Step-by-step logo design process for upcoming internal project
We like to think that all logo design projects are planned, carefully regimented and executed. That’s often true and many are. On the other hand, many logos are developed through an exhaustive process of trial, error, chasing design rabbits down holes and even happy accidents. This is one of those times.
Warts and all.
When showing case studies and logo evolutions, designers often toss out material that went haywire or for one reason or another, just didn’t work (we’re guilty of that too, I guess.) Nobody wants to showcase failed designs and heavy editing keeps our design portfolios lean with great stuff, always good for the client confidence department. That doesn’t mean design snafus, faux pas and missteps don’t occur. They do, as the following step-by-step case study will illustrate, and most designers encounter lumps, bumps, burps and hiccups on their way to a decent logo. Certainly happens to me, though the trash usually ends up where it belongs, in the trash, not in a blog post on the Internet. For this personal project however, I promised myself that I’d capture EVERY step of the logo development process, rather than just the progressions that worked and publish everything – warts and all – for people to see. Afterwards I wanted to discuss the problems of developing a new brand name (when just about everything is taken) and the choices we sometimes have to make because that’s just the way it is. Without further adieu, here’s a nuts-to-soup look at my branding and logo build for an internal brand we can now officially call jabberr (for more on what that is all about, see footnotes at article end.)
The logo & creative brief.
Like all logo design projects, the foray into jabberr started with a creative brief, albeit an informal one, outlining exactly what I wanted the logo to say. As I was playing both client and designer, this part was relatively easy – I already had some strong ideas about what I thought should be incorporated into the logo, or a least suggested visually;
1) As this enterprise is going to deal with internet communication and conversation, the logo needed to include a passing reference to RSS feeds and broadcast.
2) Continuing in that vein, I figured a speech bubble – overdone as they are – would be nice.
3) Bees. Yep. Bees. It started like this – there’s two Bs in jabber so it stuck out (not sure why.) I happen to like bees and I also wanted a symbol that indicated frenetic, busy activity. Buzzing about, symbolically anyway, is actually part of the basic business model and our pollen-bearing pals seemed like a perfect metaphor for that.
Visual metaphors and symbols.
As it was a metaphor, the portrayal of bees could be either hinted at (through a honeycomb shaped icon) or by an actual graphic depiction of one. I wanted to use yellow and black as the color (that bee thing again) and had a vague notion of the ‘style’ I wanted the logo to have. It needed to be fairly simple – while I’ve never been shy of using an illustrative logo style, this puppy was going to appear predominantly in social media, some of those avatars are small and complex logos tend to clump up. It needed to be modern, funky and fairly adaptable. Logo design 101.
At first I thought about using a text-only word mark (though an icon of some sort is definitely needed for avatars and social media profiles.) I knew what kind of font I wanted to employ – sans serif (the little feet of serif fonts can get messy when reduced in size at 72 dpi.) I wanted bold. I wanted round. Something like Futura Bold.
While the default font was okay, and I’ve never been entirely opposed to using an off-the-shelf set, it just wasn’t “it.” Even though it’s on the roundish side, it wasn’t round enough, the ascenders and descenders too blocky and clunky for what I had in mind. I wanted something a little softer and unique which meant hand-editing the type into something more appropriate.
Hand-editing type is fairly dull, laborious and time consuming – not as bad as working up from scratch I suppose – but it still took more than an hour of dropping guides, measuring circles and widths, adjusting heights and tweaking the base Futura into something that worked. At the end of some vector-pushing drudgery, the typography was exactly what I wanted:
“I’m covered in bees!”
Now on to the bee portion of the festivities. I had this beautiful honey bee icon lying around from an old project, so I used the art as a starting point, cleaned it up and simplified the artwork into a more iconic version. Then, I dropped it on a honeycomb icon.
That was nice and all (and would be a cool little icon for someone with a company actually having to do with bees) but it didn’t work for what I wanted to accomplish. It was a little more realistic than I had envisioned, probably too complex, and just didn’t have the Internet vibe I was after. The bee was scrapped for the time being, and I messed around with an RSS icon.
