gosioux76

Intellectual property question re: unused logo designs

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I've been following a story out of the University of North Dakota regarding its process of working with SME Branding for its new logo last year.

 

The Grand Forks Herald sought access to SME's unused preliminary designs on the grounds that they should be public record, since they were designed on behalf of a public institution. The state's attorney general disagreed, siding with SME, which argued that the firm could use those designs for future projects and that disclosing them publicly would diminish their value. SME argued, and the attorney general agreed, that they should be protected as a trade secret. 

 

Public records issues aside, this made me wonder: How common is it for a designer take a logo created for one client and pitch it to another? 

 

Apparently SME's intent, per the Herald story, is to offer up the dozens of designs not chosen to future clients in need of a hawk logo. Here's an interesting bit of analysis from the general counsel for the North Dakota Newspaper Association: “SME made the case that, ‘Well, we’re in effect going to use them again someplace else and we’re going to reuse them, but we don’t want people to know we’re reusing them.’ It’s kind of a funny argument. … In this case, I can see their point.”

 

That makes me wonder: How can UND know whether SME didn't just give them recycled designs, too?

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This is something I was introduced to while working in Milan as it was common practice over there. The firm had a huge catalog of unused logos archived alphabetically as well as by subject matter.  It was a great starting point for concepting as it would get you 75% of the way there (little tweaks always were made in the end). As the owner of the firm told me...

 

"Just because a client doesn't choose an option, doesn't mean that option should never see the light of day again. If it's good, it's good and should be used." 

 

After that experience I fully embrace the philosophy. And, if a client wants exclusive rights to all the concepts, they can purchase all of them rather than just the one but I've never had a client do that.  

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to address the situation, this issue should/could have been worked out before the project began. in my contracts, it is stated that i have the rights to any unused concepts. if a client wanted rights to them, i would likely agree but that would increase the price of the project. this for me has only been an issue once and it actually sounds like a similar situation to this one for SME– in the middle of the project, the client requested all the work/concepts i had done after signing a contract that stated otherwise, so no dice. (they also insisted on not paying for revisions, then asking for more revisions. no dice again). point is: read the contracts, negotiate if necessary, and know (both sides) what you're getting into

 

to address the question," how common is it for a designer to use a LOGO created for a client and use it for another?", i think i've done that twice; maybe three times. it's actually hard for me to build a logo for one project and turn it into another because i don't do many animal mascots. the work i do is more often based around letters and symbols that really only make sense for a specific project. and those 2-3 times i have repurposed a logo concept, i can recall that 2 of them were definitely animal based. 

 

but how many times have i used art, or parts of one project for another? pretty often. i actually would recommend doing this for any logo designer. you build up a library of elements over time; banners, shields, balls, stars, that sort of thing you should definitely keep a file for. i know im not the only one who does this but i can't accuratley answer how common it is for other designers to pull one concept and use it for a different client. but that's some insight into my process, and if SME has dozens of hawk art, that is definitely valuable to them. as often as they do sports mascots, there will surely be a time when they can either take that art, or parts of it, and use it elsewhere. im guessing the next question would be "wouldn't that decrease the value of the art/designs if it is recycled from another project" and without going too far into the subject of design value, i will just say no.

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The cost of reusing a majority or parts of an unused logo is one I've been asked by clients who are looking for a cheap deal. I simply tell them they are paying specifically for a logo, not the time spent creating that logo. Sometimes the perfect solution comes in one hour while other times it can take weeks. 

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Seems it's pretty common practice.

 

I know I've seen '90s NBA logos for the New Jersey Swamp Dragons and the Toronto Dragons - and they were exactly the same. 

 

I would side with the designers, too. If you knew you'd burn any half ideas, you wouldn't want to think of more than 1 or two, take it or leave it.

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Unless there was a deal in place that the client owned all the steps, I would expect the artist to retain the various concepts. 

 

And what's wrong with later selling that unused design, or a variation on it, to another client?  I know writers will hang on to a snippet of dialog or a plot point until it fits a future story.  If a designer likes his rendering of a tiger, but working with the client means they end up in a different direction, why shouldn't the designer come back to it?

