a good sport and letting us share in your learning!

    For me, this is a case of missing or undefined objectives. My skill set is more of a project manager than a designer. I find that my projects go much better if I take the time to clearly establish the objective with the client first — what will you be using it for and other technical questions, yes, but also questions like, “what do you want people to feel when you look at this?” “Give me five adjectives that describe your company’s personality.” “If you could choose one thing to be top priority in this design — striking visual, unmistakable message, name recognition, or one other thing, what would it be?”

    When you have a clear objective, then your role becomes much easier as you simply educate why certain choices meet the objectives and others do not. But, like a few others said, I’ve learned to educate and then add, “but in the end I will do anything you want.”

  23. Laura says:

    Don’t take it personally. The client is too emotionally attached to be objective. However, I agree that Lori’s logo was a little too cold for the end user. I remember many years ago my father was an architect. There were some buildings around town he designed but were so ugly he wouldn’t claim. He made the client happy and even other people around town thought they were beautiful (they weren’t). I guess he learned not to let his ego stand in the way of making a living.

  24. Holly says:

    This is a great discussion and one I can really relate to. I work as a presention designer for a large company, and so I work with a large variety of people and I am constantly battling the “we don’t have to be so literal about everything” fight. I definitely understand Lori’s frustration. I think the key disconnect in the above example was that Lori focused on the world/horse, while the client wanted more kid-friendly, warm feel. But instead of coming back to Lori, the client gave up and went and did it herself. This is why communication is so key. Every time my people come to me, they know the first thing I am going to do is ask them a bunch of questions to really try to get my head around the core essence of what they want. If you give them what they want in a clean, clear way they love it. If you miss . . . then they get frustrated too and go off and do it themselves. I don’t think it’s that the client has bad taste or doesn’t appreciate a good, clean design. They do. But the client’s priority is getting their message across. If they have to choose between clean design and key message, design often loses.

  25. Paul says:

    Thank you for a great article! I believe a LOL is required here. I sympathise with Lori, and also work hard (and long) on concepts I wouldn’t want to show anyone! However, where would we be without our clients, without THEIR businesses, THEIR passion, THEIR ideas and THEIR personal idiosyncrasies? I always ask, “How can I help you?” and it motivates me to mean every word of it. What did Patch Adams (doctor) say? “Treat the disease and you win or lose; treat the patient and you win every time.”

  26. Pat Butler says:

    Good comments here. My personal opinion is probably in the middle of providing a different emphasis for the logo while obviously getting away from the amateurish look of what the client provided.

    The main issue I see is that the therapy is directed towards people (and probably children), while the logo that Lori drew emphasizes the horse.

    I can probably safely assume that if you talk to the client that they’ll tell you all of the good things that they are doing for their clients and probably tell you very little about the animals. I think the warm, personal aspect that John mentions is more along the line of what the client might be trying to portray.

  27. Elsie says:

    Great topic!

    Haven’t we all experienced this event?

    I’ve been exploring ‘business branding’ in a broader manner lately, and applying it to my customer base of small to medium (mom & pop) businesses. These businesses are small enough to really let their genuine personalities shine through to become a basis for some very powerful branding campaigns. Getting to know the customer and their customers is an important first step before you can create a logo that truly represents their cultural branding.

    I love Lori’s beautiful clean horse logo, but I have to agree it is far too corporate for this organisation. I’d also agree that while the final logo has all the feeling and appeal to customers, it is certainly going to be hard to work with — how well will it fax? Can it be embroidered on a shirt?

    Perhaps, what could be done is to create a branding ‘theme’ with a series of matching elements and colours that can be applied across different materials. Keep the logo graphic, but maybe pull the name out along side in a bolder, more stylised font that can be used with or without the graphic. The illustrative logo could be used more as an illustration rather than a logo. I’ve often used a simple font logo, accompanied by illustrations or photographs, to give the business name added meaning. For example, architects often have their own style that changes and is not represented well in a complex logo.

    I think I would have gone for something like this for the riding school. The name of the school is very descriptive. Perhaps some clean, appealing photos accompanying a font-based logo would work well on materials. That way they can be updated while the logo stays the same. The font-based logo can then be easily replicated in many different situations.

    It’s great to feel that I’m not the only one trying to work through these situatons!

    Elsie

  28. Adam Zarudny says:

    Like many of you, I too see both sides. I definitely like the cleanliness of Lori’s concept, but . . . I think what some of you are getting snagged on is the “polished” quality of one over the other. The client’s “logo” is definitely not a “proper” logo (IMO), but it does visually represent and communicate a message — which is when a logo begins to become part of the brand.

    We all know that a logo on its own does not a brand make, but in the effort to develop a brand (and loyalty towards it) the logo must effectively represent it, communicate the key points of the brand and elicit a connection with the target audience.

    The client’s logo does just that, but it’s not even close to polished. Add to that the fact that it’s for a business that’s kid-related and you get a certain cheesy feeling happening with the design.

    Most of us really enjoy slick, high-end stuff. Designing with kids in mind is a totally different thing. You have to step out of yourself and get back to being a kid. You can still create slick, fancy stuff for that audience, but it’s certainly different than creating for a grown-up world. Slick, fancy and high-end design (in the younger world) are represented in the coolness and wow-ness of the design, and how well we’re able to relate. Otherwise we’re just old people “trying too hard.” Yes, this logo targets the parents of the kids, but those parents will (in most cases) have a deeper, closer connection to their young ones. They’re potentially hypersensitive to the needs of their children, and the warm of the logo will be paramount.

    I look at the client’s design and am not thrilled with it at first glance. Not because the design is hideous but because it looks unprofessional and unpolished. That’s where we come in. I see soooo much potential for the client’s design, as a starting point. I would love to have a crack at that logo. And really, each of us as creative professionals should be itching to get our hands on such a project, as it presents a great opportunity to play with our creativity in a vastly different manner than the usual corporate (and grown-up) stuff.

    As far as what we present . . . I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t present anything you don’t like, as the client will always pick the design you hate most. That said, I myself don’t always follow this rule . . . but I try.

    I think if we understand the client’s needs properly (which is waaaaay difficult with some clients), we can develop designs that we are comfortable and confident with presenting. Yes, sometimes we do know what the client really needs, but it’s also good to remember that most clients know their business. Maybe not best practices, or how to market themselves, but they know their industry.

    So, in creating concepts for a client, not only do their needs come into play, but it is also key for us to understand their industry and business — intimately.

    Please keep in mind that this is just my humble 4 cents. In the end we all have our individual style and approaches. Add to that the personalities on the client side, and design (especially when presenting concepts) becomes more about psychology, corporate sociology and interpersonal relationships than it is about great creative . . . hence, the thick, crusty skin of seasoned creatives ;-)

  29. As a design professional, sometimes we’re so keen to advocate exactly why our work makes so much sense (and there was nothing in your notes that did not make sense — thinking through applications to t-shirts and hats is a good thing!).

    That said, at that point we often stop inquiring as to why we’re hitting the mark.

    I worked for a company that had a very tricky logo — an arch made of stones — that was virtually impossible to replicate in stitched logos (it looked like Chiclets). Rather than redesign the logo, we simply came up with a companion application that would work for embroidery . . . an everyone-wins situation.

    I prefer your logo, but see the client’s point . . . especially when I see the final design!

    I know you’re no longer working on this project, but it would be interesting to see how you would evolve your original logos given the feedback from this post.

    Thanks!

    Heather Campbell

  30. LuCee says:

    I was with Lori all the way at first but loved John’s insightful response, which reminds me to think about what looks good as opposed to what works and more importantly that customers know their business best.

    It reminded me of being really grumpy and embarrassed to produce a logo for a large Italian plumber who wanted a script font and gold scrolls on his logo, when it was clear he needed a chunky blue wrench. I tried everything to change it, but what I didn’t know until later was that he was an amateur opera singer, and his customers loved his singing on the job. His identity was script type and gold scroll service. Sometimes people know exactly what they want. It’s all in the communication, and that is what they employ you to do.

  31. Like the others, I empathize with Lori. I am a graphic designer who has also taught college-level marketing (which helps my credibility some), so I always tell my clients I design and create with only their customers in mind, not them. I say it nicely and explain what I mean but we try to reach an understanding that their customer is the only one who is “always right,” not me and not my client.

    I try to explain my design(s) based on what about them will appeal to their target market and why what I did was important to help accomplish that. It usually works, but when I find myself working with a customer who wants to much design control, we usually part company unless they really have good design and marketing sense and/or experience. On the other hand, I encourage them to show my designs to people in their target and get their reactions and I listen to the feedback and make changes if necessary.

    I agree with some of the others; neither logo quite gets the job done in this case. Lori’s certainly looks professional, and I (as a designer and biased toward visual things) would choose her design in the Yellow pages for the same reasons mentioned above. John’s right when he says it would have helped to have the children and the horse in the design. John’s always right. :-)

  32. Oh boy. Can I ever relate! As the publisher of an equestrian publication, I must say that the final design is exactly the sort of thing that gets submitted to me. And when horse people have made up their mind about something . . . well just forget about changing it! They often don’t want a designer, but rather a production person.

