Icon Design & Development, a luxury real estate development company
In 2014 I got an email from my friend and past client, Jesse. Jesse had a client who needed a new logo:
After settling on a budget and timeline, we had a phone meeting to discuss the project. Here are my notes from the call. My handwriting is crazy, so here are the key points:
- “ASAP … within a week” (they didn’t give me a lot of time!)
- “Clean, simple … don’t want to stand out … modern style … Look professional … No bullshit”
- “30-50 yr. old millionaires & investors” (the target market of this business / this logo)
- “avoid popular colors” (interesting in retrospect, given the color they ultimately picked)
So I got to work, starting with…
I searched for “luxury logos” to get a sense of how they tend to look and feel. Here are some the images I found:
The common elements are clear: glamorous, memorable typography; icons that are either starkly geometric or richly illustrated; a general adherence to graceful, almost icy simplicity.
I was most struck by the following image:
These four famous logos (Gucci, Chanel, Fendi, Givenchy) appear in the other images I found, but the way they’re presented here–no names, just black icons–really emphasized their simple shapes and symmetry.
Also, notice how all four logos are built in the same way? One element is duplicated and then flipped. (In the Givenchy logo, its element, a “G”, is duplicated four times around a central point.) This is a simple design strategy that can create a surprisingly sophisticated and satisfying logo. These logos have unity and balance … the symmetry is somehow sexy!
I took all of this research in mind as I began sketching:
I tried to place the letters “I-C-O-N” in a square (same width and height) arrangement, with the letters “reading” from the outside going inward. The “I”, with its stems, provided stability, the “C” naturally wrapped around the “O”, and it was kind of neat how the “N” could spread out and connect with the “I”, although the crooked “N” did make me think of a swastika. Generally a good idea to avoid swastikas.
This was a decent first stab, but when I returned to the project a few days later, I did a little “mind-mapping” to help me think about the project. It looks a little crazy, but I think it’s important to think deeply about logos. Logo design isn’t just about making something pretty. Logos can hold a lot of meaning, so it’s important to build in as much meaning as you can.
I kind of started fresh, literally writing down the word “ICON” and playing with, pulling apart, rearranging the letters, trying out different things:
As you can see, sketching out logo ideas is kind of a conversation with yourself. When I’m working in-house with other designers, I like to do essentially the same thing by standing at a whiteboard and scribbling like crazy, while talking concepts out loud with the others. But, working alone, it’s just me a sketchbook.
Here are some sketches where I doodled the original “nested letters” idea, and explored some kind of 3-D “I” that didn’t really go anywhere. A useless page of work. But that’s okay. Redundancies and dead-ends are part of the process.
Sometimes I find myself re-drawing one idea over and over and over…..sometimes it means that I’m stuck, but sometimes it means that I’m really close to something great–or, at least, something that the client will think is great. So it’s good to keep pushing…which is what happened here:
You can see that I was kind of hooked on the “nested letters” idea. I drew the capital “I”, but, instead of drawing a round “C” and “O”, I drew them as straight lines to better suit the “I”. Suddenly, all four letters locked in nice and tight! AND they looked something like the floorplan/blueprint! The thin, straight lines brought to mind the thin elegance of the Givenchy logo and some of other luxury logos that I saw in my initial research. I felt pleased and a little excited with this idea, so I moved to the computer…
I basically re-traced my sketches’ steps on the computer. First, the original nested letters, with the zig-zaggy “N”.
Yep, it looks a bit like a swastika in digital form, too. This logo died here.
Onward: I tried a whole bunch of variations of the “circular” nested letters. I played with line thickness and inversions until I realized that the “N” was sort of a cheat … that it should follow the form of the other letters, by following the circular “skeleton” of the rest. So, I changed it, which you can in the lower rows:
These felt mediocre to me. I found it hard to see the word “ICON”, which wasn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. the famous Stüssy logo is a little hard to read:
But, I was more interested in the “square” version of my nested-letters concept anyway … and here’s how these turned out on the computer:
This was a very simple logo to make. I just set up a grid in Illustrator and filled in the lines. After a few stabs I realized that I should make the lines a lot thinner. This seemed to make it more “luxury.” I was happy with this logo concept.
By the way, here’s how the “round” and “square” versions of this one concept look side by side. They are, essentially, structurally, the same logo. But change the underlying geometry and you get quite different results!
But in the meantime, I still wanted to explore another concept. In the sketches above I was playing around with the idea of “cutting” an “I” out of a shape–and realized that this also looked like a brickwork pattern. So I explored this idea:
The simple geometry and sharp lines spoke to “luxury”, certainly, but I didn’t find anything particularly brain-buzzing in this phase. And bricks could easily make people think of construction–a valuable but decidedly un-luxury business.
Overall, I felt that I had enough to show the client. I’ve learned that it’s good to show some work as early as possible, in order to touch base with the client and see if you’re on the right track. If you blow the budget on excessively deep explorations that the client just doesn’t like, you’ve kinda screwed yourself!
I put my three concepts together in a little presentation, including some rationale:
I sent this off to Jesse, who in turn showed it to the client. No surprise (I usually have a good instinct for which logo will “win”) his client picked the square one.
The client asked to see the logo in a red/burgundy, so I showed it to them in red on white and white on red, both in stacked and wide layouts:
They kinda like this, but wanted to see the logo in a wider range of colors. Ideally, I’d pick a color based on some kind of deeper meaning. “Which color best suggests ‘luxury’?” But sometimes clients just want to see different options, separate from metaphors. Color is especially personal and subjective, I find. So I gave them a basic range of bright, basic colors:
They enjoyed seeing this. I felt it was a bit of an arbitrary way of selecting a brand color, but whatever. They picked the bright red: