Designing around an awful logo
I'm looking for some opinions on how to approach an interesting problem I've encounted.
I dabble in UX/graphic design, specifically for the web. Mostly static sites. I do this all on my own time as a side business and it's something that I would like to go in to full time. By day, I'm a software engineer for a company that has absolutely nothing to do with design or UX. However, we do have an extremely out of date website. Today, our boss called a meeting to discuss with me and one other employee who specializes in back-end scripting to express a desire to redesign the site. She has seen my work and very much enjoys what I do, and will allow me to take credit for the site using my external LLC rather than advertising the site as an inside job. She also pointed me towards 4 other people in the same industry who are in dire need of the same sort of services that she would like to recommend me to. In other words, this would be a huge portfolio building opportunity.
But there's one problem. She is absolutely insistent on keeping the same company logo, and it's truly awful. The typeface has very poor contrast with the graphical elements, it's poorly kerned and spaced, and in places the text can't even be read. She had several horrible ideas for the web design that she very gracefully allowed me to shoot down but she made it very clear that she wouldn't bend on the logo. Partially because it was designed by her son, and partially because in our industry we intentionally try to minimize our exposure to a very small group of people and so consistent branding is important. It's a logo that has been going out on business cards, presentation watermarks, and the like for around 9 years, so she feels that changing our visual brand identity would be a problem.
What advice do you have about designing around an ugly keystone element like this? The website design will go through with or without me, and if I'm not involved then it will be rebuilt from the ground up completely internally, no other consultants. Plus I would lose out on the potential for a small handful of additional freelance clients. And I'd love to add some businesses to my portfolio and some quick consulting cash to my wallet so I can close out my last semester of university in the black and start paying off my student loans immediately.
There are a few things you could try to do:
- If the logo is simple, make it monochrome to neutralize any garish colors. Depending on the logo, you may even be able to do so if it's more complicated.
- If they don't have the logo in vector format, you could recreate it, giving it a slight, but subtle refresh. This way you can improve any blurriness as well.
- If drastic gradients are a problem, tone them down.
- Minimize the logo in the design and emphasize either the products or people. Draw the eye away from the logo.
- Use the company name as a logotype at the top, with the real logo at the bottom.
- Emphasize the importance of testing and then offer to create a few variations that maintain the spirit of the original logo. Then test them. She may be more open to change if the logo tests poorly among people who have no stake in the decision.
- Don't show her the GAP logo redesign.
At the end of the day, however, you may have no choice but to use the logo as is. In that case, many of the suggestions Jaips gave would be appropriate.
It's important to keep perspective as well. The hardest part of going to full-time freelance is building your initial portfolio. Don't forsake this job and the others for the sake of a logo. I've seen many very busy web studios that don't do good work. It's better to have actual client sites in your portfolio, even if not all of them are completely representative of what you can do, than to have no portfolio (or money) at all. Many potential clients won't know a good design from a bad one at first glance anyways. Also, you don't have to put every site you do in your portfolio and once they're there, you don't have to keep them there.