 

It wouldn't be right to start with a logo already sold to another client, but there's nothing wrong with using an unsold one as a launching point.  Or even a finished product - just because it wasn't right for one client doesn't mean it wasn't good. 

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44 minutes ago, hawk36 said:

The cost of reusing a majority or parts of an unused logo is one I've been asked by clients who are looking for a cheap deal. I simply tell them they are paying specifically for a logo, not the time spent creating that logo. Sometimes the perfect solution comes in one hour while other times it can take weeks. 

 

And I respect that. 

 

If I came to you looking for a logo, and you already had one ready to go that I liked, I'd still expect to pay the same.  The end result is the same, even if you did a lot of the R&D before I got involved. 

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The upside of designers typically working as freelancers is that they own their work unless someone else buys it from them. I would never retire a concept unless I was specifically paid to do so.

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As stated by the rest, unused concepts are the property of the respective designer/agency. Always make sure that it is made clear and put in the contract.

 

 

 

 

 

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This is all really interesting.

 

So, I understand the value of a designer retaining the rights to their unused work. I also understand why a designer would want to attempt to re-sell unused work. That's all pretty intuitive. Can't dispute that logic. 

 

I'm more curious about how this plays out within an agency, particularly one working with a public institution. In UND's case, SME visited Grand Forks to gather input from the campus and community as part of the design process. ""SME spent time on campus and on the phone at the beginning of the semester, listening to what a lot of people ... had to say about our university, our athletics programs, our region and our state. They did an excellent job of translating what they heard  ... and using that input to shape the newest logo and wordmark for the future of UND Athletics," then-interim President Ed Schafer said when the logo was designed in June .

 

But how, exactly, was that input applied? It's not exactly apparent from the logo, which I happen to like. Now that we know SME likes to remarket its rejected designs, how are stakeholders — which, in this case, would be students, alumni, donors, taxpayers etc. — to know that the firm didn't ignore that public input and just pluck from its "H" file of unused hawk designs? Seeing the preliminary designs would at least give a sense of how the design process evolved.  

 

 

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6 hours ago, gosioux76 said:

This is all really interesting.

 

So, I understand the value of a designer retaining the rights to their unused work. I also understand why a designer would want to attempt to re-sell unused work. That's all pretty intuitive. Can't dispute that logic. 

 

I'm more curious about how this plays out within an agency, particularly one working with a public institution. In UND's case, SME visited Grand Forks to gather input from the campus and community as part of the design process. ""SME spent time on campus and on the phone at the beginning of the semester, listening to what a lot of people ... had to say about our university, our athletics programs, our region and our state. They did an excellent job of translating what they heard  ... and using that input to shape the newest logo and wordmark for the future of UND Athletics," then-interim President Ed Schafer said when the logo was designed in June .

 

But how, exactly, was that input applied? It's not exactly apparent from the logo, which I happen to like. Now that we know SME likes to remarket its rejected designs, how are stakeholders — which, in this case, would be students, alumni, donors, taxpayers etc. — to know that the firm didn't ignore that public input and just pluck from its "H" file of unused hawk designs? Seeing the preliminary designs would at least give a sense of how the design process evolved.  

 

 

 

 

To give you a generic answer, you don't really know, but odds are they didn't have a bird head between an N and D just lying around. You're asking for trouble showing rejected concepts to the public. There is so much attachment at the collegiate level to tradition, getting a rebrand done has a lot of red tape. You have to satisfy alumni, current students, the board, athletic directors, coaches, etc. No matter what is the end result, people are going to love it/hate it. Showing rejected concepts, you're opening a whole new can of worms. 

 

Hope that helps your question.

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7 hours ago, gosioux76 said:

I'm more curious about how this plays out within an agency, particularly one working with a public institution. In UND's case, SME visited Grand Forks to gather input from the campus and community as part of the design process. ""SME spent time on campus and on the phone at the beginning of the semester, listening to what a lot of people ... had to say about our university, our athletics programs, our region and our state. They did an excellent job of translating what they heard  ... and using that input to shape the newest logo and wordmark for the future of UND Athletics," then-interim President Ed Schafer said when the logo was designed in June .

