Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Clueless

Posted on 29 March 2011 Comments

Article illustration for Clueless

To state that the UK government is clueless hardly requires a blog post, but in this particular instance, I refer to startupbritain.org: a site purportedly dispensing advice to entrepreneurs who are looking to start a new business. Besides the fact that the content is essentially one big list of links, some of the advice given is not only poor, it’s also potentially damaging to our industry.

And all this from a site whose aim is ‘to celebrate, inspire and accelerate enterprise in the UK.’

I take issue with many, many elements of this website, and The Post Desk wrote a great article on why startupbritain.org is essentially nothing more than a government-backed link farm, but here I shall focus on just one: the recommendation to ‘create a logo cheaply’. While it is entirely understandable that a new business should seek to optimise expenditure during its formation, and while I freely accept that — as an individual who makes money from branding projects — my opinion is naturally biased, the government’s explicit recommendation made to young businesses that it is acceptable to source brand design on the cheap is entirely wrong.

Visit the site and you’ll see that the ‘create a logo’ tip is a direct link to 99 Designs, a service that works by encouraging multiple designers to come up with a response to a client’s brief. [Update, 30.03.2011: As some commenters have pointed out, it looks like they have removed this link from the site.] The client picks the design they are happiest with, and the ‘winning’ designer gets paid. The losing designers receive nothing. And if the client is unhappy with all of the submissions, no-one gets paid. Imagine you commissioning a bespoke suit to be made: something unique that fit only you, crafted exactly to your own specifications. Now imagine you invite multiple tailors to create this suit for you, and after all of their effort, you pay only one of them. Or perhaps none of them. A tailor would not form a business on this spec work based model, so why should a designer?

In this situation, it seems like the client wins either way, but the truth is radically different. Take a look at BusinessWeek’s special report into the value of design. Or, for a more web-centric view, be sure to read articles by Jeffrey Zeldman or Mark Boulton on the subject.

My issue here is not with the particular specific service that startupbritain.org recommends; my problem is that it is utterly ridiculous for this government-endorsed campaign to claim its support for fledgling businesses and yet undermine the value of our entrepreneur-led design industry in the same fell swoop. The advice it gives sets up those new business for potential failure; that is the worst case scenario. The best case scenario is that they succeed in business but do so without an understanding of — and respect for — the creative process, the client-designer relationship, and the true value of crafting a meaningful, appropriate, and long-lasting brand identity.

And that sounds pretty damaging to our industry if you ask me.

#ideasofmarch

[Thanks to Jon Tan for contributing some feedback on this post.]

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