Recently, I saw a post from a friend and professional colleague of mine, Marco Echevarria of Burn Creative, talking about requests from prospective clients who want their logo to be in the same style as another company. His example was the classic Drew Struzan Star Wars “A New Hope” poster with the type treatment in the same style as Google. Other than it looks completely ridiculous, it caused a well of emotion in me, and not the right kind.
I can understand where individuals think that if they try to align their brand, visually at least, with a successful company’s brand image that they will, by proxy, also connote success. Companies like Google, Apple, and Target are successful for a variety of reasons, but much of it can be boiled down to a few key elements; hard work, innovation, and luck. Their brand identity was developed over a course of time and through smart design and communication, their brand reputation became established and recognizable. In essence, they didn’t take an easy route to build their brand identity.
Now there are several reasons professional designers won’t do work that closely clones another brand. First, it comes off as uninspired and lazy. Mind you, there are a lot of “designers” out there that will do just that and they may tweak just enough of the details to have it appear as their own work. These aren’t professionals; these are “toolers”, someone who is just good at using software and trying to pass off their abilities as a professional designer. The proliferation of easy graphic solutions like Fiverr, 99Designs, and Elance have lowered the bar in terms of quality and raised unreasonable expectations of service for the creative industry. It’s easy to say to that you won’t touch clients who use these services, but that simply helps to proliferate bad design avenues. A smart designer effectively communicates their value and knowledge as an investment into the client’s brand.
Another reason a professional designer won’t work in this fashion is that it borders on trademark infringement. This differs from copyright infringement. Fundamentally, a copyright is conferred to a literary, artistic or musical material and with rights on how to use those properties. A logo may have a copyright, but more often than not, it is under the protection of a trademark. A good example is to look up Star Wars and then go look up Tar Wars. Carte blanche, this is eerily close to trademark infringement, but when you look at the logos, you will see that they are two totally different brands. If Tar Wars were to try to utilize that same iconic type treatment, they would be infringing upon Lucasfilm’s trademark and possibly a copyright infringement as well as that logo has transcended its original use and is a standalone piece of artwork in its own right. A smart designer will educate a client on this danger. Recently, I had seen a “company” using the Factory Records logo (of Joy Division fame) using this brand identity completely unaltered and positing it as their own work. After a kindly letter from me informing them that Peter Saville would probably be very unhappy with them using this mark without his permission, quickly and quietly disappeared.
The issue really comes down to education. Companies want success, but they often don’t understand the importance of effective, meaningful design. Design is often relegated to being a veneer; the layer of presentation meant to look pretty. That notion is proliferated by those same cheap design solutions previously mentioned. Clients need to be educated on how to see design as an investment into the brand communication and marketing strategy, and that job falls squarely on the designer. A great designer will see past the project at hand and ask the right questions that will, in the end, help the client build effective communication avenues with the right message and visuals. I’ve seen it happen many times during prospective meetings. I’ll ask you questions about your brand, your industry, how you differentiate from your competitors, what your values are and how do you plan on implementing all of your communication avenues, and how they all work together. Sometimes these clients know all of this and they just need a specific job of the designer, other times they will start to think about these questions and it becomes apparent that the designer is thinking holistically and in a connected fashion, and the project scope could change. That is the value of a great designer, and one well worth the investment in their services.