Thursday, April 12, 2012

The evolution of a design

You probably are already aware that I have been looking for a new job. After a while of searching for another frame job (and dreading it) I came to the conclusion that I need to simply step away from that field. Not only have a significant amount of shops closed their doors during this extended economic decline, I am competing for  greatly lowered waged jobs against all the displaced framers. While one would hope that talent really gets you the work, it's honestly is a personality contest and most of us see ourselves a little different than we actually project. While I consider myself 'precise' and 'detailed' these traits can be read on my face as 'aloof' and 'distant' - 'detailed' can further be broken down to 'OCD' and 'byzantine' depending on who's doing the reading. I think we're all a little layered - what is on our surface isn't exactly what lies within, but you have a short amount of time to expose yourself to a prospective employer and sweet and jovial usually get the job. For the record, 'sweet' translates to me as 'uneducated' or 'inexperienced' and 'jovial' translates to 'slacker' - see - we all judge each other. Kudos.

I had a great interview yesterday with a company I am very hopeful to join in some capacity, but I allowed the people around me to help me with some decisions. This is a job I really, really wanted and wanted to do it right. Every decision I made was questioned and I will stop here to say - I listened because I haven't actually had anyone call me back in such a long time it is staggering - I needed feedback. I ended up bringing very little from my portfolio because so much of the actual graphic work I have done gets laser copied (or worse - photocopied) onto maybe nice paper and that's that. All my hard work that I was badgered to do gets cheaply produced and often I don't even get a hard copy - my one stipulation for my often greatly discounted rates. The other items that did not come with me were from a number of years ago and I regret not bringing them. While this position is for mostly web work, I think seeing a wide range of style would have been a good thing.

One of the items I did bring a printout of one card that was done and I was very proud of (I think knowing that this was such a massive struggle to get the client to see it was a good design and 'won' that argument finally in the end). This was with a long standing client and his new venture (which, sadly, as quickly as his idea seemed to swell in interest, it deflated as quickly). I explained the evolution of the designs, but none of this was presented - I actually didn't have print copies of all the changes from beginning to end. Kind of stupid on my part, but it wouldn't even occur to me to post declined concepts - they are the things that people simply don't ever get to see so in my head that was one hell of a big job, but the results come down to one post card. In fact - the amount of work that went into this particular job went almost completely unrewarded because 'it was just a postcard' that ended up being printed. There was a banner (that was cheaply printed by Kinkos [still waiting on that photograph]) but all the variations that were tested and declined - all solid work - has never been seen.

Designing a logo is in my opinion one of the hardest things to do for someone (think of Coke and then think about when they changed their logo and people were utterly pissed - this might live with you for the rest of your businesses life, so a logo has to be solid), it has to start somewhere. Taking the name and typing it out in different typefaces is usually what I end up doing. I am trying to see what catches my eye and where patterns start to form. The company name was Coco Creamery. All natural coconut frozen dessert. For those of you who are also lactose intolerant, this stuff was so much like ice cream you'd cry (and I did) trying it for the first time. So even the name had a good sound to it and the Coco in my head being a set of redundant letters formed a pattern immediately.

The very first designs for the company - I even thought I would include a 'cap' design that could also be adapted for the front of the container. Not the most creative idea, but still - something in the direction of where it could go - an idea that could be built upon. Logo great!  Label - hate it. What is that - it looks like a turd.

Okay. It was just some image I found off the internet of a coconut, clearly we'd need to photograph something but you get the idea, right? No . . . I still hate it.

They can't all be winners and clearly there was nothing to build upon for the client so back to the drawing board. What would the flavors be - that might inspire me some.

Take two. So much of the stuff being presented to me was tropical sounding, so I decided to go with palm trees. Being a white boy from New England - if you said 'tropical' I think Palm Tree. Call me stupid, but I go there.
Okay - we're a little closer - this wasn't such a venomous response this time. Looks a little weird but we're getting there. Looking at it today - I think it's a lot weird and I still like the first one better, but perhaps I am desensitized to turds being a dog owner. So, back to the drawing board.
Now - this . . . this was solid. Not only was the design liked, we went through and designed every flavor. There were I think six flavors at this point - soon to be nine. While universally, everyone liked the designs, there was a new problem. There was a new rum on the market and they had a logo that was sort of the same. In researching it, I did find something that would put you to mind of it, but this was so different that it should not have been too big of a concern. No, no - let's scrap all this and go with something else. Let's start with a new logo.


