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This started out as part of the The New Competition thread but I thought it might deserve a life of its own.

Someone wrote that his “beef is with the colleges paying for it when they can often get the same results for a lot less” and I was about to reply:

Suppose, for a moment, that I am a university officer of some sort and am trying to figure out our visual identity:

1) How should I decide who to trust for advice?

2) What should I demand in the way of past experience?

3) How should I consider price?

Let’s extend that a bit farther. Assume that you are writing the “How to deal with visual identity” section of a book of advice for business people. What advice would you give on choosing a firm to deal with identity issues?

Should they choose specialists or people who might bring the identity forward? Why? Why should they choose a small design firm or a big advertising agency or a “branding” firm?

How should their companies’ sizes affect the decision? What past experience should they demand? What should make them refuse to hire a particular designer or firm?

Assume you’re not going to get their business so leave the self-serving “hire me” pleas behind.

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ARCHIVE ID 2181 FILED UNDER Branding and Identity
PUBLISHED ON Jan.05.2005 BY Gunnar Swanson
John Athayde’s comment is:

Having worked both sides of this fence—as a small provider and at a large company procuring the services of various sized providers from freelance to worldwide agencies—I can see both arguments.

First off, it's the "nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM" mentality. Someone's boss knows Nike, but they don't know any design firm names, be it Tolleson or TWBA/Chiat Day (or whatever they are now).

There is also the concern that a smaller firm has limited resources, manpower, etc. and somehow has less stablity than a huge firm. While this may be the case in certain aspects, I find that in the smaller firm world, people tend to attach to projects (for better or worse) far more than they do in a larger agency. Namely because a large job can make or break a company of 2 or 3 people for the year. If the designers aren't careful, they can find themselves in design by committee because they're trying to hard to please the client. While this may please the client up front, it generally results in a poor design solution, as it's been watered down. (this is different than being adequately informed from the client. This is when the client starts sitting there pixel pushing with you)

Larger firms are generally better with dealing with cash flow and work load and are probably more apt to tell a client that, in fact, a swoosh is a horrible idea overdone by the tech industry and DEAR GOD PLEASE DON'T BE LIKE THAT! (swoosh!)

As a small guy bidding on bigger stuff, it always seemed to be an obscene amount of paper work required to get anywhere near one of these jobs. Huge proposals that were larger than the actual deliverable as far as time dedicated to them would go. And at the end of the day, the person had already selected the firm and was just going through the formality in case something went wrong they could say "I looked at all these firms."

As the guy working at the big company, I want to know that I can get results in a time frame I ask for and that someone can ramp up with additional personell if required. Most small shops can't do that. And while I feel for the little guy, my deadline doesn't.

So as your university guy...

1) How should I decide who to trust for advice?

You trust what you know. You know NIKE. You don't know Joe Schmoe designer. It's easy to say "well, it's NIKE. They know sports apparel and sports branding. They're only one of the most successful sports apparell brands of all time." Your boss knows this. millions and millions of dollars of advertising have been spent to ensure that you associated NIKE with athletics.

Designers can't spent that kind of money, and even with a great portfolio showing great design speaking directly to the problems, you're still worried about your job. So it's harder for you to trust a guy. The best way to build trust is to start calling their previous clients.

2) What should I demand in the way of past experience?

Generally you would want to see experience in athletics. But how does one gain experience in athletics? Catch 22. So ideally, you sould look at a breadth of design work in various industries and ask the designers how they got from "no clue" to "brand". A designer that wants to know everything about your company/team/whatever and really wants to understand you is going to be better than someone who looks in a bag and says "ah, here's a logo that'll do you nicely."

3) How should I consider price?

We all know we pay for what we get in most industries. You buy a car for $500, it's not going to run like a new BMW. It's just not going to happen.

For some reason, and blame it on desktop publishing, or powerpoint, or whatever, everyone thinks they are a designer. So therefore, the "oh my nephew can do this!" always seems to come up. Or the "How much?? it's only a logo!" which just points to client ignorance and a failure of the designer to educate the potential client on what a re-branding really means and how it affects more than just the marketing materials.

At the end of the day I'd hope that more people would engage designers and small shops that are pushing the visual commerce forward in a positive direction. But the reality is generally, bigger, safer, more generic.

Just look at "custom home builders". Lowest. Common. Denominator. Industry standard price. Obscene profit by replication.

On Jan.05.2005 at 05:15 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Wow. John said it well.

Since I was the instigator with my comment, I'll just add my 2 cents...

My biggest gripe is probably just the term 'branding' overall. A brand isn't just the damn logo, but that's where it seems a lot of money is spent. Yea, the logo should should look nice, be usable, recognizable, and help sell t-shirts at the campus bookstore, but that's it. All other efforts should be focused on the quality of the product. That will sell itself.

But yea, the 'no one ever got fired for hiring IBM' plays a big part in this.

In the end, is a $10,000 rebranding carried out by a local design firm or (gasp) an in-house or student-based team exponentially worse than a $500,000 rebranding carried out by a giant consulting agency?

