Originality in Logo Design

“Never waste a stroke.”

That’s the best piece of advice you’ll ever get in logo design. However, it’s also advice that can inadvertently get you in trouble. Draw a blue circle on the screen and you’ve just stolen the Blaupunkt logo. Draw a yellow line and you’re copying Visa. Draw a black swoosh and you’re ripping off Nike. The less intricacies involved in creating your masterpiece, the more likely it is that someone has already created it.

This subject has resurfaced in my head this week because of a couple of questionable logo unveilings, and I think it deserves some discussion. First, let’s go over the three categories of what might be considered “logo theft”:

The shameless pixel-for-pixel ripoff

Master illustrator Josh Williams posted earlier this week about a company called MaxMost.com who was displaying as their logo an exact pixel-for-pixel copy of the logo he had earlier created for SquareSpace. The two logos are pictured below:

It is obvious, even to the untrained eye, that the similarities here are no coincidence. Everything is perfectly identical, right down to the shading of the elements. This sort of theft is not very common, because it is a) blatantly illegal, b) blatantly immoral, c) hardly defensible, and d) easily discoverable. For these reasons, it is almost never the fault of the company who is displaying the logo and can almost always be traced back to a dishonest person (we won’t call him/her a “designer”) outside the company who was contracted to produce something.

If you run across this sort of theft, it’s best to contact the company with your complaint, but be fully prepared for them to honestly have no knowledge of the theft. Logo theft is a crime. Hiring someone who commits logo theft unbeknownst to you is very unfortunate, but hardly a crime. It is, however, the company’s responsibility to rectify this theft the instant it is verified. To MaxMost’s credit, they appear to have dealt with this incident satisfactorily as of the time of this writing.

The independent, inadvertent facsimile

This is perhaps the most frustrating logo design pitfall that can affect a company. In a nutshell, an organization spends a lot of time and money on a new identity (whether in-house or through an agency) only to launch it and find out the exact same mark already exists elsewhere in the world. This situation bubbled up this week with the unveiling of Quark’s new logo. As seen below, it bears a striking resemblance to the identity for the Scottish Arts Council:

I am not inclined to believe that Quark, being so involved in the design community, would intentionally rip off any other organization’s logo, let alone a a non-profit entity like the Scottish Arts Council. Is it possible that whoever designed the Quark logo has once seen the Scottish Arts Council logo and it is buried somewhere in his/her collective unconscious? Sure, but it’s certainly a stretch to infer that there was any foul play here.

This is the worst sort of situation in identity design because a) it’s an identical mark, and b) in most cases, you aren’t going to know about the existence of the other mark until the design process is over and the whole world gets a peek. By this time, a company like Quark is already out probably five to seven digits depending on design fees and the cost of any materials or campaigns that have already been produced.

Most serious design firms will do a bit of due diligence to verify that their creations have not already been created before, but there are limits to this sort of research. It’s unfortunate, yet completely understandable, to me how the Scottish Arts Council logo slipped through this test. That said, there is certainly a strong case now that Quark is in the wrong if they decide to use this logo moving forward.

The inspired mutation

This is by far the most common form of logo dispute. A designer has consciously examined hundreds of logos in his or her life and subconsciously absorbed thousands more from billboards, magazines, and all the other distractions of capitalist life, and when asked to create one for a client, he or she draws on these influences to create something which may or may not be judged as “original” in the end.

When a designer succeeds in this endeavor, he or she creates something which passes the general public’s originality test, whether or not any existing influences are apparent. When the designer fails, however, the work is viewed as a derivative ripoff. The line between success and failure in this case is often fuzzy, as shown below in this illustration:

The logo on the left is one I designed as Creative Director for Seasonticket.com, an online video startup back in 2000 owned by Howard Schultz, founder and chairman of Starbucks. The logo on the right is the mark unveiled by the Seattle Supersonics right after they were purchased in 2001 by, guess who… Howard Schultz. The Sonics contracted a local Seattle design firm, Hornall Anderson, to design the mark, and I of course can’t say for sure whether theft was involved, but I do know Howard liked the Seasonticket logo quite a bit, and I also know he handpicked the firm to perform the redesign (usually the NBA does it), so I of course can’t help but be suspicious. When you go to Sonic games, even the 3D animation of the logo on the arena screens is almost identical.

If I was a litigious person, I’d consider taking action, but for now, I just don’t drink Starbucks coffee. And in case you’re wondering, no, Howard does not own the rights to the Seasonticket logo. And heck, for all I know, another very similar logo already existed before I created that one.

Anyway, enough about that particular situation. It pissed me off when it happened, but I’m over it. Unfortunately though, this same situation occurs almost every day and given that sometimes the marks aren’t exactly identical, there’s often not a lot you can do about it.

What’s the solution?

I wish I had the answer this ongoing and worsening problem, but for now, all you can do as a designer is to keep pushing yourself to be original. Like the look of that simple orange square you just billed $1500 for? Push yourself. Do something better. Tell yourself at every step in the design process that someone has undoubtedly already thought of this and what can you do to really set it apart. In design, and particularly logo design, the pessimistic axiom that “everything has already been done” is becoming more and more true, and it is only the virtuous designer who can continue to stand out in a sea of sameness.

So pushing yourself is one way to stay on top of things. Another is preparing for things to go wrong. If Quark has already spent a ton of money on materials containing their new logo, they may forgotten this step. All it took was one unveiling online for the Scottish Arts Council thing to come up. At this point, they need to either a) change their logo, b) fight it in court, c) offer the Scottish Arts Council a settlement (which may be just fine), or d) take their chances and do nothing. Option C may be the best bet, but the point is to anticipate these things in advance.

The best way, theoretically, to protect against all of these situations is some sort of global database of trademarked identities which can be matched automatically with algorithms. I believe, but am not sure, that the USPTO may have something like this either set up or in the works, but if a system like this could be perfected, we’d all feel a lot safer with our creations. It would catch a lot of ripoffs during the trademarking stage, but it would also be a great tool with which designers could “check” their work before even submitting it to a client.

Additional thoughts, suggestions, or insights are welcome in the comments.

Like this entry? You can follow me on Twitter here, subscribe via email here, or get the RSS feed if that's how you roll.

124 Responses:

  1. This reminds me of the old story that if you gave enough monkeys typewriters and enough time, they could eventually write one of shakespears plays. This day in age, its getting much much harder to come up with an original idea, much less a graphical logo. Now obviously there is cause for concern if the offender has obviously seen and been influenced by the original, but its a large burdon for me to try to come up with a logo for my new website without ripping off a design someone in asia came up with twenty years ago… Especially if you start getting into derivitave works. Now I don’t have any sort of solution for sure, but its definately worrying.

  2. Nick says:

    Now obviously there is cause for concern if the offender has obviously seen and been influenced by the original,…

    Have you read Good Designers Copy, Great Designers Steal by Cameron Moll? There is nothing wrong with being influenced by an existing design. In fact, if we didn’t let ourselves be influenced by good design (this is impossible, anyway) – we would never learn to design better at all.

    I’m certainly not endorsing plagiarism. Of course, the design that has been influenced by another should still be unique. Maybe you were only referring to designs that are way too close (1 and 2 in Mike’s article apply, and the line is fuzzy on 3, as he said.)

  3. yes, as clarification, when I said…

    Now obviously there is cause for concern if the offender has obviously seen and been influenced by the original…

    …I was speaking of an example such as the seasonticket and supersonics logo. As Mike said, there was a person who was involved with the first logo and also involved with the second. This is cause for concern.

    But there is no way for me to develop a truely unique logo without being similar on some plane with some other logo someone else has designed throughout time. Shoot, im no designer, so its hard enough for me to come up with a design in the first place, much less actually make it utterly unique from anything else!

  4. Glad to see MaxMost removed the previous logo. I would hate to have that kind of publicity.

    The Quark / ScottishArts logo may not be a copy. After all, the design for each is uber simple… it’s a circle and a square, essentially. Simple and effective. In the one case, it’s used as an “A” in the other it’s a “Q”.

    Is it ever possible that designers are overestimating their own unique creativity? In a larger sense, everyone is inspired by their visual environment, so there will always be a dubious parentage in the creative field. As the saying goes, good artists borrow, great artists steal.

    Direct rip-offs are tasteless and disappointing, but I think there is occasionally an almost paranoid attitude among designers about getting copied.

  5. The maxmost thing was interesting. I got no reply for 4 days, when a deluge of replies when I started posting on my site about it and such. After they pulled the logo, I pulled my negative comments (fair enough for me).

    For some reason they wouldn’t release the name of the guy who did it, citing they required “his consent”. Seems odd to protect the name of someone who ripped you off — and makes me quite curious.

    Oh well, at least it was resolved.

  6. Collin says:

    There is certainly a line that can be crossed when learning design. I have made a best effort to never copy another persons work even if it means the design I provide to a client might not be the best that they could have had. It’s always certainly the best I can do at the time and no doubt better then 85% of the other designers could do.

    Considering that I pride myself for being a programmer and not a designer I don’t really feel bad when my designs are less then the best. I learned lately that the best way to improve your skills is to learn ‘how’ certain effects are made and practive those techniques. I may not be an awesome designer yet but by meeting designers and learning from them and learning new software programs I recieved the best compliment just the other day from a guy who has thrown me about 20 projects the last couple years.

    He said, “This doesn’t even look like your work, man, your making me feel inapt”.

    I agree that you can go far to learn by recreating similar style graphics and logos from better designers but that can only get your skill level so far. To actually steal a companies logo is insanely stupid/poor taste/bad/etc..

  7. Chris says:

    Hmm, let’s add the third player to the logo game: artworkers.org.
    I found this link on the PAGE online weblog.

  8. John Nick says:

    Comment #1 wrote: “if you gave enough monkeys typewriters and enough time, they could eventually write one of Shakespeare’s plays.”

    I’ve heard it said that the Internet has proven that adage false. :-)

    Great article. I hearby forego Starbucks in solidarity.

  9. Speak Up has a writeup about this, as well, and seems to have come to about the same concolusion:

  10. Did anyone else check out the new MaxMost.com logo and immediately think – “wow that looks just like the Sun Microsystems logo”

    Seems that can’t get anything original.

  11. Shane says:

    “Did anyone else check out the new MaxMost.com logo and immediately think – “wow that looks just like the Sun Microsystems logo”

    Wow…that’s uncanny.

    Logos are tough. I hate our corporate product logo…it’s just such a typical “dot and swoosh” and has no real meaning behind it. Just arbitrarily created in illustrator because the CD could. Our company logo is just logotype…no representation of what we do.

    How would YOU represent a document imaging software company (that’s what we do)?

  12. Keith says:

    Another point to add is that logos are usually more effective when they’re kept simple. Trying to design a unique + simple logo in this day and age is no easy feat.

  13. Steve says:

    It is, indeed, a gray area. With regard to the Season Ticket logo, Sergio Tachini would no doubt want a cut of any settlement with the Sonics as he had the logo first!

  14. Keith says:

    Whew, sticky subject!

    I’m not sure I’d have thought about the similarites between the Season Ticket logo and The Sonics logo without your back story and seeing them together. I wonder if you’d have any case at all without that backstory.

    Sure, it might have been ripped, but without the backstory I’d never have assumed that. We’ve recently been working on a logo for our new company (which I think you might have seen Mike) and it bares a resembance to another logo you’re familiar with.

    I’d be interested in knowing which of these three groups that falls into. We can talk on IM. But it’s funny, I never say any similarity until I saw them side by side.

    I think there are many, many “independent, inadvertent facsimiles” out there and I think the “The inspired mutation” is pretty common too. The real problem is that many logos are going to fall into one of those 2 groups and many times unintentionally.

    As Steve (#13) points out it’s a grey area and if you dig deep enough you might find out that no logo is original! ;0)

  15. I also was going to point out the new Sun…er, I mean MaxMost logo, but I see someone already beat me to it.

    Josh said over on his blog that MoxMost told him the logo was not stolen by then, but rather a hired “designer.” If that’s the case, I’d really like to know whether they stuck with the same “designer” for the new logo. This is such an obvious rip-off of one of the most famous logos ever created. As if the first time wasn’t embarrassing enough, they choose to go through it again?

  16. And also…

    This is one reason I’ve always preferred the logotype to the mark-style logo. If you stick with a logotype, you’re much less likely to inadvertently look just like someone else, and also much less likely to have someone inadvertently look like you.

  17. Mike D. says:

    Keith: Yep, the backstory matters quite a bit in cases like this because it establishes the chain of events. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t even the one who first noticed the similarities. The day the Sonics unveiled their logo in the Times, I got a bunch of e-mails and phone calls to the effect of “DID YOU SEE THAT SHIT? WTF! YOU SHOULD SUE!” The design industry in Seattle is very well intertwined, and in fact, my sister was even working for Hornall when that logo was designed.

    Part of my point with this post is that motivations and influences mean a lot when you’re deciding how “legit” a mark is. I’ve never worn Sergio Tacchini in my life and can’t even recall ever seeing that mark. That would put it into the “independent, inadvertent” category, if anything. The Seasonticket logo, however, was all over the place in 2000. We sponsored the MLB All-Star game. We were pretty visible in Seattle. Our site was pretty popular. So it wouldn’t shock me if the guy at Hornall who designed the Sonics logo had seen the Seasonticket logo. It also wouldn’t shock me if Howard walked in and said “I want something like this”. But anyway, I’m not here to accuse. If I wanted to do that, I’d do it in court. For now, it’s just another “interesting” case of logo originality.

  18. The S in tht Sonics logo always reminded me of the S in the Swedish Medical Center logo.

  19. Chris K says:

    It will be interesting how Quark responds to the logo “similarities.” This issue was also brought up at the Designers Network, having a similar logo as well to Quark’s new one.

    As for category 1, this is becoming all too common. I’ve seen a lot of complaints in the design community about it, especially aimed at Logoworks for blantantly ripping off existing logos and passing it off as their own work.

  20. I don’t mean to be the lone dissenter here and not being part of the design industry, maybe someone can explain it to me. If Mike designed the Seasonticket logo as an employee of Seasonticket.com, doesn’t that logo become the property of Seasonticket.com with its use at the discretion of the owner? Following that logic (which, for all I know is not correct), if Seasonticket owns the logo and Howard Schultz owns both Seasonticket.com and the Sonics it seems to me it’s well within his rights to copy it or make a derivative work if he likes. I know anything I create for my employer becomes their property. Maybe you had a different agreement, Mike? That said, I agree that it definitely sucks getting ripped off but can you explain why this was shady?

  21. Chris K says:

    It will be interesting how Quark responds to the logo “similarities.” This issue was also brought up at the Designers Network, having a similar logo as well to Quark’s new one.

    As for category 1, this is becoming all too common. I’ve seen a lot of complaints in the design community about it, especially aimed at Logoworks for blantantly ripping off existing logos and passing it off as their own work.

  22. Collin says:

    Lets also not forget the many services out there which sad wanna-be web developers will purchase. Templates for $30 that are reused by multiple sites. There are logo services out there which are just like the web template sites. A person untrained in the art of locating a trustworthy developer will go pay some guy $300 – $500 for an el cheapo “designer” rather then pay a couple grand for a unique design made by a professional to suite that clients needs.

    Branding In A Box sad.. sad.. sad..

  23. Other Quark logo similarities:

    Really long URL…

  24. A database of copyrighted logos is a good idea.

    However, I think it would take quite a while before enough logos are included in it to be useful, and before most designers would just always automatically add their logos to the database upon launch.

  25. Mike D. says:

    Michael: Good question… here is the answer — Howard was the primary shareholder in Seasonticket.com, having funded our initial round of financing at about $5 million. Disney/ESPN offered to purchase us for quite a bit of money in 2000, Howard and his investment arm laughed it off, and several months later we went under with the rest of the dot coms (which is the stronger reason for me not to drink Starbucks coffee). At that point, all company assets were auctioned off with Howard retaining zero interest. If I wanted to sue for some reason, I could buy back my rights to the logo for a very small amount of money from the company who took the name.

  26. Maria says:

    Very interesting discussion. If I were doing a logo for a major corporation, I’d definitely include some graphic designer focus groups to try to catch any inadvertant copies/borrowing. We designers seem to have an incredible visual memory. I don’t know of any other really simple way to check if a logo resembles another logo.

