What’s Cheating:

At a past agency, I worked with a young designer on a logo for a client’s company-wide service day. The theme for the year was park beautification. So we started sketching, exploring the space, seeing what visual shorthands exist for environmentalism, what’s being overused, and where there might be untapped visual potential for the new mark. Or, at least that’s what I was doing.

When he showed me his first round of logos, I recognized one of them. He had pulled a relatively interesting logo off the web, tweaked a couple of lines and colors, and called it his own. This, to me, is the worst kind of design behavior. Changing a pre-existing mark just enough to slip by some people is doing a massive disservice to the new brand by withholding from it a visual identity born from its own values. This is how we get Design Creep: The same design memes showing up in product and service brands across industries. Don’t even get me started on people who steal the exact logo from a company they share a name with. Unbelievable.

Original Beacon Health Strategies logo vs some other company named Beacon who took the logo and changed the color

What’s Distasteful:

Web templates, packs of vector designs, and free photoshop actions can support your idea but should never be relied upon to spark it. Use them rarely and wisely. Don’t be lazy. And never, ever, EVER use anything that says something along the lines of “Your Logo Here.” Why not? Because if it doesn’t originate from the soul of the brand, it’s a lie. Design that lasts is born from the quintessence of a company. It just feels right. Dressing a brand up in pre-existing shortcut design will almost always feel forced and at odds with what it wants to be.

Ads for stock design

What’s Okay:

You do your Awesome Designer thing. You start with a strategy, with the client’s business objectives as the end goal. You create a completely original and beautiful mark for your client. Woohoo! You even do a Google Image search with bated breath to be as certain as possible without getting a law degree that this mark hasn’t already been thought up independently by another designer. Looks safe to you. You present your work to the client, who says, “Doesn’t that look too much like the ____ logo?”

Well-known logos with similar design patterns

Don’t lose heart. Coincidence sometimes happens, and that is okay. While we strive for uniqueness and authenticity, there are occasional overlaps because of the sheer amount of design that exists in the world. Cut yourself a break in these scenarios. Next time, keep your head down, focus on creating the best, most honest work possible, and creativity will usually prevail.

Next up: A few of my favorite things, and why they don’t matter: Subjectivity vs objectivity in advertising