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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,

John Williams,

President, LogoGarden.com”

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)

The perils of do-it-yourself logo makers; The Logo Factor Design Blog – by Steve Douglas of The Logo Factory [08.15.11]

Thoughts on the Logo Garden controversy; by Dani Nordin [08.15.11]

Logo Garden Sells Logos it doesn’t Own; In Brief: August Miscellany – Brand New [08.15.11]

DIY, Crowd Sourcing or Piracy – You be the Judge; Drawing Conclusions – Prejean Creative [08.15.11]

Grand Theft Logo; Northwest Indiana Creative – by Judith Mayer of Keyword Design [08.16.11]

WWF panda for just $69; by David Airey of Logo Design Love [08.16.11]

LogoGarden Should Be Plowed Under; Drawing Conclusions – Prejean Creative [08.16.11]

More Logo Thievery; by Scott Lewis of Iconify.it [08.16.11]

How low can they go?; by Cathy Fishel, LogoLounge.com [08.17.11]

What is the liability of using stolen property for your business?; You get the idea, by Roland Murillo of Murillo Design [08.17.11]

Charlatan, Huckster, Moron, Thief!; Love Thy Logo, by Bill Gardner, RockPaperInk [08.18.11]

How to get your logos removed from LogoGarden.com; Drawing Conclusions, by Brent Pelloquin of Prejean Creative [08.18.11]

Logo Garden’s bitter harvest; The Logo Factor Design Blog – by Steve Douglas of The Logo Factory [08.18.11]

AIGA ACTION ALERT: Check LogoGarden for identity work stolen from you; from Richard Grefé, AIGA Executive Director, AIGA [08.19.11]

LogoGarden Responds Regarding Stolen Logos; by Scott Lewis of Iconify.it [08.19.11]

The Rape of the Bear Logo; by Sean Adams, Burning Settlers Cabin [08.19.11]

Dubious Mother F****r Stealing Other People’s Logo Work and Reselling It; The Denver Egotist [08.19.11]

Official response from LogoGarden.com; Drawing Conclusions, by Brent Pelloquin of Prejean Creative [08.19.11]

Logo Design Trend: Blatant Fraud; ohTwentyone [08.19.11]

AIGA Launches Action Alert for Design Theft by ‘Logo Garden’ Site; by Steve Delahoyde of UnBeige [08.22.11]

Graphic Artists Guild: Advocacy Alerts: LogoGarden.com may be infringing your work.; Graphic Artists Guild [08.22.11]

Leggo My Logo; by Jaci Russo of The Russo Group [08.23.11]

LogoGarden: Copyright and Do-It-Yourself Logos; by Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today (PT) [08.25.11]

LogoGate 2011; by Von Glitschka, Drawsigner [08.26.11]

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2011 HOW Live Recap ChicagoI have to admit that I was a little concerned that I’d be disappointed going to the 2011 HOW Design Conference since it was my third consecutive year to go. I hadn’t planned my schedule of sessions ahead of time as I did for Denver and Austin. I wasn’t sure if that was due to the overwhelming amount of sessions offered at the four conferences, or if I had burnt myself out by going too often. The day before the conference I finally decided to nail down my schedule, which I never really stuck to. It forced me to experience the conference in a fresh way.

Get out of your comfort zone. Way out.

Several of the sessions that I attended involved a lot of interactivity from the audience. As uncomfortable as some of those sessions may have been, they proved to be the most memorable and rewarding. The opening keynote with Kristina Robbins and Jo McGinley had the audience doing design yoga, and being aware of how we interact with others. Sam Harrison, one of my favorite speakers from Denver, followed up with teaching us to play, explore and act silly to find inspiration the following morning. What’s not to love about throwing paper planes, pointing and screaming at complete strangers and sniffing Kool-Aid. Peleg Top began his session later that day, by not only forcing you to interact with a total stranger, but to actually brainstorm about your business with them. His session was terrifying and invigorating at the same time particular since it started with everyone laughing for a full minute while looking strangers in the eyes.

I would have loved to see less designers walking out of those sessions when forced to connect with a stranger, but sadly it happened at these three sessions more than any of the others that I attended. I completely understand how intimidating it is to have a conversation with someone you’ve never met, but every time I do it I’m amazed at how awesome most people are. Designers are shy, and I’m no exception. When you’re at HOW shyness doesn’t count. I’ve met some amazing people just from having the courage to be the first person on the dance floor, and you have to learn to take that chance.