 

But how, exactly, was that input applied? It's not exactly apparent from the logo, which I happen to like. Now that we know SME likes to remarket its rejected designs, how are stakeholders — which, in this case, would be students, alumni, donors, taxpayers etc. — to know that the firm didn't ignore that public input and just pluck from its "H" file of unused hawk designs? Seeing the preliminary designs would at least give a sense of how the design process evolved.  

 

 

 

from my experience, the design process for an agency isn't that different from a single designer, just on a bigger scale and with more people. from that paragraph, it sounds like the same thing Nike GIG does and what i would do myself as a single designer, if it were possible for me to travel to campus.

 

so, how did they apply what they learned into the new identity? we can only take a guess; it probably revolved a lot around the green color and making sure it looked right in every application, creating a consistent system of logo and naming usage (athletics and academic), building brand guidelines, stationary, and injecting whatever brand personality traits they determined about the school into the logo and typeface: "forward looking, modern, simple, Power 5-like, and mostly green". . .something like that.

 

whatever those goals were and requirements SME had to meet, it seems they probably nailed it. if they hadn't, i don't imagine the school would have used the work or somewhere along the way opted out of the contract (clients usually have this option after paying a "kill fee"). and the school was there along the way working through the process. so whether SME got there with original or repurposed work, it all seems to fit and do the job.

 

i don't know if the public should see the logos concepted in the process or not. even if you saw all the files and sketches from this project, you still wouldn't know if they came from another project, you'd have to compare to all of their hawk, falcon, and eagle work they've ever done. on that front, if i were SME, i wouldn't be afraid of being "found out" i took a hawk from another project and used it on ND, but it probably kills a lot of that work for future projects because the perception from future clients would probably be "i don't want to pay for leftovers".

 

i feel like that's not all very well written, and i probably talked around a question, but this is a very interesting topic and you'd raised some very good points/questions :)

 

     

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9 hours ago, gosioux76 said:

Now that we know SME likes to remarket its rejected designs, how are stakeholders — which, in this case, would be students, alumni, donors, taxpayers etc. — to know that the firm didn't ignore that public input and just pluck from its "H" file of unused hawk designs? 

 

Well, we don't actually know that "SME likes to remarket its rejected designs".  Perhaps they prefer to keep them around to serve as inspiration for future projects.  It would be unethical for them to take an element from another client's logo - wings, say, or the shape of a head or even the interaction between mascot and monogram - and build a new logo around that.  But it's not only perfectly legitimate to do that with an unsold concept, it's practical.  Designers build a library of elements they like and want to use, and those elements are only removed from the library once they're sold.  Until then, they can (and should) be adapted and reused and serve as inspiration.

 

I think I have to take issue with your central premise.  If the thought is that the design firm didn't put in enough actual work?  And if so, why does that matter?  You either like the logo or you don't, and the people's representatives liked this one.  If the people don't like it, their argument is with those representatives and not the designer.

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Without asking for exact details on anyone's income or anything, I'm just curious about how much a company like this gets paid for a job like this one, especially in relation to a single designer.

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16 minutes ago, Bmac said:

Without asking for exact details on anyone's income or anything, I'm just curious about how much a company like this gets paid for a job like this one, especially in relation to a single designer.

 

Its an extremely wide range. It depends on what exactly the school wants. Some just want an athletic logo. Others want institutional and athletic. Others, a custom  typeface, etc. All that plays in, as well as school size (which usually determines budget), if a licensing agency is involved, alumni get involved either to help the update or fight to keep old names/marks. In all honesty, it's all over the board.

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36 minutes ago, Gothamite said:

I think I have to take issue with your central premise.  If the thought is that the design firm didn't put in enough actual work?  And if so, why does that matter?  You either like the logo or you don't, and the people's representatives liked this one.  If the people don't like it, their argument is with those representatives and not the designer.

 

Again, guys, thanks for your input. I agree, it's an interesting topic. 

 

I should be clear on this: my issue isn't with the designer, at least not solely. I don't know how design firms work, which is why I'm asking these questions.

 

My issue (if you could call it that) is with this was how the logo-creation process was promoted.