And, yea, I'm overstating my case for the sake of debate. ;o)

On Jan.05.2005 at 05:36 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Interesting question Gunnar.

First, I'll assume this collegiate director has no previous marketing background experience of this nature.

Secondly, I think that before I'd just dish out advice — I'd first approach it from a business perspective and define the need. Some questions to begin:

1. Why do you need to change your college's identity? To get more media? More sponsorship? Bad reputation to shed? Do you want to establish a fresh, new presense in the community? Is this a reactive or proactive initiative? How deep and committed is the effort? I ask because to a large extent, this will help define the scale of commitment and resources.

2. Who are the parties involved in the process? Is it just you, a small collegiate department, and a governing board? Or are you a state school, where the process involves more people, like perhaps a national collegiate association, a board of secondary education from the state, several layers of trustees, alumni associations, etc.? Again, this dictates the scale, duration, and complexity of the engagement.

3. What changes do you hope that this rebranding will bring forth? How or do you intend to measure the success of the effort and expenditures? What other changes do you predict will be triggered by a rebranding — ie. are there licensees, partners, sponsors, etc. that will be affected, and how will they be managed? Quite simply, what are the business ramifications — both wanted and possibly unwanted —�that you would like visibility and control over, due to this rebranding initiative? Otherwise known as the ROI.

Business people should make business decisions based on business parameters. Choosing an agency or any type of marketing company to execute a crucial business initiative should be approached from a business standpoint first.

Defining some of these questions will help provide clear guidelines in your search for a service provider, which in this case is a branding/design firm. How would you know if you need a big or a small firm? How would you know how hard or easy the process is, and therefore, how much budget is reasonable to spend? How would you know what type of experience to look for in a prospective firm's portfolio — and how to differentiate between the clueless and the experts?

Define these basic business parameters, and you'll have a viable guideline on where to start and how to proceed — especially if you have no idea what the difference is between a $10K logo and a $500K branding initiative.

That's where I'd advise them to start.

On Jan.05.2005 at 10:11 PM
Dorian Gray’s comment is:

Gunner, you OLE ONERY CUSS !!!!!!!

You must've heard I've resigned writing on blogs.

Trying to smoke me out. Writing under my alter Ego. I'm already breaking my resolution. Haven't retired my name.

Fact of Matter, most people in positions of authority at the Univ't level have an idea of how to resolve these issues. Many have public relations departments. Most have moderate to good marketing and design depts. with knowledgeable people of ID practice.

How should I decide who to trust for advice?

Basic research, ask around. The Black Book used to serve this purpose. You could find any design discipline within the Black Book. Unfortunately, the internet does not serve this purpose. You get a hodge podge of indiscernible information.

2) What should I demand in the way of past experience?

Track Record,is always a starting point. Although failures are never published in capabilities brochures. It's never silly to check references of Mega Consultancies or small firms.

Bigger is not always better. The larger you are the less personal attention you will get. Because the work get passed down to subordinates.

One has to decide. Will the marketing department formalize our objectives or will the design team formalize and strategically implement design objectives. Mega Consultancies offer both.

A smaller personal firm will only offer design services with limited research if any.

My personal opinion. The best work is being created by individual identity luminares and smaller personal design firms with extensive experience and exposure in identity council.

3) How should I consider price?

Beginning Equivalent to a year's tuition at First Tier College or University. (30,000-50,000)

Higher End, Equivalent to or more than a Presidents salary at a First Tier College or University. (150.000-300.000) Depending on the reputation of the designer or consultancy.

Ultimately, a designer or consultancy is hired

for their innate ability to solve problems.

Identity is a Communication Problem. Driven by Design and Marketing. Somewhere between Marketing and Research lives a dirty little word called

Branding. Which in and of itself is more insidious than SPYWARE, COMPUTER VIRUSES, STD's, and CHEMICAL WAREFARE.


Dorian Gray, will not be making another public nusance.

On Jan.06.2005 at 09:07 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> Should they choose specialists or people who might bring the identity forward?

Most of the time — with exceptions of course — I tend to favor the specialist route. I can't remember where I read this and I can't remember what was it in reference of: you can't stand for everything, you have to stand for something. A design firm — a good design firm — that specializes in, say, identities for universities will constantly deliver strong solutions because they know the market and, arguably, they should "bring the identity forward". If you decide that you are willing to pay a firm that has no experience in univeristy work because you think they will bring a fresh perspective you are actually taking a gamble, which is not a bad thing… if it turns out well.

Also a firm with no experience in a certain industry will have to spend time researching and understanding that area — if they don't do that, they are just yanking your chain — and as a client, you are paying for that time. I think it's wonderful when people give the small or inexperienced dog a chance but if I were spending $X,000 on a logo I would go for someone with experience. Unless I thought that someone had amazing potential. In which case that requires a client with vision.

