The $5 Logo
We recently published our Startup’s Guide to Budget Design, where we examined different design options at different price points.
In passing, the guide mentioned Fiverr, a marketplace where design services start at $5.
I made the point that $5 seemed ridiculously low for any kind of design service, but I was corrected in the comments by Jean Bauhaus:
There are a lot of misconceptions about Fiverr — the first being that everything there only costs $5.
The truth is that advance sellers are able to charge much, much more for their work through add-ons and gig multiples. As such, Fiverr has become an attractive selling-ground for some top notch talent.
That got me curious. Had I been too quick to judge? Was Fiverr a valid option for design work after all?
There was only one way to find out: pose as a company, and hire one of their designers myself. And best of all, it would only cost me $5.
So read on for an epic tale of lies, deception, stolen work, and crappy logos.
This article is fairly long, so here’s a table of contents to help you navigate it:
Commercial break: Folyo helps you find premium, hand-picked freelance designers. It costs a lot more than $5, but — hopefully — the results are worth it!
My plan was simple: I would go undercover as a startup entrepreneur who needs a logo, and see what kind of results I’d get.
First, I needed a pretend company and a pretend name. It had to be generic enough to be representative of most startups, yet specific enough to make it possible to come up with a decent logo.
I came up with SkyStats, a service that provides analytics for travel sites. From the name alone, you can already imagine all the possibilities: clouds, bar graphs, planes…
My fake startup might not get bought out by fake-Google, but at least it would get a real fake-logo!
Finding A Designer
It was now time to find a designer. I headed to Fiverr and started browsing profiles under the "logo design" category:
Now to be fair, some of these services do seem like they should only cost $5. For example, “display your logo or name via colorful cups” basically entails applying a Photoshop action to an image, literally a one-click operation.
I did find a promising logo designer with an impressive portfolio though:
But curiously, I noticed a sharp drop-off in quality and polish a few slides into their portfolio:
I also noticed that the first few higher-quality slides of the carousel didn’t feature a testimonial, along with the “Real Sample” mention. What was going on?
Bait And Switch
One plausible explanation would be that the first few slides featured previous projects done by the same designer but for a lot more than $5.
A few seconds of Googling showed that this wasn’t the case. First, I found the original author of the Lammtara logo, Ameer Magdy:
I then quickly located the author of the Luxstuff logo, Alex Tass:
(Protip: if you’re going to appropriate someone else’s work, at least change the company name…)
Now you could argue that the logos featured in the Fiverr profile are just generic examples of logo design, and not meant to be taken as belonging to the designer. But that would be a stretch, to say the least.
So right away, we’ve seen that some designers are not above passing other’s work as their own. And if you’re a client, it pays to be careful and dig deeper when you see something that seems to good to be true.
It would take more than a little duplicity to deter me, though. I was determined to see this experiment through. I didn’t want to reward bad behavior, so I started looking for another designer that didn’t try and pull a fast one on clients.
I soon realized however that adding a “cover page” of other people’s logos (see the Plavero logo) was common practice on Fiverr:
So after discarding a few more profiles, I finally settled on depthmixed, a designer from Jakarta that was professional enough to only featured his own work:
Now the first thing I noticed is that you don’t actually get a usable, workable logo for $5. If you want the copyright or source files of your own logo, you’ll have to pay a little more than that:
That was to be expected. And after all, even $65 is still amazingly cheap for a logo. Still, my goal was to see what I could get for $5, so I wasn’t going to check any of these options. I ordered, paid with PayPal, and then sent the following brief:
We’re SkyStats, a two-man startup based in Boston and Tokyo. We’re building an analytics dashboard for travel sites (such as Expedia or Kayak) to help them track visitors, sales, and bookings.
We need a new logo for our upcoming marketing site. We’re looking for something clean and modern that communicates what we do. Maybe featuring a plane or cloud to represent travel?
Hedging My Bets
A sample size of one was a little low, so I decided to send the same brief to two more designers. Also, I have to admit that at this point I was just curious to see what people would come up with. It turns out hiring people to do you bidding for only $5 is kind of addictive.
I settled on design_expert as the second-in-command of my growing designer army:
And I finally picked sk_virtuoso to round out the group:
With my three orders placed, all that was left to do was wait for replies to come in.
You Can’t Beat Free
In the meantime, I decided to keep myself busy by exploring other options.
If you’re going to spend as little as possible on your logo, you might as well get it for free using something like SquareSpace’s logo design tool.
