The Agony of Choosing the Winning Design: Will you get it right? Jay | March 31st, 2009

So it’s time to pick the winning design of your crowdSPRING project. You’ve narrowed it down to the finalists: the best three or four designs. You agonize. Which one should you choose? Well guess what: It doesn’t matter. Whichever design you choose, it’s likely that your customers would choose something different. It happened to me and it’s happened to my clients.

Several months ago Montgomery Chiropractic of Belton, Texas posted a project. The owners of the practice each had their favorite logo design. Dr. Montgomery and his wife decided to let their patients decide. They took their favorites plus a couple of others that employees liked. Then the clinic patients voted. Patients chose the design below and now it’s the new Montgomery Chiropractic logo. But it never would have been chosen if the patients were not involved.

In November, I decided I needed a fresh logo for my company: The Marketing Spot. The project yielded 111 entries on crowdSPRING. I was excited about the possibilities! I had my favorites, but decided that I wanted to crowdsource the logo design all the way. So I got feedback from clients, friends and Twitter connections. Everyone who voiced their opinion got a vote. My favorite design did not win. Instead this one did:

This design wasn’t even on my radar screen during the project. But now it’s my logo and I receive frequent compliments on the new look.

If you’re really going to crowdsource your design, go all the way. Solicit feedback from your customers. Why not let them choose the winner? The final choice doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Just pick a design and run with it. A year from now you won’t remember all the agony.

Jay Ehret is a small business marketing coach and writes The Marketing Spot blog.

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  • inkfresh

    i think thats a good way to get safe design work done. no one ever revolutionized anything (as so many buyers seem to be looking to do from reading their briefs) by asking everyone who walks through their door their opinion.

    i think if youre going to survey people for advice, you should pick those people carefully. otherwise youll just wind up with a logo that looks like other logos (which is fine if thats your goal).

  • asher27

    uh design by committee in my opinion just waters down the results…

  • http://www.crowdspring.com Ross

    Keep in mind that Jay isn’t advocating design by committee – he was fully involved with the project and directed the changes. After the project ended, he invited people to come vote on their favorites. Ultimately, a logo represents your brand. Your brand is relevant to your customers. And your customers are in a pretty good position to help decide what resonates with them. But I’m sure Jay will pop in and comment too.

  • http://www.crowdspring.com Ross

    Keep in mind that Jay isn’t advocating design by committee – he was fully involved with the project and directed the changes. After the project ended, he invited people to come vote on their favorites. Ultimately, a logo represents your brand. Your brand is relevant to your customers. And your customers are in a pretty good position to help decide what resonates with them. But I’m sure Jay will pop in and comment too.

  • Jay

    @inkfresh Is that you, David Carson? The above examples are meant to illustrate that businesses place too much emphasis on having the “magic logo.” My opinion is that it doesn’t really matter that much as long as you have a good one. So why not have some fun with it and get your customers involved? You customers (gasp) might actually be a better judge than you. It’s closed-door thinking that got us the new Pepsi logo and the botched Tropicana re-branding.

  • cry_havoc

    @Jay “Why not let them (his customers) choose the winner?”

    Well, I don’t think that your suggestion is particularly fair to the creatives participating in contests if they’re are opened up to ad-hoc selection by the buyer’s customers. Designers spend a lot of time carefully reading the original brief and then following the buyer’s instructions on multiple revision requests. The buyer is supposed to communicate with designers and instruct them on what he/she is looking for, and the creatives do their best to facilitate those wishes, often spending a great amount of their own time and efforts. To then have the winning design picked by some random group of people who weren’t involved in the process to begin with seems to be at odds with the entire cS setup and taking advantage of those participating.

    If it were just a matter of posting preliminary designs and having customers pick one from those selections, or if all the designers were being paid, it would be one thing. in design competitions and with the multiple revision requests asked for by the buyers on cS, it’s another.

    My two cents anyway,

  • Typecast

    I agree that ultimately the logo/brand has to engage your customers, however that doesn’t mean they should choose it. Through a thorough and descriptive brief from the client the designer gets her start, then through her research into the category, competitors objectives for the business etc, the idea process begins. Asking customers who probably have no experience of the branding/marketing objectives to choose their favourites based “oooh I like that typeface” seems no better than the buyer choosing it based on his personal preferences….probably worse. Just my two pennies! Interesting discussion though.

  • Typecast

    @Jay

    By the way with reference to Pepsi and Tropicana branding they may have ultimately taken a beating by the critics and public at large, but I would be absolutely amazed if those designs were not tested and put through much focus group testing, I doubt they were designed in a vacuum. For every failure you can point to there are many more successes. Believe me I am not advocating focus groups I agree with Asher it ends up being design by committee and the work becomes bland.

  • Jay

    @cry_havoc In the case of Montgomery Chiropractic finalists were narrowed down by me and the client at the end of the contest. Those designs were created based on the original, detailed creative brief and then follow-up feedback to the designers. So I don’t think the process is unfair to the designers at all. The group that picked the final logo was not a random group, the final logo was chosen by Montgomery Chiropractic customers.

    In my logo case, I got feedback from my Twitter network of mostly marketing professionals and from my clients. Again, this was at the end of the contest and the designs were a result of the creative brief and feedback from me.

  • Jay

    @Typecast
    I think many bad logos are created because designers and business owners decide that the customer is simply not educated enough, nor smart enough, to make a good decision. That is a very dangerous and flawed thought process. In the cases cited in my post, customers were not asked for their opinions on how to create a good logo or what should go into the logo. They were asked to choose from logo finalists that had been created to meet specific marketing objectives requested in the original creative brief.

  • cry_havoc

    Taking your point further – if customers are so well versed in what makes an effective logo for any business that they frequent, then why not have them design the logo as part of a logo design contest outside of crowdSPRING?