As far as the small/large decision… I can't remember who mentioned in the "competition" thread that small firms make projects go longer, I find that to be the opposite actually, small firms can work more efficiently because there are less layers of approval, less meetings, better communication (conceivably…). In terms of mass production, a large firm definitely has the upper hand but, really, if you want mass production you should not consider a small firm to start with. Large firms also have the large Project Manager tier — which I'm still undecided if they are good or bad for the design process.

> 3) How should I consider price?

Basically: it's going to cost you more than you think, so don't pussyfoot around the issue. State your budget upfront, if a design firm's proposal goes over your budget by a lot just go somewhere else rather than insulting designers by asking "That much just for a logo?".

On Jan.06.2005 at 09:35 AM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

An example for the book,

$10,000 university logo redesign

meets expensive legal challenge.

News - 01/30/2003

News - 06/28/2004

On Jan.06.2005 at 09:58 AM
Todd Radom’s comment is:

There are a few small shops that specialize in University identity programs, and they thrive on "rebranding" (there, I said it) the small colleges. The licensing arm for most NCAA athletics programs http://www.clc.com oversees the interests of 200 universities. Given the large annual guarantees that are required of the Nikes of the world, the royalties they fork over on licensed sales, and the incestuous nature of the business, it's a fact that the big projects are steered to the big boys. The big apparel companies mandate is to enhance their own brand by pollenating their look in the most visable situations.

Nike re-did the Broncos logo in 1997. Call me a conspiracy theoris, but look at the nostril and tell me that's not a "swoosh."

On Jan.06.2005 at 11:35 AM
Don Julio’s comment is:

Donning his AIGA cape once again...

The “What ever business needs. And How.” booklet produced by AIGA is written for clients and communicates the steps and methodology that lead to good design. This has been a valuable selling tool for us.

By not having the Cleverly Named Proprietary Process� per se, instead peeling back the surface to reveal how you can effectively solve the problem, is helpful edge when gunning against bigger firms. But this book is also a great step by step piece for enlightening lesser experienced decision makers.

On Jan.06.2005 at 11:44 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I’m afraid I might have narrowed the conversation too much by referencing a conversation about sports identities. Anyone care to offer general guidelines that would actually make sense from the standpoint of anyone needing to hire a designer?

Warm Gray—Looking through a design directory doesn’t do much good. Hell, I couldn’t tell from and ad in The Black Book whether a design firm is right. Asking around has some appeal but it seems to me that few people have much experience with many identity designs so it’s like asking people about a good dentist. If he didn’t make them cry, what do they really know? Checking references is all well and good but they first have to get as far as who to seek out or whose references should be checked.

in the end, is a $10,000 rebranding carried out by a local design firm or (gasp) an in-house or student-based team exponentially worse than a $500,000 rebranding carried out by a giant consulting agency?

Darrel—I hear this every time a school embarks on a big design project: Why not let the students do it? Would it make sense for some other medium-sized business to turn such a project over to a team of students? How many schools have a graphic design teacher who is vaguely qualified, let alone willing to lead a team of students through the politics of university decision-making.

What would you suggest is a benchmark of “exponentially worse” (or more successful)?

Some questions to begin:

Tan—Good questions. If I were answering my question I would say “Did they ask those questions right away? If not, don’t even talk to them.”

Don—Does What every business needs. And how. have any specific advice for judging designers? (I’m not a member of AIGA these days and they haven’t been selling their wares for a while anyway so I haven’t seen it.) It seems to be a follow-up to a booklet that basically said “Design is really important.”

Even though I’d love to steer the conversation away from just university design, U-design has a weird aspect to it: Many (most?) schools have two identities, one for athletics and one for everything else. What’s up with that? How does one “build a brand” if the most visible and emotionally-charged aspect of the brand is separated from everything else? Maybe the “Why do you go on TV fifty times a year disguised as someone else?” question should be added to Tan’s list.

On Jan.06.2005 at 08:35 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


Warm Gray, C'mon.

Now that's Cold.

In all seriousness. Not trying to be argumentive.

Without going into process of detail like TAN.

There was once upon a time when inhouse creatives relied heavily on the Black Book. The were called Black Book Art Directors. Because that's all they knew or trust.

Other than searching via the yellow pages going Ennie, Meenie, Mynnie, Moe. Most people acquire Professional Services via recommendation, from whatever source.

In the past, I have been a conduit for Local Government in D.C. and Federal Government.

I've actually have never been confronted with that problem. Because I've acquired a certain amount of expertise in that area.

You hire based on need. Once you Recognize and properly Identify the problem.

Example Cornell's administration has emphatically stated they have a Branding Problem because of their placement in a National Magazine Survey. Enrollment is down. Classrooms are two large.

In fact, what Cornell has is a shortage of instructors to properly handle classromm size.

Cornell's problem is not in a New Identity Revitalization. They emphatically need to hire more instructors to handle size of their classrooms.

What Cornell's Brand Manager or Public Relations Department should have inquired of Lippincott & Margulies from the beginning.

This is general criteria applicable to hiring any Designer or Design Consultancy.

