Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Worth Aspiring to in 2010: Great Logos

I encountered this post (25 logos with hidden messages) a little while back, and am thoroughly impressed every time I look at it again. Each of these works in black and white, has multiple meanings (as the post points out), and is also simply memorable and appropriate for the client. If every company had a logo as good as one of these, the world would be a more interesting place.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Jake Armerding, new business card layouts 2

My main beef with the old front layout was that the black box at the bottom (while helpful for setting off the type) arbitrarily broke up the layout, ruining any cohesion it might have. Secondly, the cream-colored letters didn't relate strongly enough to any element in the image, thereby missing out on repetition, one of the basic design principles and an easy way to create continuity in a layout.

For my first take on the front of the card, I kept the centered design, but zoomed in on the photo so we could eliminate the low-rent arbitrary box. Given the white windows and darker overall image, I thought white text would work best, but to make it easier to read I added a subtle brown gradient at the top and bottom of the photo:

I thought that option worked well, but wanted to give Jake another possibility for comparison, so I tried a flush-left layout as well. I liked this one even better, because as Matthew Frederick points out (note 52), asymmetrical balance is more interesting and advanced.

For the back of the card, the text was basically set so it was a question of bringing some simple graphical flourishes to make it less boring. After looking at various glyphs, I noticed that the bullet and dagger characters looked cross and nail-like, which was appropriate for a religious album, and the contrast of scale created a pleasing background without detracting from the text.

Given the more traditional arrangement of the music on the album, Jake ultimately went with the centered arrangement for the front, but still appreciated being given the choice. It was fun to work with a friend, and do a little to support a quality musician.

Jake Armerding, new business card layouts

This was a simple project; my friend, a musician, was getting some business cards printed to promote one of his new albums, but knew that the layout he cobbled together wasn't working. The typeface and image were set, based on the album cover, but what could I do rearranging these elements?

Here were the initial front and back card designs he came up with, for front:

and back:

In the next post I'll share my critiques, as well as my suggested solutions.

Friday, June 12, 2009

How to Be Creative

On the topic of inspiration, this manifesto by Hugh McLeod is one of the best pieces I've ever read. I first encountered it several years ago, but reread it regularly because it's that good, and like a lot of other things in life, the more truth there is to it the harder it is to put into practice. Some of the points may be familiar from other sources, but he distills them with the concision of a veteran ad guy and the hard-won wisdom that can only come from having crawled through the tunnel and out the other side.

Here's the link to the pdf. (And incidentally, a lot of other worthwhile pieces on that site--definitely worth getting on the e-mail list.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New Desktop Wallpaper

The quotation is from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, the best creative self-help book I've ever encountered--better than Bird by Bird, Writing Down the Bones, and so forth. Designed for my monitor, 1920x1200; if you want a different size, let me know.

1680x1050 by request:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Elemental Food, tweaked logo designs

The client and I were excited about going ahead with this direction, but there were still niggling questions about where exactly the lettering should sit inside the skillet, whether or not the script f should cross the border of the skillet or not, and also how the full name should nestle under the handle of the skillet. 

So after experimenting with a number of minor variations, I concluded that yes, the f crossing the border was a nice way of adding some dynamism and unexpected visual interest, as well as increasing legibility at smaller sizes. (The frustrating thing was that there wasn't much wiggle room to scale the EF, because then either they weren't centered in the skillet, or the F protruded too much and wasn't recognizable enough). 

The final choice though that I presented to the client though was regarding the related issues of the text overlap and skillet handle angle; I liked the jauntier 45-degree angle, but on the other hand thought the text overlap was better with the 15-degree angle, and we ended up going with that one. So next up, business card layouts!

Elemental Food, initial logo designs

Though we'd thought the chef's-knife-in-anvil idea was interesting, it quickly became apparent once I started that there just wasn't a good way to work out the proportions, so into the dustbin of history it went. So that narrowed it down to three basic ideas, the simple EF with fork, the branding-iron style square type with integrated fork, and the skillet. I had high hopes for the branding iron, but upon further consideration we decided that the fork was the most common icon used in food logos, so perhaps it wasn't as strong. Additionally, long skinny logos present usage constraints that more square or round logos do not (since at a given width the text is way smaller), so that was another strike against it. 

