A few weeks ago, a stream of tweets went out within my network about LogoGarden, the latest cheap logo design DIY site to pop up on the internet. What really drew my attention is the fact that many well-known graphic designers were finding logos that they had designed for sell on the site as icons. While the poaching of logos isn’t something new, the audacity with which LogoGarden repurposed some of the best examples of logo design from some of the most respected designers in the niche is. I spent a few hours thoroughly searching the site to make sure that none of my work had been stolen, and I was fortunate enough that it wasn’t. However, many of my friends, heroes and some of both weren’t so lucky. Jeff Fisher of Jeff Fisher Logomotives documented on his blog 20 of his creations that were being sold on the site as LogoGarden originals.
It’s disheartening to discover that John Williams, the founder of LogoGarden, is supposedly a leading logo design expert, who served as Entrepreneur.com’s branding columnist for five years. If he’s truly an expert then he would have a deep understanding of the strategy and client collaboration involved in developing a successful logo. Williams doesn’t even demonstrate a basic understanding of the keys to effective logo design — flexilibity, memorability, differentiation and timelessness. How do you differentiate yourself when you give everyone the same off-the-shelf options for their logos pared with a handful of fonts that aren’t designed with the logomark in mind? If Williams is an expert on logo design because he’s found a way to capitalize on other people’s creations, then I can honestly say that I’m an expert on fashion design in that I’ve sold used clothes in a garage sale. He is, in fact, an expert in finding a vulnerable market and exploiting the consumers and workers for his own profit.
The design community has done an excellent job of bringing the debacle to the attention of fellow designers, but we really need to spread the word to the client base of LogoGarden to discredit the founder, John Williams. I’ve taken time to search out any articles that John Williams has written for small business owners and start ups, and I’ve left comments warning readers about the dangers of LogoGarden. Many business owners may not be aware of the legalities associated with logo trademarks, and the best thing for us to do as designers is to educate them.
I also sent an email to John Williams through the LogoGarden site, and I was surprised when I received a response. Here’s his response in it’s entirety which looks to be a canned response sent to several designers.
“First, I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. To build our vast symbol library, LogoGarden.com contracts with designers nationwide and from around the world. Many of the symbols in question came from a small number of these designers.
If any of these symbols do indeed violate copyright laws, our policy is to extract them from our online symbol library immediately and to terminate contracts with the designers who submitted them. As a business practice, all the designers we contracted with signed a “work for hire” contract that guaranteed their work would be original.
Given the library’s size, although we do our best to ensure originality of our artwork, we can’t catch everything. And while sometimes a design conflict may be obvious, other times it’s a judgment call. We do our best.
We ourselves have issues with our logo symbols being copied, so we appreciate your concern and vigilance. In the future, if you find any symbols that you feel violate artwork you’ve designed and copyrighted personally, let us know.
Thanks for your understanding,
While I give him a little bit of credit for responding, I don’t agree with most of the email. In particular, I don’t see much evidence that the staff of LogoGarden scans any of the logomarks for copyright infringement. I understand that Williams and his staff can’t possibly know every logo design that is trademarked, but I do find it revealing that the World Wildlife Fund panda and the Time Warner eye are included as options. Both logomarks are highly recognizable inside and outside the industries that they represent. Also, the fact that they have their logos copied is laughable at best. Does that make those a third generation copy?
The response only opened further questions for me. Who is qualifying the logo designers that Williams is using? As I business owner, I know I wouldn’t just hire anyone because they can produce what I’m selling. Interviewing, references and a resume would be only a few of the crucial steps I would use to hire designers to represent my business. What happens to the stolen property that’s been sold through the site? While it’s great that he’s removing the copyrighted material, LogoGarden should also be responsible for contacting any businesses that have purchased the stolen material offering a full refund, and taking care of any legal fees associated with the use of the trademarked property for both the purchaser and the designer that created the original work. I would also question how upfront LogoGarden is about the fact that business owners won’t be able to protect themselves with a trademark from their DIY logo creation. Many of the icons are listed in multiple categories, and from what I can tell are not removed when a client purchases that symbol. To put this into perspective, your logo will not be unique. Hundreds of other companies can use the same icon for their company, and hundreds of companies will. Instead it looks like LogoGarden maintains the copyright to your icon, which is not how you want to start your business.
DIY logo sites sound like a great idea for the start-up business on the shoestring budget, especially with costs as low as $79, but the cost to effectively use a poorly designed logo backed by no strategy can put a company out of business in the long run. It’s important to realize that a logo is an investment in the long-term health of your overall brand rather than an item you check off of your brand grocery list. Working with a designer to develop a logo to take you through the first 5-10 years of your company’s life has a much higher value at a much lower cost.
The best thing that we can do as designers is educate our clients and prospects on the dangers of sites like LogoGarden, and to continue making as much noise about the issue as we can in the most professional way.
Other Posts Regarding LogoGarden (via Jeff Fisher)
• What is the liability of using stolen property for your business?; You get the idea, by Roland Murillo of Murillo Design [08.17.11]
• AIGA ACTION ALERT: Check LogoGarden for identity work stolen from you; from Richard Grefé, AIGA Executive Director, AIGA [08.19.11]
• AIGA Launches Action Alert for Design Theft by ‘Logo Garden’ Site; by Steve Delahoyde of UnBeige [08.22.11]