10 Common Mistakes In Logo Design

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With the power of the Web, and more eyes watching than ever, it’s important for a business to communicate its unique message clearly. The easiest way to recognize a company and distinguish it from others is by its logo. Below, we go through 10 common logo design mistakes that you should avoid if you want to create a successful and professional logo.

1. Designed By An Amateur


Avoid websites that promote ridiculously cheap logo packages. You get what you pay for.

A professional business should look professional. New business owners often invest a lot of time and money in property and equipment, but do not often match it by investing suitably in their logo.

Here are the most common reasons why many logos look amateurish:

  • The business owner wanted to save money by designing the logo quickly themselves.
  • A friend or relative who claims to know a little about graphic design does it as a favor.
  • The wrong people are commissioned. (Local printers are not likely proficient in logo design.)
  • The business outsourced the job via one of several design competition websites, which are mostly populated by amateur designers.
  • The job was given to an online company that offers really cheap logos.

All of the above can result in disastrous outcomes. If your logo looks amateurish, then so will your business. A business should know where to look when it wants a new logo. David Airey offers great insight on how to choose the right logo designer1 for your requirements.

Here are the advantages of hiring an established and professional logo designer:

  • Your logo will be unique and memorable.
  • You won’t run into any problems down the line with reproducing it.
  • Your logo will have a longer lifespan and won’t need to be redesigned in a couple of years.
  • Your logo will look professional.

2. Relies On Trends


Focusing on current logo trends is like putting a sell-by date on a logo.

Trends (whether swooshes, glows or bevels) come and go and ultimately turn into cliches. A well-designed logo should be timeless, and this can be achieved by ignoring the latest design tricks and gimmicks. The biggest cliche in logo design is the dreaded “corporate swoosh,” which is the ultimate way to play it safe. As a logo designer, your job is to create a unique identity for your client, so completely ignoring logo design trends is best.

Logolounge2 has a great section on its website in which it updates current logo design trends every year. Being aware as a designer of the latest crazes is important, mainly so that you can avoid them at all costs.

3. Uses Raster Images


An example of how raster graphics can limit reproduction.

Standard practice when designing a logo is to use vector graphics software, such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. A vector graphic3 is made up of mathematically precise points, which ensures visual consistency across multiple sizes. The alternative, of course, is use to raster graphics software, such as Adobe Photoshop. A raster graphic4 — or bitmap, as it’s commonly called — consists of pixels.

Using raster images for logos is not advisable because it can cause problems with reproduction. While Photoshop is capable of creating very large logos, you never know for sure how large you will have to reproduce your logo at some point. If you zoom in enough on a raster graphic, it will appear pixelated, making it unusable. Maintaining visual consistency by making sure the logo looks the same in all sizes is essential.

The main advantages of vector graphics for logo design are:

  • The logo can be scaled to any size without losing quality.
  • Editing the logo later on is much easier.
  • It can be adapted to other media more easily than a raster image.

4. Contains Stock Art


Using stock vector graphics in a logo puts your client at risk.

This mistake is often made by business owners who design their own logo or by amateur designers who are not clued in to the laws on copyright. Downloading stock vector imagery from websites such as VectorStock5 is not a crime, but it could possibly get you in trouble if you incorporate it in a logo.

A logo should be unique and original, and the licensing agreement should be exclusive to the client: using stock art breaks both of these rules. Chances are, if you are using a stock vector image, it is also being used by someone somewhere else in the world, so yours is no longer unique. You can pretty easily spot stock vectors in logos because they are usually familiar shapes, such as globes and silhouettes.

5. Designing For Yourself Rather Than The Client


Never impose your own personality onto a client’s work.

You can often spot this logo design sin a mile away; the cause is usually a designer’s enormous ego. If you have found a cool new font that you can’t wait to use in a design, well… don’t. Ask yourself if that font is truly appropriate for the business you’re designing for? For example, a great modern typographic font that you just love is not likely suited to a serious business such as a lawyer’s office.

Some designers also make the mistake of including a “trademark” in their work. While you should be proud of your work, imposing your personality onto a logo is wrong. Stay focused on the client’s requirements by sticking to the brief.

6. Overly Complex


Highly detailed designs don’t scale well when printed or viewed in smaller sizes.

