In January, The Barbarian Group gave me the opportunity to do some identity work. I would have agreed to work on anything related to logo design, but when I found out whom this particular mark was for I jumped at the chance.
Let me begin by saying that I love doing identity work. My portfolio is filled with it. And I’m really proud of the marks I have designed over the years. I can’t (and don’t) say that about much, especially where design is concerned. But give me logo and I’m completely obsessed.
Unfortunately, I don’t get the opportunity much anymore. I probably design 2 to 4 logos a year. When I worked for Supon Design Group, I was given a new logo project each and every month, sometimes more. As the other designers complained about having yet another logo to do, I was at my desk with a pencil and a stack of paper. I could spend every day for the rest of my life just designing logos. That’s why I jumped at a chance to design two marks for The Webby Awards.
Here’s the old mark:
This time, they wanted something refreshing and timeless, which meant no groovy (and therefore dated) fonts, no flashy colors, and nothing over-designed. They said they wanted the word “Webby” to be most prominent. They made it very clear that they wanted the mark to somehow include their trophy.
Here’s a picture of the trophy:
The first thing I do when designing a logo is research. My research almost always includes a dictionary. I know, that probably sounds pretty weird. Why would someone need a dictionary to design a logo? Well, a logo is meant to define a particular organization or person so why not go directly to the source? Plus, sometimes words open new ideas for imagery. What I usually do is write down words associated with a particular client and look each of those words up. This allows me to explore imagery I never would have thought of on my own. And even if I end up headed in an unrelated direction, I never look at it as time wasted. What better way to understand what I do want to say by defining what I don’t want to say?
Another reason I like to use a dictionary is that sometimes you go into a project with way too much information. Perhaps the client (which usually consists of a group of people) gave you conflicting ideas. Maybe, instead of being pushed into a corner (a frustration many designers lament over), you find that the exact opposite is taking place. You may find that you have so much information, and so little direction because of all that information, that you’re literally floating in space. Too much space can be dangerous when you’re dealing with a budget and a limited timeline. I have seen this bite people in the ass time and time again. That’s why I try and ask a lot of questions up front. I’ll ask the client to send me a list of logos they like as well as why they like them. Sometimes I’ll ask them if they’re opposed to certain color combinations or fonts. I almost always ask them what it is they want to say, who they want to say it to, and why they’re saying it.
But let’s say you’re not given a clear path in the beginning. When I’m given too much information – too many buzz words, too many ideas – I try and put everything into a pot and boil it down so I’m left with a more condensed version of the problem. And that’s where something as simple as a dictionary can come in handy. This technique has helped me immensely. (I use it as much as I use my Graphis or Communication Arts reference materials.) And usually I don’t touch pen to paper or mouse to monitor until I ponder the problem for a while. Some of my best breakthroughs have taken place on the subway or walking to work.
In this particular case, the client was pretty clear as to what they wanted from the get-go. They were sure that they wanted to bring the trophy into their mark and they gave me a list of sites and logos they liked as well. That doesn’t mean that the process was smooth sailing from beginning to end. For example (and this happens a lot in design) my favorite mark did not make it into the final round. Kristen tried, as did I, but in the end they felt that it was too confusing, that people might not get it. Even after we brought up what I like to refer to as the “Aha! Factor”, they still weren’t sold.
What’s the “Aha! Factor?” I made up the term! But it will make more sense once I explain it.
The “Aha! Factor” is something that takes place in the viewer’s mind when they look at a logo. This realization can take place the thousandth time the person looks at a mark; it may be pointed out by a friend; sometimes it doesn’t take place at all and that’s OK too. Basically, it’s the phenomenon that occurs when someone realizes something/sees something in a mark that they hadn’t ever seen before.
Take the FedEx logo, for example:
When did you first see the arrow?
The Northwest Airlines logo is another good example of the “Aha! Factor”. Before Northwest redesigned their logo, this was the mark they used:
I didn’t realize this at first, but if you look at the top left-hand corner, the arrow that makes up the “W” points to the Northwest. It’s also slightly reminiscent of a compass. The mark had two other levels beyond the simple (and clean) N and W.
Unfortunately, Northwest redesigned their logo. I’m not too keen on the new one. I think they went in reverse:
The Amazon.com logo is another great example of the “Aha! Factor”:
The mark obviously reads “Amazon.com”. It’s friendly, and easy on the eyes. But the designer (or design team) added an arrow, which turns into a smile. Pretty cool, eh? But that’s not all! That arrow (or smile) also points from A to Z.
When I design a logo for a client, I try and include the “Aha! Factor” in at least one of my sketches.
This was one of the initial sketches Kristen showed the client:
I really liked the direction that the mark above was headed and we tried to convince them to go for it, but in the end they felt that people wouldn’t get it and opted for something a little bit safer and a lot more straightforward.
After several rounds of iterations and a whole lot of discussion, this is what they went with:
When it comes down to it, graphic design is a form of communication. We, as designers, are here to make the client’s vision come true keeping the audience in mind. Sure, it’s important to drive the process, after all, that’s why they hired you. But our job is to first address the client’s audience, then please the client. Lastly, we must create something we are happy with. If all three of those goals are met, it’s a job well done (in my opinion).
The site launched yesterday and they seem very pleased. Kristen designed one hell of Web site. It’s so well designed and unbelievably easy on the eyes; I’m envious of her work. She’s an outstanding designer. The site is worlds better than the earlier version. Check it out.
And me? I am really happy with the final logos. I gave them the one shown above as well as the People’s Voice mark shown below. (The People’s Voice mark was to be a sister of the Webby Award logo. It was to work alongside the other logo.)
I want to end this by saying that I am so unbelievably grateful for having given the chance to work with such a reputable and amazing firm such as The Barbarian Group.