How To Avoid the Pitfalls of Cheap Creative Work

How to avoid the pitfalls of cheap creative work

Under­stand­ing the impor­tance of invest­ing in your busi­ness can help you avoid the poten­tial pit­falls and con­se­quences of going the cheap route — espe­cial­ly when it comes to design. What­ev­er the size of a com­pa­ny, each has a bud­get. When allo­cat­ing avail­able funds to get the biggest return, one place that might seem easy to cut cor­ners can be in cre­at­ing your visu­al iden­ti­ty, and use of images/photos. Scrimp­ing on these can impact your busi­ness in many ways. Some can be small but some can become cat­a­stroph­ic. NCD wants to help you pre­vent those mis­takes!

Past clients whose logo resem­bled anoth­er estab­lished busi­ness or who unwit­ting­ly used copy­right­ed pho­tos got Cease and Desist let­ters from an attor­ney say­ing they had to either pay or take it down or both, ASAP. It’s esti­mat­ed that legal woes cost com­pa­nies 100 BILLION dol­lars per year.

How to prevent costly mistakes:


Estab­lish a bud­get from the begin­ning for your brand­ing, web­site, and col­lat­er­al. Your logo is non-nego­tiable when it comes to a pri­or­i­ty line item for those funds.

Think of it as an invest­ment – and more, a pro­fes­sion­al neces­si­ty. Don’t under­es­ti­mate this: you can pay a LOT more in dam­ages if you are involved in a copy­right suit. Ser­vices such as search the inter­net for unau­tho­rized uses of a pho­tog­ra­pher’s images, often result­ing in law­suits. Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Michael Grec­co uses it, say­ing in an arti­cle on, “My col­lec­tions for infringe­ment far sur­pass rev­enues I was get­ting ten years ago for my syn­di­ca­tion and cre­ative stock, when that mar­ket was a viable mar­ket.” He filed 8.7 mil­lion dol­lar suit after find­ing a lot of his work was being used. (Source: Graph­ic Artist Guild hand­book). You just don’t want to risk it!



If a design­er puts out quick work, it’s not the qual­i­ty you and your com­pa­ny deserves! You want some­one who will take the time to real­ly under­stand you and your brand and align with your mis­sion and val­ues. And any­one worth their salt is well aware of trade­mark issues. And this should be not­ed in your con­tract with your design­er.

Accord­ing to FTI Con­sult­ing Inc, 3500 trade­mark cas­es are filed in US dis­trict courts each year. That num­ber would be great­ly reduced if com­pa­nies invest­ed in using the right peo­ple to cre­ate their designs from the get go. A pro­fes­sion­al design­er is anoth­er lay­er of pro­tec­tion from loss­es and legal­i­ties and well worth it.



The place to save mon­ey is in doing your own process of dis­cov­ery in prepa­ra­tion to meet with your design­er: hon­ing your ideas, iden­ti­fy­ing your demo­graph­ics, and ham­mer­ing out your brand val­ues (what mat­ters most in terms of product/services, rev­enues, and cus­tomer relationships/satisfaction). Meet­ing your design­er with this done not only saves quite a bit, it brings more val­ue to your dol­lars by help­ing them come up with a bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of who you unique­ly are.



Logos seem to be the most vul­ner­a­ble. A design sim­i­lar­i­ty between the logos of two Wound­ed War­rior groups result­ed in a law­suit that took a whop­ping $72,000 to defend.

Even jokes can turn into law suit. Jim­my Winkel­mann did a spoof on his col­lege pals who wore North Face cloth­ing by cre­at­ing a com­pa­ny call­ing itself the South Butt. He used their icon, flip­ping it upside down. Although it was just for fun, he got served! They set­tled out of court, but you get the pic­ture. You do not want this to be you.

If you want a mem­o­rable logo, to have your mate­ri­als be a true reflec­tion of the mis­sion and appeals to your tar­get mar­ket, you want to work with some­one who will pro­vide the exper­tise you deserve. And that per­son will have the time to present you with authen­tic designs while mak­ing sure the images and con­tent they are using aren’t infring­ing on any copy­rights.



Once your brand is estab­lished with a design­er, you may con­tin­ue to build it on your own in blog posts and on social media. Peo­ple grab from Google Images or share found pic­tures all the time. But beware: If you share some­thing from anoth­er’s blog posts or online arti­cles, reach out per­son­al­ly to the own­er and get their writ­ten per­mis­sion to be sure you can use it. Even if you back-link to them it may not be enough.

On her blog,, Chrystie shared how she made a huge blog­ging mis­take for using an image a green pep­per. She received a Cease and Desist let­ter, and so took it down. But it did­n’t stop there. The pho­tog­ra­ph­er asked for $750 for the pho­to which quick­ly ran up to $7500 for the dam­ages. After much angst and valu­able hours lost to research, she set­tled for a bit less… and wrote to warn oth­ers how to avoid it!

We sug­gest you research stock image com­pa­nies from which to pur­chase your images legal­ly. Here are a few we rec­om­mend:,,,,,,

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this sub­ject! Let us know below:


Nicte Creative Design
Nicte Cuevas, Principal of Nicte Creative Design, empowers mission-driven businesses through strategic design & branding. Nicte has applied this when working with Adobe Spark and Twitter Business, LinkedIn Learning, Dogs on Deployment and Purina, Girl Scouts, The Houston Zoo and The Contemporary Arts Museum. Her excellence in communication design & marketing has been recognized by multiple national / international awards, including a coveted feature in Graphic Design USA's People to Watch.

7 Responses to “How To Avoid the Pitfalls of Cheap Creative Work

  • Some great advice Nicte! Thanks for shar­ing.

  • thanks for shar­ing!! it’s amaz­ing how acces­si­ble cre­ative tools and oppor­tu­ni­ties are, but it’s def­i­nite­ly impor­tant to be eth­i­cal and respon­si­ble as we work!!

    • Absolute­ly, Anna! We would do a dis­ser­vice to clients and our­selves if we did­n’t. I’m glad to know that many of us val­ue that!!

  • #wis­dom!

  • Great tips! I made the mis­take once of design­ing my own busi­ness cards. I had a pro­fes­sion­al­ly designed logo, but I did­n’t pay that design­er to cre­ate my cards. My cards looked cheap and blur­ry. I wast­ed $30 and a lot of time. Nev­er again. Seri­ous­ly, keep spread­ing this word! It is SO true. 🙂

    • I’m sor­ry to hear about your cards Aman­da! I hope you were able to resolve the issue. But it sounds like you are in a good direc­tion. 😊

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