What better analogy for thumbnail images than fingerprints? You’ll notice the intricacies of your fingerprints only when looking at them really close up. As soon as you move away, those details are lost. The same holds true for highly detailed logo designs.

When printed in small sizes, a complex design will lose detail and in some cases will look like a smudge or, worse, a mistake. The more detail a logo has, the more information the viewer has to process. A logo should be memorable, and one of the best ways to make it memorable is to keep things simple. Look at the corporate identities of Nike, McDonald’s and Apple. Each company has a very simple icon that can easily be reproduced at any size.

7. Relies On Color For Its Effect


Without color, your great design may lose its identity.

This is a very common mistake. Some designers cannot wait to add color to a design, and some rely on it completely. Choosing color should be your last decision, so starting your work in black and white is best.

Every business owner will need to display their logo in only one color at one time or another, so the designer should test to see whether this would affect the logo’s identity. If you use color to help distinguish certain elements in the design, then the logo will look completely different in one tone.

8. Poor Choice Of Font


Font choice can make or break a logo.

When it comes to executing a logo, choosing the right font is the most important decision a designer can make. More often than not, a logo fails because of a poor font choice (our example shows the infamous Comic Sans).

Finding the perfect font for your design is all about matching the font to the style of the icon. But this can be tricky. If the match is too close, the icon and font will compete with each other for attention; if the complete opposite, then the viewer won’t know where to focus. The key is finding the right balance, somewhere in the middle. Every typeface has a personality. If the font you have chosen does not reflect the icon’s characteristics, then the whole message of the brand will misfire.

Bad fonts are often chosen simply because the decision isn’t taken seriously enough. Some designers simply throw in type as an afterthought. Professional font foundries, such as MyFonts6 and FontFont7, offer much better typeface options than those over-used websites that offer free downloads.

9. Has Too Many Fonts


A logo works best with a maximum of two fonts.

Using too many fonts is like trying to show someone a whole photo album at once. Each typeface is different, and the viewer needs time to recognize it. Seeing too many at once causes confusion.

Using a maximum of two fonts of different weights is standard practice. Restricting the number of fonts to this number greatly improves the legibility of a logo design and improves brand recognition.

10. Copies Others

This is the biggest logo design mistake of all and, unfortunately, is becoming more and more common. As mentioned, the purpose of a logo is to represent a business. If it looks the same as someone else’s, it has failed in that regard. Copying others does no one any favors, neither the client nor the designer.

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/11/09/how-to-choose-a-logo-designer/
  2. 2 http://www.logolounge.com/logotrends/
  3. 3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vector_graphics
  4. 4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raster_graphics
  5. 5 http://www.vectorstock.com/
  6. 6 http://new.myfonts.com/
  7. 7 http://www.fontfont.com/

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Gareth Hardy is a professional graphic designer and illustrator based in the United Kingdom. You can find Gareth at Down With Design or on a snowy mountain near you.

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  1. 1

    @josh
    I think you’ve got it spot on… it’s not that that Gareth Hardy is saying that your logo is should be black/white, it’s just that it should work in b/w… and by designing it that way ensures it does.

    btw… I see a lot of people dismissing the black&white/greyscale logo as a thing of the past, but you’d be surprised how many companies still use a fax. (and as far as I know, they still don’t print in color)

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  2. 102

    Thanks mates.

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  3. 203

    I agree with Wouter–don’t dismiss the notion of ensuring that logos will still work in B&W. The whole idea of a logo is to create an identity that will last and can be used in any type of application into the foreseeable future. Who knows where that company may expand in the future and there may be situations where the use of a B&W logo is not only practical because it’s cheaper to reproduce, but may be aesthetically more desirable than a colour logo.

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  4. 304

    Excellent article :) Well done!

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  5. 405

    Internet Strategist

    June 25, 2009 3:38 pm

    This is the best post I’ve seen on the very real SPECIFIC drawbacks of not going with a professional logo designer. Any business that starts out with a logo that only works on the Web will be faced with a far more expensive and risky rebranding challenge when they expand into print media or any medium that requires grayscale or resizing for other uses.

    I am currently researching a post about the differences between inexpensive logo design, logo design contest sites, and working with professional designers with a major emphasis on what you don’t receive and how that can impact you in the long run. This post really contributes and will, of course, be recommended and linked.

    -3
  6. 506

    Top stuff SM. I’ve been meaning to write on this very subject and you’ve managed to say a couple of things I hadn’t considered.

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  7. 607

    LMAO article!

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  8. 708

    Michael [linefeed]

    June 25, 2009 4:20 pm

    When will you web guys ever get the message. It’s not about ‘Logo Design’. It’s about having a cohesive visual identity. A system. A logo is juts a mark and on it’s own means very little. It it’s usage and what surrounds it that makes the big different, otherwise it’s just more visual noise. Here’s a great example of an identity system that doesn’t even need a logo… http://www.heads.ch/index.php?content=referenzen&lang=en#82-Dynamic-Branding–Namics

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  9. 809

    Leave COMIC SANS alone!!!!

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  10. 910

    I’m not a pro designer, but I want to say I disagreed with a lot of the edicts in the article and responses. Only posters Alex E. Schneider and N.N. (search for “outlining of fonts”) say things that make me think they have actual practical experience. In many cases, posters say things that make me think they’ve never read a book on logo design.

    1. It is hardly unusual for companies to announce a re-branding exercise, get a lot of public derision for their logo, and quietly fix it. In other words, highly-paid pro designers can get it wrong too.

    2. Designers don’t usually deliver a *single* logo design. They produce *dozens* of forms designed for different media, scaling, etc. These different forms often appear identical when you’re flipping through a sample book, but when you look at them closely you can see that they’ve simplified small details on a logo scaled for a business card, and they’ve applied little highlights to give some modelling on the spot-color version, and so forth.

    3. I agree that having a photograph as part of a logo is bound to cause problems. But that’s all part of dealing with the client — you have to explain what those problems are going to be. For instance, explain that he’s going to *need* multiple versions of the logo — that way he won’t think your design sucks because it didn’t work on business cards, he’ll just say “yep, we need to pay the designer again to generate a new version, just like he told us”.

    Sometimes, of course, you can’t convince the buyer. Just document your objections, and take the money. And remember, sometimes the customer is actually *right*.

    1
  11. 1011

    Excellent article and it’s all fact.

    The biggest offender I see from clients, especially in publications is the use of too many fonts. I spend as much time educating clients on design standards and communciations as I do on design fore them.

    -1
  12. 1112

    Tejendra Shandilya

    June 25, 2009 7:37 pm

    g8 article
    thanks

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  13. 1213

    Schneider you’re spot on from the business standpoint or that of an entrepreneur, but these articles are obviously written for the designers point of view, and in that respect I would say with the exception of the first one, it’s pretty valuable. Great article, but SM you have to admit that having a great logo is completely uncorrelated with success in business, if only that more highly funded projects have the budget to get a “professional” designer to do their work.

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  14. 1314

    It’s very useful for me,great:)~~

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  15. 1415

    Loved the Article, thanks SM

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  16. 1516

    Sameer C Thiruthikad

    June 25, 2009 10:10 pm

    Awesome article!

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  17. 1617

    Two Socks - Graphic design and print

    June 25, 2009 10:15 pm

    Now if only we could get CLIENTS to read this blog!!!

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  18. 1718

    Excellent stuff – in my short career as amateur logo designer I have already made all of those mistakes – good to see them again.
    Currently trying to become amateur++ – see you later ;-)

    Andreas

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  19. 1819

    There is a large Japanese toy company who merged with a large video game company in 2005 who’s actual logo gets the company name back to front. No its not cultural, its a genuine mistake. So maybe mistake number 11 should be – name on logo, different to actual company name.

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  20. 1920

    A couple of technical things that was not mentioned in this article, esp. in point one, talking about amateur vs. professional logos. One outcome from an amateur logo designer is basically that your logo cannot be used, because it has the wrong technical specs. So I thought I would just list some technical stuff, since this article did focused more on the design, and not the tech stuff. Needless to say, the tech stuff needs to be in place for the logo to even be used. So here are four very common errors I meet in my job:

    1. Outlining of fonts. There is nothing more annoying to me, I work for a design agency, than to get logos together for projects from other “professional” graphic designers have made, and they have not outlined the fonts, so the font gets replaced when I try to open the file, and it just messes up the whole logo. ALWAYS remember to outline your fonts!