 

The university and SME executives described a time-intensive process that included a sort-of listening tour in which the firm gathered input from stakeholders. It was all in the spirit of creating a logo unique to and representative of the values of the University of North Dakota. Yet SME's tacit acknowledgement that it remarkets unused concepts opens the question as to whether UND ended up choosing a logo created not through stakeholder input but from SME's stockpile of unused Hawk designs. 

 

I mean, if what SME took from those stakeholder interactions was a certain shade of green, and that's ALL that comes of it, so be it. But the description of the process implied the results would be so much more. The whole stakeholder input gambit ends up feeling like a dog-and-pony show.

 

Then again, UND only paid $49,500 for the logo, according to news reports. It's likely they put a public shine on what was already a ridiculously controversial situation.  

 

(Also, for what it's worth, UND at the time said that included in that cost of drafting that logo was "multiple iterations of the logo." To me, that would imply secondaries, maybe a ligature. What they got was a primary mark in various shades of green, black and white.)

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38 minutes ago, gosioux76 said:

The university and SME executives described a time-intensive process that included a sort-of listening tour in which the firm gathered input from stakeholders. It was all in the spirit of creating a logo unique to and representative of the values of the University of North Dakota. Yet SME's tacit acknowledgement that it remarkets unused concepts opens the question as to whether UND ended up choosing a logo created not through stakeholder input but from SME's stockpile of unused Hawk designs. 

 

Again, SME has not acknowledged that at all, tacitly or otherwise.  They own the various stages of the process leading up to the final design, but that is not at all the same as then selling those stages as-is to a future client.

 

38 minutes ago, gosioux76 said:

the description of the process implied the results would be so much more. The whole stakeholder input gambit ends up feeling like a dog-and-pony show.

 

Is that really important, though?  Either you like the result or you don't.  Honestly, does it matter whether the designers used their research productively and to what extent?

 

38 minutes ago, gosioux76 said:

(Also, for what it's worth, UND at the time said that included in that cost of drafting that logo was "multiple iterations of the logo." To me, that would imply secondaries, maybe a ligature. What they got was a primary mark in various shades of green, black and white.)

 

Hmm.  I can see that interpretation, but my initial reading was more about them going through multiple rough concepts and several drafts than several different types of logos.  If the University was paying for multiple logos they would have received multiple logos.  

 

I've been through the process a couple times as a client, and the basic process has always been pretty much the same.  At the first meeting, we sit down and talk philosophy - what should the logo say, what kind of feel should it connote?  We talk about existing designs or styles that have shaped thinking to that point.  The designer then goes away and starts working.  At the next meeting, she brings research materials and a bunch of rough sketches.  We talk about what works from those sketches and what doesn't.  She comes to the next meeting with fewer concepts, but more fleshed out.  At that point, we pick one and refine it.   The number of meetings, drafts, and revisions are usually negotiated up front; the more we're paying the longer the process gets to be.

 

Given all that, would it bother me if some of those initial rough sketches originated in somebody else's process?  Not at all, because they're just a jumping-off point for our process.  Would it bother me if some of my rejected concepts ended up in the list of rough sketches given to another client?  Again, not at all, because jumping-off point.  Any good designer would ensure that their finished logo is separate and unique from the one they developed for me, no matter where they started.

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Quote

Again, SME has not acknowledged that at all, tacitly or otherwise.  They own the various stages of the process leading up to the final design, but that is not at all the same as then selling those stages as-is to a future client.

 

In his written opinion, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote: "It is SME’s position that the preliminary designs not chosen by UND still have economic value because they will be used by SME in future projects and it would damage its competitive position to allow its competitors to have access to and be able to utilize those images."

 

Now, I agree this isn't SME saying they'll sell, as you wrote, "those stages as-is to a future client." But it's an acknowledgement that designs supposedly created for UND will be recycled in some form for another client.

 

Quote

Is that really important, though?  Either you like the result or you don't.  Honestly, does it matter whether the designers used their research productively and to what extent?

 

 

On the whole, I don't disagree with you. If I'm a private client, I don't care what the process was so long as I like the result. But UND, in this case, isn't a private client. It's a public institution. SME might get its approval from a single person at that public institution — in this case, a stand-in temporary university president — but its work should be open to broader public scrutiny.  While SME can retain ownership of its preliminary designs, its design process — including those preliminary designs — should be made public when the public requests it, as was the case in this scenario. 

