Monkeys and Elephants

Finding Quality Work on the Internet

A while ago, I wrote a blog based on a phrase I’ve heard and find to be particularly apt for creative work: “Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys.”

While it’s been surprisingly well-received, there has been the occasional obstinate internet user who tells me, quite matter-of-factly, that elephants also enjoy peanuts. I mean, like, monkeys eat bananas anyway.


I initially brushed this off as people on the internet being dumb and stretching the metaphor beyond the point where it works. But then I thought about it for a while: OF COURSE elephants like peanuts, why not? But you don’t really think you’re going to get an elephant to do anything for you in exchange for a handful of peanuts, do you?

HELL NO. It probably takes more energy to consume the peanuts than the elephant would get out of them. An elephant isn’t interested in your peanuts. They’re giant creatures that eat at least 150 lbs of roughage every day. They don’t have time for your petty little peanut budget—-if you want good work, you have to pay for it.

And that brings me back around to the original point: if you see design as a cost and try to minimize it, you’ll attract incompetent designers who do mediocre work. BUT if you see design as an investment and maximize appropriately, you’ll attract quality designers who create stellar work which can actually drive your business forward.

These are elephants. Elephants are those professional designers, real powerhouses, but this metaphor holds true for every creative field. Elephants are valuable members of your team because they can pull a lot of weight. In real life, they can lift 300 kg (about 660 lbs) with their trunks alone! These guys know the tools of the trade and can find the resources they need to do a job well. They also know when these things are lacking. Elephants have needs, so if you can’t pay up, they have no problem foraging elsewhere. Oh, and they don’t forget.

Monkey and Elephant

Fun Fact: Elephants need salt and other minerals in their diets, but salt is hard to come by in places like Uganda and Indonesia. SO THEY DIG CAVES INTO DORMANT VOLCANOS TO FIND IT! They’re actually mining the volcanic rock for sodium-rich salts. They literally move mountains to get what they need.

So that begs the next question, what’s a monkey? Basically, a monkey is a hack who’s trying to make a buck off of you. There’s no love of design, just a bait-and-switch: they lure you in with ridiculously good prices and deliver sub-par work, leaving you with the bill for deliverables you can’t even use!

A monkey is the designer with the ad with the low, low prices and the website that’s basically a logo-dump. No context, no explanation of any design choices, no commentary on the process, just an endless scroll of logos with colored backgrounds. Quantity does not mean quality here. It’s not hard to come up with a concept for a logo that a client will accept. Its an entirely different thing to account for the client’s goals and problems and create a solution that will continue to drive the company forward for years to come. No, a single logo does not a brand make.

A monkey is the guy with the one-week turnaround and a salesy money-back guarantee and some sort of bullshit seasonal discount. We’re talking about the guys who reply “PM’d!” on every job posting, the ones with the $50 logo specials. If a logo is only $50, you don’t want it. Avoid these people, they will only bring you misery. On a related note, if you hate designers because one of them did you wrong like your ex-girlfriend, you probably hired a monkey. Or you don’t know how to work with designers. (But I have a guide for that!)

But yet a lot of people hire monkeys, and for a variety of perfectly valid reasons: low budget, don’t know any better, or some are even just lured in by the low price, thinking there’s nothing to lose. When you need a logo to represent your company and you don’t have a decent budget to hire a professional designer, it’s tempting to price-shop. I mean, we do it for everything else, right? This is a situation where the monkeys have you…over a barrel. You could even find yourself satisfied with monkey-work. Because maybe it’s not all that bad…considering the price. Don’t go down that road, it just leads to mediocrity. A smart business owner knows better than to make important decisions based on price rather than quality. Be smart. Wait it out.

The next step is actually finding an elephant. You need to offer substantial money, creative control, reasonable deadlines, and for God’s sake, respect the beast because if you mess with the elephant, you get the tusks. You’re also going to need a solid vision and a good amount of work for them to do. Your designer needs to be your partner, not some faceless contractor over the internet. Communicate! Talk about your ambitions and they can help you make them happen.

So next time you hire a designer, take some time to separate the wheat from the chaff. A million monkeys on a million MacBooks will never think through your problem like a single elephant will. So save your time and money in the long run and invest more of it upfront. I think you’ll like the results.

If you would like to invest in my work, let’s talk.