By virtue of its nature as an intangible, digital product a logo is quite a lot easier to have made using ethical principles than some a physical product.

Obviously there is always the possibility that, in the design world, you could run into intellectual property problems – if, for example, your logo resembles one of a major company. So whatever you do, ensure the individual or company you use to create your logo has a good reputation – and you run the final product past some people you know for feedback before you spent any money marketing it.

At the very least, you will hopefully be able to avoid the kind of mishap that very almost befell ‘Pure Lano’ – one of the investments Marcus Lemonis made recently on his show ‘The Profit’. The owner of the business had, on her own initiative, undertaken a complete rebrand and had finalized the new logo before inviting Marcus into get his views.

The first thing he noticed? An uncanny resemblance to a particular symbol, used throughout modern history as a symbol of hate, bigotry, intolerance and, well, mass murder:

original lano logo

I think you’ll agree the version they eventually settled on is a vast improvement, if only for the optics of not being associated with the Nazis.

pure lano logo

In this case, it was a complete accident and proof positive that you really need to get outside views on your logo before you print it on anything!

Other than that, though, from an ethical standpoint the crux of the issue is ensuring your logo designer is paid reasonably for the work they do.

Crowdsourced Designs

In the past, I’ve said that I am skeptical of some of the models for design companies out there – in particular, the kind of model that 99 Designs has popularized. The way it works is that you, the buyer, post up a design project brief, which is then ‘bid’ upon by the thousands of designers on the platform.

I’m going to talk specifically about 99 Designs here, as they’re by far the biggest and most prominent company that adopts this kind of model.

So on 99 Designs there are set prices for items, which are very generous indeed if you’re a designer from a developing country.

In the case of a logo, you pay $299 as a minimum. In exchange for this amount of money, you get around 30 design concepts for your logo, from the same number of designers. You then choose which you like the best and work with them to refine it to your final version. The designer gets paid decently for their work – and everyone’s happy.

Actually, the waters get a little muddier here, because while $299 is the amount you pay, the designer only gets a proportion of that. The exact amount is opaque – not available on their website – but empirically it seems it’s about 2/3 of that – or $200.

And what about the other 29 designers? Well, they leave empty-handed. Which is the main problem that I have with the marketplace; I am all about giving the job to the most talented, able designer who is best able to articulate your vision. No problem with that. However, more fundamentally I am against the concept of working for free. And when you expect 30 people to work for free, each with an only three per cent chance of getting paid anything (approximately the same odds of spinning up a single number on a roulette wheel), that starts to smell a bit like exploitation.

Because if you do eventually win a gig, you aren’t just getting paid for the logo you make, but for the immense amount of time you put into bidding for all the other projects that you didn’t get – and for which you received no feedback and no thanks. If the 2/3 amount is true, and I have no reason to believe it isn’t, it means that, on average, each designer can expect a return of $6.66 for each proposal (and then have to do all the work on the one they win as a bonus).

But then it actually gets worse than this, because the designers are encouraged to submit multiple iterations of designs, as the poster of the job progressively reduces the number of prospective designers, round by round, iteration by iteration, as though in some kind of sick ‘The Bachelor’-esque reality TV show, until there is only one left.

And there are no prizes for second place.

Well, you might say: “If they’re getting such a bad deal, why do they still want to do it?”

It’s a good question. Firstly, I would respond simply that people do some pretty embarrassing things for money.

But secondly, I would say that just because people are willing to accept scraps for the work they do, that it’s ok to pay them scraps. We’ve written extensively on this topic elsewhere, so I won’t go an about it too much.

You might also point out that the 99 Designs marketplace is a meritocracy, within which ‘better’ designers can climb the value ladder, to the point where they are competing for more valuable jobs; in the case of a logo, up to $1199. To that, I would say, firstly, that twice as many designs are submitted for these jobs; on average, it will take 60 applications – 60 unique, unpaid, designs submitted – in order to win just one. Assuming the same 66% rate of pay, this equates to about $13 per submission. At the highest level, one can imagine each submission would take a significantly longer amount of time.

Secondly; the figures aren’t really the point.

The point is that marketplaces like this tend to benefit the few at the expense of the many – and that is the antithesis of a meritocracy. When you have the luxury of choice, the potential to have dozens of minions working for you for free; you have all the power. A marketplace like 99 Designs, and in a not dissimilar way, UpWork, leaves the door to exploitation wide open.

