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Identity Design discussion on Elastic Brand podcast
I was recently a guest on The Elastic Brand podcast, a new series by Elizabeth Elcoate talking about brand design with the emphasis on digital. You can listen to our discussion on episode two.
We had a great time chatting over subjects like process, my recent work for iHasco, and the fact that no one cares about your logo. I found it particulary interesting comparing with the first episode where Mike Kus explained his process, which has some key differences to mine.
A few hours after we recorded this episode, Slack unveiled their new logo. Shame about the timing, it would’ve been good to discuss that, particularly in the context of the inevitable “I would’ve done it like this” comments!
New Identity for iHasco
Started in 2007, ‘The Interactive Health and Safety Company’ are providers of high-quality Health & Safety and HR Compliance eLearning courses. Nowadays, their name is shortened to just iHasco.
Back in June, Nathan Pitman at iHasco approached me to redesign their logo and create the first identity for the company. There has never been one beyond the logo itself – whenever the in-house creatives began a new project, there was no visual starting point to work from.
Their logo, with it’s ‘pinwheel’ mark has been through a few minor iterations over the years:
Working with Nathan and the in-house creative team, we identified areas to address in the logo:
- The pinhweel device wasn’t quite unique or ownable enough, but the use of triangles to represent Health and Safety is a sound one
- The italicised I at the start meant it wasn’t easily read as word
- The letter ‘C’ ends abruptly, and doesn’t lead the eye smoothly into the next letter
- Incorpoating the strapline made the logo unwieldy
- The logo doesn’t work on multple backgrounds
With logo redesigns, my preference is almost always to evolve the existing logo and keep the equity. While other directions where considered, the final chosen version was indeed an evolution of the existing pinwheel logo:
The main changes I made were to place all the sections together (no more keylines), but move one triangle out of the group to make it more dynamic. This gives the suggestion that the triangle could be either moving out or in, but also highlights the yellow ‘health and safety’ triangle. The colours were also updated, with a new custom logotype that echoes the triangle in the A.
The C also connects better to the O, which is one of those subtle things that helps the logo on a sub-conscious level:
This also meant the logomark was now asymmetrical, moving the logo away from a straight hexagon to give it a more unique silhouette. The 30º angle of the pinwheel became the basic visual element for the identity.
From an early stage, there was typeface that I felt suited this project particulary well, Buenos Airies by Luzi Type. It has all the attributes that I was looking for:
- I specifically wanted a clean, unfussy sans-serif to set a contemporary and approachable tone
- Primary lowercase ‘a’ to suggest simplicity
- Tall x-height and wide character shape for legibility and clarity
- Tails on the lowercase-a and lowercase-l, subtly suggest cursive handwriting
- The terminals of lowercase letters such as e and c point towards the next letter, rather than back at itself, leading the eye into the next letter.
This was then paired with Handsome Pro Bold to create an emphasis style – a way of highlighting key words or short phrases.
Ingredients and Recipes
Not every company needs highly prescriptive identity guidelines, or endless ‘do and don’t’ examples. In iHasco’s case, the creatives in each department needed a large degree of flexibility with colour and typography use. Each of their online courses have their own flavour, and during discussions we kept coming back to Netflix as a metaphor to explain this. A wide range of content to watch, each with its own individual identity, but wrapped up in a design that is unmistakably Netflix.
Essentially, there are four key ingredients that identify a design as iHasco: Logo, Colour, Type and Shape. Instead of being prescriptive, I created a series of thumbnail layouts for different contexts, showing the variety of ways that the ingredients of the identity could be combined. There is never just one solution for a particular context. These ‘recipes’ are a little more involved than a black and white wireframe, but don’t show any specific content.
HTML not PDF
When it comes to providing identity guidelines, I feel strongly that they shouldn’t be in paper or PDF form. A ‘fixed’ document like that means that it’s harder to evolve and update, with some staff keeping outdated versions, not aware that a new version has been published. The web is the perfect medium for this ‘single source of truth’, with Jekyll pages providing the framework, and versioning handled by Git. HTML pages also make it easy to get assets – not just in terms of download links, but specific logo versions can simply be drag and dropped out of the guide.
There’s a lot more to the guidelines than I’ve mentioned here, but the iHasco identity guidelines are publicly available on Github, and in just the few weeks since my part in the project finished, they’re already growing and evolving!