    There was quite a long discussion on a designers’ board this month about one of the online logo companies and some stolen artwork. A designer was browsing through the online logo company’s site, and found 2 or 3 logos directly copied from LogoLounge. Others took a look at their portfolio, and found more direct pixel-to-pixel copies. The online logo company threatened to sue the person who found the original copies (for…um…telling the truth?). You can see the comparisons at:

    BadDesignKill.com RipOffs

    I don’t think this kind of purposeful thing happens that much in the professional design industry…but I see the inadvertent copies/influences a lot.

  27. Bradley says:

    I cannot justify to one soul what I charge for a logo. I’m 23, and degree or not they just do not get it. So I don’t justify it. :) Knowing what you are worth does not mean you get every job, but it does mean you dodge some poor customer relationships.

    A story though:

    Working in Cleveland, Ohio at a great place (big, actually) that helped me a bunch post-college, I was absolutely astonished at the boss’s opinion on a mixup.

    I designed a logo for a company and presented it to the client personally. The client fell in love with it, and then boom! One of my colleages said, “That looks like Star Bank’s logo.”

    Boy was he right. Now, I’m a better designer than just some swoosh and star punk kid, but that is exactly what the client wanted. He spelled it out, I sketched it, and he liked it. Very simple, purely coincidence.

    I was not about to continue with the logo now that I recognized the trademark issue. But when I revealed to both the client and my boss the possible trademark infringement, my boss said:

    “But where do you see a Star Bank?”

    I about fell out of my chair. Luckily the CD piped up, “It’s a national bank.”

    He sure did not want to deal with the problem, even if it meant screwing the client. Now THAT is just nuts. All over a logo, which we did for free because the video production they were buying was 10x the price anyway.

    Well, I redesigned the logo and convinced both of them to go with it… but man could I have used a logo database. That’s one area where my age gets me—no matter how experienced I am for as young as I am, I still have not seen it all. Thankfully there are older designers around me that have seen thousands of identities more than I. Note to self: humility, humility.

    Prevention is half the battle. My boss was not even a dishonest person. We just need to stick to our standards lest we end up rationalizing what isn’t only wrong, but what could get us into big legal trouble. It’s a slippery slope. I try to stay on the “up and up” as much as possible, and Mike’s pushing/stretching approach works hand in hand with that.

  28. Jacob says:

    I think a lot of designers are not getting the point of logo design. I think every logo should have a story behind it. You should be able (as a designer) to justify every single pixel in it. Just a cool abstract shape doesn’t work. Also if you just think in shapes you’ll be more likely to come up with something that’s already been done before.

    Also, a logo should say something about that particular company. If two completely different companies share a logo design, do the just happen to want to portray the same image to the public or do the just like the shiny shapes?

  29. Daryl says:

    Great article Mike! I have to say it’s very well timed as I came across these logo’s recently (and one appearing on Stylegala!!) and they’re quite obviously rips (or near as damn it) to the OK47 logo….

    For anyone who wants to compare:

    OK47: http://www.ok47.com (the original as far as I’m aware!)

    Rentachef: http://www.rentachef.nu

    Otisdale Estate Agents: http://www.otisdale.co.uk

    IMHO The ‘ripoffs’ are a result of lazy designers who truely believe that even in the age of the internet they won’t get discovered.

    Just my two penneth ;)

    Daryl

  30. JohnO says:

    Mike,

    The season ticket logo immediately made me think of ESPN, I could see why they’d like to buy the company, right up their alley, and could fit inside their visual strategy :)

  31. Fred says:

    I see a lot of people using the logo creator software to sell cheap logos to small business on Ebay. I always thought this would make for a lot of similar looking logos out on the web. No design talent needed:

    http://www.thelogocreator.com/

    By the way, I am not affiliated with laughing bird software who puts this application out.

  32. PanMan says:

    So, i’m not the only one to who the new maxmost logo looks really similar to SUN’s. But it ALSO reminds me of Colombia, a big clothes brand…
    The three logo’s:

    Logo design certainly isn’t easy….

  33. Uri says:

    They are very different—one is a Q and one is an a :)

    However, I do not think that one had to see the scotich arts counsil logo to come up with the quarck one. People can have similar ideas, especially with simple geometric shapes.

    I designed a logo for a chain of shops named Anise, with an anise star. I did quite a lot of research and didn’t find a logo that looked similar. Then, one day I went to a uniform manufacturer and another company (catering) had an anise star embroided on their shirts (differently excuted, but a similar idea). They had a different name.

    I have never seen their logo before, nor do i suspect whoever designed it has seen mine. These things happen, we all grew up with the same influences.

    Also, later I discovered there’s a reality company called Anise.

    I think if it happens, and the bussineses are not competing—it’s not a huge proplem. Although look what happened with Apple—they agreed in court never to go into music publishing (the beatles’ publishing company was called apple and has an apple for a logo) and then they became big enough to get big enough lawyers to allow them to do whatever they wanted.

  34. Lola says:

    Wow.. The logos posted by Panman seems to almost be the same.
    Yeah , originality is always important but some designers bring up or design their own logo based from a previous logo thye know or something quite similar..

  35. I know from experience that sometimes you can come up with a nearly identical logo without ever seeing the matching one. One of our first clients years ago let us design their logo and we came up with something we thought was reasonably original and that the client liked. Then I was driving a few years later and passed by an industrial park where I saw a building sporting a nearly identical logo. I’m confident that neither company had even heard of the other one (being small companies in different industries and locales) but it was certainly a wake up call on the originality of my work. I had assumed my logo design was unique and I’m sure the other designer did as well.

    Assuming it has been done before and trying to add some more unique flourishes certainly might have saved me from that situation. Now I always push a little harder to find a truly unique logo design instead of something that is merely simple and attractive. Jacob is correct when he says that every logo should tell a story about the company or organization it represents. This makes it more meaningful and hopefully unique.

  36. Caleb says:

    The problem is that there is no such thing as on “original” logo or design for that matter. All design is inspired by other design. Even the first design ever made by man was inspired by nature itself. The only true original designer is God.

    I have a quote on my desktop, that says, “What is originalit? Undetected plagiarism. In this large sea of corporate and private logos there is bound to be overlap. The key is taking that inspiration a step further so that it is undetected.

    The sample you posted above of the ticket seller and the sonics logo is vastly different IMO when not viewed side by side. I don’t think the average person would see the connection if they saw the logos on seperate ocassions.

    All design is inspired. Period. It doesn’t matter who you are. You got the idea from somewhere else. I will say this though. Blatnent design theft is wrong. As in lifting a web page design template and changing the colors. Or doing the same thing to a logo. I would even say changing one corner of a design element is doing this, BUT I think that logos that closely resemble each other are fine themself. The problem lies though in brand identity. You won’t be much different from the next guy, so how will you be remembred?

  37. Quark and Scotland both steal from me! Ha!

    mine is 3 years old.

    http://www.balanceonline.com/main.html

  38. Jerry says:

    What about stock and clip art for logo use? Also, what about the artists who tries to pass such work off as his/her own? Many things contribute to the problems of logo design. No matter what you design, simple or brilliant- there is always a chance someone thought of it first. You just have to do your best, research as much as you can and pray that no one has your design.

    It would be nice to have a database that stores every registered logo on the planet and you can hire a lacky to take half a year to look them over to see if your design has been taken. It’s a designer’s nature to be a wishful thinker…

  39. Tim Hart says:

    What makes this even more comical is check out the footer on MaxMost.com . Then check out the footer on Amazon.com .

    Column 1 : “Where’s My Stuff?” — Amazon ” Where’s Your Orders” — MaxMost
    “Track your recent orders.” –Amazon “Sign in to your Order History.” — MaxMost

    Column 2: “Shipping & Returns” — Amazon “Shipping & Returns Help” — MaxMost

    You get the point. Oh ya, the row beneath the three columns happens to be a drop-down category based search… on both sites too. Weird..

  40. Uri says:

    On the issue of clipart:

    There’s a designer I know who is very successful financially and who made a career composing logos from clipart (emigre picture fonts was the best thing that ever happened to him).

    in more than one case that i know, he used the same clipart for logos for two different clients.

  41. Simone says:

    “Your art is like my music, mediocre copies of another mans genius”

    I didn’t have time to read all the entries, designing like a mad thing here. So forgive me if i am repeating!

    If your worried that an exact replica of your logo is out there, designers are the sources that will know. So submit it to a community like stylegala.

    BUT I have always been a fan of Bruce Mau’s writing. He says if running out of ideas (i do alot, far to many websites going live out there) Duplicate it, then change it around a bit, this way you may comeup with something your own, and original.