1. He/she should inquire about the Consultancy Expertise e.g. Design, Marketing, Communication.

2. The client should explain their Identity and Design problem to the Prospect Consultancy.

3. He/she should request an RFP.

4. Set an appointment to review work samples or Ask Designer or Consultancy to give a presentation.

5. Inquiry should be made of Prospect Consultancy Philosophy, Process and Methodology.

6. Inquiry of billable hours on the project should be addressed.

7. Inquiry should be made into the Competancy of Prospect Consultancy Capability of understanding how to properly manage and leverage your company for financial growth.

8. Inquiry into whether deliverables are outsourced or handled inhouse.

Hopefully I'm LUKE WARM.

Many (most?) schools have two identities, one for athletics and one for everything else. What’s up with that?

Rhetorical question, of course as an Identity Expert you surely know the answer. You gotta be Breaking our Balls.

The Visual Identity Signature or College / University Identity is the Mark incorporated in a Glyph, Monogram, or Seal.

The athletic Identity is the sub-Brand. Under the umbrella of the Official University Monogram or Seal.

Often times the sub-Brand, Athletic Identity is more important than the University Seal. At least its the Money Maker.

On Jan.07.2005 at 12:36 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

My page in the Business Advice book:

1.) Don't hire a designer if you notice that he's wearing the exact pair of pants you donated to Goodwill a month ago.

2.) Take the money and RUN.

On Jan.07.2005 at 06:44 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

Off topic, but I couldn't help notice after seeing the articles that Blue Streak linked to that the Southern Miss logo has another close cousin in the Houston Texans.

The type for the Texans was created specifically for that team. Judge for yourselves:

On Jan.08.2005 at 12:54 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

Please note that both logos are from the same creator, Rodney Richardson.

On Jan.08.2005 at 01:17 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

I beg to differ. The Houston Texans was designed by Mark Verlander. Who also created the logotype.

What makes you think RARE did it?

On Jan.08.2005 at 01:28 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

That is curious CCHS. Rodney claims that in one of the articles I linked to as well as others:

"Richardson, who had worked for Nike, designed the logo for the NFL's recent expansion franchise, the Houston Texans, updated the Denver Broncos logo a few years back and has done work for such NBA teams as the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors."

But I also just caught Mark Verlander claiming it here on SpeakUp:

SpeakUp: Sporting Design Comments

It wasn't my intention to stir up a mess. But maybe these guys could get together and let us know who did what.

On Jan.08.2005 at 02:05 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

I'm looking right now at Mark's hand-drawn tissues of the logo, and the Illustrator files of the custom-constructed logotype.

My understanding (and I may be wrong) is that RARE worked on some directions for the identity that were not ultimately picked up by the NFL. It seems clear that the Southern Mississippi type is based on its Texans predecessor. Less clear is how appropriate it for another firm to infer authorship of the final solution.

On Jan.08.2005 at 02:24 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Darrel—I hear this every time a school embarks on a big design project: Why not let the students do it? Would it make sense for some other medium-sized business to turn such a project over to a team of students?

It may. It all depends.

How many schools have a graphic design teacher who is vaguely qualified, let alone willing to lead a team of students through the politics of university decision-making.

I hope any school with a graphic design department in their college of arts has just that. I should clarify that I'm speaking in terms of the college having that curriculum to take advantage of to begin with. Our school had (at the time) a fairly well known program in the region for graphic design. Yet the school had no concept that these were potential people that could help with actual design problems at the school. Perhaps not a new logo, but certainly some new signage...to just take one example.

Our school had a tourism/hotel management program. So they ran the 'hotel' on campus. Our school had a graphic arts program, so they printed college literature. We had a food management program, so they ran a campus resturaunt. Why not graphic design?

On Jan.10.2005 at 10:57 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I taught a class at the University of Minnesota Duluth where the students provided design services for the university. It was very successful. That’s closer to making omelets and baking muffins.

I also did an identity design program for UMD. I had done a lot of identity programs and a fair amount of strategic/marketing consulting. I would not hire the vast majority of people who teach graphic design to do a major identity program for a complex organization. They just don’t have the background to be trusted with the management of such a project.

I certainly wouldn't then ask them to guide both the client team (especially with the twisted politics of universities) and a group of students through an unfamiliar process. Adding to that the extra strain of trying to make it a meaningful and enlightening experience for students and it becomes a full time job for someone for at least a semester. I doubt that this would save much money in the long run.

Is there anyone out there who has done an identity project for a reasonably large institution with a variety of stakeholders and diffused power who thinks I’m exaggerating this?

On Jan.10.2005 at 11:30 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:


You're absolutely 100% correctomundo.

No exageration at all. I could not have said it better myself.

It is difficult to explain to anyone the IMMENSITY and sheer MAGNITUDE of an Identity Project.

All people see is the Identity. The Identity is the tip of the iceberg.

Which counts 20% of the Program. The main drivers of any Identity Program is how the Identity is used e.g. Marketing Communications Advertising.

