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3 Part Logo Design Series Interview on Mashable - The Full & Unedited Transcripts

About a month ago Jolie O'Dell sprang on me a sort of interview request for a new post on logo design for Mashable. It seems that Mashable journalists are required to work to impossibly tight deadlines which was generously reflected in the schedule passed onto me. :)

Given how much I tend to waffle when I write; the five questions posed by Jolie would require my ass to be shifted into high gear if I was to have any chances of meeting the deadline. Laptop in hand I made a few trips to the pub to collect my thoughts and write my responses–I just can't write huge amounts when home alone–and I was able to feed Jolie with a few of my insights.

I was also joined by designer and logo design blogger Jacob Cass, and Raj Abhyanker, CEO of Trademarkia, a firm specializing in trademarks and logos. The questions posed ended up being made into a three part series for which Jolie edited into a neat three-way question and answer style conversation.

Part 1 – The Fundamentals & Best Practices of Logo Design

Part 2 – Why Trends and Crowdsourcing Remain Logo Design's Hot Button Issues

Part 3 – How Companies Can Create a Brand Identity With Text Alone

I highly commend Jolie for being able to sift through my waffle and edit the relevant portions; it must have been a task and a half.

Always one to milk an opportunity I thought it may be interesting to provide the complete responses as initially sent off to Jolie. I make no promises for accuracy of grammar and punctuation in these answers.

Question 1 - Given the current bubble of startups, what is the biggest challenge for a new company looking for a logo design?

To not look like they have purposefully spent all their money on coffee and code and have not put aside any funds for things like the logo design and other marketing avenues. They of course may have limited funds, but unfortunately this will reflect badly on them regardless. Some of these companies just look lazy and uninterested in how there visual identity might fair with the punters.

You only need subscribe to BetaList and see the dizzy volume of new start-ups appearing in classic Beta mode, a fair few number with less-than inspiring logos; seemingly following this 'trend' of cheap looking and lazy logo designs. In the arena of start-ups, I rarely see a logo that really captures my attention for the right reasons.

Given this continual flood of start-ups, one would think that they would be keen to prioritise how they are perceived from a visual angle. Having a great start-up idea is one thing but it needs to lead with a strong or inspiring logo or icon etc. I do get that some people–non creatives for a start–don't think too much or care about the quality or creative execution of a companies log; but I do think on a sub-conscious level a truly dire and unremarkable logo can have some kind of festering negative outcome.

Be cunning; assume that another company might come along with a similar start-up idea to yours but specifically have a killer logo and identity. If the cards fall right, they will likely create a bigger splash than the original start-up.

You don't want to be playing catch-up in this situation, better to put all your resources on the table at the beginning and stake your whole reputation and own confidence in your idea and come out all guns blazing, so to speak.

Flipboard for example. The way they approached the pre-launch was inspiring, everything was thought out as well as could be expected; the whole identity was carefully planned. From day one you knew what Flipboard was about and their logo was a simple but very marketable and flexible idea. You don't see that level of commitment very often; it's really quiet sad that the creative aspect of all these start-ups seems to be the lowest priority.

Question 2 - How does designing a logo for a web-based company differ from designing a logo for a more traditional company?

It used to be the case that if you were designing a logo for traditional print you had a number of aspects to be aware of: RGB - CMYK colour conversion,  spot colours, resolution, fonts etc. Now with the sheer variety of desktop and mobile devices, platforms and products, designing a logo or icon for the web generally presents more of a challenge.

No longer is it just a website logo or header, now it's an application icon over multiple platforms, social media profile image, website favicon and browser icons, a fair selection of final deliverables. Designing the new Feedly logo had all these deliverables, it wasn't just the web application logo, there were many variations and styles needed to keep the whole Feedly experience consistent across all devices and mediums.

For the most part, designing for the web needs careful planning and preparation.

Like traditional print, colour can easily go awry on the web. Colour calibration and profile generation across devices and software can leave many people dizzy, and the ensuing results can look pretty awful. As you would need to ensure that your print based logo reproduces well in CMYK colour, you need to ensure that your web based logo will resize and adapt to various screen sizes and resolutions with colour consistency. Creating icons for the complete range of Apple devices is almost a science and quotable job in itself if you are not used to it.

Designing for web or print; each has their own set of rules and guidelines that need to be understood and practised.

As a last thought, I would almost be tempted to say that designing a visual identity for a web base product is becoming more challenging than designing solely for print. Many brand identities of course involve both print and web, you have to be super switched on in either case.

