From logo makers to design agencies: what’s the best way to get a logo designed?

Sam Lundquist

Let’s see here… Business plan? Check. Paperwork filed? Check. Sparkly new logo to show your business to the world (and print on beer koozies for the summer party)?

beer koozie

Oh, not there yet? That’s OK!

Starting a company or launching a product means you’re juggling non-stop. Design and branding might be the last things you’re thinking about, but they shouldn’t be ignored.

Logos are the face of your business. A good logo design lets people instantaneously understand who you are and attracts the right customers. When you’re ready to get a one made, you’ve got several options:

  • With a logo maker, you can use a free website to churn out a logo in just minutes. (Note that if you actually want to use that logo, you will have to pay for it.)
  • Working one-on-one with a freelance designer will allow you to collaborate with a single artist on the creation of your logo.
  • In a design contest, designers from all over the world pitch you multiple ideas for a logo. You give feedback and in the end select your perfect logo from the finalists.
  • Hiring a design agency gives you additional resources like full design teams, market research and experts who specialize in other aspects of branding.

How do you know which is right for you? Each option has its advantages and drawbacks.

Logo maker, freelance design, design contest and design agency comparison table

But it’s one thing for me to tell you what the plusses and minuses are, to really help you make up your mind, I decided to show you.

I love food, so I picked the yummiest line of business I could think of—a trendy, fast-casual restaurant targeted to millennials—and took a look at logos created by each of these four design options.

Let’s compare.

Logo makers: what are they and why might you want to use one

A logo maker is a free-to-use web application that allows you to create a logo by selecting from libraries of fonts, shapes, icons and colors. Although they’re free to play with, you must purchase your final logo in order to use it. Purchase prices range from $10-$50, with most in the $40 range. After purchasing the final logo and a usage license, you can freely stick it on your website, packaging, signage, promotional materials and more.

A quick Google search gave me these four options: GraphicSpringsTailor BrandsSquareSpace and DesignManticEach of these operates a bit differently, but they all guide you through these four basic steps:

SquareSpace logo maker
1. Enter your business’ name (SquareSpace)
GraphicSprings free logo maker
2. Select an icon (GraphicSprings)
Tailor Brands logo creator
3. Choose a typeface (Tailor Brands)
DesignMantic logo generator
4. Pick a color (DesignMantic)

To test out these logo makers, I invented my own fast casual restaurant concept. Confession: I’ve always had the not-so-secret dream of opening a Midwest county fair themed confectionary that serves anything and everything deep-fried and on a stick. I call it “Sam’s Barn.” And someday it will change the culinary world.

I determined the brand personality of Sam’s Barn would be playful, but classic. That meant I’d use red and dark gray in my logo design. Here’s what I came up with:

My logo builder results

GraphicSprings logo creator results
GraphicSprings
DesignMantic logo maker results
DesignMantic
SquareSpace logo generator results
SquareSpace
Tailor Brands logo builder results
Tailor Brands

Of the four logo makers, GraphicSprings offered the most flexibility. Their application even offers some basic design tools, like layering, shadows and glow effects. If you have any sort of design background, this might be a good place to start. To make my logo, I was able to combine an icon and a few shapes into a neat little badge—something I couldn’t do with any of the other logo makers.

DesignMantic gave me good color options, but their artwork and templates looked very dated (think Microsoft Word clipart from 1997). There may be some great images in there, but it will take awhile to dig through them.

SquareSpace was the fastest of the bunch. Name, icon, typeface, color, done. But speed came at the expense of customization. Their icons and font choices were very limited and virtually no elements of the logo could be further tweaked. It fits in with the simplicity of the SquareSpace brand, but this might not be for everyone.

Tailor Brands was the pleasant surprise. Their application was ultra-easy and fun. Everything was presented in plain English—no designer-y jargon necessary. The fact that I got to play a “This or That” game to decide on my font was fantastic; I made an important design choice without even realizing it. This logo ended up being my favorite of the group. It was clean, simple and something I could easily stamp on anything from signage to napkins to funnel cake wrappers. The icon is a bit basic, but also fits in with the simplicity of current design trends. Plus, the font has a little bit of wear that gives it a little character.

All in all, was the process easy? Absolutely. I never felt lost in any of the applications. Was it inexpensive? Yep. Everything was free-to-use and I only paid for what I needed. Was it fast? Yessir. Everything took literally minutes. Did I get good results? Kind of. I found some logos I liked, but they’re very generic. There was nothing about them that stands out. So, are the logos usable? Yes. Do they say anything about how quirky and awesome my company will be? Not so much.