At the time I was kind of fascinated with the periodical chart. Solid simple design. Efficient. So - I proposed I be allowed to just go a little coocoo for coco and present a completely different idea - no tropics involved - just the science.
I first presented the new logo idea and it was a passable design for the moment contingent on the whole look. I liked this new concept - it added the coconut as a subliminal in the O's and it felt contained and like a brand.
The concept was actually that the containers be completely white with this narrow little label on the front and a similar nutritional breakdown label for the back - possibly even smaller - we never got that far. This . . . now THIS was exciting. This is definitely what we are going to do. Went through the whole process of photographing everything for the business plan - bowls of icy goodness and the pints with labels.
Nearly everyone was on the same page - everyone was excited and then the little voice of doubt stepped in. Is this a chocolate product? Coco - most people think of cacao when they see coco. Maybe this isn't the best name for a company after all.

Back to the drawing board.

By this time this was actually being produced here in Atlanta at a known ice creamery. Won't get into the politics of this at all - I will never quite understand it, but that company said that they wanted their logo on it if they were going to serve it. Their logo was a train wreck that attempted to have the same sort of carefree nature of Ben and Jerry's - a stupid airplane that made no sense when it comes to frozen dessert. We're changing the name to NiceCream and it needs to use this truck full of ugly incorporated into the look.

I was frustrated and the client has a friend who does really big name designs (like a Kill Bill website et cetera - highly sought after) and he liked the name and started trying different typefaces and suggested a few but really expressed an interest in one particular typeface. He also added three dots above the 'I' in Nice - so see - even a big name wanted a subliminal towards the coconut - I am not a dunce after all.

Version 5 comes along. Back to a round label for the lid of a pint.
I decided the name needed movement to mimic the foolish banner the airplane was carrying and then a new slogan was added. I decided to create a lemniscate (the infinity symbol) to continue that motion. Not a great layout, but it was getting there - I was feeling a little refreshed.

Version six and seven was a play on this. I also softened the horrible airplane design by removing the black outline and making the outlines a deeper shade of the shape they were containing.
I added the enjoy forever myself - I thought why have a subliminal when you can just point it out - enjoy this product forever - it's better for you. So, with seven being the tightest of the designs we moved forward with that look in concept. There were so many upsets behind the scenes and each step needed to be approved for logo trade marking, name trade marking - the works. Each step needed these graphics for the approval process. So many steps were rushed just to get an idea into the appropriate offices. 

Jumping forward a bit - we were going to have a social to official introduce the product. Now a person involved in inviting the right people needed to be called in. We're sending out a postcard - I just need something by tomorrow - just make this text look good.
The text was the least of everyones problem. WTF? What is this? Powerpoint stock art? Ug! And, when someone says just throw something together it's deflating. I am not a copy editor - I don't write jingles - I make pretty things. So making this painfully dry text look interesting is not always the easiest thing, but magic can happen and I try to do my best. Something happens while I am working on it. I come up with a new way to present the logo - as though it's being dragged by the plane too. So in playing with the logo for the bowl photograph, the text just takes a back seat for version one
 The client loves the bowl idea. Now to work on the text.
So now the design has become completely different. The colors are easily acquired from the mandatory logo and THIS is eye catching. (as an aside, it was suggested that I could get work doing this sort of thing by the promoter who cringed when I she heard by hourly rate wasn't minimum wage). While I could barely afford the suggested donation, I even attended the event and people were gobsmacked at how good this stuff was and how fun.

Business cards are designed and while the cursive text was a major sticking point with the client as being 'too feminine' everyone loved it so it stuck. We also needed labels for the case and each needed some sort of slogan.
address/names blurred for this

So things were looking really up from here, until - there is another company with a similar name. Nice Creme out of somewhere on the west coast. I say - it's a completely different name. Not only is it two words, but the spelling is completely different. Nope - we have to change it. We're going with Bella Creme now (sounds like crem, not cream). Really. Great. Let's keep this feel though.  

There comes a point when you just don't feel something anymore. I tried to find a nice way of saying I'm done, but I also wanted to help - I was promised that for the ride, when this took off I would be rewarded - but I was kind of done at this point.

