I spent part of the day doing some personal logo work, and though I didn’t get to a place where I can call it DONE, it was a surprisingly enlightening exercise. I don’t usually take on logo work for other people because I think they are such personal things, and my approach to this kind of design can be very drawn out, and therefore expensive in terms of my time. There are other people who are much better at it than I, anyway.
That said, I figured it might be interesting to share the process. Read onward!
Dave Seah, Functional Stationery Designer
I’ve been trying out a new description for what I do: “I make functional stationery” or “I’m a functional stationery designer.” I like this because it includes the word “stationery”, which is something that people understand more intuitively than “information graphic designer” or “investigative designer”. This revision to my small talk algorithm is part of my journey for 2012l; I’m getting used to the idea of being someone who identifies himself by being someone who makes things instead of being a service worker.
Anyway, I was planning on spending some time today working on me-stuff, and of course this ritual begins with the selection of the proper bag. As I was reviewing my choices, I noticed that one of them still had my business cards, and this reminded me that they are all out of date. It’s time to make new ones. Seemed like a good place to start.
I decided to try having breakfast at my local municipal airport, which has a cafe overlooking the single runway that serves breakfast all day. I love airplanes and airports, and as I waited for my unexpectedly enormous breakfast to arrive, I doodled a few things in my notebook (above). Like any 1st year design student, I just took the letters F and S and jammed them together. Perhaps the F and S could be made to look like the same letterform, and maybe by making it look something like two nodes connected by a line would imply “functional”. Or, if luck smiled upon me, I could at least make it look interesting and mysterious.
The idea of functional stationery is something that everyone probably can appreciation, but for me is kind of a secret pleasure. This got me to thinking about secret brands, as described by William Gibson in his book Zero History. The idea of a secret brand is that it’s small and exclusive, not known by many except those who are really into it. This is kind of how I think of what I do; I’m not interested particularly in a traditional path of company growth. I just want to make something cool and obsessive that I liked, that would earn me enough living income so I could continue to make these things. That stationery is kind of my version of art is really bizarre, but I figure I might as well see where this idea goes.
So, I thought about secrets and symbols. The visual identity for a secret brand doesn’t have to be obvious. It just needs to be recognizable, and perhaps even a little cryptic. The f and s could be merged into a single totemic figure, perhaps, while conveying the idea of “function” as something moving from point A to B.
I moved into Illustrator and made some vector versions of my scribbles. These weren’t working for me at all. They looked more like instructional diagrams, and after a while they started to resemble dancing worms wearing skirts. Idea (C) resembles some kind of moonwalking snake creature with arms.
As I was constructing the vectors for pass 1, I did notice some pleasing repetition of the curves. I wondered if making some kind of companion form would work, so I made an “s” (figure D) to experiment with it. It’s a weird S too; if you look at the curves up close you’ll see they’re not exactly symmetrical, but I wanted it that way. I retained a tiny bit of a tail on the f, to let it have some forward slinking motion like (C) does, and gave it two crossbar arms (I think my reasoning was that if there were two next to each other, they wouldn’t read as arms). The slant of the arms adds a strange perspective effect (I’m fond of that), as does the slight offset between the baselines of the two letters. They start to take on a slight runic appearance or some weird logo from the 1920s that you might find on the bottom of a piece of pottery. A maker’s mark, in other words.
If it was a mark, then it belonged in a lozenge. And in the 1920s they might have made some kind of reference to stationery, so I stuck something that looked like a fountain pen nib on it, and tried a few variations (E-G). I showed these to my friend Sid, who liked (G) because it started to look sort of regal, like it was wearing a crown. Adding the vertical line to split the nib helped add some complementary line detail that helped balance out the letters.
I wasn’t really satisfied with the way that the fs pair was filling the lozenge, so I tried various sizes. Figures H, I, and K were the original scaled sizes. H feels peculiarly flat, while K feels too contained. Figure J was my pick, as it feels comfortable to me.
Looking this over, I started to wonder about the f. Did it read as an f? Probably not. In version L and M, I played with the letter a bit, removing the tail (which made it look like a letter “J”) and removed one curve detail. In N, I wondered if I could bring back the idea of a system node by replacing the crossbar, mirroring the round cutout of the nib. This was kind of interesting by seemed unresolved; I tried flipping the nib on the other side so the balls were more on opposite sides of the logo, but it really did nothing for me.
After the second hour of working on this, I took a break and came back. I decided I didn’t like the pen nib, and removed it to see how the lozenge stood on its own, thinking of a secret, clean maker’s mark. This looked much cleaner, though the dot really didn’t work. I added a crossbar through it, asymmetrically bisecting the lozenge to make an f, but it started to look like the UPS logo or a drug capsule (Q). Tilting it helped break that look, and then it was a matter of playing with line widths. While I liked the fine line, the thickness really needed to match the letters, which ended up with (S2)
I wondered if I could get a more robust feeling by cropping the lozenge, as T through V show. I stuck the nib back on it to see what it would look like. Seemed overly ornate, but with additional treatment it might have been the basis for some kind of fancy engraving approach. I decided, though, that (S2) was the mark I’d try to work with.
The mark by itself, I found, didn’t really work with the typography I came up with, and it’s a bit awkward to use on a business card. And it’s lost some drama too. I find myself looking back at (P) and thinking that I like this better, because it just seems more mysterious. I don’t know…I’ll have to take a break from this and look at it again in a few days. For example, instead of a lozenge I could make it looks like stacks of paper. That might be more obvious. I may have to rethink my choice of typeface too, but I’ve pretty much standardized on Proxima Nova Condensed as my “official” font. I just like it.