Product Packaging is more involved than Identity Programs. I don't know anybody with more Heart and Soul, Guts and Determination than


TAN, said it best in another thread. If I may paraphrase TAN. "This has been a very difficult year". "I guess the saying is correct, if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger". I assume TAN was referencing his transition from a smaller Seattle Firm to the Largest Identity Consultancy in Hemisphere, Landor.

I'd like to see anyone writing on this weblog fill them shoes.


BTW, sending you my paperwork will you kindly co-sign for mine.


On Jan.10.2005 at 12:08 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Is there anyone out there who has done an identity project for a reasonably large institution with a variety of stakeholders and diffused power who thinks I’m exaggerating this?

I popped out a new logo for our branch of government: www.courts.state.mn.us

Would have hiring a design/consulting firm produced a better logo? Yes, probably. Would it really have benefited us in any way? Maybe. But rarely is this type of comparison truly measured...and can it even really be measured? Sure you can see if more t-shirts sold at the bookstore, but I'm just not sold on a new logo needing to cost what it does...especially when speaking of organizations like a school.

I guess I'm a fan of 'good enough' moreso than I used to be...sometimes I find 10k of 'good enough' design work to be a better value than 500k of big-ad-agency-re-branding-paradigm-change-leveraging-markets-focus-group-blah-blah-blah stuff.

Could our school have farmed out the on campus resturaunt? Certainly? Would it have been better run? Probably. Better food? Maybe. Worth the added expense? I doubt it.

On Jan.10.2005 at 03:16 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

And I actually agree with DesignMaven, even though it sounds like a contradiction. Good design does cost money. Branding projects can be immense projects. My main gripe, I believe, is rarely are these projects ever properly measured post-implementation to see if they truly were justified. Did UPS revenue go up because of their new logo? I don't know. Yea, a lot of people only see a new logo. And sometimes, that really *is* the only key thing.

(Though there's no argument that a large part of these branding price tags is merely the cost of jsutifying the rebranding to internal entities...and that takes plenty of management, and, alas, money.)

On Jan.10.2005 at 03:19 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

And, finally, I'm mainly a big fan of keeping it simple. And the more I work, the more I value that logic. Spend less now, more later...IF YOU HAVE TO.

I've shifted away from solely graphic design and now spend a lot of time in the world of software. I see 'enterprise software projects' akin to 'corporate rebranding projects'. Often bloated. Rarely addressing core needs. Always expensive. Always done because 'consultants know best'. ;o)

On Jan.10.2005 at 03:24 PM
matt’s comment is:

To add to Todd Radom’s remarks. The pants of the Bronco uniform make a swoosh when the lineman make a three point stance.

I would be afraid my interests are not being served when working with Nike.

On Jan.11.2005 at 06:40 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

I've been doing my homework on this topic. How's this for a practical and obvious litmus test? The university officer must judge which contender can and will pony up the biggest kick-back.

And here's a notorious example to counter my other example of $10k logo design meets expensive legal challenge:

$600,000 logo design loses $1,000,000 legal challenge to $100 contender!

It's not an example of university work, but does demonstrate that you don't always "get what you pay for."

On Jan.12.2005 at 08:51 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Bluestreak: That is an amazing link!

On Jan.13.2005 at 09:51 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>That is an amazing link!

That story means nothing, and points to a complete ignorance of branding and design. While they're at it, why don't they also point out the thousands of logos that resemble AT&T, or IBM, or Crate&Barrel, or Starbucks, or Microsoft.

Payless shoes copies and fabricates shoes that look exactly like Adidas and Kenneth Cole. There are Hyundais out there that mimic Mercedes, and a thousand TV sets and stereos that look similar to Sony.

The monetary cost of developing a brand correlates with the value of the company it represents, its worth in the marketplace, and a thousand other factors. To say that Joe Schmoe can make an N for $100 that looks like another N out there worth/costing millions means nothing.

On Jan.13.2005 at 01:57 PM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

To say that Joe Schmoe can make an N for $100 that looks like another N out there worth/costing millions means nothing.

Wait... the Nebraska mark came first, right? And NBC knew they would lose and ponied up big time out of court?

That means something... or it used to.

On Jan.13.2005 at 02:24 PM
Tan’s comment is:

In the branding game, names and marks are often coincidentally duplicated by non-related entities all of the time.

In today's world, as part of any brand development work, an agency will conduct extensive trademark research clearance before delivering a mark to a client.

I'm guessing that in 1976, the infrastructure for this wasn't as thorough as it is today.

But my point is that if you're comparing the ability to create a mark for $100 versus an agency developing a mark for $600K, then the issue of value is irrelevant. It means nothing. You're comparing an apple at a market stand with a national grocery chain.

The issue of trademark clearance and NBC's actions to buy the rights from some little podunk station has nothing to do with the value and cost of brand development. It's just a tale of a big company buying an asset out from a smaller company. It still happens all the time with domain names, commercial real estate, ad space, etc. Within the context of this discussion — I ask you, what does that have to do with anything?

On Jan.13.2005 at 03:15 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

To say that Joe Schmoe can make an N for $100 that looks like another N out there worth/costing millions means nothing.

