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19 Aug 2015

Building Ourselves, Part Two

By Scott Smith

This blog post is the second in a four-part series that outlines how — as the saying goes — we’ve been eating our own dog food: creating a new brand for ourselves, changing our name, redesigning our website, and prototyping and launching the site.

It’s an ongoing process and we thought it might be interesting to see how we operate when we’re dealing with the worst client of them all — ourselves (turns out we're not that bad). To read Part I, click here.

In our previous installment, I described how we developed the strategic foundations for our brand and how we chose a new name. That process helped us in our business as well — we now knew a lot more about who we were and what we stood for, which gave us language we could use to describe what was different about us.

 

Next up, building a visual design and a new logo.

Gathering Inspiration

To start the conversation with clients about visual ideas, we use a standard design tool, the humble moodboard. These collages of existing design work and visual ideas express sets of abstract concepts that emerge from design strategy. In this case, of course, the client was us.

Talie, Becca, and I each went off to the web, looking at design inspiration sites to find images that resonated with us. This is a process of feeling, not thinking — much like using the Force (I would imagine). I'm lucky: Surfing the web happens to be a hobby of mine, and I’m really good at it. Ask anybody. To gather all of the images I found, we used Pinterest, which has browser plug-ins and all sorts of cool tools, and made it easy for us to collaborate.

Once we had a lot of images, Talie made selections and categorized them, matching them against the strategic brand ideas we’d decided on.

 

Brand Images Page 2

 

 

Then we met as a group and discussed what we liked and didn’t like, using our brand strategy as a guide. We disagreed on several points, but came to some consensuses (consensi? consenses?): We didn’t want handwritten text, and we didn’t want delicate lines in our branding. We wanted to be bold.

Colors and Shapes

Next, Talie put together a couple of potential palettes and a collection of fonts based on the references toward which we were gravitating. Again, our strategy was our compass — if a font or a combination of colors didn’t feel right, we were able to go back and see why. It was about getting a sense of what was working for us and finding something we could build upon.

She played with bold, modern palettes and typefaces. Was all caps working or too shouty? Was there something in the ampersand that could present some flair? How could we offset the very formal sound of our name with something more light, whimsical, friendly (since our approach to our work is a good mix of those styles)?

Conceptual Thinking

That led us to the really fun part: thinking and sketching visual ideas. We covered sketch paper with various ways of combining the letters S and C, of laying out the words Smith and Connors, of bringing forth playfulness with an expert slant. We played with ampersands and pluses and the word “and” written out.

One idea emerged: We were Smith & Connors — two names — but we were three people and our work entails three discrete areas: strategy, design, technology. That seemed odd and important. I realized that if you reversed the ampersand there’s a slight visual resemblance to the number 3. We put a pin in that concept (literally, there was a sketch pinned up to the board) and explored other options. But something about the backward-ampersand-and-number-three concept kept bringing us back. It was both elegant and different.

early logos

Solidifying a Logo

Now it was a pure graphic design process, and Talie started refining and developing the idea. At every stage we always work together and consult one another because we each have a different sensibility that elevate the work.

She moved quickly away from any cool palettes and found herself pushing for a warm, sunshine-y palette; a bold, friendly typeface; and a striking diamond shape. In the end, our identity needs to reflect who we are and the feeling people have when they work with us. While we are deeply serious about our work, we also always try to make it fun.

SC brand applications2

In Part 3, I’ll talk about how we developed a content strategy and user experience plan for our new website (which is coming as of this writing).

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