  33. Celeste says:

    The client’s logo told more about the heart of what she does, but I agree that it doesn’t look professional. Even when it involves children, if a risky service is offered, it should look like an adult is running the show.

    I have to say that her logo’s horse makes me a little nauseous. Too “Rainbow Brite My Little Pony-ish” for me, I guess.

    I think if Lori would have added a simple silhouette of a child and a wheelchair, it would have shown just by the logo what the client was offering, without the full-monty Rainbow Bright deal.

  34. charger70 says:

    nice job on the logo redesign! some clients you simply cannot lead (like a horse to water) to good design.

    as you discovered.

    thanks for sharing the experience – i can’t tell you how many great jobs i’ve ruined to please committees of “creative professionals”….

  35. Cyl says:

    I absolutely understand Lori’s frustration (we’ve all been there). This was a great read and reminder to us that clean and modern must also convey the client’s needs.

    While I definitely feel Lori’s logo was professional, John is right to say that she missed the mark by not conveying the “therapy” or “children” aspect. I think Lori’s logo could have been retooled by:

    1. Warming up the color scheme (i.e green or orange)
    2. Cropping the horse similiar to the clipart horse in the final logo with its head slightly tilted downard (keeping it of course a white silhouette)
    3. Inserting a white silhouette of a child’s upper torso, facing and reaching up to pet the horse’s head (the horses head and child would center nicely and create balance in the circle)

    And OBX although I agree with most everything you said, sadly, I’ve come to realize that most people look at things with a very unprofessional eye. I’ll give clients several logo or layout comps with a mediocre design thrown in just to help steer them toward the really professional, more modern designs, and 9 times out of 10, they disappoint me and pick the medicore one. :(

  36. Peter Breis says:

    I know the feeling having been there. Early in the DTP revolution, we showed off our technology by flipping through on the screen over 20 ideas for a logo. Only to have the client want ALL of them incorporated into the one logo.

    Given that I think your point is valid. The client’s business is emotional and should have shown it. Perhaps children hugging the horse in a simplified graphic playing on positive negative fields.

    Definitely the children should feature. It is not the horse that has the problems.

  37. Giulietta says:

    Hi John & Lori,

    Fascinating topic. See both your points.

    Years ago I had this issue, but no longer do. It’s about listening to what a client wants while simultaneously guiding them away from the cliche. If possible, I try to visit a place and see it in action, so I can “feel” what the new logo needs to do. In this case, maybe get on the horse. Kind of like that Patty Duke movie eons ago where she was a runner and had to feel the music to run.

    This is a therapeutic riding center. It seems to me, it’s about the connection between horse and rider, that magic that takes the rider to a different emotional place. It’s transformative. I believe that can be captured in a clean, contemporary way that appeals to both designer and client. Lori, I don’t think you went far enough with the logo concept. Your client couldn’t “feel” it. Usually, when you arrive at that place, your client will say, “yes.”

    G.

  38. Peter Breis says:

    Oh, btw, this is where we get flip in the studio and do our own versions, such as a horse in a wheelchair, holding a balloon.

    At worst, we add it to the joke wall.

    Sometimes it even turns into a genuine solution, because we broke the mold we had found ourselves in.

  39. David Beeler says:

    What a great discussion.

    As much as I was taught to “educate” the client when I was in design school a years ago, I know from a decade of personal experience that it often doesn’t happen, especially when I am not humble enough to first be educated about what the client wants.

    I currently work for a magazine, and some of my most effective graphic ideas have come from listening to people who are intelligent, but uneducated about design. Out of the tens of thousands of people who read the publication I work for, the vast majority probably don’t actually know what graphic design is; they just know if something appeals to them or not.

    The challenge of this example seems to involve capturing all that the “warm and fuzzy” logo means to the client in their world, and transforming it into an effective and beautiful form that reproduces well under real conditions that will connect with the audience in their world. That’s not easy but if it was, they wouldn’t pay us to do it!

  40. Kevin Mau says:

    I have a story for you … Out of the blue one day, I get a call from the Superintendent of my old elementary school district in the San Francisco Bay Area. Strange, in that I had been living in southern California for almost twelve years then, and it had been almost twenty five years since I was a student in that district (one of the largest in the state).

    He had gotten my name from a relative on the school board, so I knew this man by reputation. He was a fighter for children in failing school systems. He held no less than two PhDs, spoke five languages fluently and goes into chaotic school districts to essentially save them. I knew him as an incredible man, and here he was calling me.

    He had a problem. He was on a mission to save my old school district, and he wanted a logo designed give a face to the cause. He was serious enough that he had given the assignment to a prominent local design firm … a name I knew well, and many of you may know too, but that’s beside the point.

    He was very disappointed in what the firm came up with, and they came up with a lot of concepts … all of which missed the mark in his mind.

    Now, he was desperate. He had a major event coming up where he intended to unveil his plan. A celebration of a new dawn of sorts for the district, and time was short.

    I gladly took on the project, as a kind of giving back to my old neighborhood thang … and truth be told, I had the chance to “one-up” a big design firm.

    So, I listened intently to what he had in mind for his mission, his vision to make it happen, and of course a logo. He had me on the edge of my seat … until the logo. What he had in mind was noble and inspirational, but incredibly busy. He, like the horse logo, wanted to tell the whole story in one image.

    No worries. I had been down this street before. What always worked for me in the past was to design up exactly what he asked for, then give him much better designed concepts that communicate (in my mind) his message much better. That way, once the concepts are presented, he would have seen the error of his ways, and go with the “better” design solution.

    I went to work. I developed his concept first. Now, I wasn’t going to crap it up to prove a point … The man held two PhDs, I wasn’t going to insult his intelligence. I genuinely took a crack at his concept. I gave due effort in composition, and paid attention to detail, as in any design.

    Then I had a lot of fun going after concepts I knew in my heart of hearts would sell his message … and blow away the friggin’ design firm’s efforts at the same time.

    I highly anticipated the presentation of the concepts. However, I was 400 miles away, and had to settle for sending a PDF of my presentation. I emailed the file with a note to set up a time to walk through my ideas over the phone. I also though it was clever to have the design depicting his idea on the first page. I lived in my head him seeing it, and clearly understanding immediately how busy it was … and have him enjoy the saving grace of the other wonderful designs. You know what’s coming, right?

    I didn’t have to wait long. There was no setting up any meeting. He called shortly after receiving the email … thrilled and excited to almost being speechless.

    Remember, two PhDs, fluent in five languages, savior of school districts.

    Even through the phone I could tell he was in tears. He told me he was incredibly touched that I was able to see into his mind and pull out exactly his vision for what he wanted his entire efforts to be. I knew immediately, that none of the other concepts had any kind of chance whatsoever, and any efforts to sell them would be futile.

    I was happy for him, but bummed at the same time. How can such a man be such a Philistine? Oh well, wrap it up and send him off.

    But wait … there’s more.

    A week or so later, he calls again. To add insult to injury, he wants me to work up a T-shirt design for the upcoming event using his logo (it’s his logo now, not mine!). He was so gracious, I couldn’t turn him down. I designed the T-shirts.

    But wait … there’s even more.

    A few days pass after I delivered the T-shirt designs, and he calls again. This time with a personal invitation. He had an award designed based on the logo design. The award was to be given to distinguished patrons of the district … honored people who have made notable contributions (financial, or otherwise) to the district.

    He wanted ME to be the first recipient, and even say a few words at the event.

    Wow! I didn’t know whether to be touched or appalled. I sided with being touched, as they insisted on paying my airfare and expenses, just to make sure I would come.

    I was picked up at the airport by the president of the School Board and driven directly to the event. The venue was one of the Middle Schools in the district, and the festivities took place out on their sports fields. How quaint.

    As we drove up, I could see that the field was surrounded by a seven foot, cyclone fence … the kind with the green fabric, so you could not see into the fields. The car came to a stop by the back gate. They were taking me in the “back door,” so to say.

    As we stepped up to the gate, a couple of kids came out wearing bright yellow t-shirts with a very familiar design on them. That was kind of cool. Then, the superintendent poked his head through the gate, and asked if it was time. He received a positive response, to which he opened the gate up wide to reveal a sight that made me weak in the knees.

    There it was … a wonderful festival of booths, banners, bunting and an enormous stage complete with a twenty piece district jazz band and all the trimmings … and … about two thousand people, where easily ninety percent of which (mostly young people) were wearing bright yellow shirts …

    … with MY logo on it (notice it’s mine again).

    Guess who was in tears then.

    I realized right then and there … the design was NEVER about me! The designs we do, unless they are self promotional, are never about us, our message, our ideas, our ego.

    The message is always our clients.’ My client’s message was beautiful, so the logo was beautiful, the shirts were beautiful, and the lesson learned as well.

    Next time you sit across the table with a client, look them directly in the eyes, shut up and listen. They are going to tell you what you REALLY need to know … design accordingly.

  41. Gail says:

    I also enjoyed the discussion and it brought back memories of the time my printing salesman had his artist redesign the logo and stationery for my husband’s new company as a favor.

