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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Suffering from chronic idiocy since 1977

Archive for June, 2008

Some Thoughts on Logo Design

Friday, June 20th, 2008

A few months ago, I had the plea­sure of answer­ing a few ques­tions for an arti­cle being writ­ten by my friend Elliot Jay Stocks for .net Mag­a­zine (Prac­ti­cal Web Design here in the States). Elliot quoted me quite nicely in the arti­cle, but I thought it would be inter­est­ing to pub­lish my com­plete answers here, along with his ques­tions, and he kindly gave his permission.

Note: The arti­cle itself is full of some solid infor­ma­tion and quotes some bright minds—well worth pick­ing up if you get the chance (as is the rest of the issue).

EJS: Please could you tell us a bit about your­self and your work with logos so far?

DR: I’ve always loved logos, and some of my ear­li­est exper­i­ments with design were logo­types (I tend to pre­fer type-driven logos with min­i­mal imagery). I don’t get as many oppor­tu­ni­ties to design logos for clients as I’d like, but I do a fair amount for friends and per­sonal projects, some­times for imag­i­nary ideas just as an excuse to design a logo or logotype.

EJS: Which logo (that you’ve designed) are you most proud of and why?

DR: I’m torn between the cur­rent logo for Super­flu­ous­Ban­ter and a logo I did a few years ago for a real estate com­pany that by brother was start­ing. I put most of the work I do into two cat­e­gories: design for myself, and design for others—so those are my cur­rent favorites from each category.

In the case of SuperfluousBanter’s cur­rent logo (there have been a few over the years), the “sb” mark on an orange field sport­ing a lighter spi­ral (with the counter of the “b” over the cen­ter of the spi­ral) has a nice bal­ance of sym­me­try and asym­me­try at the same time, with­out get­ting complicated.

With the logo for the real estate firm, the busi­ness name was that of the main part­ner in the com­pany, so it required a visual mark in addi­tion to the logo­type in order to com­mu­ni­cate the type of busi­ness. Not that it was ground­break­ing in any way, but the mark does its job well, with­out being too complicated—the more basic the shapes, the eas­ier it is to rec­og­nize an image at a glance (impor­tant for prop­erty sig­nage), and the bet­ter its repro­duc­tion at var­i­ous high– and low-resolutions. The qual­i­ties of the mark that make it my favorite are sim­i­lar to those of the Super­flu­ous­Ban­ter mark: a com­bi­na­tion of sym­me­try and asym­me­try that results in bal­ance (it’s extremely impor­tant to have all three), and in this case, the end result was almost exactly what I pic­tured in my head before even sketch­ing the first rough.

EJS: Can you name an all-time favourite (web-related) logo that some­one else has designed? Why do you like it so much?

DR: It’s hard to decide, but I’ll go with Dan Cederholm’s Cork’d logo. I like Dan’s style in gen­eral, but the Cork’d logo is just ele­gant in its own lit­tle way (recur­ring theme: com­bi­na­tion of sym­me­try and asym­me­try result­ing in an over­all bal­ance). I wear the t-shirt so much that I’ve almost worn it out ;)

EJS: What do you con­sider to be the cur­rent trends in web indus­try logo design? Are they good or bad?

DR: While there are still a lot of “web 2.0” design trends every­where (not just online, either), in my expe­ri­ence these design trends result almost as much from client demand as from design­ers impos­ing those trends on their work. As I said before, I’m a fan of type-driven logos, with sim­ple, straight-forward visual marks to sup­port the type. Aside from the drop-shadows, bevels and other stan­dard design clichés, I don’t think there are any awful trends per se (some peo­ple might say there’s been enough rounded type and bright, happy col­ors, but if a client wants their brand to be ‘friendly’ etc., more often than not it’s the right direc­tion), but I could still do with­out bla­tant 3-D or an over abun­dance of fil­ter effects. And let’s not get into the pros and cons of reflections…

EJS: Where do you get your inspi­ra­tion from and can you rec­om­mend any good places of inspi­ra­tion or resources (books, web­sites, design­ers, etc.)?

DR: I’m con­stantly search­ing for new sources of inspiration—my per­sonal pref­er­ence is to find as much as pos­si­ble offline rather than use the web. Not only does it give my eyes some needed respite from the glare of the screen, but I find my reac­tions are dif­fer­ent when read­ing a book, sift­ing through old album cov­ers, dig­ging through piles of magazines—the tac­tile expe­ri­ence engages more senses, and that helps get the cre­ative juices flow­ing for me. As for spe­cific resources, I think it’s use­ful to have good exam­ples around (for com­par­i­son if noth­ing else), and the Logo Lounge series of books is a good place to start for more recent designs. A sim­i­lar resource online is Logo­Pond (though I wouldn’t per­son­ally sub­ject in-progress work to pub­lic exam­i­na­tion like some users of the site). If you can find books about logo design and brand­ing written/printed prior to the mid-1980’s, you’ll find some great exam­ples of how to design marks with­out going over­board (a sim­ple mark that repro­duces well in black after being faxed will likely trans­late quite nicely to the web).

EJS: How do you approach the logo-designing process? Is there a sys­tem (maybe in 6 steps) that you can recommend?

