Part 1: Dispatches from the design trenches. Redesigning a logo isn’t something to be taken lightly. Do we choose a simple update or a complete rebrand? Part one of our studio logo overhaul.
The little “factory” in our first “official” logo isn’t a factory at all – I actually designed it based on my old house. I had just started The Logo Factory in its new incarnation (after giving up my day gig as an art director at an ad agency) and was working out of my cramped dining room office (hence the house.) Business over the Internet was booming, and I was designing logo after logo (hence the boxes rolling out of the house.)My children – Amy and Matthew (then 4 and 5) – were always complaining that I was working too much, so I tended to work in the wee hours of the morning when they were in bed (hence the solitary light when all other windows are dark.) The only real problem was that my dining room office was on the first floor, but that was an accuracy that was overlooked for design purposes. It’s safe to say I have a lot of personal attachment to the mark, and changing it is not a decision I will make lightly. But we’re certainly going to try.
Logo redesign baby steps.
Back in October, we tinkered around with redesigning The Logo Factory logo (see Battle of The Logos for more). We were originally thinking about a complete overhaul: a new factory ‘house’, typography, color scheme – the works. Trouble is, and as much as I might like to change our ‘house,’ it’s not really practical. It’s part of our trademark registrations. It’s all over the internet. It’s been turned into a spinnable 3D modeled version that we’ve been using on various websites for a couple of years. Since we started using it in 1995 – first as my personal ‘logo factory’ icon, and then as our corporate mark – the little house has been a part of The Logo Factory history from day one (paradoxically, the reason I want to change it – it’s been around so long I’m tired of it – is also the reason I shouldn’t.) Alas, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with it and any redesign will have to be built around our ubiquitous house. That’s not to say we can’t tinker with the treatment a little bit.
Identifying current logo weaknesses.
Over the years, artwork for the house has become increasingly inconsistent. We used to have the strapline ‘Media Works’ but that was removed (not entirely sure why.) The bit of the roof that pokes out of the bounding box drives me insane because it tends to “drive” the logo down and I can’t line it up horizontally with anything. We re-sized the logo a few years ago in illustrator, somebody forgot to constrain the scaling and, for a while, some of our style sheets and asset files consisted of skinny, anorexic houses. The logo boxes have changed several times (strangely, one version saw crates floating off into space.) We tinkered with a distorted, orange and green version for a while (thankfully, that was short-lived.)
While the original version of The Logo Factory house was purple and teal, we lost the colors at some point, turning the logo into a monochrome, color agnostic version. There was a reason for that at the time – the original PANTONE colors I had chosen weren’t web safe (something that mattered back in modem times) and darker purples didn’t translate well on many monitors. The line weight of the artwork wasn’t consistent (a result of my illustrator background, I suppose) but a little rough around the edges for a logo.
The lines weren’t hefty enough, something which had caused reproduction issues when the logo was reduced in size (you can notice this most on our Twitter profile icon.) There were some line quality issues with the smokestacks (above left) that had been annoying me for years. If we are going to keep the house, we could at least give it a decent face lift and bring the old girl into the 21st century.Having a go at the original vector artwork, I tweaked the old house (above left) into a more solid and linear version (above right). Nothing terribly drastic, In fact, the changes are such that most wouldn’t recognize the difference unless it was pointed out and the two versions sat side-by-each. I also spent a little time making sure that the artwork files were set up correctly in Illustrator, (below) – something which many designers neglect to do, and something that I neglected when I first created the graphic almost fifteen years ago. It’s one thing to have a logo that looks cool on on a monitor in preview mode but is a vector horror-show under the hood. Personally, I’ve always found vinyl die-cutting to be a litmus test of any logo setup and there’d be no issues with this:Once we had a decent version of our Logo Factory house – technically sound and a little more versatile than its predecessor – maybe it was time to tackle the rest of the logo, the typography that makes up our corporate name. We were pretty well hog-tied in the design of the house, but could be a little more flexible with the accompanying text. Don’t get me wrong – changing the font portion of our logo was no less difficult a choice to make. It too has been with us for a long time. It’s gone under some minor tweaks over the years – we added a .com to one version – but otherwise The Logo Factory in Loveletter font has been with us since early 1995. Trouble is, because the house had to stay, any new corporate ‘message’ had to be defined by the typography, while the fonts had to gel visually with the icon.