    I thought the beautifully embossed interpretation was perfect until my husband saw it. By the look on his face, you would have thought someone punched him in the stomach. Later, my salesman said that’s why he stopped selling logos and stationery. It’s so personal.

    I heard a lot of discussion here about design and how the customer just didn’t “get it.” I think John got it and it was about heart. It is a very real sensation when someone looks at a logo or other design that represents them. The feeling comes from within and it is very overwhelming, but I defy you to know exactly what it is. It comes from someplace deep within and it’s very emotional.

    Just as doctors are learning the importance of a good bedside manner, I think some designers need to be more aware of the intense personal feelings that go into the things that represent them. Clients will learn to recognize good design as they go along. If you’re patient, you’ll help them. If not, move on to Nike.

    But remember, there are more of us out there than there are Nike and Coke.

  42. I like this discussion, too, although I don’t understand every word because there is so much slang. I haven’t read all your comments, and therefore I maybe unconsciously repeat something which was said before.

    I am one of these unprofessional designers, but I always try to “piss with the big dogs” (that’s a German expression, I don’t know if it’s common in English also). So I try to make logos which look VERY professional.

    But in this case, I can see clearly that this professional logo of Lori wouldn’t match the point. It looks like a worldwide operating firm. It looks like hundreds of horses, nurtured by 200 horse therapists, years of experience, very expensive and extremely professional. But who are the customers? They are people with children who have problems. They are scared or at least concerned. They need a trustworthy, warm partner. With Lori’s logo they would be scared to make a phone call to this company.

    And I think the real company couldn’t “carry” this logo. It’s too big for them.

    I make an example: I once had a client who wanted to have a logo for her mediation work. She doesn’t have any experience (and I can judge this, because I have absolved an advanced and intense mediation course based on nonviolent communication). I made a logo like an horizontal 8 and used the font Caflish for the name. I knew it was not very professional, but it was perfect for her, because she is not that educated right now.

    With the logo I also promise something to the clients of my client — and when the company is not able to fulfill the promise I gave for them, they have the wrong logo.
    In such developing situations, I therefore try to make a logo which can be easily altered after some time.

    I have the impression, designers are sometimes so in love with their work that they don’t see the whole picture. They want to make something totally new, they want to make the best — although sometimes the best is too much for the client. And then it is not the best for him.

    I understand this work is very holistic. Maybe it helps that I do Nonviolent Communication since five years.

    And I also can see that it is really a question of taste — and we are all different.

    Back to the unprofessional logo of the horse company. I agree that the last logo is too detailled, but I like the horse. I wouldn’t have drawn a wheelchair, and maybe I would have made it more cartoonlike, but I think it fits perfectly to the kind of company and their issue.

    But of course Lori’s is much better. :-)

  43. Alan G says:

    @Kevin: Very moving story, very real.

    Successful designs from small business clients are at least 75% getting inside the client’s head, less than 25% invention. Paula Scher once commented that it was her ability to hear the client, understand what they were saying, and give it back to them in a design that made her successful. That’s definitely been my experience.

    Sometimes you have to point out (gently!) that it’s the audience that’s important, not the client company, but you have to then also understand that audience if your design is going to speak to them.

    The client generally knows the audience much better than the designer. If you don’t have detailed and accurate surveys, your “survey data” comes out of the client’s mouth. You’d better be listening.

  44. Ken Tryon says:

    Life would be so simple if it weren’t for clients . . .

    I love Lori’s design—it’s clean and airy and very polished. I agree her client’s design will cause her no end of grief, but it’s very warm and fuzzy. One other thing I noticed which no one has mentioned is that Lori changed the name of the company from Open My World Therapeutic Riding Center to Open My World Riding Therapy. I see it fits better as a logo, but unless the client asked her to develop a name as well as a logo, that’s pretty insulting to the client. I’m sure Lori didn’t intend it that way, but that’s probably how it was received.

    It’s important to listen to clients and work as a consultant—you’re adding your professional skills to what they want to do. I ran into the same problem with clients as a programmer as I have as a designer (yup, I’ve done both). You have to understand what the client wants and needs and be sure you’re both on the same page before you start the work. It’s also important to understand what kind of client you’re working for—some want what they want and some love to be surprised. Check out what’s been read on personality typing (Myers-Briggs, etc.) and sales. “Please Understand Me” is a classic, although not written with sales in mind.

    kt

  45. Leslie says:

    Lori, your designs are stunning and reveal a splendid use of negative space and striking imagery. It’s too bad for the the client that they could see it.

    Their version was too cluttered, too amateurish and ultimately will not serve them well.

    I deal with this sort of client as well. These clients really do want help, and finding the best way to reach them is a challenge. Sometimes they’re super sensitive and wear their established logos on their sleeve along with their heart. Recently, though, I took a very ho-hum logo that a race-car fabricator used for nearly 50 years and gave it a complete facelift. The owner was hesitant at first, but he had just moved to my town from another state, so I used the “it’s time for a change” sales pitch as my reason to update the logo. He loves it, and proudly shows off his card and flyers.

    Often I feel that people sort-of-know what they want. And when they come to me, I usually feel like they don’t know what they really want, until they talk to me — at which point I tell them what they want. I offer solutions, and more often than not clients are really happy and feel like they got something way more than what they would have, if they had not come to me.

    I have designed more logos than they ever will in their lifetime. My chances are better than average that I will produce a great result for them — and that is the same for you.

    Being confident in your work is key. You have the gift, the skills and the desire to do wonderful work. Just don’t let these kinds of difficult clients shake your belief in yourself.

  46. Chidanand says:

    I thought the people were better in your country. Such problems are quite common in a country like India, where majority lack aesthetic sense. Clients with very little exposure to the outside world have this problem. I always try to convince my clients that the logo should be simple and at the same time powerful. But this advice is seldom taken.

  47. This is SO MUCH FUN!

    I am not a designer, I’m a CLIENT. I love bright color and clean lines and balance and that’s about all I know about design.

    I love Lori’s sleek design, love it! I (hate) brown and beige and taupe and country looking stuff. So from my personal asthetic preference, I like Lori’s design.

    Here’s my two cents from a non-design perspective . . .

    In my opinion, a good designer is one who has happy clients. Maybe a good designer is one who has a portfolio full of good designs.

    It seems that designers want to please their clients, but they also want to please their reputations in the profession.

    How can a designer do both when they are dealing with a client who could care less about design “rules?”

    I appreciate a portfolio that shows the initial designs and the process of changes to the design ending with the final. Several times I think, “the client was an idiot; why didn’t they choose design #4?” This is good for the designer because it shows off their good work.

    Lori might benefit from including this very process in her portfolio! (?) She shows her initial designs, which are wonderful, then shows what the client chose. Then Lori doesn’t look “inept,” because I can see her awesome design right there. It is obvious she is dealing with an amateur client, and that doesn’t reflect badly on Lori because I can see from looking at the process that the client is not wanting the quality, professional look that Lori offers.

    I can appreciate the designer’s desire to uphold their “professional” reputation. That must be very difficult when dealing with clients who tend to like the “amateur.” But in the end . . . don’t happy clients make happy designers?

  48. Andy Gilhooley says:

    You failed big time on the marketing of this by missing out the most important element of all, which is family, friendly, warm, fuzzy. You got the brief so, so wrong with that logo.

    Also, you renamed her comany! It is called Open My World Therapeutic Riding Centre, not Open My World Riding Therapy.

    I’m an ex-client turned supplier, and the biggest-ever bug bearer for clients is when designers take it upon themselves to rename brands, companies and ignore your own copy.

    Take note, ask for a better brief from the client, get more inside the head and culture of the client you are working for, then you won’t have to redesign or get frustrated.

  49. shilpa says:

    Your logo looks very elegant, but it just doesn’t convey therapy, which obviously these people are doing, and maybe that’s the only thing that sets them apart from other riding classes.

    The logo design you have done goes for any horse riding classes etc.

    The logo they chose is scary, but maybe they didn’t have enough choices.

  50. David Newman says:

    I’d like to address one of John’s original comments, “I’d say she didn’t actually want a logo. She wanted a little story.”

    In my opinion, it’s an awful lot to demand of a logo to tell a story. And it may, in fact, be counterproductive in most cases.

    Why? Because you want the logo to be flexible enough to represent MANY stories… from the customer’s perspective.

    For example, if my child has serious therapeutic needs but does NOT use a wheelchair, that element of the logo will distance me one step from being drawn to using this center.

    So generic “vanilla” thinking and design is obviously bad. But so is overly-specific storytelling when you need to appeal to many different buyers with many different stories. Ultimately, the only story I’ll really ever resonate with is my OWN… and that’s nearly impossible to capture in a logo.

    BTW, where stories come in would be with specific ads and specific campaigns, which are ideally story-telling vehicles. Don’t make the logo do the work of an ad.

    David Newman

  51. dl says:

    Interesting topic that applies to every designer. And great responses!

    I think the most important and hardest thing about logos is the communication between the designer and client. This is certainly an acquired skill on the designer’s part.

    I’m getting much better at the listening part, or so I think. But I still need to improve at guiding the client through an organized self-examination process. Getting them to open up and talk. Getting them to describe who they are, what they want to convey, who is their market, and everything else designers need to know for a creative plan.

    “Quick, off the top of your head: Give me 25 words that describe who you are and what you do….”

    I don’t think a designer should leave this interview with less than 50 words.

    I can’t help but wonder if Lori had this conversation with her client. And how much research she did on her own.

    For example, she mentions logos on hats that keep the sun out of the eyes. Was she referring to baseball-style hats? Riders at such an establishment are required to wear riding helmets.

    Also, therapeutic riding centers are often non-profit organizations. If this is the case, Lori’s logo is much too corporate.

    The center’s logo certainly must convey professionalism (competency). But it also must convey the sense of emotion, caring and humanity associated with such an organization. These ideas should have been communicated at the beginning when both designer and client brainstormed together.

  52. Laura Westenkirchner says:

    The first designs are lovely. The amateur design is just that, “amateur.” It’s what we refer to as “nephew art,” but it works for the client.

    But let’s get over ourselves.

    If you knew about therapeutic riding you would understand that this is about as good as it gets, and there are so few places that do it that you probably wouldn’t look at the logo as a deal breaker; you would just be happy to find a place to take your child.

    I agree with the Patch Adams quote, “treat the patient and you win every time.”

    I am not advocating poor design. In fact, I hear all the time that my design is much too “metro” or “elegant,” and that is not in a good way (the major demographics here fishing and hunting). So you adapt.

    Lori, you are a great sport to share, and you did a lovely job.

  53. Anna says:

    A very interesting discussion that totally drew me away from my work, which is business communication (been consulting for a number of years). It really surprises me how many designers seem to have no understanding of or interest in the fact that it is the client’s business that matters, not whether the logo can fit into their portfolio or not. I am not gonna debate either one of the logos. There’s no point in that, because all I see is that this is the result of a customer relation that’s gone all bad. Maybe it is easy to forget that if clients do not feel passionate about something they are going to use and see every day for a very long period of time, long after the design period is over, you have not got a happy client.

    And also I’m not so sure that having the approach of, “you must educate the customer,” is gonna get you there. As I see it, it’s a two-way education that needs to happen. The designer needs to get a real insight into the client’s business and what really drives it, and then the customer can be educated in the parts of the design process and “marketing thinking” that he or she is able to take in. I have often seen professionals show off their entire working process, which often is just too much to cope with if you yourself are in another business. So, I agree with all of you who said listening is the start that’s gonna take you to the time and place where both the client and you are satisfied.

  54. I do understand Lori, and the final logo looks “amateurish.” On the other hand, Lori’s design could also be used for a vendor of horseback journeys, horse transport, or even animal insurances. It’s corporate, not personal, and, sorry to say, indistinguishable, and it does not tell the story. And looking to the client’s logo, they wanted the personal touch. Seems that expectations were not clarified at the beginning?

  55. Jennie says:

    I just loved this article. Lori and I could be the same person! Kudos to you, Lori, for being able to take the constructive criticism with grace. That can be very difficult sometimes. I have found myself bending to a client’s personal aesthetic preference many times and not feeling 100% great about it. This article raises a very good point about stepping back and realizing they do know their company better than we do, even if they don’t know how to translate to a great design.

    However, you’ve got to love it when they just hand over the job and say “you know best”! For every logo I was not jazzed about creating, there is one where I gave the client an “alternative” tossed in with the ones they directed me on, and lo and behold! They loved mine even more. That helps make up for the others who don’t share my design vision.

  56. Ric Cortez says:

    I was once a brand manager, and I can fully relate with your experience or being blunt about it — your frustration with the way your client intends to have the logo done. I would tell my agency to just follow what I say and just instruct the creatives to simply follow the branding guideline, make the brand name stand out, include unnecessary elements, etc. It becomes a technical, cluttered with information instead of exemplifying the brand personality.

    It all boils down to, what’s the main message? John is right. Capture the main story, then create.

  57. Ant says:

    I do a lot of Christian design work, and with regards to logos, nine times out of ten people come to me with “dove, cross, eagle, rainbow, world, hands.” Basically, they come with their own idea, and all they want to tell me about is how they want the logo to look and not what their organisation or project is about and wants to achieve. Most of the time none of those symbols are actually relevant to the project, but they have this ingrained idea that’s what a “Christian” logo should contain.

    In my opinion as designers, it’s our job to fully understand the client’s project/company/service and then professionally produce a logo from that, ignoring (yes, ignoring) what they want the logo to look like. To illustrate my rather blunt point, if I went to a plumber and said I want pipes run through my house to my specification, while the water and waste might flow, it might do it badly, noisily or possibly not at all, as I’m not a plumber. Even though I’ve seen lots of pipes in my life, and even done a bit of DIY, I don’t fully understand what goes into the whole system to make a house’s water run smoothly. To the people who are suggesting you just go along with the client without explaining that you are the professional and know how to deliver the best results, they are basically swindling that client. What if a plumber went along with my plan, knowing that it would not work correctly? What would you think of that “professional” tradesman?

    As regards the “advert” the riding school produced themselves, as mentioned it reflects on that school. If they can’t produce a professional logo/advert, why should I think they can provide a professional service? It’s clear what they offer — some horses for disabled kids — but unlikely to have professional staff who know what they’re doing. (Incidentally, if this is what the school is actually like, then the logo/advert fits perfectly.) That’s not to say I’d go with Lori’s design, either — but well done, Lori, for opening this up. It’s clear it’s a major problem for designers, hence such long rants such as mine.

  58. Kim says:

    I agree that the final logo she ended up with lacks in professional appearance. However, from the client’s perspective I can understand why she may have gone this route. While your logo designs are clearly professional and beautiful pieces, they leave me feeling disconnected from the “childhood aspect.” And again, while her final design is amateur, I do immediately understand that her camp is about the experience between horses and children together.

  59. Joseph S says:

    I think that there’s a lot here about pleasing the client, or having a good design. And the comments that say we have a responsibility to lead our clients through a process that we understand and they don’t are right on target. Maybe if you’re just a “graphic artist,” then you can say the customer is always right, and I’ll jump on the computer and scribble up anything they want. But a designer is what they paid for, and with that title comes a responsibility to solve a problem and communicate effectively.

    And it’s not all about “portfolio pieces,” either. A happy client whose business doesn’t receive ROI hiring you to produce whatever for them isn’t a success, no matter how much they pay you or how much they love the kitsch they’re handed.

    If I went into a vegetarian food store and said, “I know you’re a specialty operation, but I want a cheeseburger . . . I don’t like this snooty veggie garbage,” they would point you to the nearest burger hut, not append their inventory with cheeseburgers. Sometimes clients have to be fired as a matter of professional integrity. The customer is not always right, or the client wouldn’t have to pay designers to decipher what “right” is . . . they would already know. And if they think they know what is right for them already, then they are paying you as a digital artist, not a designer. But “designers” aren’t just file jockeys . . . they are solution-finding problem solvers . . . visual communicators, and the guardians of culture . . . okay, that last one was a bit much.

  60. This is a frustrating issue, I completely agree with Lori. You have developed a very sophisticated logo. It is a matter of fine tuning it and having the right dialogue with the client. Maybe they didn’t express their thoughts clearly, maybe further communication is needed. There are other ways to convey warmth than being literal, such as a cute horse or children running. What if you changed the color to a warm color? You can also talk about the typeface, what tone and feeling it conveys. Talk about being unique. The fonts in the client’s logo are overused and very common. The client obviously wants business, so the mark has to speak to her audience as well. How do they read it? Define key words at the beginning of the project, to identify what the client wants the logo to say. When you present it, show how those words are represented in the logo you created. Good luck and don’t give up!

    Christina

  61. Marty says:

    Saul Bass had a similar experience redoing the Quaker Oats guy. He gave them a “corporate” Quaker in his usual “clean style.” They got rid of it and shrunk it down very small on the back of the Oatmeal box and used the full-colored “Nothing is Better for Thee than Me” Quaker everywhere else. I mean, who wants to buy oatmeal from a graphic Quaker?

    One of the first things my first design teacher taught me is that there are some things that just don’t need to be redesigned — the Lipton Tea Guy, The Morton Salt Girl, etc. In this case, “My Little Pony.” Sometimes the best thing is to tell the client, “let me clean that up and make it production ready for you.”

  62. Jill says:

    I agree with John’s comments: It is always difficult when a client chooses an end result that you as a designer are not entirely happy with, but the clue, I find, is to get a feel for exactly what sort of person your customer is — perhaps show them an example of other logos to get a feel for their sense of style, or go through the Yellow Pages with them and see how they think they will fit in with their competitors. For this type of business, even though Lori’s design is nice and clean and would look great in a logo gallery, it’s probably very far from what the customer wanted. Especially when dealing with children, you need to go for friendly, approachable and not frighten people off. A lot has to do with getting to know your client — what’s right for one is not going to be right for another. I have been working with my clients over the past years and now know that even if I think something is tacky and gaudy, they love it, and believe it or not these kinds of designs in the local marketplace often pull in more customers for them than something over-designed, and that’s basically what it’s all about!

