Designing Identities for Faceless Clients
by Way of the Internet

A home-based design firm in Oregon creates logos for a world-wide clientele with little or no personal interaction

by Jeff Fisher, Engineer of Creative Identity, Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

Four years ago the web presence for my company, Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, was established out of an immediate need - the largest newspaper in my home state was publishing a feature story about my business and readers would expect a web site featuring examples of my identity design efforts. Over a period of three days my business was brought into the Internet age.

My initial purpose was for the web site to serve as nothing more than an online portfolio. I could not have foreseen the site totally changing the way I did business in creating logo designs for clients. During the previous 18 years I had worked successfully as an independent graphic designer with a client base primarily in the metropolitan Portland and Seattle markets. For the most part, the success of my business had relied on face-to-face consultations and in-person design reviews with my clients. That was about to change in a dramatic fashion.

Two months after my web debut I received a voice mail message from Kay Johnson, a motivational speaker who lives and works outside of Denver, Colorado. She mentioned having seen examples of my work on the desk of a designer she knew in Denver and she felt I was the person to create the identity of her business. She included her email address in the contact information left in her phone message. I emailed a reply, giving her my Web address to review additional examples of my work, and soon we were in business - without ever speaking on the phone.

In this particular case, sensing what would be most appropriate for reviewing concepts and rough designs, the process included overnight shipping of materials to the client for deliberation. Johnson was soon emailing her decisions back to me. In two months the project was finalized and logo files were sent into cyber-space to her printer, video producer, web site designer and others. As we were finalizing the project she left a voice mail message for me that required an immediate response. For the first time throughout the entire project I picked up the phone and actually spoke with my client.

The logo has been a very successful identity for Kay Johnson's Sing Out Productions. It has also brought my firm major recognition in the form of a major design award, publication in The New Big Book of Logos, and inclusion in the upcoming volume The Big Book of Designs for Business.

During the design project for Kay Johnson, I received a fax from a woman in Waunakee, Wisconsin. Lisa Orman wrote that she had an immediate need for a business identity as The Wall Street Journal was doing a front-page mention of her business, KidStuff Public Relations, the following week. The business specialized in the marketing and promotion of toy manufacturers, toy stores and performers for children. The staff was made up of several work-at-home moms across the country; including one in Portland who, months earlier, had read the newspaper feature about my business.

After a volley of emails, a project agreement being faxed back and forth, and a deposit check sent my way, the project came down to a logo being created during the course of one full business day. Rough concepts and tweaked designs were emailed to all concerned in JPEG and GIF form, with feedback being relayed back to me via email through Orman. At the same time Website Today, a web development company in Portland, was creating a replacement site for Kidstuff's previous web presence which had been produced by a Madison firm. At the end of the day - with only one brief phone conversation - the logo design project was completed. The following evening the web site was finished. When the newspaper article appeared the next day the company had a fun and professional web presence.

My personal satisfaction with the exhaustive creative effort was reinforced when I received the following email from my client: "I was so frustrated that here was my big chance, my big day, (with tomorrow's Wall Street Journal) and I was embarrassed with what would have previously represented my company. I didn't know what to do and was so stressed out. I can't believe what fine work you created for me under such a challenging situation. I am really thrilled with what people will see if they get inspired to find the web site after reading the story."

Others seem to agree with the success of the KidStuff Public Relations logo. This year it has been honored with a Summit Creative Award, a Communicator Award and an American Corporate Identity Award. The logo has also been selected to appear in The New Big Book of Logos and the Japanese volume, New Logo & Trademark Design 2.

I soon found myself executing identity design projects for clients throughout the United States including residents of Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Michigan, Utah, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska and other states. Emails also came from potential clients in Mainland China, Ireland, Italy and additional international locales.

I did not realize it was possible but future projects would involve even less personal contact.

After reading an article about my business, in Home Office Computing Magazine, James Edmonds of Fontana, California emailed me in regards to designing a logo for his new venture DataDork (soon to be at ). It was a nickname his wife had given him while he was a Computer Science major in college. He now intended to make it the moniker for a business targeting the current computer generation.

After negotiating rates and confirming the specifics of the project our business relationship began. Initial design concepts were sent via email and priority mail. I like the immediacy of emailed files but it is often helpful to the client to have a laser printout of the design in front of them for additional clarity. After the first round of concepts, which focused on computer imagery, the client gave me permission to push the limits on a "computer geek with a pocket protector" image. I had avoided going in this direction; wondering if it might not be insulting to a self-proclaimed "data dork."

When I came up with what was to be the final design, I knew immediately it was the logo the client should used. I emailed the files and left for a local business appointment. I returned to a voice mail message from the client (only the second he had left during the process of the project) saying, "You are right on target. It's totally what I am looking for. Don't deviate from the course." With a little fine-tuning over the next couple days the logo design was finalized.

I have yet to speak to the client on the phone.