The Hicks Logowall
I was feeling a bit nostalgic this morning, and decided to assemble a wall of every logo that Leigh and I have designed since starting Hicksdesign back in 2002. I look back on a lot of the work now with a wry smile, noting the fashions of the time, and how differently I would do things now. Some of them are no longer in use, some are yet to be released, but there are still a fair majority still in use, even if in updated form.
I’ve even included (almost) all the different versions of the Hicks logo that there have been over the years, missing just the very first one from 2002. I don’t seem to have original files for that one anymore sadly :(
There are some embarrasing ones here, but amongst my favourites are Leigh’s LifeCraft logo, and the one I made for The Escape Committee:
See the Hicks Logo wall
Why Squarespace logo designer is a good thing
Explaining the new logo
I wasn’t quite prepared for the generally negative response to the new identity. Looks like it was a bit of a shock to most people! Comments ranged from positive to lukewarm to negative but constructive to downright condescending and rude. I think the worst were the suggestions that my colourblindness explained the logo colours, as if somehow it was a mistake (or an April Fool’s joke). That hurt! There were also those who proclaimed it ‘wasn’t me’. What the hell do you know is ‘me’? I think people have got this image of an ale-loving tree-hugging hobbit, and that such a design can only mean I’ve had too much old tovey.
Many referred to the 3 leaf logo as some peak of my career. The irony is, if ever I spent 2 minutes slapping a logo together, that was it. Seriously. Zero thought went into it at the time, and the execution was less than slick, but it’s seemed very popular with wives! I never change logos just for the hell of it though. A logo should be something that is in place for very long time, but I’ve already talked about my reasons for changing. Time to move on.
Maybe I shouldn’t have enabled comments (its not as if the logo was up for debate or anything), but people were emailing me to tell me they thought it was ugly anyway (which was nice), so it makes little difference.
So basically, stuff you. It’s staying. This is what I want.
What I wanted:
After I’d convinced myself that I needed to move on, I drew up 4 goals for myself as my own design brief:
- The key was something so completely different from previous logos, and from everything else I’d seen out there. Part of that is colour – there’s a lot of muted, conservative tones at the moment.
- A shape that could be used with different colour combinations, and still be recognisable. Thus, I could have a seasonal variation if I wanted. The current one is deliberately bright (these colours are very IN this year), but could be anything I wanted. This would allow me flexibility, which in turn, would give longevity.
- To highlight a different interest to nature.
- If it had a 70’s in feel, with a modern edge, I would be happy too!
I’d been searching for new ideas for a long time, but finally at SXSW I got inspiration. Glenda the Good Witch took a small group of us off to for a preview of the yet-unopened Blanton Museum of Art. It was there that I saw a piece of art that inspired the new logo:
Its called “Girls of Kilimanjaro III” by Kazuya Sakai, and was intended as a homage to Miles Davis. I was hooked, and not just because I like Miles Davis.
On the flight home, I did a few sketches, and knew that this was what I wanted:
Apart from achieving all my goals, I think the logo also suggests constant movement, which wasn’t intended, but I like that fact that it does. The shape is also pointing/moving/leaning forwards, which suggests direction. Others have suggested it reminds them of scalectrix, race tracks and roller discos, which is great. Its the music connotations that I particularly enjoy though – vinyl records and infinite movement.
The biggest setback was the discovery that Firewheel Design were using the same typeface – Egret. If they didn’t have the word ‘design’ in their name too I would’ve thought sod it, and left it. However, I didn’t feel comfortable with that, so I’ve switched to the other typeface I was considering during development – House Industries’ Chalet. I’m very happy with this, and it doesn’t feel like a second choice. It fits the logotype just as well, and has the added benefit of bolder weights.
Finally – I see this current site design as being a transitional phase – a clean minimal style (much like Doug Bowman did with his ‘whitespace’ phase) to give me time to evolve and develop it. While I intended the logo to be a complete departure, I wanted keep parts of the design that I felt still worked, and didn’t clash with the new identity.
What have you done Walkers?
Walkers Crisps are a solid British tradition (Fact Fans: Britains biggest selling brand for the last 2 years), with a branding that has been developed over the last 100 years to what was recently this:
I nearly spluttered over my sandwich today when I saw the ‘new’ Walkers branding:
What ugliness is this? Shiny gold effect gradients on blocky italic text? And what has happened to the Walkers typeface? What was once a bold, contemporary, yet with a sense of its tradition, typeface has been replaced by some skinny monstrosity! The whole effect says to me “Late 80’s Sci-fi action film’, not crisps.
The cost of this reversal of good taste? Â£20m of course!