Merry Christmas! Right now, you're probably drinking egg nog, cozying around the TV station playing the picture of the fireplace and beating that cousin you don't like and haven't seen in a while at Call of Duty, so you can ignore this. For the rest of you who aren't, however (read: me), I've got a new Tales from the Ashcan for you. This month, we're talking about identity design.
As a graphic designer and typographer, one thing that I've really noticed since my great wide entry into the world of comic publishing is exactly how horrifically bad some of the identity design (aka logos) some people have. Seriously. Granted, horrific logo design is something you see on a regular basis – it's everywhere. But I've noticed that it's exceptionally bad in the realm of comic logos. Without pointing fingers (because that's bad), I can find you within ten minutes some of the most afterthought (if even that much) series logos out there. Likewise, aside from our own, I can point out what I think are some of the most incredible ones. While the former are afterthoughts, the latter have clearly been thought out in terms with the scheme of the story, or are intentionally aping a particular style. The difference between a monstrosity (you can find one within five minutes by looking at any webcomics aggregator) and something as beautiful as the logos for Woody After Hours or Powernap or Delve into Fantasy are immense.
But as a professional, it's even more important to have the proper identity for your business, regardless of whether or not your business is a comic artist, bookseller, travel agenty or coffee shop. Why? Well, it can really hit you hard, and I'll give two examples; the first one now, the second after the jump.
Take, for example, a conversation I had one day with an individual who handed me his business card. It was a simple affair, with black and blue ink and looked very sleek and stylish for a technology company. There was just one problem: the gentleman was in the food services industry, something that the average person would not have known by looking at the card. While his logo and branding needed work, the colors and fonts chosen did even more to confuse potential customers, thus making a simple food producer look like a great tech company (which was not even close to his intent.) I ended up doing a much warmer and more accessible logo for their business, and their business is doing swimmingly.
But I had another customer who had an even bigger issue, and his I'd like to share with you.
In April of 2009, Catalina Travel Advisors came to us (Megami Studios has a graphic and web division known as incstone design) seeking help for the redesign of their image. Though they'd initially wanted a theme based on the old romance of the South Seas, the sad reality was that their previous logo design only alluded to the romance of bad clip art. Chock full of generic images including the stereotypical "globe" that was used in one too many travel agency logos and some rather unremarkable typography, this was less than a stellar design and possibly detrimental to the company.
After some discussions with Steven Hood, the owner of CTA, he had informed us that he wanted to keep the general theme of the South Seas, but to try something different: he was renaming the company PBY, after the military designation of the aircraft. We advised him that this would work out for him, not only because of the break from the previous name but also because of the simplicity and uniqueness of the name itself. An additional benefit came from the description of how he wanted PBY to be different from CTA in that it would be focused more on meeting the customer experience rather than just merely offering a wide selection of destinations. This in effect would allow the customer greater freedom to create his/her own vacation. Based on that idea, and from company's name we helped him develop a new slogan: Powered By You.
Now that we had our theme and ideas to work with, we started on developing the visual identity for PBY. Keeping the original theme of the PBY Catalina, we chose colors that would imply elegance and luxury, while adding highlights that allowed for a little bit of playfulness. We also extended this to the logotype, choosing a professional font, but coloring it in a way that accented the use of the individual letters as a means of allowing Steven to then bring up the company slogan in conversation.
Needless to say, Steven was definitely pleased with our design and immediately adopted it, but at the same time he had a new challenge: how to leverage his newly-rechristened company to work in areas which the old CTA could not, and how to identify with them?
After some discussion, we agreed that the best option for him would be brand channelling. Along with the master logo, PBY would use its slogan to the fullest, creating individual "sub-logos" for each of the company's main areas.
Upon completion of the project, here's what he had to say:
Differentiation is critical in any industry these days, but no more so than in the travel industry. Travel industry experts also told us that brand loyalty in the travel business was uncommon, and it is no longer enough to simply specialize in a destination or lifestyle to set oneself apart, as almost all sellers of travel services and convention managers do these days and trends change overnight. We needed a brand that customers would not just recognize, but associate with their travel experiences both past and present, no matter where their dreams took them. At the same time, we did not want to abandon our existing brand, both for our existing customers and for tradition’s sake. Incstone looked at what we were trying to do as a company and suggested we consider using “brand channels” for reinforcement while updating our logo to something beautifully simple and simply beautiful. I have had customers who had never heard of us before book their next vacation with us simply because they looked at our business card and thought that our logo and our brand channels "look welcoming and exciting". I do not think it is possible for this to have turned out better for our company or our clients.
As you can see, identity design is vital, and if you do it wrong, you can really screw things up. Hell, professional companies do it all the time. One only has to read about the Proctor & Gamble "Satanic logo" controversy or the fracas surrounding the Gap's logo change to know that sometimes even the best of intentions can go wrong. Even companies known for constantly getting design right screw up now and then. So don't let it get you down, but make sure that crayon scribble of a logo is really what you want; the result could cost you in a bad, bad way.
Oh, and if you're wonder what the "brand channeling" above means, it's a reference to using more than one logo dependant on the situation. There's lots of companies that do that. Pepsi, with the modifications to their logo, has done an interesting job of brand channeling (though some wouldn't agree.)
I should also add that we at Megami even do so. Though we mostly use our new logo now, we still use the original Megami logo when it comes to our font sales. In the case of PBY, we gave them a brand channeling setup, which allowed the company to tailor its logo to the particular needs of the client. In concert with the main logo, it opens up a chance for the vendor to talk to the potential client. In layman's terms, it gives you a chance to expound on how it works and what it can do for you. Anyways, here's the PBY brand channels.