Designing a logo that is unique, memorable, and means something to mountain sports enthusiasts.
I go through my process as a graphic designer to design the Nordeau logo, pictured here. The logo is for a mountain sports brand that we are creating throughout the Lifestyle Brand Series.
I start by laying out some objectives for the logo; making it simple, memorable, and unique while fitting in the mountain sports industry. I then fill my brain with winter imagery and magnificent examples from the industry. That is the creative fuel to brainstorm with. Once I generate a concept that meets objectives, I refine it to see if it is workable as a logo. The mountain goat was this concept. At last, I back test it against the objectives; it passed, so we have our logo for our mountain sports brand.
If you are a designer, seeing my process may give you insights on how to improve your own, or maybe you have suggestions to improve mine (comment below or contact me.)
If you are an entrepreneur or marketing professional, then understanding the creative process will help you work with designers and get the most help from them to meet your objectives. If you communicate with them, they might blow you away.
How we got to this point in the Lifestyle Brand Series.
In this series of articles, we have been seeking to understand what a lifestyle brand is and why they are so successful and profitable. Lifestyle brands are based on aspirational lifestyles that people long to be a part of; brands like Beats, DC Shoes, and Arc’teryx focus on the needs of a small group of people immersed in their respective lifestyles. By meeting their needs first, they gain an early loyal following who becomes brand advocates. By designing for that niche, they build in product features that appeal to a broader set of people.
I need to roll my sleeves up and build my brand if I am to truly understand the power of lifestyle brands. I chose the skiing/snowboarding lifestyle because it is close to my heart. And there is a core group that is passionate about mountain sports. A “ski bum” is someone who will work any job to be closer to skiing every day. That is the level of commitment lifestyle brand builders should look for when choosing their audience.
We did a market analysis to understand the unique needs of skiers and boarders, and staying dry and smelling good while being active in a winter jacket is a challenge for them. A personal care line tailored to the lifestyle would help a lot of skiers and boarders, and people can use it off the slopes as well.
In the last installment of the series, we used the Multiply Method to create a fantastic, seven letter brand name that had an open .com domain: Nordeau. It also signaled what we wanted as “nord” means North in French, and “eau” is associated with perfumes and colognes. I am still blown away with that name. (What do you think? Comment below, contact BMB or tag @brand_m_blog on Twitter.)
Now I have to pair that sweet name with an equally unique logo.
Frame-storm Before You Brainstorm
Setting some objectives for the Nordeau logo, so we don’t run off the rails.
One of the most common mistakes while brainstorming is not defining the problem at hand; graphic designers are particularly prone to this mistake, myself included.
If the problem is not specified, then you can get off brainstorming ideas that solve a different problem, or the process is plagued by the ultimate creativity killer: negativity. Decision makers often define the problem by calling out designs that they don’t like. The decision makers better understand their objectives once they have seen a few off-the-mark designs, but at the designer’s expense. This just hits the brakes on the creative process.
If you are a designer who consistently gets receives a negative response to your first few designs, consider asking your clients or colleagues to define their objectives for the design before you start.
If you are a decision maker, set your designer up for success by telling him what problems an awesome design would solve.
So what are the objectives would a successful Nordeau logo design achieve?
First and foremost, the logo needs to signal that we are associated with the mountain sports lifestyle. An average person in North America or Europe needs to see the logo and think: “yep, that must be a ski or snowboard company.”
Secondly, the logo needs to be so unique that it sticks in peoples minds, and it cannot be confused with another brand. Arc’teryx, Burton, Northface, Solomon, 686, Volcom; these brands don’t have the best looking logos in the world, but they are all unique. The Nordeau logo needs to be equally unique.
Thirdly, simplicity. Simple logos are easier for peoples to visually perceive and process, which is especially important in action sports. Also, we probably will silkscreen or embroider this logo on apparel for promotional material or maybe future products. Apparel logos need to be simple because of the limitations of embroidery machines and printing on fabric.
Lastly, the logo needs to have a personality. The logo needs to spark some emotions we are not used to getting from the symbols that represent everyday brands. It needs to be interesting; it can never be described as bland.
In my article What Makes a Good Logo?, I explain why a logo needs to be simple, distinct, striking, appropriate, and legally protectable. All of those apply to the Nordeau logo, but going sacrifice a little bit of appropriateness to gain a lot of distinctiveness. I am not designing for a logo for a law firm here; irreverence is the norm for logos in the mountain sports industry.
Ideas to Chew On
Filling my brain up with creative imagery.
My first step, as always, is to look at imagery associated with the industry or product and take inspiration from pre-existing logos. Pinterest is an invaluable tool at this stage. I started populating a private pinboard called “Mountain Sports Lifestyle Brand Inspiration” which I will now make public. I posted pictures of mountains, logos, snowboard designs, landing pages, ski resort posters, apparel models, etc.
All of these images churn in my mind and remade into something unique. Ideating without inspiration imagery is akin to running a marathon without water; it’s possible, but the runner is just less effective and torturing themselves.
Brainstorming logo concepts over time
Unlike my client work, I wasn’t on a constrained timeline with this logo. I could sketch out ideas as they came. This was a nice luxury and resulted in some seeds that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. As a concept came to mind, I sketched it in my notebook; anytime, day or night. It is amazing that our brains are subconsciously processing these things all the time.
At first, I was pretty on the nose with the winter imagery: snowflakes and mountains. But it became clear that this was going to be a straight shot to a bland, me-too logo. I needed something more irreverent.
I looked into animal imagery. Animals are powerful as symbols because they are universal and tied to their environment. We all see cheetahs running on the savanna, or monkeys swinging in the jungle. Deers are a symbol in winter imagery all the time, particularly stags with their thick coats and mighty antlers.