    But a rule I go by: Design shouldn’t be strict or serious, but fun. So just chill out about it, you can always change it (when your not paying).

  42. Though, like Simone (41), i did not read all of the comments, I agree with what she(/he) said.

    As a musician, you always grow weary when you create something new. “crap, that sounds like that riff by band X”. But as long as you’re not copying the whole song, you’re safe?

    It’s such a grey area with Logo design. Also the outcry would be much larger if I wrote a song that sounded exactly like Nickelback (though I’d kill myself before I’d do that), then if my logo looked kinda like Sun Microsystems.

    I don’t know if there is a solution. I mean, even all snowflakes aren’t totally original (…seriously. weird eh?) But I like Simone’s rule. It should be fun. Chillout. Work done with passion always shines. Sorry if this all sounds totally lame.

  43. Paul Edwards says:

    I was contemplating the Wachovia logo the other day (www.wachovia.com) – Seems fairly arbitrary, and yet, does it have any derivative or equal? Does it relate to some fundamental concept within the company?

    Another thought – the autonumbered background on the comments for this website is absolutely stunning. I might need to “derive” something similar for my own blog. Please consider it flattery.

  44. Paul Edwards says:

    One more thought on the idea of originality over an infinite timespan:

    How is it that no two snowflakes are alike, but if you let a million monkeys type for long enough, they will reproduce a Shakespearian work? I feel as though nature has been making snowflakes for long enough that it may have duped at least one of Frosty’s cells by now.

  45. Mike-
    Now I see where you’re coming from, I knew there must have been something I was missing. So Mr. Schultz really had no “rights” left to the logo when the Sonic’s design was “conceived”. Shame on him.
    Michael

  46. Aron_Hoag says:

    Wow, good article Mike. This subject has been floating around the design world in the past weeks, and it’s good to hear other professional’s opinions. Every designer I know worth their salt is talking about it.

    The Quark Quagmireâ„¢ will definitely get a lot of designers to question their (future) creative work, and rightly so. It’s now a blunder on everyone’s mind.

    But can a lot of this discussion also be attributed to how connected the world has become? Some sort of by-product of globalization? Surely this wouldn’t have come about so promptly 10 years ago…

  47. Denis says:

    This is an interesting article but perhaps the single Achilles Heel to your argument is the STRONG possibility that many of these sitesoutsource their identity to design companies such as templatemonster.com or logoworks.com.

    In the case of logoworks.com (see comment #26), there is an obvious case of logo plagurism but relative to the larger likely cases of people using these kinds of companies (see comment #29), they do not retain the full, sole, and exclusive rights to the template/logo unless they purchase it outright but who is to guarantee that the logo and template hasn’t been purchased before a company/person decides that this is what they want for their identity? I think this latter possibility would be reason to explain some logo copies i.e. comment #29 examples.

    A likely possibility would also be that the companies decide to redesign their website a year or two after having purchased the exlusive rights through a template company and while they scrap the old site, they still keep the logo.

    WOW, that was a mouthful…

    SOME THOUGHTS ON MY OWN LOGO WOULD BE HELPFUL
    you can see the logo here

  48. Erica says:

    Designers are being too hard on themselves if they think originality is the be all & end all in design. Familiarity with the Gestalt principles & all the other axioms of effective design means that you will tend towards creating the same imagery as other good designers. We’ve all absorbed rules that guide us as to spatial relationships, colour combinations, continuation, etc, and we’re actually doing a good job when we employ them. The key is, as mentioned above, to create a visually arresting, memorable graphic that distills the essence of the company you’re trying to represent. Combine that with a compelling graphic and you are truly serving your client. If the result happens to be the exact same solution someone somewhere once also arrived at, rest assured 10 other people (all obeying the principles of design) have likely also had the exact same logo in their portfolios for 3 years, & none of them are at fault.

    That said, stealing is idiotic.

    “Don’t be original. Be good”.

    - Mies Van der Rohe

  49. Uri says:

    “good artists borrow, great artists steal” -picasso

  50. Designers are all human. So they are bound to come up with the same ideas independently. What’s more, they might even do the same design twice without realising. Impossible? No. I once wrote the same piano tune twice. Only later did I realise this. (And if you listen to Heaven & Hell by Vangelis, you can clearly hear the tune to Chariots of Fire at one point, yet it was years before that came out. I believe it is coincidence – a lot of his tunes follow the same pattern. Likewise designers will work in a set way.)

    Oasis have a line in one of their songs that goes “Rip yourself off, it don’t cost much.” They’re also an example of a band deliberately taking a tune and altering it to make it their own. Noel Gallagher admits turning another act’s song backwards and making it his own.

    Now take The Beatles. The most original band ever? Not quite. Like Noel in Oasis, Paul McCartney admits the same recycling happened sometimes with them. They would take a tune, say a country record, then play around with the notes until it was their own song. Only they knew what the original was. (I don’t think they did this for every song of course.)

    So a logo designer might well take an existing logo like the Seasonticket one and play around with the colours and shapes until they have something like the Supersonics logo. To me, those two logos are completely different. One is 3D, one is flat. I would never have connected them personally, without knowing the history behind them.

    Anyway, so what if a logo is almost the same as another company’s? If it fits the company, and the market is different, then so be it. You can only do so much with colours and shapes.

  51. Johnny says:

    Mike,

    I’m a big fan of your site. This is my first post here.

    Interesting topic. It struck me as funny because I recently designed a logo and business card for my friend who is photographer. This is it:

    Imagine my surprise when I noticed this logo on a scale in my aunt’s restaurant a few months later….

  52. Erica says:

    Further to the Seasonticket/Supersonics thing, beyond the obvious fact that Howard Schultz DID rip the design off, there are only so many ways to cram an ‘s’ into a circle. Any given designer will arrive @ 2 or 3 of them, and the most experienced will use the best solution. That’s what I was getting @ above with knowing the principles of design: there are a few ‘right answers’ to any design problem, and we’re just likely to come up with the same ones once in a while.

    Johnny, that HAS to be a case (above) of your brain cataloging a visual solution for later. So if it makes you feel any better, you’re practicing good design subconciously.

  53. I’m reading a book called Logo Font & Lettering Bible by Leslie Cabarga at the moment. I wondered if there was anything in it about copying. Indeed there is. In a section called “Creative Copying”, where he recreates a series of adverts copied directly from a 1952 Yellow Pages, he writes:

    Often, we use various reference materials and combine different elements. As the saying goes, ‘S/he who copies from the most sources is most original.’ To paraphrase an old saying, usually reserved for describing another indoor sport, ‘The designer who says he doesn’t copy is either a liar or a fool.’ After all, that cool billboard you passed the other day, or the commercial you saw on TV last night, are both in your mind and may come out on your sketch pad tomorrow.

  54. dan says:

    for me, the more interesting question is the philosophical weight that is given to the idea of uniqueness. Borges story ‘The Library of Babel’ is suggestive for those who are familiar with it. For those who are not, consider the notion of uniqueness as applied to snowflakes – what constitutes identity between two flakes is presumably exact, molecule to molecule sameness, which is many many orders of detail beyond what is humanly meaningful. Snowflakes that are structurally unique are extremely rare, but ones that are visually identical at the level of human unaided perception – where logos live – are relatively common.

    The discussion reinforces my feeling that the logo as an idea is quite quaint, an unchallenged notion from an era where companies that required that kind of instant identifiability were rarer. For designers in that era, uniqueness was a relatively easily obtained thing, and designers could focus on communication. In much the same way that advertising now is primarily devoted to overcoming other advertising, and communicates little or nothing about the product or service, ie becomes the problem it purports to solve, logo design that structures itself around uniqueness seems retrograde and a bit naive. Differentiating snowflakes or logos assumes a level of attention be applied to each one that the profusion of both renders impossible. Logos are just logos. Snowflakes are just snowflakes.

    There is probably a finite value for the degree of difference for a graphic mark involving shape, proportion and colour, etc.. But that value wouldn’t tell you what the number of marks that could be distinguished by a human observer. Unlike molecular level identity, this is a very slippery quantity, varying from observer to observer, culture to culture (consider your ability to quickly distinguish between traditional chinese characters relative to others within and without that culture). In any case, what designers are selling should not be first and foremost difference, but communication, as the logo designers of the era when logos became dominant understood.