Logo creators are great because…

  • They’re inexpensive. Basic logo packages start at $10.
  • They’re really fast. If you’re not too picky and don’t tweak your design, you’ll be done in minutes.
  • They cut out the middleman. You do the work yourself.

But…

  • Your results will be generic. You only have a small library of templates, images, fonts and colors to choose from. Plus, there will likely be many other logos that look very similar to yours.
  • You can’t customize. Unless you know how to use external graphic editing programs, what you see is what you get.
  • You’re at the mercy of your own skill set. Along with the limitations of the web application, how your logo looks is determined by your personal knowledge of color, typography and design.

Freelance designers: when and why you might want to work with one

A freelancer is an independent designer who works on a project-by-project basis. Because freelancers are self-employed, they are free to set their own rates and schedule. For logo design, rates typically range from several hundred to many thousands of dollars, and can be charged on either an hourly or per-project basis. In terms of skill level and talent, freelancers can vary tremendously. If you’re looking to hire a freelancer, you’ll do so by vetting their portfolio of past work, analyzing their style and trusting that they’ll be able to give you a similar quality and style of work for your project.

Freelancers can come from anywhere. Many people like to find freelancers through word-of-mouth referrals and personal connections. These are often your best option because the designer will have been vetted by a friend or colleague, and you’ll be able to ask honest questions about skill, quality, schedule and cost.

If you don’t have connections, I also found freelancers by searching for “freelance logo designers restaurants” on Google Images and by reading Yelp reviews in my area.

As you’ll see, these options varied in both quality and style. If you peruse the designers’ profiles, you’ll notice that some give pricing details, but others don’t. You’ll often need to contact the designer and negotiate a rate. Unless you’ve worked with a designer before or have friends or advisers to help you, it can be a challenge to know if you’re getting a good deal.

Freelancers are great because…

  • They’re collaborative. You get to work one-on-one with a designer who can take your ideas, brand personality and style, and transform it into a logo.
  • They’re usually experienced. Freelancers have likely built up a portfolio of work from a variety of clients, and understand how to translate your ideas into graphics.
  • They’re flexible. Freelancers can often customize a project to make sure it fits your needs.

But…

  • Their quality varies—a lot. Freelancers range from newbies to experts.
  • The vetting process can be time-consuming and stressful, especially if you don’t have a background in design.
  • It’s easy to accidentally go over-budget. Per-project freelancers will typically set a rate that includes a certain number of design revisions. If you don’t get exactly what you want in within those parameters, you can expect to pay more. Hourly freelancers can typically give you an estimate, but at the end of the day you can’t be 100% sure how long something will take.

Design contests: what are they and when are they your best logo design option

Launching a logo design contest allows you to crowdsource multiple design ideas from an international community of designers. Designers compete by submitting logos based on your creative brief (a description of your business, your brand and your design requirements). You get lots of unique ideas created specifically for your business and get to choose one (or more) as a favorite to purchase. Throughout the contest, you’re able to interact with designers and give feedback on different versions.

There are several companies that host design contests (like designhill and designContest), but we’re going to admit to being a little bit biased and using our own platform for examples.

On 99designs, contests are priced from $299-$1299 and usually take 1-2 weeks to complete. Premium packages will attract more designers and offer more support, and the highest price point (Platinum) guarantees that you’ll work exclusively with experienced designers that have been vetted by the 99designs team.

Design contests tackle fast-casual

To find some fast-casual examples, I searched the 99designs discover section for restaurant logos. I wanted to compare a couple of different price points. First, Badfin’s takes fast casual to the beach, offering burgers and brews to tourists. For their logo, they ran a $499 Silver Contest.

Badfin's logo by Apelsin_i
by Apelsin_i for badfinsbrew
Badfin's logo by Rom@n
by Rom@n for badfinsbrew
Badfin's logo by IvanL
by IvanL
Another Badfin's logo by Apelsin_i
by Apelsin_i

They got 58 options from 12 different designers. Some of the earlier entries were a little bit simplistic, or off the mark, but by giving a lot of feedback, Badfin’s was able to find a solid group of finalists. Some of the images were more playful, others more badass, but each one had a unique, quirky vibe—not the fish you’d find in a logo maker’s image library. Each entry also has a hand-selected font that adds to the character of the overall logo.