    2. Logos made on white background instead of with transparency. You have no idea how many times I have basically gotten an image inserted into an eps-file. From ”Professional” designers Basically logos that are made for only one background color instead of making them so they can fit on both dark, light and colored backgrounds. This was briefly mentioned, but I wanted to emphasize on the transparency! Please remember to put the logo on transparent background!

    3. Not making compound shapes of the logo-elements. Very often combined with the point above, so it takes forever to make a logo monochrome for printing stuff i.e. in black and white. Clean up your file before you send it away to others!

    4. Not making monochrome and black and white and inverted monochrome versions of the logo. This article did mention the point that many designers rely on color, but should have also more specifically mentioned that a professional logo designer should always make versions of the logo ready to use for different kind of print jobs, or make the logo in such a way that it is easy for me to change the logo into 1 single color for black and white printing.

    / end whining, back to coffee

    2
  21. 2021

    @josh about not caring about black and white logo and just using color: I have worked with music festivals and band-logos and the sponsor-logos, and basically, when I make posters for a festival, it is the festival that decides how the posters should be printed, not the single band or sponsor. For example it is quite common to have all the sponsoring logos in one color to make them blend in more with the poster. So I guess my point is that for your own printing – you can of course pay more and always get it printed in neat color, but what about when your client sends the logo away to be used with somebody else, sponsoring/bands/promoting elsewhere? Then you should have thought about a logo in 1 color. :)

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  22. 2122

    Great article. Worth five stars out of five.

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  23. 2223

    @N.N.: yap! Especially like these “not cleaned” up files … sometimes it takes hours to clean up all the little small lines, shapes and even senseless/unclosed paths in logodesigns.

    And btw: B/W is really important! Just look at all the small newspapers, your stores should advertise in… Another point for me should be the difference between web and general logodesign.

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  24. 2324

    funnily enough smashing magazine already broke rule number one, if not rule number two and so on already.
    Smashing magazine didn’t only get non professionals to make the logo, they relied on people from their own community, most of the people in this community are trying to LEARN. its like getting a kid to build your house.
    and don’t tell me that the shininess haven’t been a trend for the last 3 years.

    2
  25. 2425

    MJ R.I.P

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  26. 2526

    Nice to see the word spread…

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  27. 2627

    A good collection of good (and some bad) logo’s can be found here: http://logopond.com/

    Just another big mistake that’s been done many times is to go to your client with just a single design! Always create at least three designs in a complete different style. Put away your old designs and clear your head (in your own way)… After that you can begin you new design.

    Le Marquis

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  28. 2728

    Use to make these kind of mistakes all the time as a rookie, I’d rather draw something on paper before I get any ideas for a logo.
    Never start working at the computer, always think what the logo should represent.

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  29. 2829

    Jessica Wieberdink

    June 26, 2009 6:06 am

    How funny, when i read this article (very good by the way) there was a banner on top of the page: PROFESSIONAL BROCHURE DESIGN TEMPLATES

    Speaking of professional design :)

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  30. 2930

    @RCKY Totally with you on the B+W, same with N.N., you don’t always have control over the print specs. Methinks too many posters here don’t really qualify as *graphic designers* – more like html coders (and probably good ones too) who use photoshop tutorials to bang out “look and feels”.

    If you can’t build it in vector, it will suck (why vectorize it after? holy cleanup! Don’t kid yourself with vector trace software – unless you have to I guess).

    Photoshop for a logo? Not only a raster nightmare but people please, don’t jizz in your pants!

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  31. 3031

    I agree! Great article, straight and clear to the points. A must read to both clients and designers.

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  32. 3132

    Andrew Butterworth

    June 26, 2009 7:31 am

    I would be very interested if you could take a look at the logos on my site and let me know what you think. I am always trying to improve so any comments are welcome. link

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  33. 3233

    I think the worse thing is to use the wrong fonts, I can forgive other things but when I see Comic Sans it makes me shiver

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  34. 3334

    This comment is undeniably negative so brace yourself. This list is obvious to designers with any sort of respect for communication design. Point #5 is not a line in the sand by any stretch, I can think of numerous successful marks that do not follow this methodology for example the bank of new york logo that is now extinct due to a merger, its possible to create versions of the logo to reflect the application. Distinctiveness is not solely built on simplicity its built on….well….distinctiveness. #7 is not a relevant point of view, professional firms specializing in branding will always create version of marks for each usage along with a brand guide, these version will utilize percentages for one color reproduction and will even tweak them (color kerning if you will) to create contrast. Overall this article loses site of the big picture of building strong brand identities that have the ability to express themselves across all mediums, reducing itself to an article solely about “logo” (which in that I suppose it lives up to its title).