Sure it means something: logos don't have to cost a lot and that there is a point of diminishing returns in 6-figure rebranding efforts.

On Jan.13.2005 at 04:48 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> there is a point of diminishing returns in 6-figure rebranding efforts

Based on what Darrel?

FedEx makes more than $30 billion a year in revenue. They spend a few billion a year on new planes, a few hundred million a year in advertising, and millions on design services to generate new forms, service manuals, shipping agreements, website updates and maintainance.

Based on that, does $1 million to redesign their corporate brand — which is only 0.3% of just one year's worth of gross revenue — constitute a disproportionate expenditure? I'd argue that their return on the new brand is exponentially more valuable than its cost.

The thing is, the value of a brand is not related to its cost. Suppose you had a mom and pop bakery that makes $100K / year in sales, and you charged them $10,000 for a logo. That's actually 10% of their entire year's worth of revenue. Is that any more of a deal than Fedex?

The cost and value of branding is more complicated than just the bottom line number.

On Jan.13.2005 at 05:31 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

In today's world, as part of any brand development work, an agency will conduct extensive trademark research clearance before delivering a mark to a client.

NBC did the research. The Nebraskans hadn’t registered the trademark and it didn’t show up.

On Jan.13.2005 at 06:17 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>The Nebraskans hadn’t registered the trademark

In that case, NBC was being very kind. I'm no trademark attorney, but in cases where a trademark is in dispute by multiple parties — most courts will split the geographic area for TM and usage, depending on the size and relative notoriety of the respective companies. This means that NBC would've been granted TM and usage for any part of the country where they broadcast, except Nebraska. And the Nebraska station would've been restricted to non-NBC markets.

That situation is actually more common than you may think.

The Nebraska station's N might have appeared first, but since its coverage was local — that wouldn't have been a factor in the TM being granted to NBC.

NBC didn't really have to pay anything to that little station.

On Jan.13.2005 at 08:01 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Of course NBC couldn’t have afforded to tell its affiliates on the plains that they were no longer part of the network nor would they have wanted the “Not-Quite-National Broadcasting System” jokes. They couldn’t afford to have any more attention paid to the whole Nebraska thing than they had to. They were just coming out of going from number one to last place, having had their asses handed to them by Fred Silverman’s ABC blitzkrieg. (Baretta, Charlie’s Angels, and The Bionic Woman made Tuesday nights an unprecedented junk fest.) There’s no way they could have done anything but buy their way out of the snafu. (I remember the price as much lower than the article said, however.)

On Jan.13.2005 at 08:39 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:


You know you're killing me with the FedEx bait. Don't you?

I'm not going there.

But sensai, come on, seriously, don't you think several firms could've and would've created a better crafted, and more unique logo for NBC for half the price? Do you honestly think that logo is worthy of sitting next to Rand and Golden?

On Jan.13.2005 at 08:47 PM
Tan’s comment is:

No, no...I'm not supporting the NBC logo specifically. And I'm not justifying its $600k price tag either — especially since I don't really know the circumstances and story around the whole project.

But equating that logo with a $100 giveaway student project is out of context and frankly, nothing more than an interesting bit of trivia. The article tries to make it more of an example of poor corporate spending, but frankly it's just ignorant prose.

As designers, we should all know better, and not propagate public ignorance about the value of design. Everyone has the right to question and discuss the cost disparity, like you and Darrel — but that's not really what that article is doing.

And as to Fedex, don't hold back man. Bring it on bro.

On Jan.13.2005 at 10:52 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

don't you think several firms could've and would've created a better crafted, and more unique logo for NBC for half the price?

The thing is, the cost is not about creating a "better crafted, and more unique logo." One designer with a good brain & skills can can out-logo the entire teams at Landor & Futurebrand combined a good portion of the time.

The cost (and I believe Tan has already written this above or elsewhere recently) has to do with the reseach, the focus groups, the shiny presentations, travel across continents, the layers of approval, the 17,000 variations, the 100 page standards manual, the brand resources website, the world-wide rollout, and on and on.

Once you strip all that away, the big multinational is probably only paying 10 grand for the actual work done to make the logo.

Small agencies can deliver great logos, but they would struggle to deliver all that needs to go with them.

Am I understanding correctly how it works, Tan?

On Jan.14.2005 at 09:05 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

The thing is, the value of a brand is not related to its cost.

Umm...yea...I agree. And same goes for the quality of the mark.

As Jeff says, a lot of the cost is simply politics. That's the way it is. I find it often silly, but whatever sells... ;o)

On Jan.14.2005 at 09:17 AM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

The process is more important than the product?

Based on the information we have from the article and Gunnar's additions, NBC spared no expense to reinvigorate its' brand. The solution they received was nearly the exact branding solution that a public TV station in Nebraska got from a nameless designer.

Doesn't that represent a complete failure of process and product on the highest level of playing the game? I don't think I'm ignorant and naive to point out shoddy work. It was a freak occurrence sure, but a failure never the less and shouldn't have happened.