  63. Christina Lamkin says:

    Very enlightening! It helps me see why there are so many wildly-too-intricate (and often unclear — though this one is) “logos” (stories) around, and a bit of the thought pattern on how to cut through all the ideas to a nugget. Thanks.

  64. Cincinnati Wednesday says:

    Kevin Mau — God bless you for your honesty and your willingness to use your skills to tell your client’s story.

    The problem with the “professional” logo is that it’s all about the horse, no children, no triumph.

    The client’s logo has — as John says — a wonderful story that any parent of a handicapped child would be thrilled by. Their kid, free of their handicaps, playing with Nature, and embodied by the horse.

    Lori knew exactly what she wanted to say, and she was pretty angry when the client wouldn’t listen.

    Where’s any indication that she listened to the client, let alone humbled herself to use her talents to make the client’s dream of a logo come true?

    Why is it with so many designers that it’s either their way, or the client is a know-nothing?

  65. Barbara says:

    Oh how I can identify with this.

    I love what Michelle said. I actually had a prospective client approach me to redesign her logo for riding therapy. In my initial consultation with her (her design made this original look really professional), I realized that I could never make her happy and turned down the job.

    Perhaps this client could have been saved if I had shown a portfolio that included the process.

    Perhaps initially showing gentle guidance from a bad design to a gradual nudge in a more professional direction would have resulted in a move towards Lori’s design (which I loved).

    After all, upholding our “professional” reputation also includes showing our quality process and gently nudging a client in the right direction before the relationship can begin.

    Thanks, Michelle, for that wonderful and eye-opening insight. I would love to hear more from clients.

  66. Roderick says:

    I am in the middle of logo design with my class, so I have decided to present this “challenge” to the students to see what they can create.

    I am showing my students all of the “logos” that both Lori and the client “developed.”

    Wish me luck!

  67. Doug Moench says:

    When, oh when, are we going to stop comparing every logo design to the Nike swoosh? This is a billion-dollar giant. Same for Coke, etc. But have you noticed we also love to see the history of the Coke logo, for example, and enjoy the nostalgia of old-school logos? Clearly, we have become a culture that knows these new logos but only after muliti-million dollar companies have arisen around them.

    The examples comparison is also not complete. There is a lot of room for improvement in the logo the client ended up with, but there could certainly be a middle ground between the “corporate” look and the more home-brewed look. I think all it would have taken would be to incorporate a child in some manner, and the client may have been very happy. In my view, that is what she went to a professional for — to find a more professional-looking logo but one that had the elements she needed, e.g., a child and the horse.

    John, how about a Before & After contest to see what all these commenters could come up with? Now that would be enlightening.

  68. Chris says:

    The client is never the problem. Really. She had something in mind that could have been executed very nicely. The “designer’s” solution did not really communicate the story and the truly key thing: CHILDREN reconnecting with life after trauma or hardship. The hand of a child on a horse’s head . . . (?) the key things were simply left out.

    Get inside the client’s head, and don’t be condescending. They hire us because they believe we can do better than they in communicating. If not, they will just draw it themselves. Of course it sucks, and the client probably knows that, but so does the supposed professional solution. It is far too general and ambiguous. There is little or no unique or compelling aspect to it.

    We can do better.

  69. Patty says:

    Thanks so much for this insightful entry — I learned for myself last semester, with my husband as my client. Leaving in the pyramid of peanut butter sandwiches was bad enough, but I continue to suffer from having removed the dog that was pulling the plateful of them like a sled. At least I’m reassured that I’m not alone, thanks!

  70. Nancy Warren says:

    This was a great subject for discussion and really made me aware of some things I hadn’t thought of before.

    I virtually CRINGE when asked to do a new logo design, as I know how much of a struggle it can be. The point made regarding the difference between the client’s often emotional, non-subjective concept and the designer’s professional, utilitarian approach to logo creation can make for lots of frustration. I really liked the comments about the emotional element in this particular logo.

    I loved Lori’s first logo from an graphically sensible viewpoint, but could see how the addition of the wheelchair children and the soft-eyed pony really “told the story” and pleased the client. The responses have been very insightful to read, and I’ll remember this as I take on new logo design work.

  71. Lori says:

    I would love to say we haven’t encountered similar situations.

    My favorite was redesigning a corporate identity for a healthcare practice. The decision maker was supposedly one person, but turned out to be another. The person we were showing concepts to liked organic, landscape presentations and loved everything we showed her. Sadly, the decision maker liked geometric, portrait presentations and felt we missed the mark every concept. You can imagine what fun we had! Good times . . .

    Looking back over time, it really does all seem to boil down to communication. Unfortunately, many clients are ill-equipped to communicate what they do like, but they sure as heck know what they don’t like. I imagine as time goes on, we all get better at drawing out that information to guide our work. That’s kind of how it’s worked out here. And truly, the people who we can’t get that information out of, we don’t work with.

    Here’s a similar story in another industry — but I’m sure you can see the parallels:
    http://www.ideasonideas.com/2009/02/cucumber_cake/

  72. Vincent Pappler says:

    I agree with John. I think that Lori’s designs convey a corporate, “banking” feel instead of a service feel. I believe that Lori fundamentally misunderstood the client, the business and the customer the client was trying to attract. Consider this. The client is trying to reach people who are the family of, or work with, handicapped children. Therefore, you should be thinking “service” and “children.” The first thing I thought of was the charity, March of Dimes. If you look at the March of Dimes Foundation logo, the font is soft and inviting: caring. Since the name of the client’s business is so long, it will convey most of the meaning as it is read, so font selection is critical. The graphic elements should look like illustrations from a children’s book. The client’s version tries to express this, but can only do it in a naive way, which is why they approached Lori to give it a professional look. She didn’t see them clearly enough and couldn’t complete the job.

    As designers, our job is to understand the intent of the client in presenting their company or product; they do not have to understand us. They know their business, and it is our job to know it too. 95% of design is trying to achieve this understanding, and 5% is actually drawing the logo (or doing the work). Both parts can be fun, but the first is infinitely harder than the second.

  73. Wozzer says:

    What an amazing article, and what amazing response has ensued . . . !

    But PEOPLE, Kevin Mau has hit the nail on the head, whilst everyone else was trying to hang a picture on it. See his response, read the last sentence and then the whole darn thing.

    Peas n Love

  74. Kris Hunt says:

    I had a client once that I designed a logo for. Afterwards, he was wanting a large JPEG of the logo to use as desktop wallpaper. I took it a step further and made a nice “beauty shot” of the logo with a brushed metal texture, reflections, shadows, the whole works. He liked it so much he started using it as his logo everywhere without me knowing about it, until an embroidery shop called me and asked for a vector version of the logo. Of course, I had originally given the client an EPS at the beginning, but he wasn’t using it. It took much talking to convince him not to use the beauty shot as his main logo.

    The client is certainly not always right.

  75. I can see both points of view. I agree with John, that this logo should be fun, young, inviting and friendly, and I agree with Lori, that it has to reflect her clean, simple style for her to feel good about designing it. Feeling good about your work can be very important to some people (more than a paycheck), and there is no changing a person who is like that. Personally, I will turn down jobs that in the end reflect badly on my own business as a graphic/web designer. Just the same, I wouldn’t do jobs that bother my conscience also. It can bite you in the end if you do something that looks tacky or does violate your conscience.

    Lori is a very talented designer; her example shows that. I am sure she can come up with something graphic and yet childlike, inviting and friendly.

  76. Sylvie says:

    As a designer, I can totally see where Lori is coming from but agree with John. While Lori’s logo is crisp, clean and graphic, it is also empty, generic, cold and without personality. It would likely not beckon or assure parents with special needs children, as a horse poised for flight does not convey a sense of comfort, trust and community, all important attributes for someone offering “riding therapy for children” with emotional and/or physical disabilities. I wouldn’t trust my children with Lori’s logo — slick would not be what I was looking for. The client’s logo, although naive and unpolished, does convey a sense of understanding and care for these children and even a touch of safety.

  77. Dave Bricker says:

    Imagine if your dentist had an attitude that his job was to do whatever the client wants. “Doc, I want you to use a #3 bit on that molar. Hey . . . ouch!”

    It’s easy to do logo critique, but the real problem is that many clients think designers are people who build stuff, and many designers will wear that hat if it makes them a buck. Certainly clients have a part in approving the work, but as a designer, you either establish that you’re a professional who is capable of steering the client’s image in a direction that serves their best interests, or you produce a portfolio full of apologies.

    The real issue here is that the client considers Lori to be a construction worker who will build the logo instead of an architect who will design it to be safe, beautiful and functional. Because Lori is the one who should have established the leadership role here, the mediocre result ends up being her work.

    Even in tough times, some relationships aren’t worth pursuing. If you can put a really great piece in your portfolio, you’ll earn the respect of future clients who will trust you and expect you to do the same.