  55. When I noticed the maxmost and the sun microsystem logo’s I thought to myself initially “looks like copyright fraud to me” then I took another look, opened up photoshop and made a quick duplicate with another letter…. the thing is, they all look differently, the MaxMost used an “M” and the Sun Microsystems uses an “S” …. both shaped into a diamond before the company name.

    I would like to believe this as wrong but on one hand the “thought” of the logo was taken, the design was changed and the overall was refreshing, some people may call it plagiarism I see it as inventive….Honestly, how many designers out there can honestly say everything they have done, professionally or personally has 100% come from their own mind? ….. Not a lot, some might say it and I would believe them, some may say they have taken a thought and transformed it and others will say they have taken someone elses logo and just changed the colours, however you look at it people are learning to design and become designers.

    You would look down upon a professional firm but I would certainly not look down on someone getting into the design world doing this, if they did it for profit I would go back to my original statement of finding it wrong, if they were doing it for education and for self-awareness of how designs work and how easy/hard it is to create this effect then by all means let them feed their minds hunger.

    I guess there are so many alternate solutions to this, people could say its wrong, people could say its perfectly all right, I see it as a touchy subject and depending on how the designers gut feeling leads him, thats the only true path……its like everything, learn in your own time and produce a fabulous work of art unlike no other when you’re being paid and adding to a portfolio of works.

  56. Logo design apparently follows the same mechanics as haute couture: There is something in the air, the visual space fills up with an agreed-upon theme, visual building blocks and colour palette.

    This results in a common conscience about the elements which are en vogue during this season, so some percentages of contemporary creation share a common notion. It is unavoidable.

    Remember the days when every company logo had a swoosh, a swirl or some molecular structures?

    Theft left aside, I think this is nothing more than an awkward detail to Quark. I suppose they will not care much about it, as they failed in some many fields of corporate communications and customer relations (as well as in their product). Just one more quirks on their list…

  57. Great article Mike. It really shows the Quark disaster in a new light and offers up some logical reasons as to how a huge company involved with designers could launch a new identity that isn’t as original as they thought it was.

    I have to agree with the idea of having a centralized, checkable database of designs. I can see how it would be difficult otherwise for a designer, especially with identity design, to know that he/she was duplicating someone else’s work (or at least coming VERY close to it).

    At any rate, thanks for shedding some light on this dilemma.

  58. Jerry says:

    Another logo like Scottish Arts Council:

    http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/18938096/

  59. matt says:

    I find it quite funny when I have clients come to me and ask for a logo that ‘explains’ their business. Surely a logo is simply a visual ‘hook’ on which we can hang the client’s brand.

    At the risk of sounding like a wanker, it’s really the underlying qualities of a client’s product or service that define its brand, surely. The purpose of a logo is be simply to differentiate – not explain. Incorporating relevant motifs and concepts into a logo is good (when you can get away with it), and increases the recall of a logo, but just as often you wind up with an abhorrent mess which tries to tell too much of a story.

    One good example I ran across recently was this company’s logo – Cyndan Chemicals – it was designed by the owner of the company, who regards himself as something of a ‘marketing guru’. It strives to incorporate a broad range of company values into one place, but ultimately fails to be more than the sum of its parts.

  60. Nice article Mike. I know that there is no way for designer to know every shape he saw as somebody’s property. It is easy when simple logo like Quark’s is in concern, but what about wider specter of logos out there which are more complicated, you may do some little changes with them and you will get “original copy”, right? Question is: “Are there more designers who do these things consciously or those who doesn’t do this on purpose”? I only know that it will be harder and harder, day after day to make really original logo.

  61. Nowadays, everyone thinks he can design logos :(
    Just check google:logo design – there are tons of so called logo designers!

  62. Peter Burgess says:

    This is a great topic. Here are my 2 cents. Design ideas from completely different individuals have a great possiblity of being similar. The chances are even greater when their designs include common shapes. The Quark issue is a great example. I have seen this shape used everywhere. So many “original” artists use it in what I would call bubble gum vector art. So many flash sites use it in there animation. A beautiful example of this is in the exopolis.com website. They didn’t copy anyone but they are using the common shape. (BTW: beautiful site. If you haven’t seen it by now, see it.” Now the Quark logo is almost identical to the SAC but I doubt very much that it is a copy. Ask yourself this question. “If I was asked to design a simple logo for Quark based on its name, what would I have come up with?” I think the result could be very similar or even exactly the same without ever seeing the SAC logo. To me it seems the shape is just a design for SAC and the shape is a “Q” for Quark.

    As for the other examples. The Sqaurespace is a complete rip off. Nothing Else. Something should be done about that. The Supersonics logo uses an “S” shape that is very common. Can’t really say that is a rip off. It might be an influence but we all know art mimicks art.

    When I design a logo I am scared half to death of it looking like someone elses design. Some people don’t worry or care about those things. They are worried solely about the dollar and could care less that they depend on other peoples talent to represent their art. It’s very sad but it’s also very disturbing. These people are taking work away from real artisits. They are also hurting their clients by giving their clients logos that already represent someone else and discrediting the client’s own business.

    Very very bad people.

  63. Hollobaugh says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBC

    From Wikipedia:

    On New Year’s Day, 1976, NBC’s visual trademark was updated, as a stylized ‘N’ was introduced, consisting of two trapezoids. The design was bold, bright and contemporary. In February 1976, NBC was sued by the Nebraska ETV network for trademark infringement since the new NBC logo was virtually identical to the ETV logo. An out-of-court settlement was reached in which NBC gave ETV new equipment and a mobile color unit (valued at over $800,000) in exchange for allowing NBC to retain their logo. In addition, NBC paid $55,000 to ETV to cover the cost of designing and implementing a new logo. One of the technological innovations of this logo was the first electronically animated ident for an American television network. ([1])

  64. Hollobaugh says:
  65. Itu Chaudhuri says:

    I run Itu Chaudhuri Design, based in New Delhi, India.

    One of the questions we like to ask ourselves, with EACH piece of work, whether logo, packaging or cover, is, “Is it ownable?”. We are sometimes asked by junior colleagues, and sometimes by clients, just what we mean by that word. We used to wave our hands a lot and say things like “Can it be uniquely identified with you in the future” but ownability and uniqueness are not exactly the same thing.

    In the last year, we have, I believe, hit upon a better definition of ownability: “a property of a designed work that is inversely proportional to the probability of it being INADVERTENTLY copied, more or less precisely”. By way of corollary, I offer the equally useful: “When it IS copied, more or less precisely, the copied effort would appear INTENTIONAL, the degree of such intentionality rising with the ownability of the work”.

    Comments welcome.

    Itu

  66. Itu Chaudhuri says:

    Moreover:

    Such copying is much likelier to happen when the forms in the logo consist entirely of straight edges and circles (1/2 or 1/4). ALL the examples shown by post-ers to this thread fall into this category, even the complex S forms Mike’s first post.

    After the deafening silence in response to my last post…

    Itu

  67. Lech Orlowski says:

    Hi Mike,

    It’s a very good article, but my feelings tell me that you feel a bit bitter about whole world. Designing and creative process is very subjective matter. I remember that over 12 years ago I designer a logotype for Polish manufacturing company called Convector.
    I did my work in total isolation from any references, internet and besides some brochures of competitors. After completion of my work and final apprval stationery was printed and signage prepared. A year later one of medoum size City councils in Poland admited similarity to an initial N within Convector logotype. Senior design lecturer was asked to re-shape unfortunate N. There was no legal problem, I had all originals of my work done in camera-ready artwork.
    If we look back into history we can only find our own experoienced build upon old masters, and be inspired by them.
    On the other hand old good times of design and designers are already matter of the past…

    Cheers,
    Lech

    (Editor’s Note: Nice story. Bitter about the whole world though? What? I think the world is just fine.)

  68. lori says:

    What a nice site!

    Excellent article–with your permission, I am making a pdf of this for my beginning graphic design students.

    Most good designers use a similar thought process, and in developing marks [especially those based on single letters] will tend to follow similar paths. There is a difference between a solution that resembles another’s work and a direct copy! The Maxmost one is obviously just stealing, the Supersonics–that is more of a derivation, I don’t think you could win.

