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Understanding the $200k Logo

by Jennifer Stewart | Sep 16, 2014 | Opinions

Perhaps you’ve heard this story before. In 1986, designer Paul Rand was paid $100,000 ($217,000 adjusted for 2014 inflation) by Steve Jobs to design the NeXT Computers logo. Jobs was given no concepts, no rounds of revision, no options. The deal was, Rand would design the logo, Jobs would pay, and if he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to use it.

To designers, this is a dream. To business owners it seems like a bum deal. What it was really, was just smart business from two men who knew exactly who they were and what they were doing.

Many people point to Paul Rand’s experience to justify this implausible deal. And indeed, this is great justification as Rand had started his career in the 30’s and had, at that point, more than 50 years of internationally celebrated work under his belt. As someone who had created logos for Esquire, IBM, Westinghouse, ABC, Yale University Press, and UPS to name a few, Rand had honed his ability to create a functional, iconic, powerful, and useful logo that would serve each company well. To create a great logo takes a high degree of skill and time.

Any company would have been wise to hire Rand and wise also to give him full creative license.

It’s because of this that one must also give appreciation to Steve Jobs. As many a business owner can tell you, the greatest skill a CEO can have is the ability to hire the best people and to let them do their job. Jobs had not spent 50 years creating logos. He was not going to think of all possible applications for this logo, about the psychology behind each color, how the logo would be produced, what impact the shape of the letters and mark would have on the viewer.

Logo creation was not one of Jobs’s skill and thus would be a waste of his own valuable time. But he knew that Rand was the man who had this skill, and that including Jobs’s opinion through the choice of concepts and feedback would actually be detrimental to the logo creation process as an uniformed and untrained opinion, sullying the work of a master of the craft.

This is why Rand didn’t give him a choice, and why Jobs was perfectly fine with not having one.

The price of a logo not only represents the value of the logo, but also the value of the person who creates it. You cannot pay a large amount of money to a new designer and expect to receive the same level of experience, talent, strategy, and forethought. At a low level, design is indeed a commodity service. However for those who understand the impact of design on their brand and their company’s operations, there will always be intelligent business owners who understand the value of high level craftsmanship as the rest of the world shakes their collective heads in disbelief.

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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The life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against the ugliness.- Massimo Vignelli