Question 3 - What are some of the benefits or pitfalls of choosing a "trendy" logo? (see: Web logo design trends)

In terms of trends, I personally try not to get sucked into them. For me, a trend in logo design is sort of an oxymoron. For the most part, we strive to create timeless logo designs, yet the trend is typically a short-lived event. That's not to say that if you design a logo based on a current trend that it can't evolve into a timeless design; what I am saying is that following a trend for the sake of following a trend is not a route I try to take. If a client insists, and I mean REALLY insists I may budge a little.

To be inspired by a trend is one thing, to blindly follow one for no other reason than you want to keep your portfolio looking cool is another. The latter is not a favourable way to treat your clients needs.

It's worth reminding yourself that you are ultimately designing for your client, they are the ones paying and putting their trust in you. Design with the brief in mind and only then look to current trends to see if there are any aspects that can be worked in to enhance the design for the right reasons.

The benefits are short lived I think, they may get you in a logo post round-up, might make you feel like you 'belong', garner good feedback on the numerous logo galleries, but unless the design stands on it's own for the right reasons, the benefits are potentially short-lived. If the overall execution of the idea is solid and if there are deeper meanings and associations tied in with the design–and I am not talking about a trendy shallow shell– then being inspired by a trend can work out really well.

Pitfalls. Longevity would be the my highest ranked pitfall. The cynical in me would tentatively add that blindly following a trend or being stuck in some time-dilation field–circa Web2.0–is being lazy and cheap (but I didn't really say that).

Question 4 - Lots of companies are turning to either crowdsourced design "contest" sites (like 99designs) or ready-made design marketplaces for logos and branding (like Brandstack). Does this pose any problems for a young company? What are the potential benefits, aside from lower costs?

The loaded question. Strictly looking at this from the clients point-of-view, not the designer. Don't particularly want to get drawn into the ethics of Crowdsourcing.

Looking at the problems first. A risk of false economy; that's how I would typically sum up the crowdsourcing route. It may seem financially attractive–companies with low budgets or people who just despise spending money on design–if you have low funds, the lure of 100's of designs from 1000's of designers with a worldwide catchment area is certainly compelling. I think it is safe to say that if in some cases, the results from a crowdsourcing site will be less that hiring a reputable designer. The overused and relevant phrase, " you get what you pay for" is more than valid here.

A neutral point. Crowdsouring sites are a business, a valid business like any other. We all strive to earn money to live, to live as comfortably as we can. Who are we to argue how we each achieve that, as long as it falls within a certain set of moral guidelines

–by moral, I mean not killing or robbing people. We all have choices and we live with the results of those choices, good or bad. I don't know how many of the start-ups you see on Beta list for example have used crowdsouring sites or just use easily accessible designers, so it's hard to really say the overall impact it has. I just don't have that info.

My own personal experience: clients have come to me after having a less than fruitful experience with the crowdsouring route, hence why I can stand what I say in the second paragraph above, it is from experience. They have already paid X amount, now they need to hire another designer to pick up the pieces and usually this will cost more than than they initially spent. It's painful in this case as they can often end up paying double; sometimes more than double, and this is a real shame. It's certainly a lesson learnt in these cases, but it's a bitter pill to swallow for these clients.

Benefits are that you may only be a small time business and very happy with the outcome of going the crowdsourced site, so you get a lot of submissions, feel spoilt for choice and walk away with a passable design. You may be in a real rush and need something to front your product or business super urgently, so a site like Brandstack might just be a life-saver

If you are planning to host a project on a site like Crowdspring, putting up a healthy reward will increase your chances of walking away with a sound design as well as injecting more enthusiasm into the designers, you get out what you put in. If matching the lowest 'reward' bothers your sense of self, maybe you should just take a refresher course in basic business ethics as as well as basic psychology.

It all comes down to value and the perceived value in your own business. If you don't appear to value how your own business is portrayed, how can you expect a designer to fully get behind the idea of a solid logo design, this just doesn't add-up.

Question 5 - What's your take on logotypes? Are there situations where a logotype definitely is or isn't appropriate?

I have a personal preference to strong and well executed logotypes. We see them all the time in the high street fronting fashion and retail stores, as well as the barely used social networking site, Facebook and Twitter. The latter being the bolder and vibrant online variations of type only logo designs that work to cut above all the visual noise one finds online. The Facebook logo brings a calm yet firm aesthetic.

