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More often than not, you get what you pay for

An example of the common tabloid response to design work.

Irish Water (who spent €50,000,000 on consultants in 2013 — but that’s another story) hires Dublin-based Zero-G to create a new brand identity. The Daily Mail reports the fee as “€20,000 — €5,000 per word.”

Irish Water logo by Zero-G
Photo credit: Laura Hutton, Photocall Ireland

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) gets wind of the story and thinks Irish Water spent too much on the design, then offers an alternative.

“We decided to use a cost effective micro-job website to pay an online seller to create a logo for Irish Water.

“This cost a reasonable $5 which was donated by a member of our staff. All we had to do was upload some brand specifications and wait seven days for our logo. It took all of ten minutes.”

Irish Water logo clipart

But the alternative turns out to be royalty-free clipart downloaded from a stock website, which if used would inevitably lead to copyright infringement.

Water clipart

A five second Google search finds the same icon in another company logo (albeit botched).

Fair play to DIT students Emma Grattan and Derek Doyle who wrote an open letter asking the USI to stop belittling the profession they’re studying to enter.

“Your response to the current debate around the value and status of the design profession in Ireland represents the kind of cheap race to the bottom that undercuts the value and worth of good design. It not only demonstrates a lack of familiarity on your part as to what is involved in the process of design but, much more alarmingly, it exposes a lack of awareness as to the breadth of courses whose students you represent.”

As is often the case with tabloid stories, the focus is on two things: the money, and the logo.

And inevitably, there’ll be non-designers who think identity design shouldn’t cost more than a beer, there’ll be publicly-funded companies who are reluctant to hire reputable designers for fear of a backlash, and we see more clipart as logos, more cases of copyright infringement.

The €20K payment to Zero-G “included complete branding for all sections of the semi-state company, not just the logo.” But it’s details like those that don’t sell as many newspapers or get as many clicks.

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18 comments about “More often than not, you get what you pay for”

  1. This is SO frustrating to read about over and over again. Busy body people who have no concept of what kind of work goes into a project like this, undermine the whole process (and results) with an ill-conceived stunt, purely based on what it costs.

    They obviously don’t realize that the sum is not just for the logo design itself, but the meetings, the layers of approvals, the many opinions being offered, the application considerations, the preparation of artwork, and of all things, the time it takes to design not just a logo, but the entire identity for an organization like this. They don’t know what they don’t know.

    Although the logo design shown ain’t real sexy, no one outside of the firm and the client really know how the whole process went and who/what was involved. Sometimes the results are magical, and sometimes they aren’t – just like any other project or profession.

    Welcome to the real world.

  2. I will never forget Paula Scher’s response to why someone should spend money on her work… “It took me a few seconds to draw it. But it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds.”

    Would you ask a hedge fund manager to charge less because he can make you money quicker? It doesn’t even sound right.

  3. This is frustrating indeed. I hear from a lot of people in this profession that they more and more have to explain why a logo costs more than let’s say 250 dollars. Sad thing is, the designers starting out have to explain themselves the most when they ask anything beyong the ‘logo design contests’ price, because these contests are the first thing the client sees or hears about. And thus this sets the price standard in the customer’s mind.

  4. The Union of Students of Ireland’s response to Emma and Derek here on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/notes/union-of-students-in-ireland-usi/response-on-irish-water-open-letter-on-journalie/10151992291414821?comment_id=29007470&notif_t=like

    I’m proud the stance my students have taken on this issue. Very proud. It’s great to see a mature and measured response from the future of our profession.

  5. What a crazy story! Very frustrating. What many people fail to understand about a logo/identity and brand development is that there is a lot of strategic discussions that back the decisions behind what is shown in a logo and identity system. To everyone’s point, there are a lot of steps involved. I’m baffled by those who seek out competition for a logo design and yet have no idea whether the selected logo was copyrighted (since they have no idea who designed it). Thank you for posting this!

  6. The title says it all, really. You don’t go to a tailor and offer some beer for a suit, or say “come on, mate, all you do is sew a bit.”

    Those involved in brand identity design don’t just come up with pretty pictures, they also offer a lot of practical marketing and promotion advice, with accompanying materials. For that, they deserve to be paid well, in line with the skills and expertise they bring to the project.

    Fifty pounds won’t get you a bespoke suit from Savile Row, and neither will it get you a strong brand identity.

  7. Hold on, they spent €50m on consultants?

    That means this logo must obviously be going on a WATER-FUELED ORBITING LASER SPACE-ORB.

    That is a logo worth paying for.

  8. Oh isn’t the USI clever? A logo for a whole FIVE dollars. Unsurprisingly, the official graphic is miles better anyway.

  9. Whenever I see public sector agencies and companies hiring design services, I’m always curious as to what, if anything, was the role of the in-house team. Surely a nation-wide agency has it’s own people, no? As one who has worked in-house many times over the years, anything like this that doesn’t even mention the in-house team seems fishy. Seems like the bosses skipped right over their own resources to go directly to a golf buddy’s firm.

  10. Interesting post, I definitely agree that you get what you pay for!

  11. The Student’s Union apologizes: http://usi.ie/statement/apology_design_students/

  12. Such a disappointing thing to read. This is a prime example of how many people try to cut corners and end up running into a dead end.

  13. Very interesting read. There is such a disparity in design prices from the $20 online logo to the multi thousand pound fees that big agencies charge.

    The problem is that the people who commission design have no real insight to its value. With most things a fair fee seems logical – you are paying for the designers expertise and insight not just a digital file at the end of the day.

  14. Hahahah, this is so much fun! I don’t even know which side of the story is funnier – the company paying 50m for the logo (that is more than Red Bull Stratos costs if I remember correctly) or the idea of becoming the hero of the day by buying a pic from shutterstock (e.g.). Really amusing :).

  15. Read it again Jamie.

    Irish Water paid €50million in consultants fees, not for design. The company is exempt from the Freedom of Information act (this is being changed) and won’t give a breakdown to where that €50million of taxpayer’s money has been spent. Most of which has gone to companies like IBM, Accenture and Ernst & Young, and salaries and bonuses to the top executives – Bearing in mind Irish Water have yet to officially start trading and won’t be billing their ‘customers’ until January 2015.

    The brand identity fees are the only fees which have been published, which are not exorbitant, and are a drop in the ocean compared to what the other companies charged.

  16. That’s why it’s important to find out whether it’s a paying project. Now that the obvious is spelt out — generic clipart elements in the logo mathematically increase the probability of a “copied” feeling — we hope the freebie genre understand what else is involved in creating logos.

    It’s an iterative process. After a few $5-$10 gigs, people realize they need real money in the real world, to pay real bills. Then the wake up will happen. Interestingly I think the clothes and jewellery industries have withstood the test of time. People actually fork out $500 for a good set of clothes, even when we point out the obvious — all clothes are marked up at least five times. Wonder when the rest of the design industry gets that status. Maybe a celebrity endorsement is called for.

  17. What a great illustration of how design process and standards have changed. Obviously the price tag is steep, but at least the logo they got will serve them well. The $5 logo is laughable. I fear there may come a day when no one will know the difference. Sigh.

  18. Everyone learns this at one point in their life. Buy cheap, buy twice.

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