Nikita Jones emailed after finding my business listed in a directory of graphic designers at She explained she was establishing a web creation and development company for which an identity was required. An email response to her was followed with a message that the company, DesignEire, was located in Dublin, Ireland. Although she had seen my work on my web site I still mailed her a promotional packet showing my latest work. Later she would take this packet with her to share my identity designs with a major financial institution in Ireland. In the future the company may become a shared client.

After negotiating a fee, and receiving a deposit in the form of an international money order, I began work on the project based on information received from Jones in a PDF file format via email. The initial designs presented the somewhat sterile corporate look displayed in some of the logo examples sent me. Several options used Gaelic letterforms. At this stage, the project experienced some unsuspected "speed bumps" due to problems I had with a newly upgraded email software program. Then the client's email feedback told me she had discounted using Celtic typefaces as not original enough for her particular business. Jones suggested possibly using some computer equipment imagery with the text to convey the technical aspect of her company. Those designs missed the mark as well. The client then asked if I had any other ideas that might meet the specifications conveyed during the course of the project to date. In fact, I had one design that I had decided was a "throw-away" based on the initial reaction of Jones. However, I liked it best of all the rough concepts I had developed and sent it off to the client. The immediate email from Jones confirmed the design was much more what she had been seeking and she felt it had an "eye-catching icon" incorporating some of the points she admired in my other logos.

The logo was completed with some minor tweaking of the icon image. Jones plans on incorporating some animation in the logo application. DesignEire will list Jeff Fisher LogoMotives as a logo design consultant on the site and I will create links to DesignEire on my site.

Doing business as an identity designer, exclusively via the Internet, does have some disadvantages. There are days when I have a rather hostile answer to the question "Isn't technology wonderful?" There must be a law that computer problems increase in magnitude exponentially with the increased immediate need of any given client. Either that or, as I get more stressed about a project deadline, my body gives off negative electrical pulses that inform my computer system it is time to make my life a living hell. Thankfully, most clients are accepting of technical glitches due to their own personal experiences with computers.

Email is not always reliable. I may be having email difficulties or the client may be having the same on the other end. I had one client "fire" me via email because I had not responded to her previous cyber-missive. The message in question had never arrived in my "inbox," she had not followed up to insure I had received the email, and I had not contacted her to see if decisions had been made as some clients will take up to a week or more to respond with feedback. The client must have been even less pleased when I pointed out these facts to her in subsequent email and voice mail message. I didn't even receive the courtesy of a response. The project was obviously beyond salvaging.

At times it is difficult for the client to put what are basically emotional reactions to specific designs into the cold, hard text of an email. When phone conversations are not possible an email question and answer series works to fine-tune the client feedback about particular issues. One advantage of being able to communicate via email is that each person involved in the project can respond on their own time without consideration to established business hours or the hour of the day in another time zone.

There have also been file compatibility issues with my computer system and the client's having a variety of file settings for receiving and sending emailed files. Once settings have been synchronized those problems have seemed to disappear. It does seem that the more computer savvy the client; the fewer the technical difficulties during the process.

Another drawback is a sense of isolation from working with clients around the world while not leaving the confines of my home-office in Portland. It's not even necessary to go to Office Depot to get supplies and I am able to order everything from the Internet. And if I do leave Portland I am often working with a worldwide clientele from a hotel room in some other city.

Of course, there are the personal issues of having a home office and seldom having to meet clients face-to-face. In a recent article for a monthly publication, writer Marc Acito of Just Out, wrote; "Jeff Fisher works in his underwear. No, he's not a go-go boy, he's an award winning graphic designer whose internationally acclaimed design studio, Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, is housed on the second floor of his North Portland home. With the majority of his clients communicating with him electronically from out of state, Fisher can roll out of bed and go straight to work in his skivvies." I have yet to determine if that is a positive or negative attribute of the new manner in which I do business.

After 25 years of meeting with clients in person to establish client relationships the current way of doing business still feels very odd. However, I do think it has proven to be a much more efficient use of time for my clients and myself. With overnight delivery services, the ability to email graphic files in a variety of formats (JPEG, PDF, etc.), the now seemingly antiquated fax, and immediate feedback via email my business has thrived since establishing my online portfolio. Future improvements in my business methods will hopefully include more timely updates of my web site and a possible background portion of the site for clients to view their work in progress through accessing my web page. However, I don't know if those changes will happen any time soon. As is often the case with anyone's own business, projects for my business take a backseat to the needs of my clients. It only took me ten years to create a logo for myself and I recently designed a business card for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives.

Several years ago, while walking on the beach on the Big Island of Hawaii, I remarked to my partner that "I would be perfectly happy designing T-shirts on the beach." Our future plans now include moving our primary residence to the Kona Coast at some point in the future. At the time I made the comment I had no idea I would find it possible to design nearly any item for a client located almost anywhere in the world.

This article appeared in its original format at in November 2000. It was also published in the Winter 2001 issue of the University & College Designers Association journal Designer.

© 2007 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives