How to Navigate Public Input When Designing a New Logo

So, you’re about to embark on a rebranding project for your organization. Congrats! If done well, and you follow a trusted map, you and your crew will be proud of where you land. If done poorly, the waters ahead could turn treacherous.

Let’s start with what not to do.

Thou shalt not crowdsource

Some marketing consultants may tell you the best way to engage a target audience in the branding process is to invite everyone to vote or comment on three final logo concepts. Let the people choose! More input the better! If everyone has a say, who can complain? This advice may sound good at first, but in the real world it’s a big gamble with few upsides. Asking outsiders who have no skin in the game and who have little-to-no knowledge of your organization’s plans and goals to choose your brand identity has roughly a 97% chance of not going well. The conflicting feedback and sour comments you’ll receive (I can’t believe they budgeted $100K on this! … A fourth grader with a smartphone could design a better logo!*) will cause stress, self-doubt, and may sink the ship entirely. Just don’t do it.

Similarly, don’t hand three logos to your spouse or kids or neighbors and ask them to pick their favorite. Like belly buttons, everyone’s got an opinion. But if they aren’t your target customer, their personal preferences are no more relevant than if coming from a random person on the street. Don’t ask your friends and family.

Here’s an analogy I like to use: Inviting the public to comment on logo options is like a pregnant woman asking 2,000 Facebook friends to help her name the baby. She’ll regret having ever asked the question when irrelevant and conflicting opinions flood in from people who aren’t the least bit invested in the outcome. Instead, a much better approach is when mom and dad take time to thoughtfully decide what to name their baby, then announce their decision to friends and family after Henry is born. At that point, extended relatives from Appalachia will have no choice but to love the little guy’s name. (And even if not at first, they’ll warm to it over time. Familiarity is a powerful force. It’s why change is so hard for some people.)

* Inspired by actual public comments on Santa Fe County’s proposed logo concepts. Needless to say, after an extensive (and expensive) redesign process they ended up keeping their old logo.

A better way to ask for input

Stakeholder interviews, online surveys, and focus groups can all be good ways to gather information, test assumptions, and refine ideas as you and your design team build towards selecting a final logo. The trick is who, how, and when.

Start at the beginning

Rather than waiting until the end, engaging internal and external audiences early in your logo development process has plenty of upsides. For one, the information you gather upfront will empower your designers to develop smarter solutions. Proper research will eliminate guesswork and inspire creativity.

Additionally, the people who care most about your organization’s success will be glad you asked before final logo options are presented. Knowing that you took time to listen to others will give them a greater appreciation for the final outcome — even if it’s different from what they would have personally chosen.

Moreover, when publicly unveiling your new branding (click to read article) you won’t be nervous about how folks will respond because the story you tell — your presentation, press release, social media posts, etc. — will reinforce the research-driven process that led to your final logo and identity system.

Stakeholder interviews

Before any logo sketching begins, your rebranding schedule should include time for one-on-one conversations with individuals who have deep experience or knowledge about your organization or industry. This could be the company president, your top three customers, outside partners, or anyone else your design team can learn from. If your organization is a nonprofit you may want to interview active volunteers and major donors to find out why they choose to invest in your organization.

Here at the MAC we include stakeholder interviews with every new branding project. No exceptions. This critical first step allows us to learn about our client’s unique challenges and strengths, and often helps them discover new things about their organization as well.

At the end of our research and discovery phase we’ll hand our client a written findings and recommendations document that summarizes what we’ve learned through the stakeholder interviews — as well as from the online surveys, branding and marketing audit, competitive analysis, and other deliverables we agreed upfront to provide. All of this is completed before we begin designing the first logo.

Online surveys

Developing an online survey can be a great way to learn how a large number of people think and feel about your organization’s brand and visual identity. The key is to ask questions about your current branding.

For our client Linn-Benton Community College (see case study) we developed two separate surveys: one to gather input on their current (now previous) branding, and another for input on their current website. More than 800 people participated in the branding survey alone, which was fabulous, but also a ton of data for us to sift through.

Quantitative questions, like those with radio buttons or multiple choice, are easy to tabulate. For qualitative, open-ended questions you’ll want to look for patterns and recurring themes in the written responses. Both types of questions are valuable and should be included.

If you decide to create an online survey we recommend giving participants the option to keep their answers anonymous. This will result in more candid, honest feedback. That said, at the end of the survey you can also invite them to enter their name and contact info to be considered for additional discussions (e.g. focus groups) about the new branding.

As far as which tools to use, Survey Monkey and Google Forms are both good options in our experience. Google is our first choice as it enables us to easily collaborate with clients on writing the questions and analyzing results. Plus, the price is right.

Focus groups

While online surveys can be great for gathering broad input from a large community in a short amount of time, you may need to go deeper with one or more specific audience segments. This is when focus groups can be useful.

For LBCC we facilitated separate focus groups for faculty/staff and students. By that point in the process we had already completed the research and discovery phase and were ready for input on several initial logo concepts. The feedback received was invaluable. After the focus groups were finished we decided to eliminate one of the weaker logos in order to focus energy on refining the other stronger ideas.

If you choose to include focus groups in your process, do them while there is still time in the schedule to make changes—don’t wait until the very end. Also, remind everyone that the point is not to form consensus around a favorite logo. In other words, don’t spread out five options on the table and ask participants to decide which one is the best. Tasking a focus group with choosing a logo is like asking ten strangers to choose a flavor of ice cream. One of two things will happen. Either everyone will agree on the safe vanilla option, or those with the loudest voices will persuade others and get their way.

A better focus group method is to invite each person to comment on each logo, one at a time. You can lead participants with an open-ended question such as, “What comes to mind when you see this concept?” After everyone has had a chance to speak individually you can invite further discussion from the group. Then, repeat the process for the next logo. But be clear at the beginning that you’re not asking them to agree on their favorite. Tell them you value their input and you’ll use their feedback to improve the concepts.

Summary of dos and don’ts

  • Do invest time to interview key stakeholders at the very beginning.
  • Do create an anonymous online survey to gather input on your current branding before logo sketching begins.
  • Don’t invite the public to vote (or comment) on final logo options.
  • Don’t ask your friends and family for their opinions, unless they’re part of your target audience.
  • Do ask focus group participants to provide feedback on multiple logo concepts—just don’t ask them to agree on a favorite.

Final thoughts

Navigating the shark-infested waters of public input doesn’t have to be dangerous. With an experienced design firm at the wheel, and a healthy supply of strategic research, you’ll sleep better at night knowing you trusted the process to make the best, most informed decisions for your organization’s new branding.

This article is also published on Medium.

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