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Ask HN: What to do for logos?
22 points by michaelfairley on July 6, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments
I have a project that I'm launching in the next few weeks, but it is still logoless. Should I leave it logoless for a while (while bootstrapping), or suck it up and drop a $300 on a 99designs custom design or something? Is there a cheaper alternative?

You don't care about a logo.

You need to care about your brand, and this should be an intrinsic part of what you're doing. It defined who you are, as a company.

If you're doing things right, you'll already know a huge amount about your brand, but most business and tech people are not used to expressing this.

Even if you have a crappy, hand-made logo, what matters is the brand, and being honest with it. If you're 2 guys working out of a garage, maybe a home-made logo does represent your brand better?

99designs and other sites are purely for eye candy. You won't get a well thought out logo that reflects your brand. It's purely visual design.

Source: I'm a Designer & Brand Consultantw

I'm more in favor of skipping the logo and brand entirely if you can. Startups have become so cheap & nimble these days that it is worth waiting out on establishing a brand. Worry about branding once you get user traction. Once you have user traction, you know who your customers are, what they want & what kind of brand identity will appeal to them. Starting to worry too early about branding is just money down the toilet if you ask me.

This is bad business advice. I'd down vote if I could.


I feel bad about it because I would hate to see a programmer in the same boat. The truth is I just haven't found a versatile designer that's reasonably priced whose work I consistently like.

As long as 99designs consistently provides better results for less money i'll probably keep using it.

You might be interested in this review of 99designs from a designer's perspective. I tend to agree with his comments. However, there also seems to be a market and if all parties are aware of how choosing a service like 99designs (as described in the review) will impact their final product, then I would say "Go for it". FYI, strong language in this review. http://www.graphicpush.com/99designs-bullshit-20

Second this, have had a great experience with 99 designs in the past.

Learn a little bit about typography and then peruse fontsquirrel.com, pick an interesting font and let it do the work for you. Most enduring logos are not graphically complex.

Simple Logos: Bayer, 3M, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo etc

I also second the recommendation to make friends with inkscape and gimp

The branding and logo development for each of these cost five to eight figures. Money well spent, because the average consumer recognize them instantly.

Do you have a source for this?

According to this blog, twitter's logo cost $10-15 and nike's cost $35:


I concede on the example of Twitter; that said, I had no idea that was Twitter's logo. I thought their word mark was their logo, and perhaps this helps make my point regardless: did you know that Twitter's logo was a bird on a tree? That particular bird on a tree?

Anyhow, as I've said elsewhere in this thread my beef is with folks who think your logo is your brand, and that a brand is something you can do in Photoshop if you have some good fonts installed. It's not just wrong, it's damaging business advice.

I could also cop out and say that both Twitter and Nike have spent a lot more than $15 and $35 on their brand, regardless of the cost of their original logos.

If you'd like to see the price of a logo taken to the other extreme, take a look at Pepsi's last redesign effort. Hint: It involved gravitational pull.


Pretty insane, but they reportedly paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the total rebranding effort, so I guess the design firm needed to come up with some sort of justification for the bill.

The cheapest option would be to make something up yourself.

Inkscape (http://www.inkscape.org/) is a decent open source vector graphics editor that you should be able to use to whip up something halfway decent.

The issue you can have if you go with a really cheap logo is that it may be just a rip off of some other logo, and you may run into trademark issues.

If you think paying for a good logo is too expensive, just wait and see how much a free logo will cost you.

Care to elaborate? Whether or not you have a professionally designed logo would make an interesting A/B test. Have you done or are you aware of any research about this?

I think my use of the word logo in my comment contributed to the problem instead of a solution. Specifically, if you think of branding in terms of firing up Photoshop and trying out some cool fonts, then you are not seeing the big picture.

The specific reason that this thread has tweaked me so much is that it's just so typical for us developers to minimize the effort that goes into good design. It's like it's somehow incomprensible that a team of people with years of experience would spend weeks coming up with a brand strategy that works well across many mediums and tells a coherent story.