Really not sure if there is a do or don't in the use of a logotype. Facebook avoided the Web 2.0 trend and style of logo design–multi-coloured shapes with overlayed transparency and funky font styles–and showed that a type only logo in just one main colour needn't be dull or useless. Interestingly, a fair few of my previous clients have used the Facebook logo as a style of logo that they like.

There are certainly places and environments where a text only logo is deemed to be more suitable or even expected just as there are for combo logo designs. A few of us logo designers will buck the expected–to reverse the common associations we have–and stick it to the 'man/women'.

Ultimately it comes down to the brief and what is needed visually to represent the client. If the brief and subsequent research leads you to a logotype as the best solution to represent the identity of a company, then that's what you do, even if combo logos generally rule the roost; and of course vice-versa.

Welcome to the first installment of an in depth interview with Jeff from PerishablePress . If you have not yet seen or heard of Perishable then do take a moment to check out his site . This is one talented and down to earth chap and it has been a great thing to get to know him.

I have never really done an interview before although I have been interviewed for several sites including Traffikd and CrowdSpring. My main goal was to avoid a numbered question and answer session. The way the questions and answers came about were through conversations in emails rather than to many direct questions. Words free flowed without being constrained to much by a perimeter wall question.


Thus it all started with a simple comment left on Mr Perishable's site after he experienced some server issues and sent out a post regarding possible site performance issues. As a subscriber to Mr Perishable's site I am sure you remember this post and for me it actually took me to his site to check things out. This was one of the first Email updates I have received, as I had only just recently signed up after finding his site, somehow or other.

For my part, I just felt inclined to let home know that the site seemed to be working just fine, very nifty in fact. I also happened to mention that I just loved his site from every conceivable angle and possibly waffled on a bit about nothing in particular.

A reply back from Mr Perishable, confirmed his acknowledgment and his gratitude in taking time to write him.

And so, from the humblest of beginnings, I soon became to realise that in fact Jeff certainly DID know what he was talking about and that he was also a damn fine gentlemen, oh, with a sense of humour and level of sincerity that left me speechless. So then started exchanges of emails, comments and discussions on 'stuff'. You know, stuff related to other stuff and stuff.

It was with hesitant foot, that I meekly forwarded him an email asking him if he would be at all interested if he were not busy in anyway whatsoever, that should he have some free moments, would he mind very much if he could just answer some simple questions for a Interview for my own blog.

The reply back was a resounding No. I mean Yes. In fact it cast away any doubts I had that he may of just said yes under duress, but frankly, one could tell that he genuinely thought this was a damn fine idea, and one that he was really looking forward to. Oh, so this put me under no pressure at all to come up with some now interesting questions.

For anyone who doubted me when I said that Jeff seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of being 'interviewed', I quote:

"Sure! This sounds like a great opportunity and a lot of fun as well. Shoot me some questions!"

I personally think, that some of these answers will be incredibly useful information for anyone starting out in Blogging, design coding etc. Jeff isn't just about PHP, coding, design, art, minimalism, he is also clearly passionate about priorities and not getting caught up in the mass hysteria that can often clog the Blogging arteries. Filter the crap as such, have your own thoughts, your own plan, and importantly, be confident in what you are doing and trust yourself, even if many others are doing the opposite.


To get started then with the interview, I casually asked Jeff about some pre-interview strategic, erm, strategies. For my part, I wanted to do everything right, to ensure that I could do what was feasible in making this interview findable, accessible and of course vaguely interesting. So for my part, being somewhat of a newbie this time round, I innocently asked Jeff about any SEO procedures to employ to get the ball moving as such. Any keywords that he may want to use, any particularly marketing strategy etc.

It is so true that people nowadays are just not being true to themselves, or anyone else for that matter. Although this was not 'officially' a question it showed my where Jeff is 'at' in his own take of what's important to him personally, rather than everyone else. It set's Jeff's tone for things to come.

Haven't you heard? Keywords don't work any more! Just kidding. Seriously, though, I am not at all concerned about reaching more people. Never have been too concerned about it really. I like to do things like this for its own sake. It helps me to be myself, get into it, to enjoy and learn from it as much as possible.

On the other hand, I understand how traffic is a totally good thing, to be desired as much as chocolate and coffee. But it really does take time to build up the flow of eyeballs to your site. Apart from advertising and/or black hat-type methods of starting a fire, the best thing to do (in my opinion) is produce quality content on a regular schedule and reach out to other bloggers.

This is all "new" territory for me, Graham -- up until just recently, I have kept an extremely low profile: writing posts, designing, and sharing as much as possible without advertising or networking or any of that. And then suddenly, WOW.