  69. “This day in age, its getting much much harder to come up with an original idea, much less a graphical logo”. I can’t completely agree with that. Human brains is a unique thing, and it has great potention. I know that a kind of a slogan of today’s world, the era of postmodernism, is “everything has already happened….nothing new can occur”, however, new trends still appear as well as new original ideas and solutions. I think we should stay more optimisic and believe in ourselves. I love the quotation by H. Ford “If you believe you can, you’re right. if you believe you can’t, you’re right”

  70. “Coming up with original designs is not as easy as before..” Grant it, there was not that many companies and not that many people that were designers 10 years ago. With the advancement of software, oridinary designers that would have remained ordinary, now have the opportunity to sharpen their skills. I would never have started designing logos if I had to rely on my drawing skills, adding and remove shapes has neven been easier with the latest Illustrator. But I find that competition is not the major issue; keeping a design you created from being copied is a real problem. By sheer coincidence, I was trying to find a customer’s website in which we had done a logo for; by searching for their company name, I came across a logo site that ripped of over 15 of our logos. They did not even have the presence of mind to change the company! We have their site shut down within 72 hours.

  71. Cregg Martin says:

    Hello all,

    A quick comment from a business owner’s standpoint on the Sonics type of situation. I know designers want to get paid fairly for their work, and they should, but as a businessman, once a logo has established a “look and feel” for the enterprise, if I decide to carry over elements of that same look and feel to other companies I own, I am by God going to do it. You can’t seriously intend to lay claim to all subsequent permutations of a circle and an S. As far as ownership goes, I have always made sure that ANY design or development firm or staff that I work with signs the rights to the design over to me upon final payment. I will pay a little more, but there is no way I would ever subject my corporate persona to the ongoing scrutiny of a designer. I’ts really poor business on the part of the buyer, from a risk management standpoint.

    I’m not trying to be an Ogre about all of this, but from the business owner’s point of view, there are much bigger fish to fry.

    By the way, I was a senior partner in one of the big 5 management consulting firms, and we advised numerous global firms through re-branding efforts, and we ALWAYS advised our clients to secure all rights to all content, even if it meant using overseas graphics desingers, who wern’t as inflexible about signing over ownership. To my knowledge, every single client we advised this way took the advice….and we are talking an aggregate total of serious 7 figure work.

    Food for thought………….

    Cregg

  72. Mike D. says:

    Cregg: As I said, the original funders of Seasonticket.com retained no ownership rights to any intellectual property (including logomarks) after the closing and subsequent sale of the company. This is common.

  73. As one famous designer once said:

    There are no new ideas… only interpretations of old ones.

    That being said, there are obvious rip-off situations that
    should always be addressed. Nothing worse than a
    rip-off.

    (this, by the way, is an excellent blog.)

    Fred

  74. Hartl says:

    Unbelievable. Thanks for the images. Are there further accidents?

  75. I saw good article with examples of rip-off logos created by LogoWorks.com: http://www.baddesignkills.com/logoworks/index.htm

  76. Rachel C. says:

    Hi,

    I just think that if a logo is going to be symbolic or iconic, it will be very VERY difficult to make it unique enough.

    So the only solution is to make more illustrative logos. However while these logos will “tell the story” and are definitely unique, it will not look “minimalist”, which is what most clients prefer for flexibilty for printing, looking professional and corporate.

    Maybe we should have a forum showcasing new logos we design and let the public see them, letting them make any comparisons to existing ones to see if they are really unique before officially releasing any.

    Haha, hell lot of time that will take. Ok bad suggestion…

  77. I have read most of the posts but not all so forgive me if I am saying something anyone else has already pointed out.

    It is not really about whether logo’s are that identical or not… In your example of quark and the scottish art counsil. What if they are nearly exactly the same? Will consumers lose all their marbles and really be confused whether quark and the scottish arts counsil are related? I think not.

    Do the logo’s on both brands tell you something about the brand? Sure, they fit and I think that is the most important part in this issue..

    Offcourse when two companies are in the same branche or the similarities really create confusion about the identity of the brand then you have a problem as a designer. Chances are that you will know what the compettetive companies are surrounding the brand and thus you will not design a logo with reassembles ont of those brands.

    Offcourse you can feel ripped off as a designer when your pops up on another company. When you are sure about the ripoff, take action. If you are not sure, try and see it as a compliment that someone couldn’t think of anything better than your logo. :-)

    This is a subject wich really grabs me. Since I am a Dutch Communications student I think my Scription will be about something like this. If there is anyone who wouldnt mind beeing the company behind the research… just contact me (excuse for the blatant use of your webspace of my advertising)

  78. oron says:

    nice bit

  79. Lisa says:

    http://www.artworkers.org/ also has the same logo as Quark and the Scottish Arts Council. It seems to be the same blue as the Scottish Arts one as well, except there’s an extra shape added to the logo.
    I don’t know. I really don’t know.

  80. Invision-graphics.com hosts a page of design ripoffs you might want to join the community or network up with him.

  81. maria says:

    It’s interesting when you present ideas to a client or your boss and they ask, haven’t I see something like that somewhere before? I always respond that I am sure you have seen something like it…hasn’t everything already been done before, at least once? Of course it has. Even in my own work. I may have created something 5 years ago for someone and it may have been rejected and then today I pull it out of the box and reapply it to what I am currently working on.

    Our ideas come from somewhere, whether they’re from a book of logos that we own or random things that we pass in our daily travels. Subconsciously, we recognize them as potential to create something with your own creative juices…something that works for someone else.

    I am all for a database on the web with every logo ever created. It should be mandatory that all logos are submitted to it and any designer can log in and have access so that we can double check our work. It really sucks being in the hot seat…the worst is being called out for “copying” if that’s what it’s called.

  82. Smilie says:

    A very good written article and good examples. It would be really nice if such an algorithms already exists…

  83. Chris says:

    Creating a logo is always hard, creating one from white page is difficult, you have to put all caracteristics of the product/company your creating, and some unconscious inspiration of an existing logo comes easily in mind.
    Disputes on that subject will always exist, and the limit between copy and difference isn’t really clear.

  84. Angie says:

    I’ve been trying to find someone to answer about using a part of an image that I saw on a poster or picture somewhere, it’s a small part of the image. It’s somewhere in the background of a storybook picture and it looked like something I would want to represent me. Is this in any way a rip off even though it’s not a logo design? It’s very simple yet elegant but I don’t wanna do anything illegal.

  85. As a logo designer, I’d like to agree with the others who say it’s a tough job. Creativity can not run out, that would be a paradox. I think creativity is the missing element. Without it, you can’t be much of a designer.

  86. Tom says:

    I think some people take this too far. I agree that blantantly stealing or even somewhat replicating a design after some other logo you have seen is wrong. But I do agree with the comment that if a business is not competing with each other or even in some other country that is no way invovled in the same business is no bid deal. There are going to be times when you create a logo that is similar to some others, it just happens. I think the maxmost.com logo is blatant design theft. Yet some logos are going to be close, you can see the coincatental design. This is bound to happen.

  87. Marvin says:

    It definately isn’t easy to come up with a unique logo design that represents a company or it’s services/products. I don’t see anything wrong with being slightly influenced by things around you or details that you’ve seen from other logos or design materials, however, to willingly copy an exisiting logo is just wrong.

    That being said, …love the blog!

  88. Rich says:

    In college, I was Art Director for the arts and iterary magazine and was interviewing designers to take over when I graduated. The university was fairly good size but the design community was quite small. One of the applicants came in with “their” portfolio and they proceeded to show 2 design pieces I had created. The universe has expanded with the internet, but the “borrowing” has only gotten worse, or maybe just more exposed.

  89. What an excellent thread, and some wonderful examples. There are some clear instances of outright theft in many of the examples! My heart goes out to you if you have been on the recieving end.

    The problem is, the person who owns the rights, first has to find out about it – then has to have the money, inclination, and energy to do something about it!

  90. Anonymous says:

    I was working in Sweden in beginning of the 2000’s when there was a lot of debate about the fact that Andersen Consulting was leaving their partnership with Arthur Andersen the accountants.

    Apparently Arthur Andersen was not willing to let Andersen Consulting step away from the partnership and keep the money they made if they kept the name Andersen which the partners of the accountants thought was very valuable and unique.

    So Andersen Consulting changed their name to Accenture and took off.

    Arthur Andersen who saw how much money there was in consulting and how little there was in auditing started their own consulting brand and changed their logo. Check it out on http://www.andersen.com
    and everybody who lived in Sweden immediately thought ahaa that’s a rip off of Pressbyran which is a nationwide network of small tobacco, milk, newspaper etc shops that has been around since at least 40 or 50 years. If you compare their logo on http://www.pressbyran.se then you can surely see that the big orange circle is identical.

    Then we come back to the value of the Andersen name.

    After the Enron scandal Arthur Andersen more or less went bankrupt since no big company wants to be audited by a company who was known worldwide for bad ethics even if it was just a few people in the company that worked for Enron it took the whole company down with them.

  91. Russell says:

    This is becoming all too common. I work for LogoBee.com, and we’ve had some instances of logo-lifts as well. One shining example that we recently became aware of was even spotlighted in Wired Magazine.

    In the article, Wired evaluates 3 or 4 different low-cost design houses, one them being ‘thelogoloft.’
    Wired Article

    ‘The Logo Loft’ managed second place, and features the article and logo on their website:
    Wired article @ the Logo Loft

    That’s great, except that we’ve had this similar looking logo on our site since 2003.
    Orig. logo design

    Anyways there isn’t much we can do now. I contacted the editors at Wired, and they told me that while it was interesting, it was too late to follow-up on something that had been published sometime last year.

    And that’s the way the needle pricks,

    -Russell

  92. Russell says:

    Well, it looks as though ‘The Logo Loft’ has taken down the wired article. It’s a start at least. Luckily, the logo created for Wired (GenVoyant) was not in fact a real company, otherwise the situation would have been substantially more serious.

    But it can be agreed that logo plagiarism is becoming a very common issue that all designers are going to have to deal with. It isn’t the first time we’ve had something like this happen to us.

    Good luck!

    -Russell

  93. Anyone notice MaxMost have given up on Sun’s logo?

    I’m trying to remember where they’ve got the new one from – one of the new ‘web 2.0′ sites. and doesn’t their designer have a copy of illustrator? photoshop blur is //wrong//.

  94. Jothi says:

    Thank you for the insightful article. I am in the process of setting up a franchise. Part of the franchise fee goes towards setting up of the company and maintenance of software for a whole year. The set up includes, logo design, business cards and letterhead design among other things. I was asked to select a logo template and I went ahead and did so from a list of 8 or so logos. After I had made several minor changes to the font and color selection, I had approved the design of the logo for the business cards and letterheads only to find out a couple of days later that the company had also offered the same logo with a color change to another franchisee. Needless to say how upset I am about this but upon questioning the graphic designer/support team I was reassured that it is legal & legitimate for companies to have the same logo as long as the colors on the logo are different along with the company name and font style (be different as well!!)

    Is there anywhere I can substantiate this claim? I am uncomfortable with having the same business logo as another competing organization and would have liked the franchising company to atleast have the common courtesy to inform me that that same logo has been utilized by another company so that I could have made the decision to at the very least switch to another logo design template.

    Would appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks

  95. slee says:

    Do not place order to logo loft. They will never deliver the product.
    It is my personal experience. sale reps show you fortune but other people will show you nothing.
    it took 10 days finally logo loft stop lieing and offer me refund.
    “your draft will be emailed at 5PM CST” that is what they told me 5 days in low. nothing happen.

    Beware!!

  96. Logoworks states on its homepage “#1 trusted small business design provider” (….) after dodging (true) accusations of ripping off designs. There have been thousands of posts about that matter, and they behaved as if nothing had happened. They actually took advantage of that situation as it strengthened their position in search engine results, which is the most common way small businesses look for design firms. Sad.

  97. John Doe says:

    I placed an order 6 months ago and after waiting nearly a month I finally contacted them to see what was going on with my first round of concepts. I was told that “my ticket had been misplaced” and that I would see some logo concepts within 2 business days. I did receive the first round of concepts but they were absolutely HORRIBLE! It honestly looked like someone took 5 minutes using Coreldraw to throw some stuff together. The next day I connected to their live chat client and was speaking to Amber. I aired my displeasure and she informed me that she did not have any information on my order, her job was for new customers. I called the number listed on their site (the toll free is disconnected) and guess who I spoke with? Yep, it was Amber. Apparently they only have access to your account if you call.

    She apologized and said that I would receive new revisions if I logged into my account and sent through their system. I did that and sent a copy to myself. Another month goes by and I still don’t receive any new revisions so I call again. This time I speak to someone else who tells me that the revision email was never sent. I told her that I had confirmation in my email of when I sent the revisions. She apologized and gave me a free rush. She said it would guarantee that I received them within 24 hours since it was now a rush job.

    Another month goes by and still nothing. I send numerous emails to people on their contact page and received no response. Finally, someone named Aaron emails me and says that he is the President of The Logo Loft telling me that the revisions were in my client center. I log in and nope, they weren’t there. He then emailed me back apologizing (that is one thing that company is pretty good at) and said that he would handle it immediately.

    Another month goes by and still nothing so I call and ask for a refund. The girl on the phone gave me the runaround and told me that she had to have her manager contact me. I said no, I didn’t want a phone call or an email with more excuses. I just wanted a refund. She was actually the only nice person I had ever spoken to while dealing with this company. I did not raise my voice but was/am very frustrated and she told me that I was the “nicest person she had dealt with all day” – that speaks volumes.

    She told me that it would take 2-3 days for her to process it to her manager, whatever that means. So I will probably have to charge this back to my credit card and move forward to get my money refunded.

    I would avoid this company like the plague! They are not professional and don’t even come close to delivering what they advertise on their site. I really don’t think they designed any of the logo samples they have posted because the concepts I received are lightyears behind what they have posted.

    I should have done more research before placing an order because there are numerous websites where people are saying pretty much the same thing I’m saying here.

  98. Cheri says:

    I am taking some time out of my busy day to also write about my experiences with Aaron Carr and the Logo Loft. First, they are not creative- everything I received from them was pure garbage. I mean awful! Everything was fine with the transaction until the second they got my credit card number–then it went downhill from there. No call backs, not deadlines met and finally no refund (that is until my credit card company got involved and took care of it for me.) Almost every design on their website is a fake company. Now they are missing from the Better Business Bureau, either by the BBB taking them off or Logo Loft not wanting people to read the complaints.

    By the way, John Doe, in December of 2006 when I was dealing with The Logo Loft, there were almost zero postings about their bad practices (except from the BBB which I didn’t read.) Don’t beat yourself up about not doing the research- I did quite a bit and never found what I am finding in a search today.

    Make sure to visit http://www.logoloftsucks.com and write about your horror stories with this company!

  99. Nothing New in Logo Design

    Mike Davidson has an interesting post on logo design. His point is that companies are ripping each other off. Here is the most damming example Mike presents: Master illustrator Josh Williams posted earlier this week about a company called MaxMost.com

  100. A scottish quark

    Ich wage einen bescheidenen Versuch, die Designosph�re mit einer neuen Wortsch�pfung zu belasten. Nein, nicht “Designosph�re”, sondern:

    A scottish quark: Ein Logo, das man nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen selbst entwickelt hat, nur um festzustellen, …

  101. Logo Collisions

    Boing Boing’s comments on logo plagiarism reminded me of something I’ve noticed – there are several cases of companies or organizations that are in completely different fields having nearly identical logos.

  102. cidoc says:

    Originality in Logo Design

    Originality in Logo Design by Mike Davidson “Never waste a stroke.” That’s the best piece of advice you’ll ever get in logo design. However, it’s also advice that can inadvertently get you in trouble. Draw a blue circle on…

  103. Ken says:

    Great post, lots of interesting perspectives.
    I am currently working on a logo for the company I work for and it is a challenge not to give into the over used icons of logo land.
    THe problem is the clients usually like the familiar.
    I come from a painting background so am very much into the exploration of new expressions, but when you use commercial sofware to produce designs you are bound to come to similar conclusions. Illustrator will automatically brand your designs to the limitations and capabilites of the software.

    Of course I am still a newbie as a designer, my biggest limitation is tech skills.

  104. Anonymous says:

    Do you know what else is a big problem with theft and thieves? Spec site contests, particularly Worth1000. There are many “designers” (I use that term loosely) that thieve from existent artwork/designs. One of them, a user named “potion”, thieved his files right off of brandsoftheworld.com. Even better, his friends thieve off of HIM: user named ulahts being one of the “bigger” ones (he’s all over the spec sites and has used potion’s designs -and- mass-submits [that is he submits the same design to several clients at the same time). The sad part is that people allow it (except in potion’s case, where he was banned from Worth1000). Whatever you do? Stay away from those two idiots. You will NOT get anything original from them.