DR: While I don’t have a fixed set of steps in place for any of my work (I like to think it helps avoid pat­terns and forces me to think from a fresh per­spec­tive on every project), I do tend to go about the problem-solving process the same way each time:

  • Find out as much as you can about the client/product/organization/person/service that the logo will rep­re­sent. With­out that input, a logo is just some text, lines and color.
  • Research other brands in the same market—I used to use this step as moti­va­tion to “design a bet­ter logo” or “beat the com­pe­ti­tion” but I feel that was mis­guided. Now I use it pri­mar­ily to get a feel for what is already suc­cess­ful, and to know what to avoid visu­ally in order to cre­ate some­thing unique.
  • Sketch and Play—this step is the most ran­dom for me: some­times I’m sketch­ing with pen­cil in a Mole­sk­ine, other times I’m mess­ing around in Pho­to­shop or Illus­tra­tor, and a few times the good ideas have come on the req­ui­site cock­tail nap­kin or in the mar­gins of a mag­a­zine. The exper­i­men­ta­tion is the fun part—it’s not always needed (if you see the final logo in your head the first time inspi­ra­tion hits, get to a com­puter as quickly as pos­si­ble and just draw the thing!), but when you’re wait­ing for the light­ning to strike it’s a good way to try things out.
  • Design in black and white until you have your logo­type and/or mark, then add color and adjust as needed.
  • Once you have some­thing, print it out. A lot. I tend to do most dig­i­tal logo work in Illus­tra­tor so every­thing is vec­tor and eas­ily printed at var­i­ous sizes. Print vari­a­tions in type weight/style, as well as inverted ver­sions of your logo­type and mark. Print large ver­sions and paste them to the wall, or lay them out on the floor. Look at them for a few hours, or a day, or a few days—as much time as it takes you to really let things sink in.
  • If it’s paid work, don’t deliver final art until receiv­ing final pay­ment. If it’s for a friend, give them a CD over dinner.

EJS: What tools fea­ture in your logo-making process (and how promi­nently, like mainly Illus­tra­tor and only a bit of Pho­to­shop?), and can you name any that peo­ple might not know about (i.e: any apps out­side of the Adobe family)?

DR: I guess I already answered that for the most part. Illus­tra­tor is my pri­mary weapon, though any­thing that allows vec­tor illus­tra­tion should be fine (even if you’re design­ing a logo for a web site—there’s noth­ing worse than design­ing a kick-ass logo in Pho­to­shop at 72dpi and then real­iz­ing that you have to recre­ate it from scratch as vec­tor art because the client wants to make t-shirts).

EJS: What prob­lems have you encoun­tered in design­ing logos and how do you avoid them?

DR: Aside from fig­ur­ing out the start­ing point (always a mov­ing tar­get from project to project), clients and their expectations/preferences are the biggest prob­lem. That’s a big­ger topic of dis­cus­sion, but I retain as much cre­ative con­trol as pos­si­ble, and let my clients know up front that I expect them to trust my opin­ions. If you’re firm with your client from the begin­ning, their expec­ta­tions will fall more closely in line with yours.

EJS: What gen­eral tips can you offer for other logo design­ers out there?

DR: Play. A lot. Look for sources of inspi­ra­tion that may not seem imme­di­ately obvious—if you’re stuck for ideas on a logo for a children’s book, start dig­ging through some heavy metal album cov­ers, or a stack of per­for­mance car mag­a­zines, or some swimwear cat­a­logs. The con­trast can do won­ders for your subconscious.

EJS: How would you define a good logo? What ele­ments does it need?

DR: Though I have my own, sub­jec­tive thoughts on this, I’m sure not many would dis­agree that a good logo is one that com­mu­ni­cates the intended mes­sage effec­tively. Usu­ally that mes­sage helps define the brand in an eas­ily digestible way. So a suc­cess­ful logo is one that can rep­re­sent the brand (whether it’s an indi­vid­ual, a small non-profit orga­ni­za­tion, or a multi-national corporation).

When it comes to the actual visual ele­ments, I pre­fer logos that do the above described job with­out being com­pli­cated. Strik­ing the cor­rect bal­ance between typog­ra­phy, color, shapes and sym­me­try isn’t some­thing that can be quantified—it will be dif­fer­ent for every logo. I find that the logos that pique my inter­est the most are those with some level of bal­anced asym­me­try: if you split a logo down the cen­ter of either axis, it should not result in a mir­ror image. Type is a straight­for­ward way to achieve this, since you can very eas­ily bal­ance the let­ter­forms with­out cre­at­ing a mir­ror image. In fact, you’d have to work very hard to achieve that effect, to the extent that if it was the intended effect, it would likely be a more cre­ative end result (and as such, become a suc­cess­ful excep­tion to the mir­ror rule), for exam­ple the ambi­grams of John Lang­don.

EJS: What would you con­sider to be mis­takes in logo design, be them your own or made by others?

DR: A level of detail that pre­cludes low-resolution or small-size repro­duc­tion, includ­ing color and type selec­tion in some cases. This is a poten­tial issue with the pre­pon­der­ance of pho­to­re­al­is­tic logos that are becom­ing increas­ingly pop­u­lar with soft­ware com­pa­nies, but I’m start­ing to see it creep into other uses. I also feel like type­face selec­tion is often not given as much care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion as it requires. Of course, logos can still be suc­cess­ful with­out being “per­fect” by any one person’s definition.

Many thanks again to Elliot and the edi­tors of .net Magazine.

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Screencast: Finder Window Icon Trick

Monday, June 9th, 2008

To cel­e­brate Mac Day (any Steve Jobs keynote address deserves a world­wide hol­i­day as far as I’m con­cerned), I’ve decided to do my first screen­cast, so you’ll have some­thing to play with while wait­ing for the Mac­World mad­ness to begin (it also helps jus­tify my pur­chase of Screen­Flow a few months ago).

Thanks to the awe­some folks at Vid­dler for mak­ing my life a bit eas­ier once I got past the “export” stage…

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