In the case of 99 Designs, there is the possibility that a person posting a job might use the freely sourced design concepts for their own purposes, without ever paying the artist. Perhaps they really like three designs; well, they can choose one but they can’t unsee the other two. If they are even a little bit unscrupulous, they could later get those worked on for much less money, without any credit to the original designer. If they were a pragmatist, they might think that they’re entitled to do so; after all, they paid their fee to see those designs.

The worst part of this, which I hadn’t realized until I commenced my research, is that unless expressly specified by the customer, there is no guarantee they will even award the job at all, even after revisions have been made.

99 Designs markets the ‘guaranteed payment’ to its designers as a way for them to have more confidence in its system – and it works. Jobs with ‘guaranteed payment’ do receive more applicants, which in turn makes it even more difficult for those competing to land the gig. And the rest are battling it out for money that may, or may not, come – depending on the whim of the customer and their impression of the free designs they receive.

This system doesn’t sit too well with me.

It isn’t just these factors that worry me, either – it also seems like other parts of their business model are skewed in the favor of anyone but the designers. For example, they also host a ‘fixed price marketplace’, whereby designers can post up pre-made designs for sale. When a design sells, the designer receives a commission of the sale amount.

The amount of commission varies depending on the number of sales made, from 30% on the first sale, to 50% above 25 sales. Putting aside the ethics of paying an artist only 30% of the sale price of their work, my issue is with the mechanism by which the commission raises to each new tier. That is to say, it doesn’t. It doesn’t, unless the artist actively monitors the number of sales they’re making and emails 99 Designs to request they move up the commission schedule.

That is extremely 1990. It clearly creates more work for not only the designer, but also for 99 Designs themselves, so why do they do it? It’s possible for a cynic on the outside, looking in, to say that it seems a bit opportunistic – maybe an easy and sneaky way to make more money, when they could so easily implement a system to handle the commissions for them.

So in that regard, I’m not a fan of their attitude. I understand and appreciate that their success as a business relies upon the satisfaction of their designers, and that they have invested significantly in supporting them in the marketplace, but to my mind their efforts have not gone nearly far enough in redressing the chronic power balance between the customers and the designers.

I didn’t set out to write a one-sided post, so notwithstanding these factors I do believe there are positives to the 99 Designs business model for designers. It gives them the flexibility to bid for work when it suits them, to reach a larger audience and to earn some passive income from set designs (even if it is only thirty per cent).

Indeed, there are those that rave about it.

It does designers get exposure and it does help them earn money, no doubt. But on the other side of the coin, I share a quote from Ewan Leith, who used the service for his logo:

5 days later I had my new company logo, which I’m happy with, but at the same time I had a bad feeling in my stomach about it.

I’d received 154 entries from 45 designers, and supplied feedback to dozens of people, but along the way I got overwhelmed by the responses, failed to respond with enough information and guidance, and in the end, I think I just happened to get lucky with my logo.

There are dozens of entries which deserved a response, but didn’t get one, and plenty of people who got a few words of response which didn’t help them improve the logo in the slightest.

He paid his money, he got the logo he wanted, but in the 99 Designs universe, the other 153 designs he received are consigned to the garbage can of history. Those represent many accumulated hours of real people doing real work, for which they received absolutely nothing; in many cases, not even a response.

I can’t reconcile that, which is why I will never be able to use 99 Designs.

Fiverr

Fiverr is a ‘gig’ marketplace where sellers offer to do things – and there is a huge variety of things available – in return for a payment, which in the beginning was a flat $5, but in recent times has shifted upmarket as well, with some sellers offering gigs up into the tens or hundreds of dollars.

In general, on Fiverr it’s reasonable to say that you get what you pay for. If you’re paying $5 for a logo, then you will get $5 worth of work.

Prima facie, there is nothing wrong with that. If the seller is in a poorer country with a low cost of living, then spending an hour to earn $5 could be an extremely attractive proposition. And since the marketplace shifted the 10% commission for the website from the contractor to the buyer (by adding it to the gig price), they are keeping more money than before. This is a refreshing change that sets them apart from Upwork, which recently shifted the onus of paying the commission onto their workers, from the employers.

However, like the other freelancing marketplaces, like 99 Designs and UpWork, Fiverr does put a great deal of power into the hands of buyers. And ironically, because the gigs are so cheap, it can seem that buyers expect more. It’s counter-intuitive, but I suppose at the thriftier end of the scale, customers carry greater expectations of value. So when a seller lists a logo design gig, for example, they may demand several revisions to get the logo perfect – but pay nothing extra to the designer.