But again, stag logos are pretty familiar, and I defined my goal as being anything but ordinary. I looked for adjacent animals that also were associated with winter and mountains. A mountain goat had a lot of properties of a stag, the majestic horns and winter coat, but they are rarely used in logos because they are funny looking and oddly proportioned. But then I had this “aha” moment: I didn’t need to be exact with their look or proportions, and I could make a symbol for a mountain goat that is far more elegant than the real animal.
With that new creative freedom, I started working out the mountain goat figure. I knew because of the frame-storm that I would need to represent it in one color. I looked to Pinterest to see how other graphic designer and artists were successfully representing animals with one-color shapes. I copied some of these into my artboard, not to trace (that would be theft) but to see how they solved problems like how to define the hips, or how to define the back legs from the front legs. I very roughly composited two together to get the pose I was after.
I also gathered a bunch of pictures of mountain goats and took note of the features that needed to be there: no tail, horns that roll back, leaf-shaped ears that point back, a muscular chest, etc.
Then I just started drawing with the pen tool. The body, head, horns, ears, legs, and rocks were all separate shapes. That way I can move stuff and easily play with proportions at a later stage.
Design professors tell students not to fall in love with their concepts. Getting over-invested in any one concept can lead to stopping the ideation process and missing the next great idea, or refusing to let go of an idea that you may love but not meet the objectives. The design process isn’t a straight line to a result.
All that is true, but I did not follow that advice in this case. For whatever reason, call it “design sense” after ten years in the industry, I knew the mountain goat logo was what I was going to proceed with.
Plus, my wife said it looked “legit.”
Honing and Refining
Tweaking proportions, mountains, font wall, and the great color debate.
Up until this point, I am doing just enough to represent an idea to assess it against the objectives visually. Whether something has the perfect curve, a weird notch, or not the right snowflake design hasn’t been my concern. But I can work out some of those details now that I have a creative direction.
The first thing was the proportions of the mountain goat. You may recall that I had built the goat in all separate vector shapes with the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator; the reason I did that was to prepare for this step. I moved his parts around, had him standing taller, shorter, legs in, leg out, etc. When I was happy with him, I merged the shape.
There was one problem to solve: he was supposed to be looking, but his head looked like it was on the wrong way. The solution, a small cutout to separate his neck from his body.
Then the mountains. Ohhh… the mountains. I had the idea to have the goat standing on mountains at the concept stage, but I just mocked in some jagged triangles and moved on.
I struggled to make the rocks that he was standing on into mountains. I could not make them look right. So back to the internet, and I looked at some excellent illustrations of mountains and emulated the simplest one.
I used a technique I learned from a friend of BMB, Jacob Cass, called the font wall. This is where you take the brand name and apply it to 30+ fonts all at once, and then sift for some good ones. I found one I liked and moved it under the mountain goat symbol, and put a rectangle around the two.
I had it as all caps for a long time, and then I realized that the choice of all caps made the brand look too serious. This was a company that is to appeal in a recreation industry; fun is the name of the game. All caps signaled to people the company took itself too seriously, which didn’t jive. The logo is a mountain goat for f@$k sake! So I made it lower case.
I never like having text that is straight from a font, particularly if it is a pretty standard font (and font choices for logos are getting more homogenous, as we know from the 2019 logo trends article.) This makes the copyright/trademark of the logo easier to defend, and limits customers confusing two brands with the same logo font.
I always play with kerning and tweak the shape of a couple of letters. In this case, I chose large spaces between the letters and further refined the spaces by eye. I squared off the top left of the “n” an then realized I could flip it around to use as the “u.” It made the type distinctive and anchored the wordmark within the surrounding box.
That box was another challenge I grappled with. I had always conceived of the logo color as an orange-red; it is a naturally contrasting color against the cool blue of sky and snow. Unfortunately, a lot of ski and snowboard companies have red logos.
Ski, snowboard or winter apparel companies with red logos:
- Helly Hanson
- Blizzard Ski
I am torn on whether to follow this trend or differentiate. I am not planning on being directly competitive with any of these companies because we are going into personal care, quite a different product category. So maybe borrowing the brand association by having a similar color would be a plus.
On the other hand, am I making a me-too brand by having the same color? If Nordeau does well, what if a ski/snowboard/apparel brand produces or licenses their brand to compete with me? The orange-red would be a liability.
I tried some other colors (bright teals, violets), but I still am torn. What do you guys think? Message me on twitter, on this form, or in the comments below.
Time for the design to stand on its two feet… or four hooves.
Here is the final design for the Nordeau logo.
Does it meet the objectives we set out to achieve?
1) Does the mountain goal logo associate with the mountain sports lifestyle?
Yes. There are mountains in the logo, it features an animal associated with mountains, and it is red which people associate with ski, snowboard, and winter apparel brands.
2) Is the logo unique enough to stick in peoples minds, and not be confused with other brands?
Yes. The logo features a mountain goat, which is a rare and funny symbol that is not currently used in the mountain sports industry. Caveat: the red logo may make it more easily confused with the logo of other brands in the industry.
3) Is the logo simple enough to be read at a distance, and be embroidered/silk-screened?
Yes. The symbol part of the logo is just comprised of just one white shape. While it has some detail, it still reads at a distance. It is simple enough to be silkscreened. I should talk to an embroidery person to confirm it can be embroidered at a small scale.
4) Does the logo have personality and strike an emotional chord?
Yes. The mountain goat is a fun and unique symbol that people have emotions tied to. The goat is a far more emotional symbol than a simple, geometric shape.
Okay, so I have met my objectives set out for the Nordeau logo, with some caveats. We are ready to proceed.