Panning for water in a river of gold.

I didn’t have to look hard to find nuggets of inspiration with almost every session having brilliant insight, practical application and “I want to do that” inspiration. Here’s a list of the biggest nuggets I took from all of the sessions that I attended.

  1. “Decoding the Meaning of Design” Michael Cotton & Rob Swan — Break down brand traits to a molecular level and rebuild.
  2. “Color Strategy, Forecasting & Expressions” Jack Bredenfoerder — Color psychology is bullshit. Context gives meaning to color.
  3. “Designing for Icons” Moira Cullen — Iconic brands have the confidence to be simple, honest, and in tune with current trends.
  4. “To Plan or Not to Plan” Luke Mysse — Make big juicy goals that convince others that you’re crazy.
  5. “Being a 24/7 Creative Pro” Steve Gordon — Always be curious and earn your sleep.
  6. “Intro to Marketing for Freelancers” Ilise Benun — Simplify your marketing approach with daily, weekly and monthly tasks.
  7. “I Want to Make a Million Dollars” Monique Elwell — Define your sales funnel.
  8. “Becoming a Hired Gun” Von Glitschka — Show the work you want to do, and most importantly don’t suck.
  9. “Being Available in the Moment” Kristina Robbins and Jo McGinley — Understand how you influence others and situations with your body language.
  10. “Galumphing, Goats on Roofs and Other Revelations to Spark Inspiration” Sam Harrison — Learn to play and be a kid again through your work.
  11. “Creativity” Peleg Top — Infuse your business with what’s important to you, and take chances everyday.
  12. “Fee + Equity: How to Charge Less and Make More” Kevin McConkey — We don’t sell solutions. We minimize the risk for the solution.
  13. “Who Died and Made You Boss?” James Victore — Design doesn’t happen in the studio, production does. Find your muse.
  14. “Lead Generation 101: How to Make Your Site Into a Business-Generating Machine” Mark O’Brien — Develop personas instead of defining a general target market.
  15. “Letter for a Living” Jessica Hische — Learn your type designers not just the foundries that sell their creations.
  16. “Fascinate: How to Persuade and Captivate” Sally Hogshead — Use the right triggers to attract the ideal client. Be the orange ticket.

Put a bird on it.

Twitter BirdSocial media is an important part of any conference experience, but you should use it as a means to make those face-to-face connections. Twitter is perfect for finding out where groups of HOWies are spending time after the sessions close, or for letting people know that you want to meet them in person. This year I sent a tweet a few weeks prior to the event with a list of people I wanted to meet that I’d been following and, more importantly, interacting with on twitter over the past year or two. I met everyone that I intended to meet, and even a few people I didn’t expect to meet. People like David Ashcraft, Kelli Langdon, Jon Sandruck and Cami Travis-Groves are just a handful of the awesome friends that I’ll continue to stay in touch with over the following year. I’ve already begun setting up a list of people that I need to hangout with in Boston next year like Maria Singleton, Jasmine Wabbington and Crystal Reynolds.

Sometimes you have to get pancakes at 2 am.

A big group of old and new HOW friends decided to get pancakes after the Neenah Paper party, and I was fortunate enought to be invited. I could have easily said, “No, I need to go back to my room and salvage the little sleep that I can get before the final morning panels,” but that’s not what the conference is about. The biggest inspiration of the HOW Conference is meeting and connecting with a passionate group of creatives that have the same drive, frustrations and sense of humor. Von Glitschka told me, “This is what the conference is really about.” Getting together with your colleagues, pushing each other to be better and make our industry better is the true spirit of the conference.Where else can you learn that Emeril Lagasse agrees that corned beef hash always slays chicken fried steak?

The new connections that I made, and the old connections that I revisited help me remember why you can never burn out on HOW Live. I decided to take Luke up on his double dog dare, and I’ve set my big juicy goal to speak at HOW Live. In addition to coming to terms with my fear of revolving doors that I developed in 9 days in Chicago, I’ll be developing my presentation skills to engage and inspire in the same way all of the great HOW Live speakers did this year. I hope to meet you next year in Boston if not sooner.

Like what you see feel free to email me at tad@creativesquall.com and don’t forget to follow on Twitter or stalk me on Facebook.

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