When commitments are open-ended like that, it can create difficulties for the designer, who is left with the choice whether to continue to work for free, or simply cut their losses and provide a refund. In essence, it places all the risk of the customer’s specific taste onto the designer, which isn’t fair when you’re taking about a $5 gig.

The bottom line is this: if any work at all is delivered, you need to pay the $5. Even if it isn’t what you expect, that’s often going to be your fault, not the designer’s. It is not fair that they should bear the burden for your failure to communicate.

We have used Fiverr in the past for logo design and many other things; it is a marketplace that works very well. When we have used it, we have always done so in keeping with our own principles of fairness. For example, we have never requested a refund for work we deemed inadequate. We would always write that off as a cost of doing business.

In recent times, for logo design (including for the Fair Marketeers logo) we have tried to simulate our own mini 99 Designs – commissioning several different designers to come up with concepts, before working with one to finalize it. The only difference is that, in our case, each of the designers was paid to come up with the concept, and then we paid the winner more, ultimately, to finesse the final design.

What we like about Fiverr is that it’s quite clear from the outset what each job is worth – it may only be $5, but that is a floor (many gigs end up being worth more) most of the jobs are small, enabling a seller to do them in a brief amount of time.

What we don’t like about it is that it does leave room for unscrupulous activity. It is possible for a seller to take completed work and then request a refund on the basis that they aren’t ‘satisfied’ with it. Similarly, it is possible for them to lightly extort more work from designers through an unreasonable number of revisions.

So I guess our bottom line is this: Fiverr can be a highly empowering marketplace, but it relies on the buyers being reasonable and keeping realistic expectations. If you feel like maybe you’re asking too much for your $5, hand over some more money – it won’t kill you, but it will make all the difference for them. Tips are welcome throughout the marketplace.

Also, don’t forget to leave good feedback for a job well done.

UpWork

Freelancer sites like UpWork, People Per Hour and Freelancer.com provide platform the sale of a huge range of services including, of course, design.

If you’re unfamiliar with how these sites work, in the case of a logo design you post up your job specifications and people apply directly to you. Each of the designers has a profile and an hourly rate, upon which they will base their bid for your job.

Whether you want to make the job hourly or a fixed rate is up to you, but if you elect for a fixed rate you need to be careful to overstate the amount a bit, to allow for the inevitable to-and-fro with the design concepts and finalization. You’re unlikely to get the ideal design straight away and you don’t want to annoy your designer with unfair ‘scope creep’; that is, the size of the job increasing over time.

Our recommendation would be to elect for a ‘per hour’ job, with an overall budget in mind. Quote your budget in your job ad as well, so that anyone applying for your job understands how much work you expect will be involved. And leave a little bit of padding if the scope increases slightly.

For instance, you might want to spend a maximum of $100 on your logo. You have decided you’d like a low-to-mid-range designer at around $10 per hour. Eight hours is a reasonable amount of time to spend on a logo, so you might post a job with those specifications:

– Approx $10 an hour

– Total budget of $80

This leaves $20 in reserve if, as you approach your 8 hour limit, you still require some last minute fixes.

As with most things in life, as you move up the value change you might find that the designers have more experience and ability, so the mere fact that you are opting for a lower per hour rate does not necessarily mean that you will pay less overall.

And as always, remember that whatever amount you’re paying, ten per cent of the total goes to Upwork. If you want the designer to receive the full amount you need to add eleven per cent to the amount you pay.

Logo Design Websites

There is a huge number of specialist logo design shops out there, with names like: “20 Dollar Logo.com” or “19 Dollar Logo.com”. For a set amount of money, they say, you will receive a professional logo.

There are a few reasons to be concerned about these kinds of outfits. First, you don’t know who is making the logo or how much they’re being paid. It’s highly likely that the work you’re paying $20 for is simply being forwarded to a designer on Fiverr for $5, with the middleman pocketing the difference.

Secondly, read the terms and conditions. Often, they provide no revision service, so if you don’t like the first concept they give you, they expect another $20 to continue the job.

19 Dollar Logos justify this by saying things like: “The more revisions you make, the less professional the result is.”

If you’re happy to put the image of your brand in someone else’s hands entirely, then this is a fine option. If you’d like some input in the development of your logo, steer clear.

What’s the Wash-Up?

Just treat people well. The mere fact that somebody is willing to work for free doesn’t justify actually making them do it. Logos don’t have to be expensive but just don’t forget they’re made by real people.