  105. ulahts says:

    In reply to Anonymous:

    Well, beside the fact that you are bringing serious accusations to my person you have no proof that could sustain your afirmations. The WorldWideWeb is so free and – oops- i can post whatever i want, whenever i want. Well, this is not quite how the things are.

    Once again Mr. Lackofinspirationfakebrainedimagination with – let me guess: 5 lclients in his portfolio? – tries to mud other’s identity because of his creativity impotence and because of his polute imagination, while trying to earn some fair and square money in some contests sustained in different market places, he can’t draw a thing using this sofisticated graphic software (And he wonderes: why the heck Paint isn’t used for such things???)

    Dissapointing and that “term loosely” you would better make a tag and hang it on your WACOM (try Wikipedia for WACOM) every time you post a thing anywhere in this world. No go get your bag and go back to school and bring me some good grades.

  106. [...] Davidson has a great summary on logo design, which covers the principles, and more importantly addresses the difference between [...]

  107. Robert says:

    I am currently in college making tables on the side for a little extra cash, the tables I make are mostly basketball arenas. I was told in a forumn that is illegal for me to paint these courts because I am using the college logo, even though I hand paint the whole table. Is this illegal?

  108. [...] Templates – no way to design your identity One Olympics, similar logos Originality in Logo Design LogoWorks: Who is to [...]

  109. Brian says:

    Great post. Just stumbled across it. (not literally….I mean…not from stumbleupon….damn this internet thing has gotten out of hand! :)

    I guess it’s all along the lines of “The Flinstones” > “The Simpsons” > “Family Guy” etc….

    Everything comes from something in the past…music (with samples), artwork, tv shows, books, etc….inspiration is always drawn from somewhere…I guess it’s just a matter of how blatantly you re-create that inspiration and whether or not you have the creativity and originality to add your own touch to it!

    It would suck to have a great logo stolen like that tho as you experienced….

  110. David says:

    Logo design is a most important part of graphic design. It should be perfect and according to the company services because the logo represents companies brands or corporate identities.
    Your logo should be attractive and massage conveying.

    I am impressed with your post nice one!

  111. I think it’s funny that frequently when I design a website for a small/start-up business, they want me to do a logo while I’m at it. It’s like they think that’s part of the design…it should be even more important than the site, in some cases!

  112. The originality of a logo can be confirmed if the idea behind a logo is explained.Interpretation of a logo gives it exclusive creativity.Always try to explain your logo in terms of your company goals and image.No one will be ever able to copy it.

  113. [...] Originality in logo design, from Mike Davidson. [...]

  114. [...] Mike Davidson – Originality in Logo Design (tags: Logo design branding marketing) [...]

  115. Kerblotto says:

    Every logo is derivative. I was puzzled by VW’s ‘autobahn for all’ logo. It looks like a little hitler head.

  116. Make illustrative logos. You’ll have far less trademark disputes and are much more likely to create something original.

  117. Hi guys, I was wondering, what’s the difference between an amateur who creates a professional logo and a professional who studied to create professional logos. Isn’t the end result what matters most? I have been designing for almost 6 years and none of my clients have staff over 5 people. I try my best to create something they can appreciate whether or not it looks like a visa, or paypal, coca cola, (please not these are just words) why do we remember these more than others? is it the brand, quality, popularity, influence by our friends or is there some secret society that whispers the names of these companies in your ears. I try very hard to do original stuff but sometimes I find a particular font or shape sticks in my mind and I end up scrapping and starting fresh. One thing I try not to do is use the same font twice.

  118. @ The BlackPearl: I think there’s hardly any difference at all, if you’re looking at the final results. It’s all about making the client happy, that’s it. If they like the logo, they dont care if your 6 yr old kid slapped it together. If they don’t like it, they aren’t going to care where you learned logo design. We remember companies like Coke b/c they’ve been spending millions of ad dollars since before you were born. The simplicity of the logo at the end of the ad helps it burn into our brain.

  119. So this might not go over well, but here goes: I think that designers need to get out more. They need to make awareness of and participation in popular culture part of their jobs. I’m sure that there are legions who will protest this as unfair, and I’m sure that there are lots of striking exceptions. But in my work teaching designers, and as an employer of designers, I have to say that the breed tends to be more introverted and more desperate to be original (by contrast to their advertising counterpart, the art director). This latter point, paradoxically, produces a tendency to ignore cultural context. To believe that the only true creativity is that which occurs in a vacuum. Once in awhile, this results in someone reinventing a well-worn wheel.

  120. Curious says:

    I realize this entry is a bazillion years old, but I can’t help but wonder if you designed a logo incorporating a snake wrapped around the earth on purpose. Are you a “chosen one”? If not, maybe your client was. Maybe that’s why he liked it and then ripped it off. Maybe you didn’t even know what you had done in designing that logo. But something tells me you did.

  121. Mike D. says:

    Curious: I think it’s time for your medication.

  122. jgeeoff says:

    i’ve been at this thing for over 30 years, and many designers i’ve met don’t do the one thing that’s actually one of the most important, research.
    i saw a tv article on a world-known agency chairman, and his one knock on the industry was that their isn’t good research anymore (that was over 5 years ago).
    inspiration is good, knowing what a company does is good, but when i was in school (many, many moons ago), we were taught that one of the reasons logo design was so expensive in many cases, was partially because of the time taken in research. there have been logo databases of both analog and digital varieties for several decades (and those paper things called books, earlier than i care to think). for many years now, we’ve been using technology as the grand excuse, “i can’t do that because my software doesn’t.” sound familiar? just because it takes over 2 hours to pour over reference books and logo websites, and magazines, etc., that doesn’t mean you’re finished–although ones head may feel that way. technology has made instant gratification too slow…
    yes, there are moments of true logo collision, but for the most part, i’ve seen blatant and accidental plagiarism, and near misses/hits that call to question the design industry as a whole, when dealing with businesses that were either burnt, or are moderately savvy about design. the companies that aren’t savvy–throngs that are cropped up and overtaking the more “sophisticated”), that could give a hoot about whether their logo is a rip-off or not.
    we can police as best we can, by not letting it go, no matter how old the situation is–let as many design-side and client-side people know that there has been either a violation, or that they may want to take a step back and try not to let their brand be diluted any further.
    my takeaway from all this is to start with the company interview, get as much unique data as possible–what unique benefits does the client have that can position them above/apart from the competition. Find out as much as possible about what should be your business partner. then incorporate that into a brand strategy that incorporates the development of a logo. take that information and thumbnail a thousand ideas, weed out the best ones, then research them to make sure your business partner is the unique entity the brand will represent them to be. and if this takes too much time. we all need to rethink where we are in this profession, and where the client is in trying to market their business.
    having said all that, it has happened many times that the ceo either states or even “sketches” what they “want.” once again, maybe it’s technology (i like to blame it a lot), it’s so much easier to give the client what they want, regardless of the repercussions, if any even come up…then if they do, it’s not by another company, it’s by designers…

  123. Joey Cosi says:

    A lot (not all) designers I’ve encountered normally look for inspiration before creating a logo. This has been normal to a lot of designers these days. Just like what has been said above, many designers do not research or rather their definition of “research” is by browsing through logo libraries not to make sure their logo isn’t similar to anyone else, but to grab those ideas and somehow change it up.

    It’s a vicious cycle that has been going on for a long time. Designers should learn to think about brand equity and how it affects their clients.

  124. Mahesh says:

    I have a client who want to go build a website and go online. His business is currently limited to local market, limited to a town. He has been using a logo for last 10 years, which was unique in the town. Now he wants go online and get customers from other than his town. This gave up a new issue of duplicate logos. He is afraid his if his logo is being used in any other part of the world. His logo didn’t have a business name and it was symbols. Going online means his logo should be unique in the world.

    I searched and searched for duplicates of his logo, but still couldn’t find one. Still a duplicate is a violation of trademark laws. After reading your article I am thinking of suggesting him to create a new logo which is based on his original logo with his business name included in it. I guess it rules out the possibility of duplication.

    Thanks for your article and lot of helpful comments

Shared
Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.

“More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”
- Tim Kreider’s denunciation of the cult of busyness is excellent. (via jimray)