Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thoughts on Logos and Brand Identity...

When I worked in "the private sector" (we say this in education as if it's some tour of duty in WWII), I toiled in marketing / advertising / communications. Regardless of what you call the department most of the work centered around getting creative people, or whole agencies for that matter, to turn art and words into business-like brochures, packaging, advertising, etc...

The process of marrying business and art was difficult, and I doubt it is better now. We would take some high-level branding strategy from management, pair it with an overly wordy set of product features and benefits, and meet with the "creatives" to kick off a project. From that point on, the type A business folk would pace the halls like an expecting parent while the "creatives" would work their alchemy. Sometimes magic would occur, collaborative bliss would spread, and product and monetary success would follow. When the process failed, it got ugly. Corporate failure on any level brings out the worst in people - lots of finger pointing, revisionist history, and general paranoia.

I think logo development is the highest-stake game in the field. Companies spend a lot of money for these brand marks, and they have to serve many purposes (packaging, ads, broadcast, web). Although logos look simple they are hard-fought projects. Let's take a look at some famous logos and their transitions over time.

This company has seen some lean and prosperous times over the past 30 years, but they are gods of advertising and branding. Apple has one of the most iconic logos ever created. That said, it has changed over the years at the hand of graphic artists with a sense of what's hip. From these pictures it clear to see that Apple can't stand wearing last years' fashion.

You can't talk about logos without mentioning Nike. This is arguably the most easily recognized symbol in the world. So much so, that they've dropped out the company name in a lot of their advertising. Let's not forget that Nike has spent billions over the life of the company to etch this symbol into our brains. To be honest, it's memorable but not really that interesting from an artistic standpoint.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi
These cola titans have different strategies when it comes to branding. Coca-Cola has primarily stuck with their original scripted logo in a red or white combo. Pepsi has stayed with their red, white, and blue palette - but they've taken more risks with the brand mark.

The FedEx mark is a great example of a simple image that can be easily modified to convey a set of differentiated services. I like the flexibility here. Plus, they get a bonus for subliminalism. Have you ever noticed that the "e" and the "x" make an arrow pointing right in the space between the letters?

Kentucky Fried Chicken
In my conspiracy-laden mind, "Extra Crispy" and "Soylent Green" have always had something in common! I'm including KFC because of the oddity of Colonel Sanders, a.k.a. "The Colonel". I think it's fascinating that we can all recognize this man, but we know very little about him. His highly stylized image means chicken, and I guess that's all that matters. I like how he's now wearing an apron, as if he's in the kitchen with the other teenagers brewing up his secret recipe.

Not sure how to wrap up this wandering blog, except to say that I've worked with some immensely talented designers and writers and they don't paid enough for the work they do. Well branded companies make a lot of money from strong logo work. Carolyn Davidson created the original Nike logo in 1971 for $35.00! Later, Phil Knight made ammends - but it just goes to show that good designers can be worth billions in the bank.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I'm a Man! I'm 40!

... ish. So what the heck am I doing making fake logos all weekend? If you didn't get the reference then you need to check out Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy's infamous rant from last season. I still laugh out loud everytime, partly out of fear and mostly out of disbelief. We need Mike to join in the debates this fall.

I digress... Here's a couple of other logo ideas. I want to create a cartoon series based on single-celled organisms. Maybe this is a good start.

Friday, October 10, 2008

FEZ: Zen Master Snowboarding Monkey

Next week my Advanced Digital Media classes are going to venture into the world of logo design. We talked about branding and target markets yesterday. I had to really keep a lid on my Jekyl/Hyde, marketing guy/teacher blabber... old habits die hard. My students started exhibiting the glazed stare that my wife gets when I chatter on passionately about something. OK, I get it, I'm moving on to the demo now!

One of my classes chose snowboarding as the market they'd like to design for, so I spent some time today building an example in PhotoShop using only the shape tool and the text tool. We don't have graphics tablets in my lab. Hence (yes, hence), the proper use of the shape tool is essential for this assignment. I thought it would be difficult without a tablet, but it wasn't that bad. There are enough shapes available to do almost anything.

I've always been obsessed with monkeys and fez-style hats, so why not combine them both? Here's a 4 color, and b/w version. Juliet thinks I need to use a darker brown, which is probably a good call. Damn kids are always right!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Whither Dreamweaver?

"O0h-hoo Dreamweaver.... I believe you can get me through the ni-height!" If you are over 40, the word "dreamweaver" brings about thoughts of San Francisco Riding Gear jeans and bad pre-pubescent dances in the late 70's. However, Gary Wright's famous song name is also the name of the leading product for handcrafting web sites. I've been teaching students how to use Dreamweaver for many years, and lately I've been wondering if this is a good idea.

HTML (hyper text markup language) was created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991 as a way to put a graphical user interface on the early internet. Before Tim divined HTML, users of the internet had to rely on a DOS-like environment to look at content. HTML allowed users to link text, media, and networks in way that revolutionized the way we navigate information.

In ye olde days of the interwebs, people would use the awesomeness of Notepad to type in HTML tags (a simple set of formatting commands that you could turn on and off). Essentially, the HTML tags would instruct the browser how to display content in a given web page. Web designers would save these ".txt" files with a ".html" extension and viola, you had a web page. Later, several companies introduced html editors to build more complex and graphically rich sites. Microsoft acquired a product named FrontPage, Adobe had Go Live, and Macromedia built Dreamweaver. Ultimately, Dreamweaver won the editor wars and became the industry standard. About three years ago, Macromedia was acquired by Adobe and now it's part of their suite of web-focused apps.

I've taught basic HTML (aka XHTML) to my students since 2001. I used to believe that they needed to know basic tag structure and coding techniques in order to become a professional. I've pushed Dreamweaver as the best way to build sites for small to medium-sized businesses. In the past, coding pages to look correctly in any browser (colors, fonts, tables, etc) had been an arduous task. Dreamweaver made the process much easier. But in the last three years there's been an onslaught of easy-to-use free tools to create web sites. For the most part these tools obscure the underlying HTML code and allow you to easily create beautiful, media-rich sites in a very short period of time. This blog is a great example. You simply sign up for a free account, choose a design template and start posting. Obviously, Facebook and MySpace are also great examples. Some others to check out:

The advent of open source software development has also brought innovative new tools. This category of software is called Content Management Systems (CMS) and you can get several from Most of them are based on a simple trilogy of technologies - PHP, MySQL, and simple web server software. To install them, you simply unpack a zip file on your host and you have a fully functional web site with user accounts, add-ons, and an incredible array of customization options. I've used the following CMS tools:

If you are a teacher and you currently host a site for school-related purposes, I would recommend checking out Moodle. It's created specifically for education. If you are a small business owner I would go with Joomla or Drupal. You can build very complex web sites with these tools in very little time.

So the question in my mind is, "Should I teach Dreamweaver?" It's hard to see students slog through learning Dreamweaver and HTML when they can build a fantastic web presence with the aforementioned tools. It's kind of like building a house with hammers and hand saws, instead of nail guns and power tools. The end result is the same, but the underlying knowledge is quite different. I've been a teacher long enough now that I'm starting to feel out of touch with the market. I'm curious to know what people think. Drop a comment and let me know. Meanwhile, I'll ponder Gary's eye shadow.