 

Again, interesting discussion. I'm learning a lot about the work you all do. 

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2 hours ago, gosioux76 said:

My issue (if you could call it that) is with this was how the logo-creation process was promoted.

 

The university and SME executives described a time-intensive process that included a sort-of listening tour in which the firm gathered input from stakeholders. It was all in the spirit of creating a logo unique to and representative of the values of the University of North Dakota. Yet SME's tacit acknowledgement that it remarkets unused concepts opens the question as to whether UND ended up choosing a logo created not through stakeholder input but from SME's stockpile of unused Hawk designs. 

 

I mean, if what SME took from those stakeholder interactions was a certain shade of green, and that's ALL that comes of it, so be it. But the description of the process implied the results would be so much more. The whole stakeholder input gambit ends up feeling like a dog-and-pony show.

 

i think im getting abetter picture of what's happening here. SME and UND go through the process and everything goes well. very nice design delivered and it meets all the goals and expectations. UND then decides they want all the concepts they saw and when SME says "no, we might use them in the future", UND questions weather or not they were sold recycled designs.

 

the issue then is, what is the value of design? did SME phone it in? did they over charge? thats what i wanted to avoid here because man, that's a deep topic on which many books, blogs, and podcast have gone into. i can't properly wrap it up into a post here, but even IF the logo were a recycled design, that doesn't mean it doesn't meet the goals and stakeholder input. it still can do everything it was intended to do just because it wasn't right for one project, but found it's home here with UND. the school signs off on it, they're happy, and $50k for a logo for a client like this is on the light side, if you ask me.

 

the worry is that SME may not have given this project the care and thought that it deserves, but it dosen't seem that was questioned anywhere along the way. from the looks of the final products, i think they produced very thoughtful and well crafted design. it might not scream "North Dakota" but in the end, however the logo/work may have been created, i think UND ended up looking very good. 

 

EDITS - issue: because this is a public institution, the whole process should be made public when requested. if SME is not obligated to do so legally, they probably shouldn't do this. there are trade secrets that could be exposed, plus it devalues their concepts because future clients may not want "recycled ideas" because the perception is they are less valuable (though they are not, it still harms SME). 

 

a similar thing happened with Tennessee and Nike GIG. Nike didn't release any of their concepts that i can recall for UT (though that is a different kind of project where they were updating an existing identity), but they released a presentation deck that pretty much went through the whole process of research, brief, and project goals. that was definitely valuable information to Nike. i was able to take a few things from that and inject into my own processes. thanks, Nike :) 

 

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10 minutes ago, BrandMooreArt said:

 

i think im getting abetter picture of what's happening here. SME and UND go through the process and everything goes well. very nice design delivered and it meets all the goals and expectations. UND then decides they want all the concepts they saw and when SME says "no, we might use them in the future", UND questions weather or not they were sold recycled designs.

 

the issue then is, what is the value of design? did SME phone it in? did they over charge? thats what i wanted to avoid here because man, that's a deep topic on which many books, blogs, and podcast have gone into. i can't properly wrap it up into a post here, but even IF the logo were a recycled design, that doesn't mean it doesn't meet the goals and stakeholder input. it still can do everything it was intended to do just because it wasn't right for one project, but found it's home here with UND. the school signs off on it, they're happy, and $50k for a logo for a client like this is on the light side, if you ask me.

 

the worry is that SME may not have given this project the care and thought that it deserves, but it dosen't seem that was questioned anywhere along the way. from the looks of the final products, i think they produced very thoughtful and well crafted design. it might not scream "North Dakota" but in the end, however the logo/work may have been created, i think UND ended up looking very good. 

 

hold on - making edits

 

Just so it's not confusing, UND — the institution — seems completely satisfied with the process. The preliminary designs were sought by the city's daily newspaper, a request that was rejected on the grounds that the designs are trade secrets.

 

I'm arguing that those designs shouldn't be protected. And I'm arguing that SME's reasoning for doing so, that those designs have value that they may want to realize with another client in the future,  opens the question as to whether UND was presented with original work. 

 

Just wanted to make that point clear. 

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