New logos. New Labels. I will quickly say too, Bella is the name of the clients dog, so I had an idea for a label, but I am not an illustrator by trade and I need to take time to get my drawings to a place where I want them. At the time of this I was very much influenced by japanese anime. Not that I watch a lot of it, but when someone is excited or sad, the animation style changes significantly to a very caricaturist style and eye highlights can become a little whacky looking. This has now become quite a popular style on shows like Adventure Time and Gumball on the Cartoon Network - so excuse the crappy drawing - we probably would have hired someone if this idea was a hit (instead of 'this is absolutely scary - I hate it).
little Bella just wants some Passion
Going for that farm stand look - another direction
trying to bring back the magic of the post card as instructed
Further downward spiral with the postcard ideals
Then playing with the logo a bit . . . .
Lord and Taylor anyone? Gah!
OH! This one looks promising!
I felt very strongly about the last one. I wasn't saying this was the best idea or the correct typeface, but my gut told me that a play on the B and the C would be the best design - it was just a matter of finding the correct typeface and this was sort of close, but not really. It severed the ideas from the past and moved forward in another direction for a fresh start. No - he couldn't see the scoops of ice cream or the bowl - no - go with the first one. The second one was hard to read and the third one I guess looked like a turd.

In regrouping, so much of this was starting to change - even the names of the flavors (notice it's now Dave's Chocolate).I just wasn't feeling this anymore and while I felt attached, I needed to be unattached from it. I asked that a new designer be brought in to carry out the rest of this project. I knew that by leaving it, I would be giving up my rights to any sort of end reward, but taking a project from its humble beginning and adding in so many upsets - it's hard to re-conceptualize that which has already been completed. 

Ironically, things really fell apart and a great idea simply never got off the ground with the company either. So many good ideas out there simply get steamrolled. As of now - you can find a coconut milk ice cream at Whole Foods that tastes a little bit like wall paper paste. Perhaps some day this product will have new interest, but until then, it seems frozen desserts will continue to try to be something they are not.

Back to design - and you can apply this to most of the things that end up being seen - there are so many steps to getting that final look correct that can often make one job seem like you've done so much work when everyone only gets to see the one printed item. It's kind of sad actually. 

Speaking of graphics, I am working on a slew of items for a new shop opening in Hapeville by my friends Jim and Carter. I'll probably mention more - grand opening is slated for Monday - after a series of (go figure) upsets that have pushed the date back from November to March to April. Fingers crossed - it's a beautiful shop and I think it will be wildly successful. 

As for sim stuff. I have a post that I have been editing together now for a month on the trials and tribulations of the Community Sign set. What an utter nightmare it's been. So much for my foray into the world programming.


  1. You are super brave for posting this -- especially all the abandoned designs along the way. I'm always worried people will think my initial ideas suck and that I'm not a "real" designer. But, as you noted, it takes time and effort and (not to mention a lot of agonizing) to create something really outstanding.

    It's funny. I don't worry about what people think of me/what I do when it comes to anything other than design... I guess it's because I have such a passion for it and want to be good at it.

    Anyway, I liked the drawing of Bella and didn't think it was crappy at all! In fact, it would've really fit the brand, I think. Oh well!

    Also wanted to let you know that I'm usually a lurker, but I truly enjoy all the things you make for the Sims. I use a lot of it in my game! In fact, I can't imagine playing without it anymore.

  2. I can so empathise with this story. The things that graphic designers have to put up with. *sigh*


  3. Thank you both! After the interview (and subsequent hiring) I was really shocked how thin my portfolio really is. Between the 'xeroxed' items from the cheapskates and the many things that remained on the editing room floor, most of the design I have slaved over has never been seen. I compulsively save everything - mistakes are just as valuable to me as the 'wins' - so revisiting this project makes me kind of sad I only have one postcard to show for it. It was a great product bogged down in the mires of a Dissociative Identity Disorder of sorts.

    One of the best parts of working with a design company is that I am not personally at the mercy of a clients whims. I found myself second guessing solid designs because it didn't meet the clients 'idea' of what would work. Going at it solo can often lead to further questioning of 'am I a real designer' which suuuuuucccckkks. No one should be left with that feeling. Often, you're not designing for your client but their clients, so how can you change the mind of an unmoved client when your instincts are screaming?

    If you haven't read it - this is a very good read: by a graphic artist and his approach to a coworker who just needed a 'quick' poster.

  4. I often wonder why my clients don't just do it themselves. Nothing I suggest seems to be what they want (even if it does meet their brief). It's like they have a pre-conceived concept before they get me involved, but they forget to mention this upfront, leading to a lot of wasted time. Grrr.

    Yes, I've seen those Missy emails before. Totally awesome!