The trip is watching the hard work begin to pay off. More has happened in the last few weeks (in terms of recognition, interviews, books, etc than it did during the entire first TWO YEARS of blogging. And something tells me it is just getting started.

Good things comes to those who wait, that are patient and ultimately trust themselves or at least have faith that something will work out further down the line. And even if it doesn't, totally enjoy the trip anyway.

We moved on, well, I moved on to explaining to Jeff what got me so motivated about his own site, how I felt when I saw it for the first time and more importantly, how it felt, how it worked, how it interacted with you, how you got around. For me this was a classic example of a Usable and Accessible Site .

The timing could not of been better for me. Prior to this I had and continue to expend a lot of time reading, studying about Web Usability and Accessibility. The new Web Standards (well, not so knew, but more mainstream and accepted as the way forward). Books such as:

  • Dont Make Me think - Steve Krug
  • Blog Design Solutions - Friends of Ed
  • Designing with Web Standards - New Riders
  • Ambient Findability - Peter Morville
  • BulletProof Web Design - New Riders
  • How to be a complete and utter failure in life work and everything - Steve McDermott

And heaps more similar books have been read, reread, studied and used as paper weights. Never have I been so excited about the prospect of learning over again.

I first did a mega monster site in Dreamweaver in early 2000. It was huge, unplanned, and a beast in every way. I am still disturbed by this even now. But things are becoming easier for me now, and meeting someone like Jeff has been a huge bonus for me.

Yes, in a way I am forgetting everything I ever knew, which really was not much, but starting again with a clean slate, starting learning CSS again from scratch, hand coding XHTML in BBEdit, having several Blogs on the go, some with WordPress and now a new project with ExpressionEngine.

In talking to Jeff I have been able to get over some of my self imposed limits and beliefs about if I have what it takes to do all this at the age of 36. The man says 'Yes', and you know what, I believe him.

Analyzing his site after reading all about this stuff was proof enough to me that I was on the right course. The other crucial point here was that Jeff's site was just simplicity in action. Don't misunderstand me here, I have a very good idea that the stuff under the hood is less than simple, that I know and appreciate, but what Jeff has done, is create a site that oozes minimalistic yumminess. It works damn well, has features that are nicely positioned, it opens up to many cool areas.

But enough singing Jeff's praises. What did he have to say about all of this?

I am a huge advocate of usability and accessibility.

I have also read a number of books on both topics and have found the practice as deep as it is wide. There is a great deal of overlap between the two, and some would even argue that they are in fact two different sides of the same coin, or even the same thing. I am far from an expert on the topic, but I feel that even a basic understanding of the topic along with a desire to implement it goes a long way to improving the usability and accessibility of a site.

So affirming the usable and accessible aspect as a clear winner, I asked Jeff if this site evolve over time. Or was it a planned design to incorporate as much of the web standards and usability factors as you could, and was that your motive for creating this site, to show that it could all be done?

"Did the site evolve over time?" Absolutely.

The first few versions of the site were absolutely atrocious. (ED: Find that utterly hard to believe!) But I was inspired by what I could do with WordPress and spit out like ten or more designs before I finally hit on one that I could run with. Even then, I was still beginning to get the hang of "accessible design", and continued to redesign the same basic theme like three or four times before finally arriving at the current one.

That your passion for minimalism and stylish simplicity clearly defines some of what you feel, did that enable you to more easily adopt a site that was more accessible than a more complicated less minimalistic graphic based site?" I say that because I got the gist that a lot of the accessibility requirements are notoriously hard to implement like the keyboard navigation and assigning access key inputs.

For the current theme, the design aesthetic improved along with the usability and accessibility. Along the way, however, I got hung up on adding way too many bells and whistles and my design quickly became "gimmicky" and tiring. So, for the current design, I stripped everything down to the absolute essentials and fully embraced a completely minimalist layout. Since then, I have been completely fascinated by the "depth" and potential encompassed by minimalist design. It certainly forces you to focus on the deeper aspects of design: usability, accessibility, structure, navigation -- all of it!

How can you not agree with any of that?

Knowing that Jeff has a healthy supply of themes that he has previously coded, me, not ever being greatful asked If I could have his own theme for my own use. Well, someone had to ask and you never know, he may have been contemplating changing it, so what better donor to give it to. Than me ofcourse! I could not think of a better more deserving foster home for that perishing theme.

