The design agency logo offering under the spotlight

Paying too much for a great design? You might be. An image is worth a thousand words but needn't be at a cost of thousands of rands. Yet in the same breath, few people appreciate the importance of a solid company logo or corporate image. As with all public communications, it needs to be well thought out, relevant and true to the company's ethos.
The process of creating a logo with panache and gravitas is far more complicated and involved than most people realise and plenty of work goes into the mix. The debate arises when people feel that they are paying too much for what they receive. Logo creation first involves researching the client company, its product or service, plus the target market, before the actual design of proposed options is ready to commence. Clients pay for time, effort and expertise. Most importantly, clients pay for originality.

Are design agencies becoming elitist and greedy? Perhaps. When choosing an agency to represent your brand, it's important to look at their track record. Do they have scope, originality and understanding? Are you not falling into the trap of paying an exhorbitant amount simply to have a good name behind your logo? Are you, the client, potentially just another notch in the agency's belt, or is the agency forming a relationship with you as a brand? These are important questions, which most certainly have bearing on the price that you are willing to pay when working with a particular agency. An agency that is held in high esteem and which charges a princely sum, can do so because they have a proven track record and can deliver quality work, but is it the right agency for you? Even big names can, at times, under-deliver and overcharge.

What do you expect when you solicit a design from an agency? Are your expectations linked to the price you pay or the quality of work produced? Different agencies operate under different cost structures. Some have a flat rate that they charge per job, while others apply an hourly billing system. A good design agency should have a balance between the two. The reason for this is that developing a creative concept has an intangible value to the client. It may take one day or two weeks to get there, but the perceived value remains the same regardless. Due to the recent economic climate, people also expect more bang for their buck, and a quality agency will go that extra mile to showcase this.

There are pros and cons regarding a flat rate, nonetheless, as compared to a per hour billing. Agencies who exclusively charge a flat rate get paid and might finish the job without flair or dedication, feeling like they aren't being compensated for extra effort... so why should they bother? Agencies that exclusively operate on an hourly rate could try and milk a client, and charge unnecessarily "long hours". It's a gross generalisation, but does occasionally occur. The key to getting the best out of your design agency is a customised marriage of the two.

If you are a smaller company, it would be folly to dish out large sums of money to a large design agency in hopes of simply getting the ultimate logo. Of course, you would most probably get a great-looking logo, but that is most probably all, so might it not be unnecessary spending? It's the equivalent of hiring a Mercedes to drive across town when a Corsa would do just fine. Bigger corporates need bigger design agencies, because they have the cashflow to pay for that assurance. This is by no means discounting the work freelancers or small agencies can accomplish, but simply a case of choosing the wiser and more appropriate option for you. If you feel you need an agency that has the backing of strategists, designers and consultants, no matter the size or scope of your business/company/brand, then by all means go for it - that's the beauty of today's market, the variety of choice we have.

Choose the design agency that's flexible, knowledgeable and dedicated - and, supremely confident. You shouldn't be paying for more than you are getting, but neither should you skimp on something as important as your brand's image. A logo is definitely much more than the company's name in a flashy font. It's the public representation of the company's image. It's the attire with which you clothe your company when it steps out into the world. Essentially then, you have a choice. Would you rather go for a tailor-made suit or a generic branded T-shirt?

About the author

South African brand design supremo, Alastair Haarhoff (34), based in the picturesque winelands town of Stellenbosch, is the Managing Director and owner of brand design agency Just Design. Alastair is also a shareholder of Haarhoff & Associates, which includes Just Design, through-the-line creative solutions company Espresso Communications and multimedia specialists Milk.

Alastair completed his schooling in 1995 at South Africa's oldest secondary school, South African College High School (SACS) in Newlands, Cape Town. After matriculating, Alastair attended Stellenbosch University, where he completed his Bachelor of Commerce in 2000.

An entrepreneurial drive, coupled with a keen interest in branding, led Alastair to establish Just Design, where he currently employs a team of 22 creative thinkers. This laid the foundation for him to move beyond brand design into other areas of branding, leading to the creation of Haarhoff & Associates. Inspired by fictional superhero Spiderman and renowned entrepreneur, Richard Branson, Alastair is energised partly from the ability to create "living brands" that connect with and inspire people throughout the world.

Honesty, dedication and fun are some of the characteristics which best describe this winelands-based branding entrepreneur. Alastair's extramural activities include mountain biking and spending quality time with his wife and son Oliver. "There is no substitute for hard work," says Alastair, "but doing what you enjoy most, makes doing it enjoyable."
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