    Excellent work is done for excellent clients. Dump the rest of them. They can cost you a lot of future business.

  78. Karen says:

    I’d love to see John or Lori do a redesign based on this discussion. Start with the client’s design idea and then sand off the rough spots, like the Comic Sans font for example.

  79. Brian says:

    Lori’s design is wonderful, and I agree with those who think it creates a more professional image, but one other consideration may also have come into play for the client. I suspect that she isn’t strictly a commercial enterprise, but also is engaged in fundraising. The professional design might grab high end customers in the yellow pages, but reaching out to everyday people in a way which creates sympathy and communicates need really isn’t its strong suit.

    I like the client’s design. Not only because it conveys the client’s identity, but also because it has more potential to convey the story rapidly for someone who gets 15 seconds before being dismissed as another fundraiser. Having worked with disabled children in the past, her design immediately tugs at my heart strings. I would feel more confortable investing in a firm with Lori’s logo, but I’d feel better giving to one with the client’s design.

  80. Nick says:

    I think Sylvie noted something crucial about the feel of Lori’s logo. While the image of a swift, muscular, unsaddled horse “poised for flight” in a windy field may be exciting to a child in need of therapy, the thought of their sick kid bouncing away on the back of a bolting animal would probably churn the stomach of the parents.

  81. Great article. I have certainly had similar experiences as a designer. For me it comes down to art appreciation. If we had better art education maybe the world we live in would be a little more beautiful.

  82. jeff says:

    The client didn’t end up with a logo, but an illustrated ad. The logo you did is a better logo. If you look at companies with good logos, the logos do not try to tell a story. They use advertising to tell their story. Using the client’s example, Fed Ex’s logo should have a truck, plane and delivery person in it, maybe throw in a shipping center building as well. Nike, Puma, Adidas should all show shoes, and not just one kind of shoe, but every type of athletic shoe they make.

  83. My impression from her sketch was that she wanted customers to feel that riding her horses would be theraputeic. She wanted the feeling of therapy, that her business was going to help a certain group of people, do something for them.

    Your image feels more like “save the wild horses,” i.e., the audience is to do something for the horses (as opposed to get something from her business). You did not understand the right feeling for her business, and you ended up with an illustration rather than a logo, i.e., an image that makes a statement on what the audience sees and not what they feel.

  84. Paulette says:

    I agree with John.

    In my experience as a graphic designer, I have had to check my ego at the door and listen and guide my client. You have to look at what the client shows you and analyse their need and play to their market. You have to think beyond your aesthetic sense and do what works. You have to be a mind reader, psychologist and marketing expert, as well as an artist.

    Her service is for disabled kids. That’s #1. It is riding therapy. Those are the two important points. So it needs to be fun and young. Clean and simple doesn’t work here, exactly. I agree the end product is not great, but there could be a way to make it look good and be fun, too.

  85. Lori says:

    Hi Everyone,
    I wanted to say thank you so much for your wonderful insights regarding this logo design.

    I appreciate it very much and am going to use every one of your comments from this point forward.

  86. Luis Maimoni says:

    I so TOTALLY feel Lori’s pain. Not saying John isn’t right. Just sayin’ I’m feeling Lori’s pain.

  87. David Kunkel says:

    I’ve found myself in similar situations in the past. Once it was the client’s husband who killed a mutually agreed-upon design; once it was the former (late) founder’s secretary, who felt like she was the protector of his legacy from the brash upstarts in Sales. In both cases, I got paid because I listened more closely, found out who the REAL decision-maker was, and pulled them into the process. In fact, my most powerful consensus-making tool was my sketchbook. I literally sat down with the interested parties and sketched roughs until we both were happy. Didn’t take long, and the sense of buy-in that was achieved really buoyed the project to an easy conclusion. I recommend, as many others have here, to listen hard to the client…but also keep your eyes and ears open to the unspoken cues and find out what the unspoken agenda is.

  88. Al says:

    Great article and comments. I just recently experienced a similar situation. I took two steps back and asked myself — what’s my value and what is my client’s value. Afterwards, I realized I can be flexible and just shift gears. This isn’t a portfolio piece; listen to my client’s story and meet them half-way. In the end you are paid and happy, and your client has a logo to get them through their business juncture. Design is scalable and often times seen differently from client to client.

  89. Cheryl Ogle says:

    Knowing what the client did end up with, I’d love to see what John would’ve come up with to show her, if he knew she wanted a story.

    Would it be like the illustration, or how would you approach it? Educate the client on what they think they want is a logo but is in fact an illustration and go from that angle? It’s easy to say “you should’ve . . .” but as the pro saying this, I’d like to see what you’d have come up with just to get an idea of how you’d turn that corner with a client visually.

  90. Michael says:

    A great story with a lot to teach the designer. I was an Executive Director/CEO of several nonprofit agencies over the years. As I’ve worked with designers, I learned to make sure the designer understands the mission, vision, and purpose of the agency. In this case, it was serving people with mental and physical disabilities by providing living, work, and social opportunities, and thus make their lives more fulfilling. If the designer doesn’t grasp what I’m communicating, then the design will be lacking. Lori’s horse image (both) did not tell the viewer that people were involved. The image given to Lori did. Now it’s her job to put the elements together to”tell the story.”

  91. Leslie says:

    The client’s final solution was more of an illustration than a logo. It has a warm fuzzy feeling but doesn’t have the immediate “gestalt” that a good logo has. I agree that the designer’s solution was a little too corporate looking but could have been successful with the addition of a child on the horse. The globe was not necessary, in my opinion. I believe this article is excellent in showing how developing a good logo is difficult and time consuming, and multiple concepts should be explored before settling on a design direction.

  92. Volker Beckmann says:

    The problem with whether someone “likes” the logo or not should never be the issue. Some “like” red, some like blue, so which is the right colour, design, font, etc.? A logo is a communications device and has to “work.” When I review an old logo with a client, I use a rating chart and go through seven criteria. In this case, the client’s choice would fail — it’s not simple, it doesn’t reproduce well in black & white or small sizes, it’s not legible at smaller sizes or on a fax, etc.

    Lori’s logo is weak in one area — as a representational graphic, does it accurately reflect the nature of the organization . . . where’s the therapy part?

    A well-designed logo never shows how much work went into it. And a logo is only 50% of a brand-identity program. What about the rest? That is where you could show the client that her choice would be extremely weak!

    Great topic and discussion! :-)

  93. Roni says:

    It’s sometimes a shame, but as a commercial designer we must deliver what the client requests, even if it doesn’t follow our tastes or good practice of design. I do like the logos you created, but they seem too corporate for the client at hand.

  94. Ken Tryon says:

    Sometimes an example helps. My wife works at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong. Long name, good place. They have a very simple logo which works both emotionally and technically. Check it out at: http://www.gchas.org/

  95. Gabriel Vivas says:

    I like the cheesy one much better.

    It seems much more coherent with a horse therapy thing than what you presented. I think although you formally presented a nice logo, you failed to capture the feeling of it all.

    Yours is full of freedom and movement, but not any love or care involved. You were supposed to express real physical change and opportunity through care and love.

    Identity is not about graphic; it’s about communication.

    On another note, “Open my world” shouldn’t include a globe image at all or anything like it; that’s a mistake in interpretation. “Open my world” means something — why not address it?

    And if you must use a metaphor, why would you repeat the same that’s in the copy?

    Just my two cents.

  96. dl says:

    I’m returning to this thread after reading and commenting on it a week ago. Very interesting and totally enlightening.

    As someone above said, kudos to Lori for her great spirit in introducing this topic and bearing with the constructive comments. Double kudos!!

    The fact is, every designer has been in a Lori situation. And probably most of us have found it difficult to put aside our own egos or sense of being right in order achieve the most problem-solving results — the problem being “how can this business best communicate its message?”

    Thanks Lori for gritting your teeth with this article. We’ve all learned so much from it.

  97. Jeffrey Holtzman says:

    While I agree with much of what John writes, the point of departure for me is choosing to phone the company with the “amateur” logo.

    While neither logo is all that appealing, my feeling is that if the logo is so haphazardly thought out and so poorly executed, what does it say about the folks operating this business? They may love therapeutic riding but may have no idea how to deliver that experience.

  98. To the comment of “anyone who has ridden a horse . . .” note that Lori’s design does not depict anyone riding the horse. In the 20-foot squint test, it could be a car-dealer logo, a logo for a preserve with wild horses, a riding academy, a zoo.

    If I were the client and I had told Lori the name of my business, and she changed it to “Riding Therapy,” I’d be quite offended, so there may have been prejudice immediately, thus rejection of this clean logo concept, from simply having changed the business name. Is “Riding Therapy” (a consulting service — is that a BYOH? [bring your own horse]) different from “Therapeutic Riding Center” (a location with activities)?

    Clients are notoriously inept at open communication. I’m moving from design to business coach. Working on logo design and websites has forced me to ask clients the hard questions. What is your vision? Who is your target market? Where do you see yourself in two years? Five? Ten? It takes an hour evaluation just to get a feel for a job, so I can send a custom quote. Heck, might as well become a small business coach!