There's a really good article about the process of creating the FedEx logo on HN right now. He wasn't starting from scratch or doing a style guide and it still sounds like it took months.

But right now the guy is bootstrapping. He doesn't have money for brand design. He shouldn't even be worried about brand design. Having a decent looking logo so he looks professional to the 99.999999% of us who aren't brand designers is the key. Doing it at as low a cost as possible is important. This may tweak you and other brand designers out there, but the reality is he doesn't need anything more than eye candy right now.

Do you have to have a logo? If you provide widgets and such, yes you do. Otherwise logos for websites are overrated. They are remnants of print publishing, where logo mattered to catch the eye of the consumer when he is picking magazines off the rack. Internet does not work like this.

Spend your money on a better domain name instead. This will help you being remembered without writing it down. And after that have a favicon that stands out. This will help you get noticed in a stack of browser tabs. But once the user is in your site logo has no purpose.

I dropped a hundred bucks on a logo for my startup before there were all these crowdsource sites. It sucked (really, really sucked) and was nothing like what I actually wanted.

I spent a day doodling and bouncing ideas off friends online, and with some luck, came up with the logo that I still use till today..... and I suck at drawing or design.

Like other commenters said, it's not about the crazy graphics.

(Just for reference, this is my logo: http://neosmart.net/ )

It's true - you get what you pay for. How's business? Might be time to revisit your branding conversation.

If you're willing to put in a little work learning some design principles, that will help you out enormously when it comes to deciding which logo is best for your product. Whether you buy an inexpensive one off the web or create one yourself, you'll be able to make better design decisions.

For an introduction/overview to logo design and a set of resources, check out: http://justcreativedesign.com/2008/12/02/logo-design-resourc... Especially spend some time looking at logo redesign critiques since you'll get a better feel for why a particular logo might be better or worse. Also find some examples of bad logo design - that should give you a sense of what to stay away from.

To learn how to think about logo creation, skim a bunch of the "process" and "logo design roundup" posts: http://imjustcreative.com/category/branding-identity/ If you decide to create your own, a typographic logo is probably a good place to start and there are several of the "process" samples that go into a lot of depth for that type. This is my single favorite place to learn about logo design.

And finally, for a solid overview of graphic design principles, there are a bunch of good tutorials collected here: http://psd.tutsplus.com/articles/web/50-totally-free-lessons... Knowing a few of the design basics will help improve everything you create (not just your logo) much more than you may realize now.

I used LogoTournament instead of 99designs -- similar approach. I'm generally happy with the result, BUT yeah, it was 300+ bucks, and I was not comfortable with the way that some other designers (including one who went through multiple revisions) kinda got screwed when I had to choose one.

BTW, though, I started out with a self-designed logo: http://forum.emusictheory.com/templates/emusictheory/images/...

Here is the new one: http://www.emusictheory.com/images/layout/logo.jpg

For you to choose what route to take -- well, can you say more about the kind of site you're building? If you're selling to (enterprise?) customers who'll really need to know that you'll be offering professional support, long-term presence, etc. then the craigslist approach won't work for you (and you need more spit & polish right from the start). If it's something like wrttn (reviewed earlier today on HN) then you'd be wasting your money; just go with clean & minimal for the site, and use a nice clear font for a lettered "logo".

Lest you listen to the "design is overrated" crowd below:


Out of curiosity, I checked the front page of that site. From the top blog post:

"I remember once when I was a teenager, I was walking through the woods and I came across an old pair of leather boots. The incredible thing is, when I looked inside of them I found 4 pieces of gold!

The not incredible thing is, I was a fat, lonely nerd playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Interestingly, playing Dungeons & Dragons is how I met my first girlfriend. (That's actually not true. Sometimes I just like typing sentences that no one has ever seen.)"

Lol. Funny guy.

Spending any money on a logo is simply not necessary in your position. Until you feel like you need to cultivate a brand, don't do anything. When you do, consider just picking a unique (but not too unique) font for the app's name. You can pay for the font if you must.

Designers get offended by this, but I've yet to see a case where logos are even slightly important to a bootstrapped business. You can always change it later.

I'm an aspiring Designer/Developer. I've had some experience with logo design, and I'm always looking to expand my portfolio. You can check out some of my work at http://donaldlivingston.com/portfolio Feel free to contact me via http://www.donaldlivingston.com/contact/

There are tons of designers who will do logo artwork for $150-200. I would suggest doing the typography yourself in Inkscape or Illustrator if you can, and then if you feel the need for a nice vector drawing to add to the text, pay someone later.

I think you need to keep ironing out your solution first. A logo is not as important as a great product. Once you can afford (from your project's profit?) a designer, hire them to help you solidify your presence. Good luck!

A method that worked for me but might not work for all. We had a friend in a graphic arts program at the local university. We asked him if he wanted to do our logo for a project.

I have a friend / former co-worker whose sister is a graphics design student. She (the sister) created the last logo I needed, and I'll probably go back to her in the future.

Do a quick logo yourself. You can use Inkscape or GIMP.

Never use GIMP for anything, except, of course, for demonstrating how not to do UI/UX.

You can get a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and learn to draw. Proceed then to design the logo you have in mind.

Drawing from life and designing logos really aren't the same thing... Studying a bit about typography would be of much more use.

twitter bought its logo for hella cheap, but go find an online graphical design community. Most of them are looking for any type of work to add to their portfolio and most will do it for free or on the cheap.

I really have to disagree here. I think this is absolutely the wrong attitude to have towards the design community. If someone came to this community and asked to build them an app for free they would get shut down.

Instead of putting up $300 on 99 design have a look around for a designer that makes logos that you like the look of and send them an email and ask what they can do for that amount. You might only get a few hours of their time, but you're probably going to get a much better result, and you'll be doing the whole design community a favour by not asking for free work.

EDIT: As a stop-gap, the inkscape option that pwim suggested sounds good.

"you'll be doing the whole design community a favour by not asking for free work."

This is a free market. Supply and demand. If people are willing to do quality work for free, let them. If someone is looking for quality work and they find it for free, they should take it. Doing a group of professionals "a favour" does not enter into the equation.

"If someone came to this community and asked to build them an app for free they would get shut down."

That's because no one made millions because of a logo. Apps are simply more valuable than logos, period. And they require more skill to create.

I have to disagree with you, saying that making a web app takes more skill than designing a logo is simple not true. Both developing web apps and graphic design are highly skilled professions, graphic designers can take years to develop the expertise to design something truly great just as it can take years to develop the skills required to develop successful webapps.

Your logo is the single most important part of your brand and it drives the graphic design of the rest of you website. It is true that anyone with a little time can create a logo by choosing a typeface adding some colour and a drop shadow but making a logo that tells you something and holds a message is much much harder. I would be tempted to say that logo design is probably the hardest aspect of graphic design to master. For an example of a very clever logo that hold a hidden message take a look at the FedEx logo, see if you can spot the hidden image. Designing both a logo and a webapp are about knowing the audience and what makes them tick.

With that said something like 99 designs is actually a good way to get a first logo for your webapp. You can always iterate on the logo when you know the market is ready for your app, just don't underestimate it's importance. 

I agree with your first point in as much as people are free to work or not work as they please. That said, here's some perspective from the design side which may help you understand how designers may think about these kinds of things, even if you disagree or find it a touch extreme: http://www.no-spec.com/faq/

As for your second point, how much would you say the brand equity of Apple, Coca-Cola, or Nike is worth? They would simply be selling electronics, sugary water, and shoes if they didn't have design and marketing experts building and executing their brand (experts who I'm sure have been compensated quite handsomely). While I'll agree that it's easier to "throw together" a logo than a web app, good design does require reasonable skill, training, and experience.

ADDED: I guess I should be clear that I'm rebutting the assertion that design is necessarily less valuable than software development, not that startups require Fortune 500 branding.