    You suggest that the final choice isn’t as important as many might think, so why not go all the way and take designers out of the equation completely, allowing customers to not only judge a company’s logo, but create it themselves?

    Do you trust your customers to be smart enough and educated enough to design your logo from the get-go?

  • Jay

    @cry_havoc
    I guess you have decided that intelligent discourse is not the way to go.

  • cry_havoc

    No real benefit to inferring that someone is stupid, or that their argument is stupid, simply because they might disagree with you. Runs the risk of having you look like a hard head – especially when you’re being condescending to some poor, underpaid and likely young designer. On a “design community” blog of all places.

    If you don’t want to answer their question, or can’t, it looks better on you if you simply ignore them. Then, if their argument really is stupid, everyone else reading can figure out that for themselves and you’re still golden.

  • Jay

    You didn’t disagree with me, you took the argument to an absurd level thereby portraying me as stupid. I have never suggested that designers are not important. Go back and re-read the post and my comments.

    In the case of my logo, I had 111 submissions. Dr. Montgomery had 117 entries.Which one was the best logo? My point in the post was not to agonize over finding the one, true, perfect logo. I advised to let your customers in on the process and give them a voice. After all, customers are smart enough to spend money with you, maybe they’re smart enough to help you choose a logo.

    It is also my position that importance of a logo in branding is overblown, as I have previously written about here http://is.gd/qgOT In addition, it is my position that marketers, business owners, and designers tend to over-think a logo as I have previously written here http://is.gd/qgPo

    If you want to continue this discussion, then please do not mis-characterize my argument by suggesting that position is designers be eliminated from the design process.

  • cry_havoc

    I never alluded to the level of your intelligence one way or another. You’re also jumping to quite a few conclusions, and subsequently mischaracterizing the contents of my questions greatly.

    You claim I’m taking the argument to an absurd level, as is your right, but it’s merely an extension of the question you posed when you suggested “If you’re really going to crowd-source your design, go all the way”. Allowing customers to screen a few carefully selected logos is not “going all the way”. Having them design the logo from scratch is. And I merely asked if you would be willing, or thought it was advisable, for anyone to follow this particular avenue. It’s a valid question, not an absurd one. Also, I made no mention about whether I thought designers are, or are not, important, nor whether you thought so either. For some reason, you’ve injected that into what you assumed was my opinion.

    Spending money with one company or another has no bearing on how “smart” a customer is. Nor does it give any indication of how effective they are at choosing a logo. In terms of the new Pepsi logo you mentioned earlier, other than designers on the internet who’ve mocked it without mercy, the new design has met with little outrage in the general public. In terms of the Tropicana label you talked about, it WAS focus grouped to death among customers. The manufacturers now admit they focused these studies on the wrong customers and ignored a small group of “heavy” users who kicked up a fuss on Facebook over a major design CHANGE. Not the launch of a new one. In context of this discussion, the Tropicana flap actually suggests that asking customers to approve a design direction isn’t as cut-and-dry as many might think. I’m hesitant to draw absolute conclusions in context of our discussion, because the Tropicana controversy had to do with orange juice packaging, not logo design.

    I agree with your position about ‘over thinking’ a logo, though it’s often business owners and marketing experts who ask designers to reverse engineer war-and-peace into a small graphic representation of a company’s identity. As far as the importance of a logo being ‘overblown’ you certainly have a point. Can a good logo ‘make’ a company? Of course not. On the other hand, can a bad logo (or brand) hinder a company? Absolutely. I’d even go one step further, suggesting that if a company is starting up, it’s better to have NO logo at all (simple text treatment will suffice) than have a bad one.

    At the risk of offending you again, you’ve supplied two logos in your post to illustrate your position.Trouble is, neither of them is particularly inspiring or compelling. While they may mean something to the established customers that selected them, that doesn’t have an bearing on people seeing them for the first time. One of the main business advantages of having a good logo is standing out in a crowded visual environment. Would either of the logos presented accomplish that? Probably not. One is too ‘busy’. The other’s icon, taking up 20% of the shelf space, is too non-descript. I’m not familiar with the alternative choices, so I’m not able to give an opinion on whether there were more effective solutions to choose from.

    Do I get to have that opinion? Of course I do. I am an expert in logo design (by any definition of same), just as you are an expert at marketing.

  • Jay

    @cry_havoc My apologies for the misinterpretation. Of course you are entitled to a differing opinion.

    My point on “going all the way” was not meant to be literal.

    Re: your comment about the logos supplied in the post. I agree completely that they are neither inspiring nor compelling. That is the point. They don’t need to be. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks the Google, Starbucks or McDonald’s logos inspiring or compelling. You and I are probably closer to agreement than our comments would indicate.

  • cry_havoc

    I read the posts you linked and I agree with a lot of what you say, so yes, we are probably closer than it might appear. Personally, I hate the Google logo. Though it IS hard to argue with a multi-billion dollar company’s success, so you may have a point. I might disagree with you on Starbucks and the McDonald’s logos, but we can save that for another day.

  • Ntelekt

    I would like to point out an observation on the discussion.
    Asking customers to participate in the final selection of a new branding is a very clever way to avoid alienating the lifeblood of the business.

    If a company simply decides to rebrand based on some internal marketing direction, it must take into consideration that the existing brand has established value. By getting the existing customer base involved in the final stages, actually makes them better informed as to the reasoning and process of the rebranding effort. In the end, it’s a wonderful idea for rebranding an existing business and help make sure that you bring your most valued customers along with you for the ride!

    Excellent idea!

  • cry_havoc

    @Ntelekt You actually make some solid points about NOT rebranding at all. If a logo is so entrenched into the identity of a company, then rather than changing it, it’s probably advisable to keep it the same and focus on using that logo more effectively.

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