A lot happens.

Some people stagger when I tell them a logo can cost thousands of dollars. Well, none of mine have, but my starting price is sometimes still a bit much for a thrifty business owner to swallow. Other times they don’t understand the process of custom logo design. Here’s why good designers don’t often trade a creative logo for a Thanks-And-A-Handshake.

There’s homework involved.

After the consultation but before I ever even touch a pen, mouse, or tablet, I do my research. I look for things that can tell your story: online, books, nature, engineering, art, photography, user experiences, and everything in between.

Then I brainstorm. I identify strong concepts and try to figure out what icons, images, or typographical tricks can condense the mission, objective, and culture of an entire business down into a single icon. Then I make sure no one else has already done it. That’s like trying to stuff 100 pounds of you-know-what into a 1-pound bag.

The effort is collaborative.

I’m not the only one with homework. In my consultations, I ask a lot of hard questions: questions many business owners may not have considered even when they wrote their business plans. I want to be sure I understand the essence of a business, what makes it different, special, or unique–and often it’s not the business’s product or service. It’s tapping into someone else’s inspiration. You may think we’re just having a conversation, but my consultation is a multi-sensory experience I’ve crafted so we can have a real conversation. For a brief moment, I share the client’s vulnerability as he or she talks about their dreams, goals, and fears (that’s my Clinical Psychology degree at work).

Sometimes, though, a potential client wants a logo, any logo, just to have a logo and doesn’t want anything to do with the process. While understandable, that’s not a challenge. That’s not what I provide. We should both come out of this experience with a better understanding of the business and each other so that we can both serve it better.

The software doesn’t do the work.

After the consultation and the research, there’s more work to be done. For my logos, personally, I like to start with good ol’ fashioned pencil and paper. It gets my creative juices flowing, bridges a connection between head and my hands, and frankly, I simply like the experience of soft graphite crushing into textured paper. I will go through 30, 40, or even 50 doodles over the course of a few days or a week until I hit on one that resonates. You just know it when you see it.

Though I sketch out many, many ideas, I revise, reiterate, and/or trash most of them. The research, brainstorming, and conceptualizing makes up the bulk of the cost of the logo. The actual time in the software is much shorter than any single previous step.

The KISS Principle

Simple logos are not necessarily easy logos. Coco Chanel’s fashion advice relates to design as well: Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off. The Three H Medical and PhotoBuzz logos, for example, went though countless iterations to make them look deceptively simple. I filled several 11×15-inch pages with drawings, sketches, doodles, ideas, and words only to reduce them all back down to one idea. But once I saw it, I knew it was the one.

Presentation isn’t just for food

Once I’ve settled on two or three potential logos, I have to–as they say in Math class, “show your work.” I briefly explain the concept and what drove the design. If you don’t connect with a logo, no one else will either.

All of these steps take time, skill, and careful consideration to interpret a client and business. Sure, you can pay a sweatshop to bang out just any logo that you can slap into your e-mail signature–and they may very well have tried their best to interpret your goals. There’s a time and a place for that kind of work. But when purchasing a service that produces a product which is supposed to connect, resonate, and inspire, you’ll want to have that experience first hand as well.

Header Illustration by Adam Ellis

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