Why I don’t teach business owners how to design their own logos

Published by Nela Dunato on at 08:15 in Graphic design, Business, Branding, Thoughts

Let’s not beat around the bush: my design services are not cheap. I wouldn’t call them “expensive”, but for the majority of people who might benefit from them, they’re currently out of reach. I don’t have a problem with that, as there are different designers that offer logos at different price points, so hopefully everyone can find one that’s ideal for them.

But there's a huge gap between people who read my articles and enjoy my free resources, and the few people who can actually invest in my services. If I want to assist those who cannot yet afford my help in a deeper way than blog posts or free classes can achieve, I need a more affordable range of products. (I’m working on that, I promise.)

Why I don’t teach business owners how to design their own logos

If you’ve been in the online business circles for longer than 5 minutes, this sounds like yesterday’s news. Of course, we should all be creating books, video courses, digital templates to sell an infinite amount of times and have a “passive income” (which is anything but passive, but I digress).

When I talk about this to other entrepreneurs, inevitably someone suggests that I create a class teaching business owners how to design their own logos. I shrug the idea away saying “I’m already writing a book on human-centered branding, and have the class outline ready”, so the idea is laid to rest.

But there’s another, even more important reason why you won’t see me doing any logo design classes aimed at non-designers:

I can’t teach non-designers how to create good logos.

The emphasis is on good.

I can show you around all the tools in Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. I can tell you where to find fonts. I can tell you how to pick a color palette. In fact, I teach people how to find the perfect font and color palette for your brand in my free class Revamp Your Brand In One Day.

But that’s nowhere nearly enough for a person to create a logo that is any good.

And let me tell you, I’ve tried...

Apart from being a full-time freelance designer, I’m also a design educator. I’ve taught 3 generations of students their first steps in design theory, the Adobe software, and tried my best to impart on them a bit of that sense of aesthetics that is really difficult to explain to a novice. I’ve critiqued numerous student assignments, and formed a list of 11 most common beginner design mistakes I see people do.

In the design class we teach at our school, students first need to go through a 9-hour design theory class (which is way too short in my opinion), combined with additional recommended reading. That is followed by a 30-hour Adobe Illustrator course, which covers the most useful functionality of the program for design work. After that, we teach a 6-hour class focused on logo design, along with examples, case studies and practical exercises—some in copying the examples, and some in creating new designs.

After all this preparation, students are finally given their first independent assignment: design a logo based on the provided brief. (This is all done in the classroom, so they can ask for assistance or guidance at any moment.)

You’d think that after they’ve been through all that, and with the ability to ask for my help, they’ll come up with pretty good logos?

I’m afraid that’s not really how it goes. What I’ve noticed is that the students who had a certain amount of design experience prior to the course, come up with much better designs than those who have little or no experience. I’m not talking just about how creative the logos are, but whether their production quality is at the level required for professional use.

The quality of logo designs the students create doesn’t depend on their age, or their drawing skills, or how good they are with Adobe Illustrator.

The quality of their logo designs depends on how well they’ve internalized the design principles and honed their sense of design aesthetics through practice.

And that’s why logo design is very difficult to teach. You can provide people with all the tools and information, but what really counts is how many hours (or years) they spend creating design concepts.

Logo design is one of the most responsible design professions

All design professions are equally valuable and needed in the world—this is not meant to devalue other designers. The difference between logo design and many other types of design is:

You have one chance to get it right.

Of course, there is the option of rebranding. Some corporations do it every 5 to 10 years, so it’s not literally the one chance. But because each logo change brings on website changes and re-designing and printing of all marketing materials, the total cost of rebranding can get very expensive—and you have to do it all at once, otherwise you’ll have a patchwork brand that does more harm than good.

Compare this with website design, where you get to make incremental improvements over time, either based on user testing or A/B testing, or just observing your statistics. In fact, I make slight tweaks on my website almost every week, and you probably never noticed.

Even print design is subject to change. If you’re not happy with your brochures, you can just re-design them when you use up your current batch. If this quarter’s ad campaign doesn’t work very well, you can create new ads and new messaging for the next quarter. With regular publications, each issue is a chance to start anew.

But not so with logos. Once you publish a logo somewhere, you’re wedded to it until you decide to scrap it and create a new one. If you have multiple versions of your logo floating around, it leads to brand dilution.

Can you imagine in your mind’s eye (without looking up their website) what the current PayPal logo looks like? If you’re having any difficulty doing that, it’s not your fault. There are at least 3 different versions of their logo floating around the Internet at the moment:

Logo Paypal - old and new

Hint: the very right one is the newest one.

Let’s not even get into that Twitter bird. 5 years after introducing the new, more elegant design, many websites and icon sets still feature the old, chubby, cartoonish bird silhouette.

Logo Twitter - old and new
Old (left) versus new Twitter icon (right)

How many times has the Twitter web and app interface changed since the launch of that new icon? More times than we can count.

Every logo change is risky

Sometimes, your customers raise a fuss because they’ve grown attached to your logo. Sometimes, people don’t recognize your product in the stores anymore.

Every rebranding effort requires careful consideration of pros and cons that the new identity will bring. Because of this, it’s a better investment of your time and money to get it right the first time.

Logo design requires proficiency in the visual language

In my post Is your logo sending the right message? I explain that visual language is a skill that many people benefit from, but few understand its rules.

If you want to be a logo designer, you need to be intimately familiar with:

  • what kind of message a certain form of letters communicates
  • what connotations might certain colors evoke in different cultures
  • how to choose the ideal level of detail and simplicity in a symbol so that it’s unambiguous and unique, yet easy to reproduce
  • how placement of elements affects the meaning of the whole.

This is not trivial. I’m still learning and perfecting my skills, and will continue to do so until the end of my career.

Teaching others gives me an opportunity to organize and clarify insights that are based on my own real-world design experience, as opposed to just repeating information from books. Looking back, I know what was most helpful to me when learning design, and what skills are an absolute requirement for a great logo designer.

What would the perfect logo design class look like?

If I were to take an absolute beginner through a class that will give them the skills needed to create logo designs for businesses, organizations, products or music bands, this is what I’d include:

  1. Graphic design principles
  2. Typography
  3. Color theory
  4. A primer on aesthetics in design
  5. Pictorial communication and symbolism
  6. Vector drawing (Adobe Illustrator)
  7. The design process
  8. Practical assignments with individual mentoring

The minimum duration I’d anticipate for this class is 3 months, but it could be an ongoing 6 month program with even more emphasis on critique and mentoring. Given the amount of instruction and personal attention, plus the value the students would get out of it, the minimum class cost would be $1.000, probably closer to $2.000.

For a budding designer that wants to make money doing logo design for clients, that’s a very smart investment that they can make back with a few design jobs.

For a business owner that needs a logo for their company, that’s not a good time investment. You’d need to wait for 3 months before you can even think about designing your company logo, and all the while you’d be busy with classes and homework, which would take time away from working on your business.

That’s why I believe that for business owners who don’t want to do design for a living, paying someone else to do it is a better investment. You’ll get a way better result than you could do on your own, and you’ll be free to spend your time on things that only you can do.

But there are short classes teaching logo design?

Yes, there are many classes that teach logo design, much in the same way we teach it at our school, but even shorter. Most don’t offer feedback or direct contact with the instructor.

I’ve already told you what those classes are like: experienced designers can expect to grow their skills as they specialize in a new field, and newbies will need to put in a lot of personal practice time if they want to see results. If a class does not include personalized feedback and mentoring, in my opinion it’s not much better than a book. (Which isn't to say they aren't useful—I've learned a lot from books.)

I don’t want to promise business owners something that I cannot realistically offer them. Sorry, you can’t become a logo designer in a few weeks.

But maybe you can teach me just enough so I can do my own logo? It can be really simple!

When you’re as committed and as passionate about your work as I am to mine, you don’t want people to be satisfied with the crumbs, when you have a big tasty (gluten-free, vegan, paleo, etc.) cake in store.

My desire is to educate people to recognize and value good design, not to enable them in creating mediocre design.

I want to see less of mediocre work in the world, not more. Teaching people how to do the most basic logos that “will do for now” doesn’t hold any spark of inspiration for me. While I’m sure a class like that would sell, that would feel out of integrity with my core values.

Being a good teacher is about recognizing what your students are ready for.

The vast majority of business owners (even those with an art background) are not ready to become great logo designers. But they are perfectly equipped to start thinking strategically and emotionally about their brand, and do the necessary foundational work to create a brand that lasts. That is what my upcoming book is all about.

As for designers, I’ll do my best to make my knowledge accessible to them in a way that also works for me.

Each person is unique, and teaching a group class is always a challenge, because people come from all walks of life, with different levels of experience. On the other hand, 1-on-1 tutoring is prohibitively expensive for most people.

Is there a compromise? I have the opportunity to test my hypothesis in October this year.

Logo Design Crash Course in Zagreb

I’ve teamed up with WebCamp Zagreb to offer an affordable workshop on logo design on October 5, 2017. Read more info on the workshop here.

Workshop Logo Design Crash Course in Zagreb

The workshop is 4 hours long, but it has prerequisites: only designers with knowledge of design theory and a minimum of experience for web or print are encouraged to apply. This will ensure that we can focus on skills and knowledge specific to logo design, so that people can go on and implement them immediately on their next project.

Can this workshop turn a non-designer into a logo designer? Hell no. This workshop can help experienced designers to expand into a new field, or to upgrade their logo design skills.

Seats are limited, so apply if you want to meet up with me and join this intense, action packed, and inspiring workshop:

Register for the workshop

I hope to see you there!

Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

I'm an artist, designer, teacher and writer. I run a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps small service-based businesses create exceptional client experiences.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...

Your comments

  • Laura

    2017-08-14 at 20:36

    Another great article. I think with logos, people assume because it 'looks' simple, that it IS simple - and there is a huge foundation to design that most people either just don't have, or just don't know how long it takes to get one.

  • Nela

    2017-08-15 at 18:13

    Thank you, Laura!
    Yes, you're absolutely right.
    While overcomplicating things is often the sign of a novice designer (I keep having to tell my students to dial it down a bit), pulling off something simple is a bigger challenge than people realize.

  • Juliet

    2017-08-19 at 00:34

    Thank for for an excellent post that is an education in itself. There is so much more to good design than meets the eye, and I can really appreciate how much goes into a good logo. You are so right about the importance of investing in something that is going to have a long life.
    I love seeing the Paypal and Twitter examples and seeing what a difference a small tweak can make.

  • Nela

    2017-08-22 at 13:54

    Thank you, Juliet!
    I'm happy to hear you agree, and that you appreciate the visual examples :)

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