Someone in the Battle of The Logos comment section referred to the original typewriter font as a ‘battered 90’s font’ and they certainly have a point. Using stressed letters back in the mid-nineties was kinda edgy (people were still enamored with pristine type found in desktop publishing software and old-fashioned typewriter fonts bordered on logo design heresy). It was also a homage of sorts – I loved the logo for rock band Cheap Trick – and had used their logo typography as inspiration when choosing mine. Anyhoo, before I started playing around, I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted the logo to “say.” I wanted to emphasize what makes us different from the increasing number of design companies and logo websites playing their trade on the internet. First and foremost, we’re a real studio. Sure, we use the internet to market ourselves, but in many ways we’re decidedly low-tech. Strictly speaking, we don’t feature an automated platform or other internet gimmicks and a high-tech ‘look and feel’ might run counter to our “message” and our studio “personality.”When you get right down to it, we’re pretty old-school, a theme that’s probably worth building into the design. We still feature one-on-one interaction between an in-house designer and our clients, whether through long distance phone calls or e-mail. We also have a lot of drop-in clients; local businesses who may, or may not, have found us on the internet. I wanted a logo that spoke to hand-built design and craftsmanship (yes, I realize our name – The Logo ‘Factory’ – runs contrary to that notion, but we’re stuck with that too.) Keeping all of this in mind, and If we were to pick a commercial font (something which I’ve never been opposed to, especially when our company name is 14 characters long) it had to be a little old-fashioned. Verging on retro even. I’ve always been a fan of Letterhead Fonts and their Boston Truckstyle hit the right note (above.)
Limitations with our company name in a logo.
The trouble with the phrase “The Logo Factory” is that it’s extremely long and doesn’t work well as a horizontal design. We have to stack the words on top of each other, but that represents a visual issue that can be unpleasant. An almost perfect visual pyramid. In the word “logo” the spacing between the L & O in ‘log’ is problematic, but the ‘L’ in the Boston Truckstyle font set features a nice ornate tail that alleviates most of the issue. Looks nice too. Trouble is, there’s absolutely no way to stack this font combination without making the word ‘factory’ completely illegible.Nuts. Using one font for all three words in our name wasn’t going to work. Had to ditch the ornate treatment of ‘Logo’ and bring in another style, keeping this in mind: any more than three fonts and your logo looks like a ransom note. After tinkering around with a few sets, I settled on Outlaw Regular, again from Letterhead Fonts, a condensed, slightly ornate letterform (which alleviated the L + O spacing issue) and worked pretty well visually with ‘The’ and ‘Factory’. The word Factory is much longer than The & Logo, so I arced it slightly to reduce the width. I wanted to balance things out a little, and the addition of a couple of stars accomplished that while adding a nifty retro feel. Hey, we’re almost there.When pulling apart our old logo, it dawned on me that it didn’t actually say what we did. I usually think straplines are a little goofy, but I need to remember that we’re marketing to a retail audience and that the majority of people seeing our logo are seeing it for the first time. Maybe it was time to finally add a sub title that described what The Logo Factory actually is. I tired to be clever and tinkered around with various combinations “your logo hand-built” (a little vague and suggested some form of logo sculpture,) “custom logos” (redundant – they should all be custom,) until finally settling on dead simple – “Design Studios.” While short on clever, it was long on explanation and addressed some of the primary goals of this mission – differentiating ourselves from the thousands of logo design companies dotting the web. I guess one of our main strengths is our experience. We’ve been around since 1996 (a lifetime in internet years) and in this era of fly-by-night logo companies setting up shop every two seconds, it’s probably something worth adding to the mix. Keeping with the old-fashioned theme, I added an “Est. 1996” to the bottom of the text workup and reversed it out of a solid oval. As an added bonus, this oval anchored the design nicely, counteracting any visual weirdness caused by the ‘factory’ arc. Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s join up the type with the house, and see what we have. Unlike previous versions, I put the house on the right – I could tuck the house quite tightly to the text, while the overlap of the roof on the word ‘logo’ didn’t represent too much visual complexity. It also would help alleviate spacing issues that have cropped up when our current logo is used on the right side of a web header.When I shopped the new logo around the office, it received a fairly positive response. The one suggestion was that ‘The’ was too large and overpowered the design, so I scaled it back a bit. Gotta be careful here – it’s extremely important that the word ‘The’ is part of any TLF logo because 1) THE Logo Factory is our legal name and 2) THElogofactory.com is our website. We don’t own logofactory.com (in a case of inspired stupidity I had that domain, but let it expire years ago to save the $35, and it was quickly snapped up by some embroidery outfit in Florida. They later wanted to sell it to me for an amount in the six figures.) In order to downplay the size, while still making the word noticeable I placed it inside a solid background oval. That didn’t work, so I added a cog (hey, it’s a factory) but realized that half a cog looks suspiciously like a sunset, particularly when reduced.Though I really should know better, I thought color might help tone down the sunset vibe (it didn’t) so I removed the background and scaled ‘The’ to a more appropriate size. I liked the idea of a cog (to help balance the wild-west look) and the letter ‘O’ in Factory seemed like a perfect spot to drop one in. Yep, it’s there. Look again. Funny thing too – in creating this logo, I developed a way to create a really accurate cog in about 20 seconds. Think I’ll do a little illustrator tut about it later.It’s always advisable that if you’re going to use a complicated icon in your logo, you also have a stand alone font version (above left). We’ve always had a library of different TLF logo variants that can be utilized for specific applications, resolutions and aspect ratios (though we haven’t been as consistent as we should be) Makes managing your brand assets a little bit of a chore but the versatility is always worth it in the end (asset management is not something that we’ve been particularly good at – that’s why there are so many different versions of our logo lying around and why we need to standardize everything now,) I also like the fact that the font version has a square logo footprint – many social media websites feature square avatars, and it’s nice to use a version of your logo that hasn’t been cropped.