I am flattered that the design is so well-received. So far, I have managed to "generalize" and package around half of the themes developed for the site (1), and fully intend to release all of them as soon as time allows! (1)

Note: Here is a link to my currently available themes .

Given my lack of current coding skills, experience with CSS, PHP and everything else. Being a creative chap myself, I find it very frustrating not being able to create a site for myself that looks exactly the way I want it. It needs to be a extension of my soul in a way, it has to reflect my perceptions and views on life. So I have to make do with finding themes that are as close to possible to the sort of thing that I would be happy with.

You have a fair number of themes you have coded and have available for 'free', what are your thoughts on Premium WP Themes, the themes that supposedly offer more in terms of functionality, support etc.

I may try my hand at a premium theme later on, but at this point, I just don't have the time. I have many projects that I am trying to complete, and may decide to switch from WordPress altogether by the time I finally finish.

I think I might be a total rebel, design a stellar premium theme, and then give it away freely! ;)

Rebel indeed Jeff.

The next installment will be arriving in a few days, so make sure to subscribe to my RSS feeds.

Last week I was asked by Steven Snell over at Traffikd and ofcourse Vandely Design, if I would mind answering a few short questions for a reader profile section he was starting. Traffikd is a relatively new Blog that Steve set up that focus's on the Social and General Marketing aspect of Blogging and successfully networked Web Sites. Read the interview here A mini reader interview of

I like this site, I happened to Stumble across it (and know, I didn't StumbleUpon it, i just literally stumbled across it the old fashioned way). Will StumbleUpon become the next Oxford English Dictionary entry like Googling? So I have been a regular reader of Traffikd and where possible, a regular contributor.

So Yes, I was asked.

Crumbs mate. Me? Now you are not talking about someone here who has immense self worth or an abundance of self confidence, so when someone ask you to do a 'mini interview' it really is a moment to relish. So I did.

The reason Steven is doing this series is so that he can give back to the readers who read his site. Which I think is a fabulous idea and really allows the 'average folk' to be 'mini-stars'. This seems to be a natural evolution of the Top Commentators Plugin, in effect, the TCP earns you value points and you redeem the value points for a spot on front stage. And ever so cunning incentive to encourage readers to participate more with your Blog. From the horses mouth:

The reader profile is a weekly series where I attempt to give something back to one of my readers while providing some useful information for everyone. It typically includes some information about his/her online projects as well as a mini interview.

4 Questions in total for me but immediately I read them I knew that my own ability to answer them in a short manner would be nigh on impossible. For me the questions that Steve put forward were not questions you 'could' easily answer in a few line, if you did, you surely would not look worthy of being interviewed in the first place.

Then we get to the whole issue of would people actually be interesting in reading line after line about someone they don't know? I'm not sure I would, but then, I don't recall seeing interviews in general about people I don't know or who are actually known for being 'someone' even if I don't personally know. Say what?

On a side not, I have been asking Jeff over at Perishable Press some pretty lengthy questions myself for a planned 'mega interview'. It proved that long, that we are still editing down the questions and answers. My initial thought was to break the interview in several manageable chunks, as so suggested by Top Bloggers who think Posts have a ideal copy lenght. Trust me when I say the interview with Jeff is far exceeds this ideal copy length in whole. But curiously, Jeff having his own unique writing style, does constantly deliver lengthy and informed articles and his readers expect this. So with his ideas taken on board, we have decided to create one complete interview.

Back back to me. Sitting down to answer several short questions, when in the back of your head you know you will be tapping at the keyboard hours later, make me get several headaches. NO matter how I tried to keep things short and sweet, I just couldn't. It was all relevant information in response to some very valid questions. Even complete, I could of added a lot more, so that interview you see is me being frugal. Really.

But the process of having to sit down and really think about these questions is quite a challenge in itself as it forces you to really think about what you are doing, what you have done and what you plan to do. These were not casual questions like, "what's your best Sunday attire?" Steven really seemed to illicit the deeper meaning of life from me.

I was ultimately quite surprised at the detail I naturally went into. It wasn't hard to think of things to say, it was just hard to try to limit it. But bless Steve, he included the interview in full.

Thank you Steve for giving me this fun opportunity to appear on your blog.

In Conclusion: A not so mini reader profile.

Just a head's up guys about a forthcoming chat/interview/meeting with Jeff over at Perishable Press.

Jeff kindly agreed to allow me to hurl all manner of nonsense type words at him with the very real and sincere promise of not much (borderline 'nothing') in return. Except possibly some of that karma stuff.

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