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Cookie Cutter Design

November 22, 2010

I ran across an interesting website this past week. I know, you’d expect me to have provided the link in the last sentence, but I can’t bring myself to do it. (That’s a whole separate blog post.) In short, this website’s unique selling proposition is selling custom logo, stationery or website designs (i.e. WordPress) for a fixed rate.

So why is this unique? Okay, that’s not the whole story. Let me explain further: For each product they offer a basic, standard and deluxe price point. (There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m working on this premise myself to rollout in the near future.) For X dollars you get a few logo designs to choose from. For XX dollars, you get a whole lot more designs to choose from. And when I say, ‘ a whole lot more,’ I mean LOTS more. I actually had to look at their notes more than once because I thought the number of ‘drafts’ they were offering at each price point was crazy. What business owner or division head wants to review 50 or 80 different logo designs for one company or product line? Isn’t that too big a selection to manage?

My personal experience is that if I offer some clients too many logo design choices they become overwhelmed. It’s like shopping at IKEA or another big box story. Over-selection kills the ability to make choices. The brain cells just seem to shut down from intimidation; there’s simply too much information to evaluate for those little gray cells to manage.

A few more details: The premise of this company – and it is quite successful – is that you set up a ‘contest’ for the project. Set the price, or bid, and see what you get. It’s a bit like Priceline for graphic design. The more dollars you offer, in theory, the more design selection you will get – more designers will throw in their ideas, like bidding high on a great hotel room. Hit the right price point and more designers will compete for the job.

The good part of this is the customer may get some outstanding artwork for a reasonable price. The price offered stimulates the designers to produce their best work, knowing that they are competing with lots of talented designers to be awarded the prize – having their work selected for the job.

The bad part of this premise is that it seems like a scatter-shot approach to design. The customer writes up as much or as little about what they are looking for and posts it on the site, hoping a designer will be intrigued by the project and start cranking out logo or banner ad ideas.

But what if the customer’s verbiage is too vague. What if they’re not very good at articulating what they are after? Will there be an opportunity to hone the ideas? Or are the not-quite-close-enough concepts that are presented then discarded for not hitting the bull’s eye? The customer could end up with 80 ideas that are all wrong, that don’t meet the need.

From my point of view, I couldn’t work this way. Why? Because when I design a logo, a banner ad, a blog masthead banner, I’m always thinking years down the road – or at least a year or two. Does this artwork draw in the target market? Does this color scheme communicate the brand’s image? Is it too casual, too lighthearted? Or is it overly elegant or serious? These questions can only be answered for me in consultation with the client, honing the goals.

Only through repeated revisions and conversations with the client can I be certain that the image I’ve created is the most effective for the customer’s business goals – whether or not he or she has even thought of all the ways the artwork can be used. But I’m always envisioning how the artwork might look on roll-up trade show banners, shelf talkers, brochures, postcards and online.

I always want to be taking clean shots at the bull’s eye. And, as my friends and family will tell you, it isn’t always easy for me to hit the target on the first try. (Please don’t ask about my hand-eye coordination!) But I find little value at spraying shot within five feet of the target and hoping for the best. It just isn’t efficient use of my time or my client’s time.

From baking.cuisiprousa.com

I get their business model. It’s a bit like Logo-by-Cookie-Cutter-Design. (I thought this image was a perfect example of my point: You can stamp out lots of the same bunnies, cows and sheep. Then just paint them different colors to make them ‘unique!’) Statistically you put enough drafts out there and something will stick on the wall. But how much time have you lost in the process? How much do the drafts really look like hundreds of other designs in use by other businesses and products? – Just tweaked slightly differently to be ‘custom’ for you!?

Priceline works. Just ask William Shatner. Logo design by contest works too…for some. But here’s another example of why it doesn’t work for me: Cookie cutter design means there’s more of the same out there…somewhere. How ‘custom’ is that?

Labeled as "Cookie Cutter Homes in Shanghai"

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