Logos and the Lowest Common Denominator

by Steve Zelle, Graphic Designer, Ottawa Canada

 Logos and the Lowest Common Denominator by Ottawa Graphic Designer idApostle

Photographers grumbled, and now logo designers are whining as stock takes over, making them obsolete.

This seems to be the sentiment of a comment left for my recent guest post on the Logo Design Love website. I agree in part. I have heard the grumbling and whining, and I do see a similarity between the increased use of stock photography and stock logos — change does not equal progress.

Stock Rises

The market has been demanding lower cost design solutions requiring minimal investment of time and money. We began to see this explode when stock photography became available online. Back in the day when the internet was too slow for viewing, let alone downloading images, stock photography was marketed by large companies through big, heavy books. While the images were often cheaper than a custom photo shoot, it was still expensive and required a reasonable photography budget. Jump ahead and sites like and have given rise to amateurs either selling their images for few bucks or giving them away for a photo credit. This new option changed expectations of many small to medium sized businesses, who began to expect graphic designers to use these services. The ease of purchasing resulted in some companies feeling they could sever the graphic designer completely for many ‘little projects’ by taking it on themselves. Ease of delivery and cost seemed to become the sole factors in making decisions regarding photography and associated budgets. Quality went out the window. Generic, weak, and cliché images are now commonly shoehorned into creative concepts with less than stellar results. Photographers grumbled.

Years later came the rise of the logo warehouses — pre-made stock graphics (clip art) marketed as logos and branding. Similar to stock photography, stock logos are cheaper than hiring a graphic designer and can be instantly downloaded. Now anyone with a computer can make a few bucks stocking the warehouse shelves. Many small and medium-sized businesses are finding this irresistible. Quicker than it takes to buy a carton of milk from the corner store, customers can download what is marketed as an instant ‘brand’. (They are then left with the task of simply affixing their new logo to everything. Shame they don’t include a rubber stamp and a roll of logo stickers as part of a ‘gold’ package). Designers whined.

Opportunities Change

A reader calling himself ‘The Enemy’ left the comment I mentioned at the beginning of this post — he is one of the folks that stock the logo warehouse shelves and participates in crowdsourcing. I don’t view him, crowdsourcing or logo warehouses as my enemy. I believe the enemy is many graphic designers failure to differentiate clearly their offerings to potential clients.

There may be occasions when stock photography and warehoused logos do the job for these potential customers, but consistently just ‘doing the job’ results in a vast sea of the lowest common denominator. Companies are left with a massive wave of generic, hollow, and fragile replicas of visual brands. Logo designers (and photographers) must be prepared to explain to these clients the value they provide over cheaper alternatives.

I Have No Competition

All companies are in competition (although I shockingly still have clients answering ‘none’ when asked who their competitors are). For every product or service, customers have a choice. The more companies that use stock images, stock logos, the receptionist for copywriting, and coding from India, the greater the opportunity created for those that don’t. These companies that invest in their brand will have fewer obstacles to overcome. They will stand out. They will demonstrate to their staff, investors and customers that they care. They will reflect their unique nature in their visual brand.

Stock has continually brought change, choice and what some potential clients will see as a harmless and easy way for budgets, time frames, and investments to be slashed. It has simultaneously given logo designers the opportunity to wake up and clarify the benefits provided by them over a lowest common denominator approach to graphic design.

Comments have been closed for this post. There are however, a number of thoughtful opinions about it below.

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Comments are closed for ‘Logos and the Lowest Common Denominator’

  1. Ed Munro says:

    “The more companies that use stock images… the greater the opportunity created for those companies that don’t.”

    We couldn’t agree more with this assessment. We too have some clients who argue for the use of stock photos mainly due to budget issues. When possible and applicable, we find ways to create our own (in-house) original photography that is still cost efficient. However, we are always the first to advocate using professional photographers for the obvious reason that it is unique and we have control over all aspects of production.
    With the right creative team and the right creative concept in place, the money invested in original photography (and logo design) is always, always far superior to the banality and limitations of stock images – and much better at distinguishing the brand.

    • Ed, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think you bring up a great point by mentioning your use of in-house photography as an option over stock. It’s a creative and cost effective way to meet your clients needs while delivering a tailored image.

  2. Brett Widmann says:

    Thanks for sharing this info. I am going to be designing some logos in the near future so I’m gathering all the info I can find.