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  35. 3435

    Excellent article, especially number 2 “Focusing on current logo trends is like putting a sell-by date on a logo.” this is so true.

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  36. 3536

    This is a great article. Think too about color printing in your choice of colors. Make sure that it looks good in digital production printing and process color offset. Spot colors and varnishes can be great on some print pieces, but don’t rely on them to look good.

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  37. 3637

    Dainis Graveris

    June 26, 2009 12:43 pm

    Wow, actually some time we can dig goldmine, great points made here, lovely post!

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  38. 3738

    The number 7 can be converted to grayscale, and it works, for axample maybe the orange could be a 80% of black and the yellow a 40%, am i wrong?

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  39. 3839

    Alter Falter, wie sich die Leute hier geben! Haben sich wahrscheinlich erst vor einem Jahr die nötige Software vom “PiratenStrand” gesaugt und spucken hier die großen Töne, von wegen, wie toll der Artikel für ANFÄNGER seih… aber sieeee würden noch dieses und jenes anders/besser(!) machen… das interessiert uns doch die Bohne, Leute.
    Trotz allem finde ich den Artikel wirklich schön zusammengefasst.

    Ich wünsch’ euch was SmMag

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  40. 3940

    This is a great article to point clients at. Thanks for that!

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  41. 4041

    This is the sort of thing we try to ingrain to our clients!! Love it!

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  42. 4142

    anybody here need a logo? I can make one for you for as cheap as 10.000$
    that should make me a professional one, right?

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  43. 4243

    I’ve always found a common mistake is for a client to think that their logo should somehow literally reflect who they are, like a graphical cariacture of the people in the company. Instead, a logo should reflect what they are. The difficult part of a brand/corporate identity isn’t the logo, it’s creating the great product, service and support system that build loyal customers – would you think differently of Lexus or Apple if their logos were a different shape? Based on the teaching of Tom Hughes Iv’e written a short PDF summary, err rant, on this topic here.

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  44. 4344

    Watch how you phrase #1; beginning designers need to get work in order to build their portfolio and become “established and professional.” If nobody hires them, the logo designer will be a dying breed!

    3
  45. 4445

    Article is alright, another list of “rules”. If you follow them, again, you are not thinking outside the box. It is ok sometimes to break the rules, but no doubt all technical requirements should be always followed (resolution, outlined fonts, spot colors etc…., … or not, it depends on project).

    Style wise – it always depends.

    For example:

    9. Has Too Many Fonts
    logo for font online store – why wouldn’t they include couple of fonts just for fun to show variety of fonts they offer?

    7. Relies On Color For Its Effect
    what if the logo is for printing services company?

    Every rule has an exception.

    Every business should concentrate on their services better than logo itself. Every one would agree the logo is good if business is successful.

    3
  46. 4546

    I’m guilty with some of the mistakes above. My favorite would probably be “contains stock art” Now that I’ve been made aware. I will try to be unique and professional all the time.

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  47. 4647

    yeah… talking about staying away from trends – Smashing Magazine one great source of trends :) imho

    good blog, nice showcases, but pretty pretty pretty trendy. I think a lot of people would agree.

    no offense

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  48. 4748

    great article… I liked number 6 and 8 the most.. sometimes we forget considering them focusing on the idea we have in mind then wonder why it didn’t look good..

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  49. 4849

    Here is some simple advice. Spend money on not having a bad logo. Spend money so you don’t end up with a piece of clip-art and comic sans. But DO NOT spend money on having a GREAT logo (unless you’ve got money to burn.) Google did not have a great logo. Are there a billion CBGBs shirts out there because the logo is so awesome? Get a GOOD logo and provide a GREAT service.

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  50. 4950

    Great Article ! A Must for Designers ! Keep it Smashing !

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