Who are you REALLY designing that logo for?

So you get a new client and you’re preparing to start work on a logo for them, but just who is your primary concern when designing that logo: the client paying your fees and who needs to approve the design, or is it the customers of that business, whose reaction to the logo could well impact that company’s success, or even yourself, eager to have an impressive portfolio to attract further clients?

You may feel that one answer would stand out above the rest, but this doesn’t necessarily appear the case going by the logos I see paraded online each week, by a wide range of logo and identity designers. And even for those designers out there who would have a clear response, it’s worth considering what the impact may be in giving preference to each of the options, so that’s exactly what I plan to do below.

Designing for the client

I refer to the client as the person, or committee that will actually be approving the logo. It could be the case that, as a designer, your prime concern is pleasing the client and getting paid, with everything else taking a back seat. You are in business after all so who could blame you, but there could be consequences to this line of action, among them being the fact you could end up with a portfolio of logos that look rather average, or that the logo is badly received by the customers of that company, which could damage your reputation.

Similarly, this can happen when a client decides to take over the design process, making demands on how exactly the logo should look, taking the logo in an uncomfortable direction for you.

Designing for the clients’ customers

The term ‘customers’ is used broadly here, referring to the demographic of people that business aims to appeal towards, which should be established early on in the process. Focusing on who will need to associate with the logo seems a logical decision, at least to me, as they are the people the business needs to attract to survive.

However, unless the client likes the direction of the logo, then it will never get approved in the first place. It’s also possible the customers might relate just as well to an average looking logo to one you consider to be beautiful, so if you’re looking to add pretty logos to your portfolio, then appealing purely to what the customer might relate to should not be your only concern.

Designing for yourself

It could be the case that you’re taking the design in a certain direction because you think it will look great in your portfolio. This may have been inspired by the latest trend or just a new technique or style you’ve seen that you wanted to try, without considering how appropriate it may be for the actual business you’re creating this logo for.

It does seem the case that many designers take this route, at least going by many of the logo designs that I’ve seen on sites such as Dribbble. There’s also the case of designers creating ‘stock logos’, which as far as I’m concerned is absolutely about creating pretty logos and has nothing to do with meeting the needs of a specific business.

One of the goals of designing logos for yourself seems to be the desire to appear in logo design showcase books and online galleries, which of course can be beneficial in appealing to new clients – who may not always look past the pretty surface to see a hollow concept.

And finally

Personally, I always take the client, their customers and myself into account when designing a logo, and I hope that most other designers do too, though I don’t think that’s often the case. Even with the approach I take, it’s important to find the right balance.

Personally, I favour the customer, focusing on what I believe will appeal to them, in terms of reflecting the qualities and tone of the business. That for me is paramount, after that I would say it’s an even split between pleasing the client and myself. Of course, the client needs to be happy, or else they won’t approve the design, but if I can convince them that the design will work well for their business and appeal to their customers, this can sway any personal reservations they may have over the design.

In terms of designing the logo for myself, I wouldn’t design something I thought was ugly, but on the other hand I wouldn’t focus on creating a pretty logo for my portfolio; instead I would aim at making it work best for that business – and if that results in a ‘hot’ portfolio piece, that’s all for the better, but it’s never what I set out to do.

About the author

Paul Galbraith is a logo and brand identity designer, working with startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs in the UK, USA and beyond.