On Jan.14.2005 at 09:44 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

As Jeff says, a lot of the cost is simply politics.

Um, no I didn't.

Politics do, I'm sure, add to the cost, but the majority of things in my list are not "silly".

Also, seeing as I mentioned his company AND he once requested a gold star for me, my final sentence should have read: Am I understanding correctly how it works? Tan? David?

On Jan.14.2005 at 09:50 AM
Don Julio’s comment is:

One designer with a good brain & skills can can out-logo the entire teams at Landor & Futurebrand combined a good portion of the time.

Can I use this quote for the NEXT Speak Up Poster series? Hell, I may even work it into some client pitches...

Do I need to send a royalty check?

On Jan.14.2005 at 12:46 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

$600k price tag

Figures get thrown around. They’re usually wrong. Nobody got anywhere near that much for a trademark design project back then. I’m sure the figure was the cost of the entire project including reprinting stationery that they’d have had to reprint anyway, replacing signs that they’d have had to replace anyway, repainting the helicopter, buying new sports coats for the weatherman. . .

When companies are making a big change they like to emphasize just how big the change is. When the change turns out to be unpopular they often regret their initial telling of the tale.

On Jan.14.2005 at 01:21 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Politics do, I'm sure, add to the cost, but the majority of things in my list are not "silly".

To each their own. Corporate politics, to me, while often necessary, are also often rather silly.

On Jan.14.2005 at 02:03 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Darrel, quote me all you want, but please actually read what I write. Goodness!

On Jan.14.2005 at 04:03 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I consider this:

reseach, the focus groups, the shiny presentations, travel across continents, the layers of approval, the 17,000 variations, the 100 page standards manual, the brand resources website, the world-wide rollout, and on and on.

To be mostly politics.

We can certainly disagree on this. It's OK. ;o)

On Jan.14.2005 at 05:02 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Is calling something “politics” meant to be dismissive? While I would agree that a large, complex entity pays more for politics (in some sense) than for graphic design (in the narrowest sense) for an identity project, I wonder if anyone really thinks that’s wrong.

A small start-up company with five employees and one very strong leader that a designer has access to presents a situation where an identity job may be 2/3 education (of the designers and of the client) and 1/3 creation of the thing. A large, complex organization requires a little more thing creation but a lot more of everything else.

Why? The price is going to be higher for reasons I'll get to. If the price is high then it is worth a chunk of change to make sure that nothing was skipped over in the process. Saul Bass showed up for meetings with a truck full of 4' x 8' fomecore each covered with neatly-comped-up rejected solutions. Many were on the level that I wouldn’t work beyond a pencil rough that the client wouldn’t see. These guys spent more money to see rejects than I have ever charged for a whole identity program. And they should. They are taking a big gamble and should be reassured that nobody is dropping the ball.

Back to the 2/3 education part: A lot of that is getting a client to understand what’s important so that the identity will have a life. Getting a buy-in is a greater feat than drawing the damned logo. I’ve done both, won quite a few awards for the latter, and anyone who thinks drawing a good logo is the hard part of a serious logo project doesn’t know what he’s talking about. (This doesn’t mean that everyone who is good at marketing and project management is good at design; there is notable proof of the contrary.)

With a large, complex organization the “design problem” (the drawing the right logo part) is, not surprisingly, more complex. But the politics—getting the right information and getting a buy-in from many, many more people with many, many different agendas—is vastly more complex. I can crank out $3-4K identity programs (including stationery and the like) for small organizations with centralized power and make damned good money. Even if a Fortune 500 company were inclined to hire a single practitioner to do logo design, I couldn’t afford to do just their mark design alone for ten times that unless I had a strong (read: fascist) CEO ready to kill for me.

On Jan.14.2005 at 05:34 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

>a large, complex entity pays more for politics...

I wonder if anyone really thinks that’s wrong.

Wrong when it's excessive, such as WorldCom, Enron, FedEx, etc.

But damn! That was a great post you made! I'm inspired.

On Jan.14.2005 at 06:04 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Is calling something “politics” meant to be dismissive?


On Jan.14.2005 at 06:32 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>research, the focus groups, the shiny presentations, travel across continents, the layers of approval, the 17,000 variations, the 100 page standards manual, the brand resources website, the world-wide rollout, and on and on.

Yes Jeff, that's some of the difference — but there's also the scale of effort that goes into the design, not to mention the scale of value for the finished product. And it's not politics that accounts for the cost difference. I've had tiny clients that have needed more politics than Microsoft — the PITA factor isn't that scalable.

A couple of analogies — a set of brake pads for a Civic costs about $40, while a set of pads for a Ferrari Enzo is $16,000. No kidding. Both do the same things, but the ramifications of effectively stopping a $1M Ferrari is arguably more costly than a $20K Honda. Why? A number of reasons simple and complex. Cost and value is relative for everything in this world, including corporate identities.