Now, let’s look at a Platinum Contest, which costs $1299 and ensures you’ll work only with vetted, experienced designers. Straying not too far from the fast-casual restaurant world, a gourmet café named Le Corbeau Coffee (“The Raven” in French) wanted a logo with an Edger Allen Poe motif.

Le Corbeau Coffee logo by Sava Stoic
by Sava Stoic for Afsmith11
Le Corbeau Coffee logo by obsidian_
by obsidian_
Le Corbeau Coffee logo by mark992
by mark992
Le Corbeau Coffee logo by ludibes
by ludibes

Le Corbeau got 69 entries from 11 designers. At first glance, the numbers aren’t that much different than what Badfin’s got, but if you dig in, you’ll notice there is more variety in the imagery and more nuance in the designs. Each submission captures the same vintage feel, but each also has its own unique style, layout, typeface and overall treatment. Plus, of those 69 options, almost all are viable; no generic logos in the bunch.

Design contests are great because…

  • You get multiple options to choose from. 
  • The design options you get are created specifically for your business. Designers find you, not the other way around. You’re not looking at a profile and guessing/hoping the designer’s style will work for you.
  • They offer professional quality at affordable prices. With prices on different sites running from $150-$1300, design contests are accessible to both small businesses and larger companies.
  • They’re pretty fast. If you make getting a logo your priority and provide timely feedback to designers, you can get a professional logo in a week.

But…

  • They do require your time. You’ll need to put together an informative brief and give regular feedback in order to get the perfect design, otherwise you might end with something off-the-mark.
  • You will get entries that vary in quality. Most design contests are open to both beginner and experienced designers. Good communication and a higher price point can help you attract more experienced designers to your contest.
  • You will see work in draft form. Most designers will enter a rough concept to gauge your interest before spending their time and energy perfecting it.

Design agencies: when they’re the best option

An agency is a company that specializes in design (and usually bigger picture branding). Their professionally-trained teams work with clients of all kinds to build their brands. Again, rates and schedules are set by the agency itself, but logo designs typically start above $10,000 and have a creative development process that could take months. However, this process will also likely include time spent on market research and competitive analysis to make sure your brand fits in (or stands out) with current marketing and design trends in your industry.

The size and scope of design agencies varies widely. Many are multi-national firms with experts all over the world that can bring a range of skills and cultural insight to the brand-development process. Others are local and prefer to work with businesses in their immediate community. Some agencies have a singular focus—either on a particular industry or a specific design style. If you’re looking into a design agency, explore all of your options and consider what’s important to you before you make a decision.

A branding agency at work

What do you get when you work with an agency? Here’s an example from Landor—one of the world’s most prolific design and branding firms. If you’ve watched any of the Olympic Games since 1996 or seen the Old Spice brand as it’s been reimagined over the last few years, you know some of their game-changing work.

For the restaurant world, they recently developed the brand of Holler & Dash, a traditional Southern restaurant aimed at millennials in urban areas. Far beyond just a logo, Landor developed the entire look and sound of the brand—from the restaurant’s name to the apron design to the store environment to the menu descriptions.

Holler & Dash logo and sign
images via Landor
Hollet & Dash seating
Holler & Dash store

This is the power of agencies: to see design and branding from all angles. Agencies can dig into every single nitty-gritty detail of design to create a comprehensive package of brand guidelines that will make your business stand out with its own style, voice and personality. Need an expert in vintage Southern signage? Or a writer that can add the perfect number of “y’alls” to a hipster-focused menu? That’s where an agency comes in.

Agencies are great because…

  • They are the experts. You’ll be getting the best of the best.
  • They offer more than just design; logo makers and design contests are fun, but it can be stressful (especially if you have more than one good option) knowing if you’re picking the logo that best communicates your brand values. Agencies are able to guide you through the process (and back up their opinions with data).

But…

  • They are very expensive. Typically in the tens-of-thousands of dollars range.
  • They take their time. The creative process isn’t usually fast (unless you’re willing to pay even more).

Which logo design option is best for you?

Fair question. No easy answer. And that’s OK. Every business has a different set of needs and that’s exactly why these different options exist. It boils down to determining what’s important for you at this stage of your business.

Are time and/or money insurmountable issues right now? Consider a generic logo from a logo maker.

Did you find a trusted freelancer that can match your style and work within your budget? Work with them.

Looking for a variety of options and a balance between affordability and design expertise? Launch a design contest.

Seeking a comprehensive, world-class branding package? Get with an agency.

Whichever method you choose, come prepared with a clear idea of who your brand is and how you want to present it to the world. Remember: your logo is your brand’s first impression. Make it a good one.

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