Logos have to work on different backgrounds.
Another litmus test of a logo is how it appears on colored or black backgrounds. Many logos, especially illustrative ones, can’t simply be reversed (ie: white turned into black – that’s a negative image, similar to old black and white film’) and often, entirely new artwork has to be created. Thanks to a white keyline already built into the house (hey, I had insider knowledge), this isn’t an issue here. Is it me, or does this version look like it belongs on a Jack Daniels bottle?What about color you say? Well, the logo is designed primarily to work in one color (as mentioned earlier, we lost the purple and teal combination years ago) but we might want to spice things up once in a while. Luckily enough, it’s not really an issue. We can even add a little blend to liven things up (color here is for visual only. It’s hideous. I know).The thing I like about this particular font workup is that it’s versatile enough to be used as sub-brands for various offshoot projects. Think podcasts and videos (below.) The built-in strapline can become the project title, while the number of a sequential item can be dropped in, as shown below. If we go with this design, we might just have the makings of a fairly robust branding tool.If the resolution permits, I’ve also set up a version with a web address banner. Back of T-shirts, coffee mugs and anytime the logo’s large enough to warrant it. A little busy I suppose, but just enough of a carnival vibe that accurately describes what goes on at The Logo Factory on a daily basis. I set that version up as a compound object so the color can be easily changed, and the logo is bang-on technically for screenprinting, vinyl stickers and other one-color uses.This compound version can also be used as a watermark on various backgrounds. This example isn’t particularly good – I just grabbed a screenshot of our Twitter profile background to give you an idea.
And there you have it. A proposed new ‘look’ for The Logo Factory with all the various versions and permutations, the rationale for the the change and the thinking behind the setup. Using this new version will require a complete ‘look and feel’ overhaul of anything that features our logo (which is sort of okay, we’ve a new site in planning stages now.) It’s enough of a departure to be ‘new’, while still maintaining enough of the original TLF ‘flavor’ to be recognizable and integrated into our marketing material without too much fuss. This is very important when rebranding too: It’s quite possible for both logos to exist in the same universe. One thing though – when I uploaded the images for this post, I did notice that the strapline tends to fill in, so we’re either going to remove it for some web uses, or hand edit the images when used very small (a hassle I know, but at 72 dpi, sometimes a necessity.)So what do you think? Cool? Crap? Worth while changing? I’m not entirely sold on it myself, especially after going back and reviewing our current logo thinking “hey, that’s not too bad.” The gang at the shop like it. My daughter doesn’t (she was horrified that I even considered changing the logo at all and pleaded me not to go on.) The Mrs. told me she liked it, but I think I detected a vague sense of “meh.” Overall, I think we’re due a change and believe that the new logo is a slight improvement over what we’ve been using, especially when it comes to marketing our studio in a retail environment. Just enough Kitsch to rep our company vibe, but not too goofy as to be off-putting. I’d love to hear what you think – feel free to comment but please be kind. I know it doesn’t look like it, but the above represents about three very frustrating days of my life.
After playing around with the logo in various formats and resolutions, I noticed a couple of minor issues. When used smallish, all the subtexts were leaning towards filling in. The Outlaw Regular font features little pointy flourishes half-way down each letter (see below), which are really nice when the fonts are large, but tend to gum up when smaller. They didn’t add anything to the design, so I took the points out by hand-editing the vector version in Illustrator. With the pointy things gone, I had to adjust the kerning slightly.
Another thing that was starting to piss me off was the swoopy flourish in ‘The’. Oh, I like the idea, but it seemed to be pinching the letters ‘H’ and ‘E’, especially when displayed at a small size. Another quick edit, pushing the top half of the ‘T’ north, gave us a little more breathing room.
I also tidied up some of the other kerning and spacing, centering objects visually rather than automatically through Illustrator’s align function. I’ve added the updated version below. You can view a full-size version of the design here.
Despite the tweaks and edits, you might think there’s much obvious difference between the two. You might think me a little barmy for the obsessive pixel pushing and you might be right. But here’s the deal. Any logo that features things that aren’t quite ‘so’ will slowly drive a designer mad. Think of tin-foil stuck in a tooth cavity and you’ll understand a little of the potential anguish. If we use this logo, there will eventually be something that I hate about it. And every time I look at it, I’ll ask myself “why didn’t I see that?” It’s the nature of the beast, so best to get a handle on as many of these visual gremlins before it leaves this blog post.
As it happens, we’re nowhere near finished this retooling of The Logo Factory brand. There’s a lot more stuff going on in the comments and we also continue the logo revamp here.