    So changing the business name may be the first sign that Lori did not play amateur business investigator and spend enough time understanding the business before putting pencil to paper for brainstorming. That there are no children, nothing about being handicapped — that’s a problem. How about a child standing up from a wheelchair to put a hand on a horse, the horse with its head inclined towards the child? The only thing there is that people might think the service is only for children in wheelchairs (another marketing concept: exclusion), but that’s another issue. Lori’s logo without people in it excludes humans, and thus “Riding Therapy” could be training unbroken or skittish horses to be ridden . . . doesn’t jive with the riderless horse though.

    Also, commenters: I can’t compare small business branding to icons like IBM, McDonalds, Apple, Red Cross, Goodwill. The Therapeutic Riding Center probably isn’t looking to become a dominating force in the world and is not ever going to put that level of effort into their branding and marketing to overcome the “simply icon” logo and infuse it with goodwill and personality. In other words, don’t just be a designer — learn about marketing. In school, designers are taught that the golden grail is the Nike swoosh or the golden arches. In reality, the small mom-’n'-pop business is never going to be Nike or McDonalds. Why? Because that’s not what they want to be. Save your arches and swooshes for the visionaries with big goals, and create small-business logos with symbolism. Lori’s logo says absolutely nothing about health, healing, joy, fun — any of the principles the Riding Center is about. It says cold, clean corporate (not warm, fuzzy horse kisses, fur, mud, laughter — you’re talking far from corporate), and nothing about therapy or riding! That’s why she had to put “Riding Therapy” in words. Do we have to go back to the basic design/psychology lesson of the order of recognition of symbol vs. photo vs. text? In a world where your website has three seconds to make a case for your company, I’ll take the logo they settled on rather than Lori’s, even though it’s cluttered and has a clip-art feel, because it takes less than three seconds to “get it” — no reading necessary.

    My special-needs son goes to a therapeutic riding center in Warwick, NY. Frankly, this client doesn’t have to sell their center. It’s probably the only game in town. Highly specialized, terrific and specific target market — they don’t need branding; they need to develop instantaneous trust and get the word out on the streets, so parents who are highly concerned about their special-needs children will give it a try. They don’t need to be more “professional” than the other 20 therapeutic riding centers in town. There probably isn’t any competition. MARKETING + design. That’s why I ask the tough questions: and I don’t have to be embarrassed about creating a logo filled with clip art that tells a story — because you can tell the story in a case study.

  99. Lori had an interesting design challenge and threw the towel in too quickly.

    I always respect my clients, and our eyes are opened at the end.

    Her design needed more work.

  100. BeQrios says:

    Hmmm . . . designer and customer, different view.

    Who are the client’s customers? Kids? Parents?

    Kids maybe love client’s solution or maybe not. If I sit on wheelchair so I don’t want to be reminded about that . . . maybe . . . probably.

    On the other hand . . . don’t kill the imagination. Kids can see more than adults. Bright colours, nice shapes, horse, and they let their imagination flow . . .

    But still, who pay bills — parents or kids — who’s the audience?

    Client’s version look old fashioned and a bit childish to be a professional riding therapist.

    Sorry John, I have to say I’d prefer Lori’s solutions better, but I think same about colours and feeling.

  101. Cincinnati Wednesday says:

    I’m also revisiting this thread after a few days away from it.

    Last week, I had a moment and Googled “Open My World” riding center. (I was idly wondering if it really existed, or if this whole discussion was academic.)

    It does exist, and appears to be using — as Lori said — the amateur logo that began this whole discussion.

    Given all the back and forth and thoughtful opinions posted here, it made me wish Before & After had sought out an opinion from the key person missing in this discussion . . . the client!

    Her take on the whole situation would have made the case history even more useful, IMHO.

  102. Karen Clay says:

    Hi All,
    I am just reading these comments and am compelled to add my “two cents,” albeit late, to this thread. I worked in the field of developmental disabilities for 20 years before I moved into technology and design. The bridge between the two careers was helping parents to identify assistive technology strategies to give their children and loved ones more control over their interactions in their world.

    I can’t tell you how many times I had to intervene on behalf of parents to get professionals to actually listen to what parents had to say in developing “treatment” or “therapies” for their kids. I have come to view the term “professional” as a dangerous term from the standpoint that, if you take yourself as a “professional” too seriously, you miss the point of what any professional should be about, and that is “service.” In order to be of service to anyone, you have to listen to them and set aside your view of what should be. Use your specialized set of professional lenses to bring another perspective to the endeavor. Ask the right questions, impart some additional knowledge, but be clear that you are serving that one client at that moment in time. Remember that in any scenario, if the two cannot coexist, function always trumps form. In this case, that is what happened. I can tell you from experience that most parents of kids with disabilities will gravitate to the “ugly” design over the professional one for all of the reasons others have already noted.

    Also, from many of these posts, there are a lot of paraverbal communications that suggest that if clients don’t pick the design we want them to pick, they are stupid, uneducated, unprofessional, and running “mom/pop” shops. As Kevin’s story pointed out, that can be the furthest thing from the truth! The founder of Welcome to Our World is a consummate professional with many, many years of experience! Trust me, she knew EXACTLY what she wanted! Her message is communicated immediately and it works for her. Also, as Criss pointed out, such an attitude not only can lead to the wrong design, but one that does not even acknowledge and honor the actual name of the organization! (Talk about adding insult to injury!)

    Let’s remember that the other acronym for “mom/pop” is SOHO (Small Office/Home Office.) These are the small companies and entreprenuers who are really the life blood of our economy, serving humanity in many capacities. I’m sure many of you, if not most, on this post also fit in the SOHO category, and I doubt you consider yourself to be of the “mom/pop” breed.

    If you engage in active listening, truly try to fee-ee-ee-ee-eel the passion of your clients’ companies, and stop worrying about how you stack up in the “design” world, you will go further in your world than you can imagine!

  103. Karen, you make a valid point about listening — but that road needs to run both ways. As a client, why would you hire a professional and then not listen to what she is saying that draws on the expertise you are paying for?

    I think, in this situation, there was insufficient listening on both sides of the equation.

  104. My job is to help the Client/Customer build their brand, not my portfolio. Once I decided to please the Customer and not my “peers” — a shift more easily made the further you get from art school and deeper into a career — business really started to take off. And confidence started to fight its way into my insecure “artistic temperament”! I would encourage you to show the project off when appropriate, even if it’s not in your materials sent to agencies. You’ll be surprised how many paying Customers — the people whose opinion really matters — will connect with it and mention that logo when they contact you.

  105. Paul says:

    I feel the problem.

    But I do read a lot about the corporate feel of Lori her logo. The business is not about corporates, but about people! I feel the lacks more eminent emotions in Lori her design is the problem.

    Great discussion!

  106. Max Nomad says:

    Greetings, all,

    Forgive me for being late to this discussion and possibly repeating what someone else has said. Although Lori’s design is clearly more professional and in tune with the essence of a true logo, there is still part of the problem that hasn’t been addressed. Coming up with good logo design is a balance between the designer’s tastes/interpretation, the customer’s tastes and, more importantly, designed to appeal to whoever “their” customer is, particularly the one who is spending the money. I add that last part because, for example, even if the end customer is a pre-teen child like in this case, it is the parent who is paying the bill.

    Back to Lori’s design, if I had to make any recommendation I would say to change the blue of the world into some kind of sunny orange. It may not evoke thoughts of the world per se, but psychologically the customer would equate the colors to the Sun . . . a sunny afternoon, a happy day, etc. The blue was too cold and too antiseptic.

    Just my half-a-nickel…

  107. Rachel says:

    Totally late to this party, but John, you’re forgetting an important element here: the designer’s interaction with the client. That plays a large part in the equation. Some clients are simply clueless but with education, see the light. Others are arrogant with fragile egos, and they essentially hire designers to be their pencils, because “they don’t have the software.”

    I’ve had clients that tried to pull the above. If they’d been nicer human beings, I might have taken the time to educate them a little. But like Lori, I ended up walking because of the way they treated me in the process.

    Lori didn’t mention this at all, but I’d be very curious to know how that all went down.

    I do agree with you that her design wasn’t quite there yet, but what the client went with was horrendous and far worse. Team Lori!

  108. Bazzer says:

    Why on earth is the client asking a designer to produce the logo then? If the client wants to appear amateur, then the client should produce it themselves. If the client wants to appear professional, then hire a professional. But don’t expect a professional to produce an amateur job.

  109. Debbie K says:

    Late on this discussion, but want to thank everyone for their comments . . . great discussion. Newbie in the design world but a long-time worker in another career. Unlike my previous career (medical), I am finding that the design/art business has some bizarre relationships that I am learning to navigate. No one would ever ask a doctor how to do something, then go home and do their own surgery. No one would ever ask a nurse if they could get their shots for free, but this is done all the time in the design world. As a newbie, I found myself doing pro-bono work for a chapter of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). As a survivor of a near-fatal car accident, I jumped at volunteering for MADD and helping with some logo, designs, etc. However, even though I am wholeheartedly against DWI, I found myself butting heads with some design ideas. People who have lost children and/or family members to DWI come from a different perspective than those of us who are survivors. Ideas about the logo (a tombstone) for a project is supported by some and not by others. The most difficult part is that you are arguing with people who are using their hearts as a tools, and you will never, ever win that argument. I have since left that group, and I find that my motto for pro-bono is since the time is all free, I best serve myself by working on my own projects, update my own website, update my own portfolio. My work business has increased twofold by not wasting time with pro-bono stuff and on people who already have their own ideas and will never, never be swayed by others regardless of how fantastically beautiful you think your idea is.

  110. Especially after designing logos for many small businesses and looking around at my family and friends, I have learned that there are many capable, smart, compassionate small-business owners who have lousy graphics. Many do a perfectly fine or even great job at what they do. So, if I were looking through the phonebook, or saw a flyer with these logos on it, I would go for the client-created one. It shows home-grown, which in turn means effort on the creator’s part, which in turn means care for their business. If I visited the business represented by the client’s logo, I would not be surprised at all to find extremely gifted and compassionate therapists and horse people.

    As others have said, the client-created logo is a great starting point and could be polished. Or, I like what some have proposed with just a kid hugging a horse, or nose-to-nose, focusing on that connection.

    Dave: You have to consider all the aspects of a career choice, and in ours we have to work with the client and incorporate their input directly in the work. True, some careers don’t have this aspect. It happens to be part of why I like design.

    David: Sometimes the client thinks they have the logo in their head, and only if they could draw or had the right software they could do it. When you draw what they say, though, sometimes they realize right away that maybe that’s not the best direction. Great way to go with the sketchbook — always good to get buy-in, very efficient way to drive the design (basically rapid-prototyping). I will try this in the future. Thanks for the tip!

    Roderick: I would love to see what your students came up with!

  111. Eric Fose says:

    I liked your logo, and I would have stepped to her design and yours and tried to combine the concept and communication. One commenter noted the fact that hers was illustration and not logo — an excellent point and perfect segue to the solution. Your horse needs to come out of the wind and down to a wheelchair and child. Maybe change the backdrop to a gold or rainbow over it to shape the area of it; the feeling changes, and the piece is still clean and functional. Work Therapy into the text, and you have another perspective with heart.

  112. Tom Gaglione says:

    Since graphic design is about visual communication, the final logo wins. Lori’s logo is very professional and corporate-like, and she did a great job, no doubt. But IMO, the final logo expresses the nature of the business more. And yes, logos should be simple and streamlined, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Great, poignant topic. Ultimately, I have found that whether or not you like the design, if you pleased the client you did a good job.
    -Tom

  113. I can see the battle between personable and professional style, and clients’ needs versus the wants of the designer. My thoughts:

    While a client may have set ideas, as a designer it is up to me to try and shake them out of their comfort zone. I try to show them options that are on message, competitive, that will stand the test of time and be serviceable across all media.

    It’s a balancing act. If the designed logo was too corporate, I think there was a way to soften it to the tone of the final product without it seeming amateur or unprofessional. Like some of the other suggestions, I think there could have been a little give and take, adding of children to the design, which the client seems to clearly have wanted. Perhaps enlarge the globe and a silhouette of children instead of the wire frame; possibly rounder, more playful fonts.

    Bottom line: I am working for the client, not my portfolio, so clients get what they want (and it sometimes does not make the portfolio). FWIW.

  114. Bill Kleist says:

    What a great pool of thought! I suppose experience is the only way to really glean the ability one must in order to deal with the endless range of clients!

    As designers we are idealists. Maintaining the tender balance between giving our clients what they want and giving them what they need is tough to do. Nothing drives me more batty than to have a client ‘hold my hand’ and show me how to design. I have told clients they are hiring a very expensive production artist if that’s what they want to do — but yes, it all pays the same. I think it comes down to pride on our part.

    Bottom line — I believe it’s our job to LISTEN more than anything. Giving a client a value statement that clarifies that you thoroughly understand their design objectives can really help prior to any design. If I can get examples of what they like, it helps too. In the meantime, we artists need to develop thicker skin! WrK

  115. R says:

    You should have gone with a sans-serif font and some warmer colors instead of blue.

    I share your same pain with clients wanting ugly stuff. They need to be educated with what is bad and what is good.

  116. Eric says:

    I understand your frustration, but even your original logo isn’t professional when you consider how much detail you have in the hair and grass. That isn’t simple.

  117. Craig Fraser says:

    You have a responsibility to design a professional logo. It is better to lose a client than to lose your integrity as professional. Really, the brand comes first and the client second. You aren’t doing them a favour by creating an unprofessional brandmark, and you aren’t doing yourself a favour by lowering your standards. What a funny world we would live in if the patients hired the doctors, then told them how to treat them.

  118. Than Saffel says:

    I like the client’s original sketch a lot.

  119. Cliff Wells says:

    Professional isn’t always better. I do like Lori’s design better, but that’s only from a design perspective. If I had a child in a wheelchair, I’d much rather take that child to a personal mom-and-pop operation where they hand-drew their own “logo” than to some take-a-number corporate service. I think that’s the perspective that needs to be considered. It’s not about a pretty design, it’s about impressions.

  120. Lindsay says:

    Came across this article when looking for “before and after” pictures of businesses that started with amateur logos and hired a professional designer to create a new look. Ended up here, which was the opposite, but I just had to put my two cents in.

    I feel that both of these logos miss the mark for different reasons. I can completely and totally understand the idea that the client wants the logo to tell the complete and entire story — that’s what she did. Well, your logo hardly tells the story, unfortunately. I would definitely be willing to bet that you might have come to a compromise that still had a professional look but portrayed more of what she wanted.

    See, the use of color psychology could have been used on her. She didn’t know why, but your logo wasn’t giving her the warm and fuzzy feeling she knew she wanted. If you had worked the colors and fonts to give that feeling (and I know that they can), you might have had a stronger concept for her and thus had a better compromise.

    Also, to those who say that when you look in the Yellow Pages you won’t know what the other one is for! Are you kidding?! No logo tells the whole story — that’s why people take out ads and actually put content in those ads to tell the whole story. You can easily take a horse logo and make a beautifully designed ad that shows the horses with kids in wheelchairs.

    Oh, and the font choice is just the kicker in all of that!

    Obviously this is old . . . but really just wanted to put my little words in because I am on a logo-writing frenzy right now.

  121. Kam says:

    I’m not a professional designer. As a member of the general public, the two blue logo designs are quite lovely, and make me certain they represent a horse rescue. Maybe a Mustang rescue in particular, given that the horse is running so freely in apparently open land.

    Nothing in those pretty logos is even slightly tied to the mission of the client herself, nor even evocative of her activities.

    Designers may feel they know best and all should follow their lead, but after reading these posts, it almost seems that they may not “get” how regular people make connections. Surely that can’t be true!

    I know that this is an old post, but I was so struck by the reactions to it that I wanted to add an opinion from a layperson.

  122. Rob says:

    And here I was thinking that I was the only designer who went through this wretched process. I’ve designed so many logos that I thought were out of this world, only to have clients say, “I like this font I use in Word — can you use this? Oh, and there was a clip art that is incredible! Can you incorporate that, too?” UGH!

    But, as mentioned before, their money spends the same no matter what the design looks like. So I’ve had to learn to try my best to be in their shoes and understand what it is they are trying to say, communicate and do. In the end, it’s their company and, therefore, their choice.

    I’m an artist, a creative and a perfectionist, so I’ve realized that what I like is just that — what I like.

    My 2¢.

  123. cyndibrown says:

    i love your original concept. it is simple, evocative and beautiful. sweet.

  124. Richard C. says:

    This is my first reply in ANY blog or discussion. And I feel compelled to comment: I am an illustrator by education; a graphic designer by trade; and mostly, a marketing professional for small- to medium-sized businesses. What’s missing in this discussion is proper marketing for the business at hand. John McWade touched on it, but a “successful” logo is one that works. It draws prospects in and captures interest. It then communicates essential emotional dialogue so that the consumer wants more information. We, as marketing professionals, are hired to perform, not just provide. Yes, we must educate our clients, unfortunately. But the education is to differentiate between a business’s features and benefits. What’s lacking in both of these examples are the benefits of this therapy. The client is focused on (her) features (horses, sunshine, kids, etc.). The designer is focused on her design’s features (clean, kerned, simple, well-crafted, etc.). What’s missing is the therapeutic benefits of horse riding for emotionally and/or physically handicapped children. Right? This is why, in the agency world, we have creative directors and account managers whose job it is to solve base communication issues with clients and then give the job to the art director, who in turn gives the job to a designer. Ask yourself, are you a designer who designs for the sake of design, or a marketing professional who sees (for their clients) the bigger picture and can communicate concepts? Maybe you’re a production artist following the misled client’s ideas but charging designer fees? I blame art (design) schools for neglecting the “communications” aspect of successful design.

    My 2 cents plus $100,000 education plus 25 years’ experience.

  125. Where is the facebook share button.

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