An over the shoulder, warts and all, look at how the logo design process works. We take you behind the scenes of a brand build for an upcoming social media project.

Designers like to think, and we usually tell clients, that designing logos carefully planned and the result of very disciplined methodology. That’s often true and many are. On the flip side, many brand logos are developed via a lengthy process of trial, lots of error, chasing design rabbits down holes and happy accidents that just happen. This is one of the latter.

Warts and all.

When showing case studies and design examples to potential clients, designers don’t usually showcase material that went haywire or for one reason or another, didn’t pan out (natuarly, we’re guilty of that too.) Nobody wants to reveal their failed designs and heavy curation keeps design portfolios lean with great stuff, short on dross. Always good for the client confidence department too. This doesn’t mean design snafus and missteps don’t occur. They do, a lot, as the following step-by-step case study will illustrate, as even the most designers encounter lumps, bumps and hiccups on their way to a presentable logo. Certainly happens to me, though the design trash usually ends up where it belongs, in the design trash bin, not in a blog post on the Internet where everyone can see it. For this case study, we decided to do things a little differently and capture EVERY step of the process (rather than just the iterations that worked) and publish the entire shooting match – warts and all – for clients and designers to see. Without further ado, here’s a nuts-to-soup look at brand build for an internal brand we can, after snagging the domain and various social media accounts, officially call jabberr.

The ever important creative brief.

Like all of our design projects, the foray into jabberr started with a creative brief, albeit an informal one (in my head mostly,) outlining exactly what I wanted the logo to say about the entity it was to represent. As I was playing the roles of client and designer, this part was easier than usual – I already had some strong ideas about what I thought should be suggested visually in the design:
1) As jabber is going to deal with internet conversations and curated feeds, the logo needed to include a passing reference to RSS broadcast.
2) Continuing in that vein, I figured a speech bubble – cliched and overwrought as they are – might be nice.
3) Bees. Yep. Bees. Very busy ones too. Here’s the thoughts behind the leap – there’s two Bs in jabber so it stuck out (not sure why.) I like bees (who doesn’t?) and I also wanted a symbol that indicated frantic, busy activity. Buzzing about if you will, symbolically anyway, is actually part of the basic business model and our striped pollen-bearing buds seemed like a perfect metaphor.

Symbols and visual metaphors.

As it was a visual metaphor, the inclusion of bees could be hinted at (a honeycomb shaped icon maybe) or by a simple graphic representation of one. Naturally, I wanted to use yellow and black as the main colour scheme (that bee thing again) and even had a vague notion of the ‘style’ I wanted the logo to have. Fairly simple was on the prescription – while I’ve never been shy of using complex illustrative style (much to the chagrin of many designers,) this brand was going to show up predominantly in social media. Some of those avatars are very small and complex logos tend to clump up when there’s anywhere from 200 pixels to 16 pixels of image real estate. Jabberr needed to be modern, funky and most importantly, adaptable. Logo Design & Brand Development 101.

Typeface selection

At first brush, I even considered a text-only word mark (though an icon of some sort is still needed for avatars and social media profiles.) I knew what kind of typeface I wanted to employ – a simple, blocky sans serif (the little feet of serif fonts can get messy when reduced in size.) I wanted bold. I wanted round. Something like Futura Bold.
While the default font was okay, and I’ve never been violently opposed to using an off-the-shelf set, it just wasn’t “it.” It wasn’t round enough, the ascenders and descenders too clunky for what I had in mind. I wanted a typeface that was a far softer and rounder and nothing in my type library fit.That meant hand-editing and tweaking the type into something more appropriate.
Hand-editing vector typefaces is dull, laborious and time consuming – not as bad as working from scratch I guess – but turning that Futura font into something it wasn’t took more than an hour of dropping guides, measuring circles and widths, adjusting heights and tweaking the base vectors into something that I liked. At the end of some vector point pushing drudgery in Illustrator, the verbiage was precisely what I wanted:

“I’m covered in bees!”

Next up, the bee portion of our festivities. I had this beautiful honey bee graphic lying around from an old project, so I used that design as a starting point, cleaned it up and simplified the artwork into a more iconic representation. Then, I dropped it on a honeycomb icon.
Sure, it’s nice and all (and would be a cool little icon for a company actually having to do with bees) but it didn’t work for what I wanted to accomplish. It was more realistic than I had envisioned, half way to being too complex and didn’t have that Internet vibe I was attempting to accomplish. The bee was put aside for the time being, and I took a shot at an RSS themed icon.
Rather than using the defacto RSS artwork (up top,) I tried to mirror bits of the finalized typography, using the dot from the ‘J’ as a base to build from. It struck me that this bore the resemblance to a microphone which was thematically well within the ballpark. Very nice. Throwing a nod back to the bees, I slid in the honeycomb icon, reflecting the angles of that in the broadcast ‘waves.’ Not bad, but I wanted the icon to have a little more oomph (especially since it was to spend a lot of time at small sizes) so I thickened up the outline. When put together with the jabberr font art from earlier, it was starting to look decent:
I wasn’t in love with the design just yet, but it would be perfectly serviceable for my new endeavor if I was willing to walk away right here. I wasn’t though and began to think about using the icons as part of a honeycomb motif (if I told you about the idea behind jabberr, you’d see that this is visually spot on, but I can’t until lauch, so you’ll have to take my word for it:)
Should have left it I guess, but something started to bother me about that icon, especially after walking away to grab a coffee. Nothing terrible – like a piece of steak stuck between teeth – just enough to be annoying. Too bold? The outline too overbearing? Were the edges too sharp and pointy when placed beside the rounded type of jabberr? Likely a bit of both. I had another shot, this time with various configurations of rounded corners and line thickness:
These were certainly more sympathetic with the rounded fonts in jabberr but before I slid the new icons into their final position, I noticed something very interesting. If I moved the RSS portion of the icon down a tad, the icon began to take on a slight suggestion of a bee. Yep, it’s true:
This had the underpinnings of a very symbolic bee and held some real promise. I’d love to take credit for the genius involved (though I did see it I suppose,) but this was one of those happy accidents that occurs from time-to-time when you’re pushing vector polygons around a screen. By narrowing the center blip of the RSS icon into a sharper version, it took the forma of a bee stinger. Now we were really getting somewhere. And for a couple of hours, that somewhere would be off the rails. Now that I had the beginnings of a basic bee shape, I needed to add more details to drive it home. Perhaps some eyes. A couple of wings? Here’s the initial attempts:
Well, ain’t that just grand. All I could see was either a man with a goatee and van dyke, or an unshaven guy eating a carrot. While wearing earphones or earmuffs (look again, you’ll see it.) Maybe even one of those hats with flaps. Sure it sorta looked like a bee for a nano-second, but once your mind filled in those details into another shape – a disheveled man’s face shape – it’s impossible to unsee it. Not that I didn’t try every configuration imaginable:
Dammit all. I was utterly lost. After hours of chasing shapes around a monitor, all I ended up with was sad man, happy man and some dude who seems to be talking through clenched teeth. It even reminded me of Pac Man, if it were possible to see him from the front and after hours of rotating, flipping and re-rendering various components of the design, what seemed like a great idea was quickly headed to Nowheresville. Time to get out of this rabbit hole completely and return to the digital drawing board. I deleted the wings and the eyes:
Hold up a minute. If I tilted my head at the few elements I had left, it almost looked almost like a megaphone when viewed from the front. Alas, I may be the only one that can see it (neither my wife or daughter could) so I’ve darkened the inside to illustrate what I’m on about (below middle.) You still may not see it. Doesn’t matter. That icon incorporated so much more.
We’ve got the bee theme of honeycomb and a stinger. That stinger formed a speech bubble with the hexagon, the RSS icon was a defacto part of the design and by adding a sliver of black (above right) I was able to turn the bits and pieces into a self-contained representation of a bee. Pretty slick little bee too. It’s around here that designers usually start calling people to their monitors – “hey, look at this!” – but at 2 am, there’s no-one around except my cats and a dog or two. Let’s rotate the icon so we can work on it, add some wings (the round ones had never worked, so I made them hexagon shaped to reflect the main icon.) Viola:
Let’s rotate it sideways and slide the jabber type underneath. While we’re at it, let’s check out the icon and the logo with our tagline:
After a lot of messing around, we’ve finally arrived at a logo I dig. Simple yet fiercely symbolic of all three things from the original creative brief: a bee, an RSS feed, a speech bubble and one purely by accident, a megaphone (if you can see it, which you probably can’t.) It works nicely with the font and reduces quite effectively for use as an avatar on Twitter and what not:
Here’s how everything looks on my smartphone:
Hot damn. I’m really liking this little fella. Let’s set up a Twitter banner (they’re kinda odd and resize often so best not to have any important detail anywhere in the image:)
That’s exactly what I was after and if I do say so myself, the underpinnings of a pretty nifty brand. For those keeping score at home, the entire enterprise took about a day-and-a-half at full tilt (give or take), about 35 revisions and three direction changes. A lot of work sure, but we finally arrived with a decent logo, managing to crowbar everything into it I wanted to. Some by design. Some by happy accident.

Not so fast.

We were finalized right? Finished. Maybe. Maybe not. After much hand-wringing and subsequent second guessing, we’re more-than-likely going to employ the jabberr logo sans little bee wings. It’ll be a while before this project is launched and a hard decision isn’t required just yet, but this is probably the final, final, absolutely official version:
Or not.