For example, here’s what I whipped up in 5 minutes:
Note that for this low, low price of $0 you can only save a low-res, watermarked version (the high-res one costs $10).Protip: take a screenshot of the logo on your screen instead.
And you don’t even technically get a “logo”, since the icons used by SquareSpace are stock icons from The Noun Project. You won’t own the rights to your mark, meaning that another company could come along and reuse the same exact icon for their logo and there’s not much you could do.
The live-updating business card, website, and t-shirt mockups are a nice touch though, and might help get a feel for what kind of “logo” you want.
I ended up waiting quite a while, and it wasn’t until 8 days later that I received my first result, from sk_virtuoso.
Sk_virtuoso actually sent me two variations, which was an unexpected bonus (and quite a bit of work to do for $5). Here they are:
Note that the grey gradient background would make the logo unusable in any practical way unless you first extracted it yourself. This could just be an oversight on the designer’s part, or it could also be a tactic to push clients to take the higher-priced option and get the source files.
The first logo is definitely not very good. Leaving aside the dubious color choices (here’s a tip: unless you’re UPS, stay away from brownish colors for your logo) and weird gradients, the feeling just isn’t right. This feels more like the logo for a local airline’s in-flight magazine than a trendy, modern tech company.
The second logo is much better. The mark is a little random, but does have nice flowing curves. It’s too bad that even though the type color is on point (sky = blue, no need to over-complicate things), it lacks personality and suffers from poor kerning.
One day later, I received design_expert‘s submission:
Like the previous logo, this one features a black background that might look good, but makes extracting and reusing the logo much harder.
Speaking of extracting an image, the mark in the logo features obvious white artifacts that are probably an indication that it was (badly) lifted from somewhere else using a tool like Photoshop’s magic wand.
The plane graphic’s muddled curves are also a hint that it might have been automatically vectorized using a service such as VectorMagic, because it’s hard to imagine drawing a plane like this on purpose.
Given my doubts, I decided to ask for a modification along with a confirmation that this logo wasn’t a copy:
I really like the logo, but there are small white marks next to the airplane, so it looks like maybe the airplane was copy-pasted from somewhere else? Is this the case? I won’t be able to use this as a logo if it’s not original artwork…
I got a reply from design_expert only a couple hours later assuring me the logo was “100% own drawing for you no copy paste”, along with a copy of the image devoid of artifacts:
Independently of the end result, I can only appreciate design_expert’s responsiveness. For $5 I myself wouldn’t even reply to emails, let alone send along a second iteration.
The logo is pretty decent (at least considering the price range) and appropriate for a travel company: the airplane mark looks dynamic and appropriately enterprise-y, but is marred by poor execution with its lumpy curves and random gaps.
On the positive side, the colors make sense (you can’t go wrong with orange and blue, as Hollywood knows well), and the wordmark looks good too, with tight kerning and nice italic bold type that recalls the plane’s angle.
Altogether, I could see this being the logo of an actual, real-world company. Which, given my doubts about copy-pasting, it very well might be.
I had given up on ever receiving Depthmixed’s submission (and was getting ready to publish this blog post without it) when I finally received a notification that the task had been completed, a full 14 days after the hire.
But the wait was worth it, as Depthmixed surprised me with by far the best effort yet.
Not only did he submit two logos, but unlike the other designers he also provided large, transparent-background PNGs instead of unusable, low-quality exports.
What’s more, his two logos were actually quite good:
The brief mentioned wanting something “clean and modern”. Sure, that doesn’t really mean anything, but good designers know you often have to read past a client’s words and try to peer into their mind.
That mind-reading ability is the mark of an experienced designer, and it’s on full display here.
Unlike the previous two designers, Depthmixed was able to correctly identify the type of company he was working with (which is made even more impressive by the fact that it doesn’t, strictly speaking, exist), and come up with concepts that fit in well with the company’s image and audience.
The first logo featured the trendy “mobius strip” effect, in which you use gradients to simulate volume. That effect isn’t that hard to do, but it does require a bit of skill to make it look natural. And compared with Design_expert’s clunky plane, this is an Illustrator masterpiece.
The second logo combines a cloud and a line graph. The addition of the graph is nice, and something that was missing from the first one. I also like how part of the “K” stands out, creating a bracket shape that could easily be reused as an icon or design element throughout the site.
My only criticism is that both logos use the traditional (and somewhat over-used) cloud icon, when in fact our company has little to do with “The Cloud”. I did mention clouds in my brief, but like I said, you shouldn’t always listen to the client!
But of course, Depthmixed couldn’t know all that based on a single 10-line email. And that kind of deeper interaction is exactly what’s missing when you farm out your logo for $5.
Update: As some people have pointed out in the comments, Depthmixed’s concepts weren’t that original after all…
Throwing My Hat In The Ring
To have a point of comparison, I decided I’d try my own hand at creating a logo (I did this before seeing the submissions from the Fiverr designers, to avoid being influenced).
I started from the name of the company, “SkyStats”. My first approach was to interpret it quite literally, by trying to somehow fit in a plane (for the “sky” part) and a graph (for the “stats”) in a single icon.
I opened up the Symbolicons icon set in Illustrator and picked out a plane icon. Note that you can’t copyright someone else’s work as part of a logo, so using stock icons in a logo is a big no-no. But since I intended to modify the icon anyway, using it as a base was fine.
At first I thought my initial idea of replacing a plane wing by a bar graph was quite smart, but I soon realized the wing’s angle didn’t match the vertical graph at all:
A big part of the creative process consists of happy accidents. While playing around with the shapes, I realized that by superimposing the graph on top of the upper wing I could get a subtle shadow effect:
I decided to go with this concept. All that was left was to tweak the colors (you can’t go wrong with blue for a company with "sky" in its name) and add the company name.
I picked Avenir, one of the trendiest fonts these days, and echoed the logo’s colors in the text mark. Voilà, instant logo!
Now this isn’t the best logo ever, but when you’re competing with $5 logos and free logo builders, you can’t afford to get too picky. Even if people don’t get the shadow-as-plane-wing thing, the logo still looks decent and techy enough.
And unlike the SquareSpace logo, I actually can own the rights to this own logo, since it’s original artwork I created by myself.
Altogether, the whole process took about 25 minutes from start to finish. Not too bad, but still quite a lot of time if you’re only earning $5 for the whole thing.
So How Much Does A Logo Really Cost?
So how do you reconcile getting a logo for $5 to big companies or institutions regularly spending many hundred thousands dollars to get a new brand?
And on a more relatable level, what about designers who charge a few thousand dollars to create your identity? Are we just all getting scammed?
The truth is that many different services are all grouped under the word "logo". A good logo designer will spend weeks thinking about your company, your market, and your brand, sketching out different concepts, asking questions, before finally submitting a couple proposals.
So what you’re paying for is not just the final product, but also all the rejected concepts that tell you the idea you picked was the right one.
Logos, Brands, & Identities
What’s more, once you’ve picked a direction, a designer will spend even more time polishing the concept and building out a whole identity system that might include website and app mockups, business cards, social media avatars, and even favicons.
And that big agency that charges $200,000 for a logo does the same, except on a much larger scale that can also involve user research, focus groups, user testing, and coming up with designs for everything from truck liveries to storefronts.
Compared to all that, the little $5 logo seems humble indeed. But hey, we all need to start somewhere. And who knows, maybe you’ll luck out and get an iconic logo for only $35!
My Thoughts On Fiverr
It’s obvious to me now that the $5 promise of Fiverr is more of a marketing gimmick than a good deal. There’s no way you will get anything usable at that price, if only because all designers charge extra to provide their source files.
A lot of designers will argue that this kind of offering devalues logo design, but as far as I’m concerned it only devalues it in the sense that a $2 burger at a fast-food joint devalues a $35 kobe beef burger at an upscale steakhouse.
If what you want is the cheap burger, then get that. As long as you know what you’re getting for that price, then I don’t have a problem with it.
Drawing The Line
That being said, I strongly condemn the fact that Fiverr apparently sees nothing wrong with designers appropriating other people’s work. And not only do they tolerate it, they even directly profit from it since they feature these fake work samples prominently.
Based on that alone, I would discourage anybody from working with Fiverr and advise them to pick a more ethical company.
I emailed Fiverr to ask about this issue, but so far they haven’t replied. I’ll be sure to update this article if they ever get back to me.
Your Turn To Vote
So which logo would a real client have chosen? I could pick a winner, but I’m not exactly unbiased here. So this is where you come in.
Vote for your favorite logo, and then let me know in the comments how you made your choice!
To sum up, here are our seven logos again:
Quite a bit of time and money (OK, just $15…) went into writing this article. So if you enjoyed it and want me to write more, I would definitely appreciate you sharing it on your social network of choice using the buttons below. Thanks in advance!
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