I had a real soft spot for the E | F designs, especially the horizontal one; I thought the subtle texturing on the fork fit the philosophy and the contrasting type communicated both "substantial" and "elegant," which are two characteristics of Josh's cooking skill. In the end, however, the graphic power of the skillet won out; circles, especially solid ones can be compelling even in small sizes, and also the skillet is a more unusual icon in the business, which was another point in its favor, and it still uses the contrasting type that I thought worked well for the other designs. 

So once we settled on the skillet, the next step was tweaking the precise releationship between text and skillet, and then seeing how the logo would work on business cards. 

Elemental Food, business name and logo sketches

After much deliberation and prodding from those who have enjoyed his superlative cooking, my friend Josh is moving ahead with starting a catering/private chef business.  After discussing various names relating to his Oakland location, his cooking style, his approach to food, and his own name, we finally settled on Elemental Food, which reflects his belief in the importance of quality dining to the good life, as well as his usage of real, classic ingredients.

As you can see below, he is a very thoughtful client and was willing to pay for me to spend several hours brainstorming logos. This was crucial to the success of the project, because at first we started by talking about the periodic table, chemistry, stove heating elements, and the letters EF as jumping-off points. But by taking some more time, I was able to explore just about every angle we could think of: cast-iron skillets, flatware plus letters, chef's knives, anvils, produce, and multiple variations on each of these. Since this business is so close to his heart--you should hear him rhapsodize about charcuterie--it was satisfying to be able to do the process justice and only move forward once we'd done our due diligence. 

The general lesson I draw from this--and something I'd want every client to understand--is that their satisfaction and peace of mind about the final solution will always be greater if they have the patience and resources to spend more time in this initial concept stage. But anyway, you can see the starred/circled ideas, which were the ones I started comping on the computer (next post). 

Margie Leighton wedding invitations

This project was lots of fun to work on because the clients, sisters of the bride, are both visually talented and have fine arts backgrounds, but still appreciate my graphic design experience, which made for enjoyable and productive collaboration. They had the rough idea of a black-and-white gatefold photo booth, but didn't have the page layout expertise to arrange all the tedious detail information that must of necessity accompany an invitation. 

So to produce the final product pictured below, I helped them edit the text throughout (especially to fit all the direction info), used bold and italic type where appropriate to help create proper hierarchy in the text, scanned the handwritten names on the right panel, took the photos of the two letters (M and J) representing the bride and groom, and formatted the insert cards with the black and white rectangles to create unity throughout the piece. 

A great project, and, space permitting, it will be the first bilingual English/American Sign Language wedding I'll get to attend. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

Re:____ post card (final layout)

Finally though, this was the best option: clearest hierarchy between headline, arm, and small text, the blood allusion with the corpuscular type treatment, and the balance between the red, blue, and black on the page. The client was happy with it, and the show ended up being well attended.

Re:____ post card (initial layouts)

After looking through several dozen broken bone and cast images, when I found this one I was immediately sure that this could be it. Just a quick retouch to adios a hospital watermark, bump up the color a tiny bit, increase resolution to 300 dpi for print output, and it was ready to throw in a layout.

I actually tried a horizontal layout first as that's how the image was originally, but the headline and other type looked clumsy and arbitrary, so I flipped it vertical and things started shaping up quickly. Making the headline huge and centered was a nice way to establish a proper hierarchy, as well as getting some subtle cruciform symbolism in there. The sans serif type looked the best for the headline, which was also handy for the rest of the info because sans serif prints better when you're reversing small type out of black.

The white headline was my first idea, for a stark, simple look because the small type had to be white to pop off the background. But then playing with some options in photoshop I then happened upon the bright cyan option, as well as the ghostly monochromatic one (#3). Then once I went there it was a small step to the faded red option, where I also toned down the subhead so it wouldn't compete as much. For the final pick though, see the next post.

Re:____ post card (brainstorm)

A friend was putting on an art show at her church, and needed a promotional post card. The title/theme of this art show was "re:_____. Exploring a beautiful breakdown and renewal," which was intended to have both religious significance, and relate to cultural happenings at large with a new year and a new president. So in beginning the brainstorming process, I considered numerous visuals to convey this: the face/vase gestalt illustration, a stock chart, the recycling symbol, plants sprouting, broken masks, broken bones, and also all-type approaches.