"ADDED: I guess I should be clear that I'm rebutting the assertion that design is necessarily less valuable than software development, not that startups require Fortune 500 branding."

It's possible to have a very successful web app with no professional design. Look at Craigslist.

It is impossible to have a successful web app that consists only of design and not the underlying code. I'm not saying that design is unimportant, or that it can't make or break a product, but you can't with a straight face make the assertion that it's as important as the product. It's the icing, not the cake.

In the early stages of a company, the logo contributes very little to the company's success. All it does is signal that the company is somewhat professional. It requires little uncommon expertise to achieve this goal.

The comparison to Apple, Coke and Nike isn't applicable. You're describing a different product than most startups are looking for.

Exhibit A: http://techcrunch.com/2006/07/15/is-twttr-interesting/

Exhibit B: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_logo

Here's another example: the GoDaddy logo.


Many of the issues no-spec brings up (ie: mostly misleading the designer about potential reward) are not present on 99Designs and contest sites, as people knowingly compete in contests for exact terms up front, not for potential jobs.

The brands you mention are priceless, but the logo is not. Nike's logo was cheap as hell, for instance.

99Designs serves a completely different market, and I think the "How much is a F500 Company's brand worth?" argument HEAVILY confuses marketing, design, branding and advertising.

"brand equity of Apple, Coca-Cola, or Nike"

The last time I checked, Fortune 500 companies weren't shopping for logos on 99designs.

"They would simply be selling electronics, sugary water, and shoes if they didn't have design and marketing experts building and executing their brand"

We're talking about logo design for startups, not marketing strategy for large retail corporations. Apples and oranges.

"good design does require reasonable skill, training, and experience."

I absolutely agree. It takes a lot of skill to be a good designer.

You are confusing logos and brands. Branding is not something that can or should be rushed. A branding process includes so much more than just a logo, and can cost thousands or millions.

The best comparison might be a white plastic yard chair and a vintage leather Eames recliner with matching ottoman. You can sit on both chairs.

Apps are simply more valuable than logos, period.

It isn't too hard to make an app generator that pumps up generic apps in a similar way that icons can be made by slightly tweaking another preexisting icon.

The value with apps is much the same as it is with icons (or design, in general); in how unique and well thought out it is, how well it applies to what you need it for.

Did you have experience with this? Do you have any experience with logo competition and logo designers?

Except that in my experience good designers are already on 99designs as a way to generate sales leads for their own businesses.

I was just trying to say that there are talented graphic design students willing to do stuff for free to get the experience. Just go talk to some.

With the current economic climate today I think there are a lot of unemployed artists, especially the newly graduated who at the moment maybe at a dead end job, but would be willing to design a logo for the experience. I've gotten free work from artist many times. I am well connected so they may do it for me for a future gain, which I don't mind.

Furthermore, the strength of a brand and logo is dependent on how well you execute and meet the expectations of the customer. Nike, coke, etc are well know because they offer satisfying products that meets or exceeds the customers expectations. Kotler and Jagdesh Sheth both teach this. You can have the coolest logo in the world but your app, for example, sucks shit your logo means shit.

Oh yeah, web designers love when people ask for free work because they "love to do it anyway" or because its "good for their portfolio"


Or because it could result in more sales, if they do a job the customer likes? I would not do a big job for free, but I have often done small "sample"-type work, including logos and quick and dirty letterheads, for new businesses, in the hopes of more work when they grow to need it. (My design work was on paper, back in the 1990s, I haven't done any graphics design on computer, I'm not set up for it.)

Agreed! I have so many favorite career moments, but that definitely tops the list. The second being coming up with the entire concept of their site because they don't know what they want.

Ash does some simple and inexpensive logo design work - http://inkash.com/Print

that background... geocities?

Logo example #2 contains an MSPaint-style stick figure. Hrm.

Do you have a concept in mind or are you looking for the concept generation + design rendering?

Ping me, email in my profile.


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