Gunnar is correct, drawing a logo versus selling a logo versus bringing a full-bore corporate identity to life each require a separate set of abilities, experience, and fortitude. I really don't mean to be condescending — but until you've been there, you really don't know enough to judge everything you think you can. For example, knowing how to remodel your home bathroom does not give you the ability to plan and build a subdivision — or to judge whether or not they are essentially the same things. Some things costs more because they require more, and affect more.

Why is that so difficult to understand?

On Jan.15.2005 at 01:08 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Why is that so difficult to understand?

Tan—I assume that was meant to be a rhetorical question but, as I always say, ask a rhetorical question, get a rhetorical answer.

I think there is a natural human tendency to assume that what we know is what there is. Anything that varies from our personal norms are aberrations. I think normal height is six feet and “short” and “tall” are indication of variation from that. I try to learn as much as I can about the way different people practice and use graphic design but ultimately I probably view it all through my personal experience.

There’s also a strange belief that people have that they could do just about anything if they just had the opportunity and inclination. Surveys have shown that the majority of American men believe that they could have been professional athletes if they’d just trained. A remarkable number of graphic design clients seem to think that they could do our jobs if they just had the time to waste on trivial crap like that. (I think my doctor and his staff don’t know what they are doing and I make most of my decisions based on medical reading I do; is that the same thing?) How would we do these new things if we were to do them? The way we already do things is the only answer we have at ready.

Which brings us to education. Education in general and graphic design education in particular does not promote the weird mixture of awe, humility, and optimistic adventure that it takes to learn to do new things. Graphic design training is often based on smug judgments on work, the belief that all the answers are right there, and the assumption that those of us worthy of consideration are just born with it so others should just get out of the way.

Michael Blowhard has some interesting comments related to the cult of graphic design that might shed some light on this.

On Jan.15.2005 at 01:54 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

A few other reasons that Enzo and the crew charge more for brake pads:

1) They can get away with it.

a) There is little incentive to cut profit margins. (See #2)

b) There is no competition for the sale and someone who bought the car needs them and can afford them.

2) At that level there is more value given to greatness than to economy. Nobody says “We can get an eager driver for the Ferrari and pay him a hundred grand less and he’ll drive the race just about as fast.”

3) It is much cheaper to make Honda brake pads.

a) They are designed with economy in mind with bigger tolerances from an engineering standpoint and greater tolerance of sloppiness from the driver (see #2.)

b) They are mass-produced. When people hear about an eight hundred dollar toilet seat in an Air Force plane they think “I could have bought one for $19 at Menard’s and that would have left them enough profit to run that Indy car.” The toilet seat that we sit on is only cheap because they make tens of thousands of them a year so tooling costs are spread out at a dime a seat. If you’re only making three this year, you can lose money charging “absurdly-high” rates.

Only #2 and #3a can be construed to mean that the Ferrari brakes are “better.”

#3b is the only one that doesn’t apply to identity design in a rather obvious way but to some extent it may apply when comparing more complex organizations to less complex organizations: Solutions that are readily “out there” are usable for a small organization with one mission and one product. Building something that works in a more varied situation and can be applied in a greater range of products, divisions, and markets might be more “custom work” in some sense.

On Jan.15.2005 at 02:17 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Gunnar & Tan,

Excellent expositions, both of you. When one is trying to make a point banging around the outside of an issue, it is refreshing & helpful to have a clear answer from the inside.

One thing. Tan, I don't think you are going to make many converts to your point of view by likening a designer with little clients to an ambitious DIY enthusiast.

On Jan.15.2005 at 03:01 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

>Cost and value is relative for everything in this world


I have a literal example if you care.

On Jan.15.2005 at 04:12 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I have a literal example if you care.

Don’t keep us in suspense.

On Jan.15.2005 at 06:29 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Why is that so difficult to understand?

Sometimes a corporate rebranding is WORTH 7 figures. Sometimes that's just what it costs.

On Jan.16.2005 at 09:33 AM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

Actually my bullshit example isn't the best example. But it’s a lot of fun to consider the art of selling bullshit isn't it?

When my dad died, my brother decided to plant a memorial tree. He trailed off to Home Depot and came back with an overpriced twig and a little bag of cow manure. The cost of that bag of bullshit could only have been a couple of bucks. The price was around $12. Its value is debatable. Since then however that’s been my beautiful metaphor of marketing in America. They could offer the same bag of bovine poo for a couple of bucks plus a reasonable mark-up. But my brother is a sucker and my dad’s tree got the best bullshit money could buy!

There are plenty of better textbooks examples of the art of bullshit valuation. For instance Bausch & Lomb was busted in the ’90s for selling the exact same contact lenses with wildly different price structures. The only difference was the marketing.

Isn’t that what Walter Landor mastered? Take any product or service with a fixed cost and increase its perceived value via marketing — or “strategic branding” if you prefer. The actual product or service and associated costs remain the same, but the perception of value and price is artificially increased.

I like Tan’s writing, agree with quite a few of his comments, and commend him for his argument. It's obvious that he has the gift of the “Golden Shovel” and that’s why he’s paid the big bucks. But I’m not buying the cost/value bullshit.

On Jan.16.2005 at 10:28 PM