Rather than using standard RSS artwork, I tried to mirror bits of the type, using the dot from the ‘J’ as a base. In context, that might also look like a microphone, which was thematically in the ballpark. Nice. Throwing a nod back to the bees, I used the honeycomb icon, and also reflected the angles and shape of that in the broadcast ‘waves.’ I wanted the icon to have a little more oomph (especially when it was going to spend a lot of time as small pixel sizes) so I thickened up the outline. When put together with the jabberr font art, it looked kinda decent:
While I wasn’t in love with the design, I liked it fine and it would be perfectly serviceable for my new endeavor. I started to think about using the icons as part of a honeycomb motif (if I told you about the idea behind jabberr, you’d see that this is thematically on-point, but I can’t, so you’ll have to take my word for it:)
Should have left it I guess, but something started to bother me about that icon, especially after walking away for the night. Nothing terrible – like a small piece of something stuck between teeth, just enough to be annoying. Was it too bold? The outline too overbearing? Were the edges too sharp and pointy when placed beside the rounded type of jabberr? Probably a bit of both. I had another go, trying several configurations of rounded corners and line thicknesses:
These were certainly more apropos when used in conjunction with the rounded fonts in jabberr. But before I slid the new icons into their proper spot, I noticed something very interesting. If I moved the RSS portion of the icon down, the entire icon began to take on a slight suggestion of a bee. Uh-huh, it’s true:
This had the underpinnings of a very symbolic bee graphic and held some promise. I’d love to take credit for it (though I did see it I suppose,) but this was just a happy accident that occurs from time-to-time when you’re pushing Illustrator polygons around a screen. By tweaking the center blip of the RSS icon into a sharper version, it took on the shape of a bee stinger. Now we were getting somewhere. And for a couple of hours, that somewhere would be off the rails. See, now I had the beginnings of a basic bee shape, I needed to add more details to drive the point home. Perhaps some eyes. A couple of wings? Here’s the initial attempts:
Great. All I could see was either a man with a goatee and van dyke, or an unshaven guy eating a carrot. While wearing earphones or earmuffs (look again, you’ll see it.) Maybe even one of those hats with flaps. Oh sure, it sorta looked like a bee for a nano-second, but once your mind filled in those details into another shape – a disheveled man’s face shape – it’s impossible to unsee it. Not that I didn’t try every configuration imaginable:
Dammit all. I was utterly lost. I ended up with sad man, happy man and some dude who seems to be talking through clenched teeth. It even reminded me of Pac Man, if it were possible to see him from the front and after hours of turning, flipping and re-rendering various bits and pieces, what seemed like a great idea was headed not-so-quickly to Nowheresville. It was time to get out of this rabbit hole entirely and return to the digital drawing board. I deleted the wings and the eyes:
Hold up a minute. If I tilted my head at the few bits and pieces I had left, that looked almost like a megaphone when viewed from the front. Alas, I may be the only one that can see it (my wife couldn’t) so I’ve darkened the inside to enhance the visual (below middle.) Doesn’t matter. That icon incorporated so much more.
It had the bee theme of honeycomb and a stinger. That stinger portion formed a speech bubble with the hexagon, the RSS icon was a defacto part of it and by adding a sliver of black (above right) I was able to turn the bits and pieces into a self-contained, graphic representation of a bee. A pretty slick little bee too. This is the part of the design process when designers usually start calling people to their monitors – “hey, look at this!” – but at 2 am, there’s no-one around except my cats and a dog or two. Let’s rotate the icon so we can work on it, add some wings (the round ones had never worked, so I made them hexagon shaped to reflect the main icon.) Viola:
Now, let’s rotate it sideways again, and slide the jabber type underneath. While we’re at it, let’s check out the icon and the logo with our strapline (tagline:)
After a lot of messing around, we’ve arrived at a logo I dig. Simple yet fiercely symbolic of all three things from the original creative brief: a bee, an RSS feed, a speech bubble and one purely by accident, a megaphone (if you can see it.) It works nicely with the font and reduces quite effectively for use as an avatar on Twitter and what not:
Here’s how the avatar looks on my iPhone:
Crikey. I’m really liking this little fellah. Let’s set up a Twitter banner (they’re kinda odd and resize often so best not to have any important detail anywhere in the image:)
That’s exactly what I was after and if I do say so myself, the beginnings of a pretty nifty brand. This entire episode took about a day-and-a-half (give or take,) about 35 revisions and three direction changes but we finally arrived with a decent logo, managing to crowbar everything into it I wanted to.
Some by design. Some by happy accident.
Footnote: about the jabberr name
I don’t want to give too much away about this project as it’s still under development, suffice to say it’s an Internet venture that thematically has to do with conversations. I wanted to come up with a name that was reflective of that, and ultimately settled on two – Natter and Jabber. As both could work and without a clear cut fave, the deal breaker would be how much we could develop an online presence for each. I figured the .coms – natter.com and jabber.com would have been snatched a long time ago. They were, but we could still get creative if we wanted to develop a brand for one of them. Natter.it was available, as in “Natter It,” a pretty decent compromise. We could mess with the spelling of Jabber, adding an ‘R’ to make it Jabberr (just like Fiverr, who are awful) and we could snag jabberr.me. As in “Jabberr Me.” That wasn’t bad either, sometimes you have to make do and mashing up names is perfectly acceptable these days. In fact, he sparsity of web domain property is the reason behind so many companies and startups with their funky spellings in the first place. Moving along, Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts were taken to varying degrees, but through a bit of hoop-jumping and finessing, we were able to build a portfolio of place holders for both.
But we’d have to choose one.
Hurry up and wait.
At just under $10 a pop, we went ahead and purchased a couple of domain variations for both, including the aforementioned .it and .me extensions (because they are foreign registrars, the .it extensions feature a surcharge.) Here’s the thing – amazingly and when I checked, the top-level jabberr.com had just expired and was awaiting deletion. As if by fate, the original owner – some guy in Pakistan – was letting it go just around the time I was looking for it. Gabbing the .com would add a nice arrow to the brand quiver and this coincidence tilted the scales back towards Jabberr. I had to wait and see if I could snatch the address when it became available but then, an odd thing happened – jabberr.com was deleted but immediately moved into an auction service (also run by Godaddy) that required a $6 sign-up to even look at (I have my suspicions on why that happened and they involve my repeated search for the name, artificially inflating its popularity.) I placed a bid on it ($15) and waited again. In the meantime, while I was starting to lean towards Jabberr.me, an informal poll among friends and family completely favored Natter.it. I didn’t want to pull rank so ultimately, it came down to this – if I won the auction, Jabberr would be it. If I lost, or the bidding became too high (I was willing to go $25) then we’d go with Natter.it. Quite frankly, this was the only arbitrary way to make a decision. One afternoon, this email showed up:
Jabberr it was.
After much hand-wringing and second guessing, we’re more-than-likely going to employ the jabberr logo sans wings. It’ll be a while before this project is launched and a hard decision isn’t required just yet, but this is probably the official version: