As a design educator, I wanted to share some insight on the fundamentals of logo design and how important refinement is to the design process at-large, using a recent example that has had its share of criticism to-date: Joe Biden's campaign logo. (By the way, this blog is not political commentary— just all about design!)
(Note: the above version is not associated with his campaign— it is a composite illustration of his existing logo over the Gestalt edit version from this blog; as are all of the other samples/diagrams I created— for informational purposes, created for this blog only.)
# # #
Concept, form, and color theory, are basic design principles that must seamlessly coexist to create a succinct logo unit.
Creating a logo that is unique is not an easy task. Designers must brainstorm—find inspiration, research, create lists, thumbnail, curate mood boards— to help garner original ideas.
While I appreciate the ease of 'Googling', Pinterest and idea boards alike, I prefer to implement more organic, old-school, hard copy methods to help spearhead original ideas; and, I often institute this process, sometimes to the dismay of my students, because this takes time—a Google search is quicker, but can often lead to mundane or unoriginal ideas.
However, this logo is for a political race, and unless you were not born or hiding under a rock in the 2000s, everyone knows what President Obama’s was, and all the other political candidates logos for that matter, thanks to the web.
So when I read comments about the ‘wave-lines’ of Obama’s “O” logo from 2008, resembling Biden’s “E” in his logo, I could see how one could make the correlation. However, I do not believe that was intentional, especially knowing this would be worldwide iconic. Instead, I believe it was purely a product of trying to create simple form. I mean, how many ways can you derive flag lines in a unique manner—especially since the three strokes of the 'E' were a natural visual option to infer this; again, logo design is not an easy task.
This is the main design principle that spearheaded this post—the nuance of form. Especially since there have been numerous comments regarding the letterforms “JOE” reading as “JO”, and I fully agree with this assessment.
So how do you resolve this? Let’s start with a review of form…
Basic form can be dot, shapes, lines, type— what these elements are correlate with concept derivation; how to arrange the elements correlate with layout via "Gestalt Design Theory"; again all must seamlessly coexist in logo design.
What is Gestalt Design Theory?…
Gestalt Theory means that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual components. (source)
Components of Gestalt include: repetition, proximity, similarity, anomaly, closure, continuance, and figure/ground. Color theory—using minimal color palette in logo design (2, no more than 3 colors) should also be considered. Not all Gestalt theories must be achieved in every logo design, but from my experience, a minimum two should be attempted; and the more, a better opportunity to be considered “successful”.
While the logo does institute Gestalt “Similarity”, this principle should have been further refined to alleviate the “soft” Visual Hierarchy inclusion of the “E” letterform. (Note: I used the circle logo for this blog, but the other -"BIDEN" option- these comments could also be applied to that version since it has the same 'E' form.)
(Left: Existing logo / Right: my version via Gestalt Edits).
In Gestalt design theory, “Similarity” states that “things which share visual characteristics such as shape, size, color, texture, value or orientation will be seen as belonging together.” This design principle is important in logo design because it has a direct correlation with another basic design principle “Visual Hierarchy” (the order of importance of type and form in a visual unit).
So by refining Gestalt “Similarity’ of the existing strokes this would assist in helping the letters read as one unit. How to accomplish?… This would encompass slightly increasing the thickness of the “E” lines to match the thickness of the “JO” strokes. Please note that this adjustment is incremental, very slight—logo design is not just about the big-broad-bold-idea; while creating a solid idea will help streamline your message, successful logo design is also about detail, and helping the viewer read what it needs to. So, with the increase of these strokes, it helps “JOE” instead of “JO”.
(Below, diagram of increasing thickness of 'E')
While the existing logo circle enclosure does also use “Similarity”—that thickness is the same as the “JO” letterforms; and unfortunately it further reduces the visual hierarchy of the “E”. To assist, reducing the thickness of the circle enclosure to the similar thickness of the 2020 stroke would emphasize his name. The overall logo still is unified, but the clarity of the letterforms is now the most prominent.
(Below, diagram of increasing thickness of 'circle enclosure')
In addition, the layout of the existing logo is centered within the negative space of the circle; but, with the refinement of Similarity, and the new overall thickness of the strokes, both “JOE” and “2020” must be realigned to balance the negative space of the logo unit. (Tip: negative space is a key design principle in every design project; the absence of color or form plays a direct role in overall Visual Hierarchy.)
What Joe Biden’s logo does successfully is it implements a minimal color palette (2 colors—navy, red; and white which is not ink, instead negative space because of the circle enclosure); this is not only important for technical reproduction purposes as a 2 color PMS (Pantone Ink) breakdown is often the norm so logos could be reproduced consistently no matter what professional printer is contracted to print the collateral—conceptually, the color represents Democracy, as well as his Party; and the USA/flag.
While I do love the graphic quality and conceptual reference to America, of navy blue, red, white; I created two alternate examples of how Color and “Figure/Ground” Gestalt could further alter Visual Hierarchy.
The knockout white/light blue version on dark blue background further emphasizes the letterforms (they are viewed first because of foreground/background color theory principles)—this version is still a succinct visual unit. However, the integration of the light blue slightly infers Democratic Party over USA. Also, with the red 2020 over navy, those complementary colors have the same intensity and thus make 2020 hard to discern; now changing the tint of the red would be an option, but that would also change meaning. Overall, I believe the current white background version is the best for readability (which is really the most important consideration in logo design) and wanted to show these examples as a reminder of how subtle changes in color can affect hierarchy of any logo.
Overall, while I commend the designers who created Biden’s logo—it is a unique, immediately recognizable, contemporary icon—as an educator I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on how important incremental logo refinements are.
Everyone who is tasked at designed a logo should be aware of the value of concept, color and most importantly the nuance of form, and how small edits via Gestalt Theory, especially “Similarity”, can assist in the clarity of graphic design logos and symbols.
(For educational purposes only; all original logos copyright with owner(s)
I've had the opportunity to design several cds for West Chester PA label Appleseed Recordings throughout the last 15 or so years--from the late-great Pete Seeger; David Bromberg, Sweet Honey in the Rock (to name a few)--I recently had the opportunity to design their latest anthology, 21st Anniversary 3-cd set "Roots & Branches". And while I also designed their last anniversary cd in 2007, "Sowing the Seeds" (which Bruce Springsteen is also on) that was pre-social media/twitter age.
So you could imagine my excitement when I heard Springsteen tweeted the cover on his page--a total #bucketlistmoment for sure 🙌🙏🙌🙏
On sale now, visit appleseedmusic or online music retailers to order this keepsake; featuring exclusive tracks by Donovan, John Wesley Harding, Tom Morello, Tim Robbins, Jesse Winchester, and Springsteen--music with a message, especially appropriate for this current moment in time.
Proud to announce that I’ve been selected to show at Clio Art Fair, NYC (Click photo below for announcement link)
I am a long-standing tennis fan and was drawn to the game in the late '80s when Andre Agassi turned pro. He was featured on the cover of the Sept '89 issue of GG Magazine and I vividly remember going to a local quick mart with a friend to purchase it. From that point forward, I became obsessed; not just with Agassi, but with the game itself. I subscribed to every tennis magazine, memorized rankings, saved ads and articles, taped matches on my VHS recorder; not only Agassi’s, but other favorites from that era—Becker, Edberg, Chang and Krickstein; remember him, the “Marathon Man” from Michigan who was Connors opponent in the historic ‘91 US Open match; I digress.
So, when I saw the invite to design the official Wimbledon poster on Talenthouse website I was immediately inspired. Not because I knew I could design something that may be a potential contender, but because I am a tennis fan, point blank. What better excuse to submerge myself into a self-authored project, and it sure eclipsed grading for the moment.
The call theme was 'In Pursuit of Greatness" (and after some brainstorming) I remembered an mfa class exercise which was to design “call for entry” poster comp for a design organization. The solution I created was a compass maze and my professor suggested I should make a computer comp for my portfolio, which I never did. However I always remembered it thinking I may eventually do just that, or have the opportunity to recycle the viewer interaction component (maze) for another project in the future.
Fast-forward to the Wimbledon poster call and the maze idea immediately came to mind as a more than appropriate solution for the theme. I saw the invite a few days prior to deadline and devoted the entire weekend to the perfecting the submission, and off it went to be “judged”.
Talenthouse touts itself as "The leading open source creative platform"… where a creative can "Join for life-changing opportunities, discover great art and connect with emerging artists from around the world."
Artists create a free profile and upload artwork to be liked (or "loved", in this case). However, it’s not only a portfolio site but also a place where companies/entities encourage artists to submit artwork for "calls" or contests. Most calls have prizes, some monetary, but the biggest draw is the potential (global) exposure one could receive from being selected as a “finalist” for a project.
Portfolio sites are great vehicles to showcase work, but design contests are questionable. Why? They are crowdsourcing, which is “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers." (Merriam Webster)
Anyone who completes a project (for a profit organization) should be compensated for his or her time, but that does not happen in crowdsourcing. There are some calls that offer monetary compensation but many are (usually) not appropriate for the time and effort “finalists” put in. Not to mention anyone who participates is not compensated whatsoever.
(Crowdsourcing should not be confused with non-profit organizations that hold contests. These “awareness” projects can be a great opportunity for college students, emerging or mid-career designers to highlight capabilities and show a potential employer or client of your interest in a particular subject or community initiative.)
I ignored all of this and still decided to create an entry. After all, I genuinely love tennis and was excited to devote a weekend to a subject I hold near and dear to my heart. I didn't anticipate winning, but of course the thought was exciting. And at the very least, I knew I would be generating content for class lecture as well.
When the winners were announced (albeit two weeks later than the original date) I was in awe of some of the entries—some really creative ideas! But, I was also disappointed. In my professional opinion some finalists were questionable; there were better solutions that didn’t make the cut. Of course I will put myself in that category (how can I not be a cheerleader for my own work)… In all seriousness, it was a competitive field—kudos to the winners and all who took a chance to showcase their creative capabilities.
So why am I writing this? Just to make you aware of crowdsourcing exploitation and vehemently advocate against participating? No. Unfortunately this platform is not going away anytime soon. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of talking points to help decide if this may be something you want to partake in.
1. Do it for yourself, no one else. If you have genuine interest in the subject and it's in your wheelhouse, go for it. BUT, you must imagine it as a portfolio piece, nothing more.
2. Limit your effort. Pick and choose only a call or two a year, more than that and you are wasting time. (Time to spend with family, other projects, or actual certifiable-paying client work. Financially secure? Congrats, then this may be a hobby for you.)
3. Remember, it's a game. You are essentially guessing what “they” are looking for, even with a well-defined brief. Not to mention some final projects may be chosen via personal preference and not design principles. It's a crapshoot folks, plain and simple. Be mindful that the odds are NOT in your favor. (If you submit, it is exciting, because all games of chance are kind of fun just for a little bit, right?)
4. Carefully read the rules. If you choose to participate, comb through fine print. There is nothing more disconcerting than putting in the time only to find out your entry was disqualified. For example, in this call one chosen finalist used stock imagery, which was not allowed. They were eventually disqualified, but without official notification or explanation to those who participated, which was frustrating (reread #3 to understand why/how something like this could occur).
5. Bored, uninspired? Participating may be a good challenge to enhance your aesthetic or try something new without repercussion—this is the only real positive in my opinion (also aligns with #1, do it for you).
6. Want to “make it,” look elsewhere. If you’re lucky to “win” a call, congrats. Yes, the potential exposure may help land another project, or it may be a good talking point on your resume (second positive), but if your goal is to attain a full-time job or consistent clientele—network, self-promote, build relationships—tenacity is the key to a fruitful career, not a quick “win” on a crowdsource venture. There are no shortcuts.
I’m still personally dismayed that crowdsourcing is an accepted industry practice. Artists want exposure, yes, but free work is not cool. (Can you ask another professional, for instance a list of doctors, to do work and then get to choose who “wins” payment— of course not!)
Even with my disdain I may partake in another call (I know, I know, I could hear the collective “but why” “hypocrite” sighs occurring as we speak). Remember folks, there is no career or portfolio manual—you must create your own path to “success” whatever that may be. In addition, you should take risks throughout your career, so a crowdsource contest may end up being one of them.
Personally, this experience was invaluable—what better way to inform my readers and students of this process, than to have an in-depth, first-hand account. A championship win in my book.
As a huge tennis fan I couldn't pass up the opportunity to create a submission for Wimbledon's poster call 2016. I have no idea how the entries will be valued, if the 'likes' will be a factor or not (check out my entry here, I believe you do need a talenthouse account to 'like' however)... Regardless, I am super-pleased with the outcome. It's hanging on my office wall and that's a win-win already, #designerperks I suppose.
I worked up a few other concepts before choosing this direction but was late to the party, only seeing the call on their FB page late last week. So with finals, grading and a bunch of other things to accomplish, I am glad that I completed and submitted at least one design for the heck of it. (I hope to do a blog post at some point about thumbnailing and idea generation process, crowdsourcing, and design tips, stay tuned.)
A note on the maze: it's functioning, not decorative. I specifically designed it so it would be a viewer experience, carefully crafting only one path to 'greatness'. However, in my haste to submit I posted one earlier version to the talenthouse page with one blocked path; below is the correct version. The call states that the winner(s) could slightly modify the final submission if chosen, and obviously that would be my one tiny edit of course it is a worldwide call, so there's a good chance the only place you'll see it is here.
Overall, I believe the design would make a memorable poster keepsake for Wimbledon. Its modern, elevated aesthetic embodies exactly what this iconic tournament is, plus it's highly conceptual, what better way to graphically interpret 'pursuing greatness' by with the maze experience. Not to mention a possible boost in sales, purchase multiples, one to keep and one to complete. I also have many additional ideas on other iconic tournament elements that could be maze-ivied, an entire series of poster and marketing elements to brand using this design. I'm excited about the possibility and remain cautiously optimistic. I know I'm getting way ahead of myself, but a woman can dream, right?... I don't envy those who must decide. Even if you don't have a Talenthouse account to 'like', make sure you click on the call link to view the entries from around the globe - some really awesome stuff!
Game, set, match - enjoy!
(c) Christina Galbiati, 2016. All rights reserved.
I am a.graphic designer by trade, but my love for fine art and working with traditional media has never escaped me... "Vita Notturna" is an expressionistic, cubist iteration of a cityscape; whimsical and vibrant--an interpretation of sounds, emotions, movement in an urban setting. Enjoy!
(c) Christina Galbiati, 2016. All rights reserved.
Working diligently on new art. To date, 50+ designs, words and abstract expressive images, complete. More to come. Big plans ahead. You'll have to wait and see. #2016
For Christina Galbiati’s art/Illustration site click here.