During a recent dinner party, we exchanged business cards with someone we had just met. Later in conversation the man asked us about our logo and we offered the full story of how our business cards came to be.
“You ought to tell that story on your blog,” he suggested.
Taking his advice, we recount our first personal experiment in globalization and outsourcing – the good and the bad – and share how the development of our logo and business cards took us from the Czech Republic to America, then to Indonesia and Thailand.
Creative Briefing over a Pilsner
The logo design for Uncornered Market began more traditionally: in person with a graphic designer in Prague. Our departure was only a few months away and we were in the midst of tuning our identity and defining our brand. Heady stuff.
Through a series of sessions at the local beer garden, we clarified our creative brief and discussed concepts with a local designer named Honza. One of Honza’s concepts – a modified Mercator map of the world mashed with an infinity sign – resonated with us both conceptually and visually. It remains the defining symbol of our identity today.
Unfortunately, Honza was fully booked and couldn’t complete the logo development before we departed Prague. He gave us the logo image files so we could finish the project ourselves.
A North American Stamp – LogoBee and Design Outpost
We engaged LogoBee, a logo design company based in Canada, for what they billed as a “premium logo package.” After speaking to them about our needs – a refresh of our existing logo concept – we signed up.
Unfortunately, LogoBee’s first-round concepts were tired throwaways that suspiciously resembled uninspired, similarly recycled ideas on other high-volume logo development sites. They had nothing to do with anything, least of all the concepts outlined in our creative brief.
So, we asked for our money back.
Enter Design Outpost, an online forum where designers from all over the world post design concepts for prepaid (escrowed) logo, business card, and online graphic design projects. Design Outpost takes a percentage of the project fee for providing the forum and acting as intermediary between designer and customer.
We were generally impressed by the designs posted in the Design Outpost forums. And because we were in Laos at this point, Design Outpost’s transparency and interactivity fit our need to manage the project remotely from internet cafes.
We posted a simplified creative brief in the logo design forum; we requested variations on our existing logo and welcomed new ideas.
The response was impressive. Within a few days, we had the choice of at least five acceptable logos. From there, we narrowed to a short list and asked those designers for minor font and color adjustments.
We selected a logo produced by a designer in Texas. We received the image files and he received his escrowed money from Design Outpost. The process was quick and fairly efficient, lasting ten days from start to finish.
An Indonesian Thumbprint
The practice of scrawling our website and contact information on a scrap piece of paper, although practical, does not particularly project professionalism. We needed business cards.
From Honza’s design work in Prague, we had a business card design concept, but like the logo, it needed some tuning. We returned to Design Outpost and posted a new project in their Business Card forum. The first response was so strong it pleased us almost instantly.
Lutfi, the business card designer we chose, lived in Indonesia. Besides being a good designer, he was exceptionally responsive.
When we needed a final minor adjustment, Lutfi joked that the day before that it had taken him several hours to upload the large Adobe Illustrator files. Having struggled with our own internet connectivity, we envisioned him holding a late-night vigil for the internet connection to survive long enough to complete the file upload.
Although Indonesia never occurred to us as a place to go for business card design, Lutfi delivered exactly what we needed from his post in the town of Bandung. We can’t help but think that his culture and background played a role in what made his design so appealing to us.
Thai Printing and A Prayer
In April 2007, we were searching for a printer in Bangkok, Thailand to produce our business cards.
Enter Bangkok’s Panthip Plaza.
Finding a printer at Panthip Plaza, Bangkok.
Panthip Plaza is a geek’s dream: five floors of electronics, computers, cameras and pirated software and DVDs. Every time we transit through Bangkok, we pay it a visit. From high-capacity portable hard drives to laptop screen replacements, it has always delivered.
One morning, near the cloud of pirated DVD shops on the first floor, we noticed a print shop. The owner of the shop, a young Thai man, had just arrived and was opening the store for the day.
“Excuse me for a moment,” he begged our pardon for the morning ritual he was about to perform. At the rear of the shop, behind one of his printers, he placed some fruit as an offering at his in-store Buddhist altar. After a few brief rhythmic chants, he placed his hands together in prayer. Only after this serene morning ritual was he prepared to begin his business day.
Even with prepared Adobe Illustrator business card files, the process from image to print involves a flurry of clicks and keystrokes to color correct the image. After a few test prints, we eventually gave the thumbs up and disappeared for a few hours of shopping and sushi noshing in Panthip.
We later returned to pick up our boxes of shiny, brand-new laser printed business cards. Though offset printing would arguably have been more professional, laser-printed cards were quick and offered more color for the money.
A year later, we returned to refresh our supply of business cards. The print shop owner welcomed us with a huge smile, had our file up and ready to print within seconds. He even gave us the same discount as the year before.
Relationships matter, particularly for travelers half-way around the globe.
Online Interactions: A Cloud to the Silver Lining
We wish we could end this piece now, with the focus squarely on the positive. But alas, there are lessons to be learned. The full-picture reality of outsourcing and doing business online: you must obviously be careful about who you work with and how.
Here’s what happened to us:
We commissioned Bart O’Dell, the Texas-based designer whose logo we had chosen on Design Outpost, to also design our business cards. Because of the previous project, Audrey was under the impression that he could be trusted, so she naively agreed to his terms and paid him for the project up front through Paypal.
His business card designs reflected little effort and their caliber was nothing close to his logo designs. We knew he was capable of better and we communicated a few desired changes. After one round of changes, our subsequent attempts to communicate by email and telephone went unanswered. Total silence.
Rule #1: Never pay up front. Use an intermediary like Design Outpost that will place the payment in escrow until the customer confirms completion of the project. If you pay the service provider (e.g., a designer) directly, you may save a percentage on the cost, but you are relying solely on the relationship. Consider this thoroughly, as you have no recourse if any problems arise.
We enlisted Design Outpost to mediate, only to learn that Bart had been expelled from the Design Outpost forums and community. Audrey then lodged a formal complaint through Paypal for a refund. Unfortunately the claim was denied even though Bart never responded to the charges.
More recently, Audrey noticed that the Paypal payment listed a new website and email address for Bart. He was indeed alive. Perhaps there was a chance to find out what happened.
She contacted him and received a surprisingly quick reply. He was dismissive and rude and indicated that his records “showed the project complete” and he “doesn’t hold files longer than six months.” As a result, he couldn’t send the supposed completed project. When asked why he never responded to our previous inquiries: “I responded several times with several unnecessary changes you requested.”
So much for courtesy, let alone customer service.
Though we were stung by the loss of trust (and $125 poorer), this story does feature a happy ending in the greater order of things: if Bart hadn’t stiffed us during the business card design, we wouldn’t have the business cards we have today.
Is the World Flat?
Flat or round, the world is becoming more interconnected whether we like it or not. So if you need a designer or developer, consider outsourcing. It may save you money, but more importantly it might just take you on a virtual journey around the world.