Six, seven, eight… Degrees of degeneration

When I started my career in publishing as a newspaper graphic designer, one of the first ads I created was your run-of-the-mill ad for a local business. But what made it a little special for me was that this ad was for a new microbrewery that had just opened in downtown Des Moines.

I remember the day when I joyfully wandered oer’ to my new watering hole. What sweet aromas, thou hast. Moreover, with this new brewery came some of the hippest names of beer I had ever heard, and along with these names came just as astonishing logos—cool logos, larger than life and plastered onto the walls. The microbrewery sensation had just literally blasted onto the national scene with a one-two punch in the face.

So, upon looking through the ad specs and ad materials given to me, I noticed a matchbook. A matchbook with the brewery’s signature logo and colors on it. It was cool. But to be able to create this ad that I so wanted to be proud of, I needed more than a mere matchbook for artwork.

Off I naively went to my sales rep to ask for a better sample of the logo—which, to my surprise was all there was. Not even a menu to scan. Or a napkin I pondered a minute. Then two, about how I could obtain a better quality logo on which to build my ad.

Then it dawned on me that this logo had to be created by someone, somewhere. It wasn’t a miraculous conception that just appeared on the side of the brewery’s building. It did exist… I knew it.

Thus, after a little coaxing of my sales rep, I convinced her to ask the brewery manager for a digital version of the logo. Within a few hours a disk arrived with the logo. Shortly after that, my wondrous ad was printed and out the door to the client. There was much rejoicing.

I was in that same brewery a few weeks ago and noticed a poster they had hung on the bathroom wall. What caught my eye was that their logo was so badly bitmapped—on their own poster!—that I could hardly read it. I was appalled.

I thought, what in the world has become of this place? And it jolted me right back to the dilemmas that I deal with and have dealt with during my many years as a graphic artist:

Where is the original art? What? You want me to take WHAT from your Web site? And create an ad?

What I’ve seen over the past decade is a degeneration of graphic logos. Sure, there’s plenty of designers out there creating kick-ass logos. But what happens to them when it’s sold to their client? Think about it.

The artist drops off his or her disk to the business owner, who gives it to the manager, who then sends it to Mr. Fast Print for business cards and any other materials needed. Then, Joe Manager forgets to ask for the disk back from the printer. So when Bill the Owner gets hit up for advertising, the original digital logo has gone missing. Now, little Miss Katie Graphic Designer has to scan a matchbook to recreate Bill’s logo for his ad.

Plus, let’s not forget the variable of employee turnover. Can you imagine how many businesses have either fired or lost employees who were the only people who knew anything about the whereabouts of original logo artwork? Or, for that matter, who the hell created it for them in the first place? Logos can cost a lot of money, too!

Subsequently, here we are in a continuous cycle of creating and recreating. It’s not fun. I truly believe that we need to take better care of the graphic design aspects of the world as much as we cherish the finer arts.

So, please do yourself and Miss Katie Graphic Designer a favor. Keep a digital record of your logo that can be easily accessed and passed out to those who need it. Make it 300 DPI, high resolution and, for gawd’s sake, stop telling people to get logos from your Web site.

— Roderick Kabel