Visual Identity vs. Hamburger

Recently I was outlining the time and cost involved in a logo & visual identity re-design project for the owner of a small export business when he asked, quite innocently, a question that curdled my blood: “why can’t I just go on Fiverr and get a logo for five dollars?”

This prompted an outburst during which I monologged for fifteen minutes straight. Not pretty.

It does bring up an interesting point of discussion however. Why should this entrepreneur spend hard-earned money on a re-design of his logo and visual identity (which, I might add, was originally created by a logo “artist” for a whopping seventy-five dollars), when he could spend less than the cost of a burger and fries at McDonalds? Owning a business conditions you to spend life-sustaining cash-flow only on things that are important here and now. Why spend more than you have to on the production of a simple piece of art-work?

Why indeed?

The short answer, my dear friends: (graphic) design is not art — it is a communication tool.

If you had to rely on a hammer all day, ever day, to make money, would you buy the cheapest hammer you could find? If this argument has you sold, end here. Otherwise, read on…

Time for a generality: We live in a world of hyper-fetishism. Where design is concerned, we focus overwhelmingly on the beautiful products, rather than the underlying processes and rational behind those products, and because of this tendency the line between design and art has increasingly become blurred. One can go to the MOMA and stare at beautiful examples of design hung on carefully lit walls in expensive frames; a quick web search for ‘design inspiration’ reveals hundreds of endless feeds filled with pretty digital images, spacious typography and trendy layouts. Our perception of design is so focused on its aesthetic properties that to most people the value of design is simply aesthetic.

When my unfortunate business owner began to consider his logo, his only criterion was this it “looked good”. If he could pay some nameless online hack to create a logo that looked “good enough” for five dollars, why not?

But design without purpose or context is not design. Dieter Rams, the german industrial designer famous for his role in making Braun a household name in the 1950’s, said:

A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it. 1

Similarly, a visual identity or a logo is “bought to be used”; It exists to serve a purpose, which is to help its owner sell more products, for a longer time, at a higher price. It does so by communicating to customers the ideas and values that make a company unique. A well-designed visual identity, like a well-designed radio, is carefully considerate of functional, psychological, and aesthetic contexts. So, returning to the question of the five dollar (or the seventy-five dollar) designer: Will this five dollar wonder ask the right questions to help you articulate values you might not even know you have? Does he understand the greater context of your business and its product at this specific point in time? Has he researched your customer and market exhaustively? Can he cohesively tie together your values and aspirations into a visual identity that is simple, bold and memorable? Does he understand colour psychology? Is he observant enough to avoid trends that will stagnate and die and need replacing within a year?

If the answers to the above are “yes,” then you have found the deal of the millennium. But if not, you’re better off with a Big Mac. Paying somebody to create irrelevant artwork for you, even it is beautiful, is no different than purchasing a cheap AM radio when you need to listen to an FM station

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