Once I went online to look for images though, things started to come together as I found some very striking broken bone images that were perfect to communicate the idea of brokenness in the present--but healing in the future.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Good Logos Get Made

As a potential client, you may wonder "Besides computer skills, what exactly am I paying a graphic designer for? Why does it take so much time--why can't they just sit down and bust something out?" Well, this is why; of course this process may be abbreviated depending on the budget, but what this post explains so well is the extent of the thinking that goes into any thoughtful, successful design.

Skyline Home Theater 3: final business card

After combining the giant "skyline" letters in the background from option B with the more extended graphics from option C, we arrived at the final design here. I generally don't advocate centered layouts (because any amateur trying to do yard sale posters in MS Word will center things), but in this case it happened to be a good solution; the hierarchy of elements is clear.

Looking back, the slight left-heaviness bugs me a tiny bit (I could've switched the TV and subwoofer in the center), but on the other hand, because of that weighting the eye reads smoothly down from the name to his name, so maybe it's ok.

Skyline Home Theater 2: logo/business cards

Once we'd settled on the business name and the basic idea of using a/v components to create a skyline, I had to figure out the best way to lay out said elements. With all of them, you'll see that I used a cream-colored background, because doing that versus a white card stock gives more of an impression of an older, established business, a subconscious message that I thought important in this case.

Option A shows a grounded feel with the components on the bottom; A puts his name in the foreground and makes the graphic elements way smaller, and C extends the skyline. He wanted to combine elements of B and C, and we'll see the final result in the next post.

Skyline Home Theater 1: business name/identity

My friend had done design and installation of high-end custom home theaters for several years, but his business had always been casual through word of mouth. But now, after splitting up with his former business partner, he needed to have an official business name and cards. So in brainstorming business names, I looked at a number of different angles: his name, the bay area, local geography and landmarks, and audio/visual iconography (see sketches).

We discussed the various initial ideas, and eliminated several for different reasons. Earthquake audio/visual looked cool, had a nice double meaning with the jagged line, but made more sense if he were doing block-rockin' car audio, not fully-integrated home systems for mutual fund managers. The strong graphic nature of Meier audio/visual was appealing, but part of the goal was to convince potential clients to spend tens of thousands of dollars, we needed to steer away from any name that might suggest that this business was really just my buddy, his knowledge, and his tools. So we concluded that Skyline Home Theater was the best all around, so I went to the computer to explore different ways of executing that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

David Burke, visual artist: business cards

Working with an artist this talented, the only real question was how best to show off his work. Since he uses an industrial resin in his work (giving his paintings an eye-catching depth and glossy appearance), I was hoping to print his business cards with a spot varnish so the cards would mimic his work. But alas, he's a semi-starving artist, so that had to wait. To show off the diversity of his work but save him money, we ended up doing three designs and printing them eight-up on a page at Kinko's.

The Green Grocer: logo (part 3)

So which one did they pick? None of them--I was a casualty of my sister not really knowing how to describe what she wanted. They ended up going with a design my aunt did, which is very nice, but would not be described as "clean" or "modern" by most people--I'd say "vintage Americana" or "arts & crafts" or "town & country," perhaps.

In the end it was a very frustrating process, but I learned a few valuable lessons from it: first, it's always worth spending the time up front to figure out with the client exactly what they want before you start spending the time comping things up on the computer. Second, if the client doesn't value your professional opinion, you both may be better served parting ways. And finally, be careful when mixing family and business!

The Green Grocer: logo (part 2)

After discussing the initial ideas with my sister, she wanted to focus on a simple text-based logo that incorporated a food element, like a tomato--cute, colorful, and distinctive. She also gave me a few sites that she liked to give me a sense of her preferred style, and used the words "clean" and "modern." Ok, I said, we can work with that. So here are the variations on the theme that I came up with; I went with the vertical layout because it worked better with the logo shape and information we needed to include:

The Green Grocer: logo (part 1)

My sister and brother-in-law were starting a local/organic/sustainable grocery store up in Windsor, a small town up in wine country (Sonoma county). So for their logo, my first sketches explored the idea of location, of food iconography, and of plants. (See sketches.) Regarding the design process, I always start with pencil on plain white paper, so that I can quickly explore as many ideas as possible without wasting time on paths that turn out to be dead ends. Plus, many more visually talented people than I advocate working with sketches first, computer afterwards--Michael Bierut is just one example.