I haven't done a case study in a while, and I thought this one would be particularly interesting because it really shows how serendipitous and unpredictable a creative process can be, even when you have a solid structure of a creative process in place.
It's also interesting to show a different kind of process where I work by myself, and present a client with only one logo design concept for them to either accept, or ask for a revision.
In a previous logo design case study I published, the process took a lot of back-and-forth, and I involved the client in all the decisions from start to finish. However, after listening to Sean McCabe's podcast "The One Concept Approach: How a Professional Designs A Logo", I decided to try this out for a while and see whether my results improve.
"Rikon" is a sci-fi and fantasy convention held annually in Rijeka, Croatia. The first convention was held back in 1997, so it has a longstanding tradition in Croatian fandom, and people from all over the country (and beyond) come to visit.
I've been a part of the organization of this event since 2007, when I held my first creative workshop and started helping with the website. As the time went on, I got "promoted" into a role of the official graphic designer, illustrator and PR person for the event. I've done poster and flyer design each year for the past several years.
Before: No logo
For all these years Rikon didn't have a logo, nor any kind of branding strategy in place. The design and art direction changed depending on the person handling it, and even when I was handling it for a few years in a row, I wasn't instilling much consistency.
Here's a sample of some of the more recent posters I managed to find to give you an idea.
Rikon convention posters and fliers over the years. Bottom 3 were designed and illustrated by me.
The font used for the caption "Rikon" changed every time to match the style of illustration. The font used for the information on the poster was sometimes too decorative and in a low-contrast color, which made it very difficult to read.
All in all, even with my efforts, it was a mess so I insisted that it was time to do something about it.
Rikon is a very welcoming convention that caters to various interests, affinities and age groups. Which is another way of saying there is no single focus.
Even within our group of organizers, people love different things: sci-fi literature, fantasy literature, gaming (computer, tabletop, LARP), movies and TV series, comics, art, science, cosplay, mythology, steampunk crafts...
Our program is just as versatile, because we're essentially making a convention we would want to attend. This is very popular with our visitors, since everyone can find something they like, whether they're 7 or 70.
But I'm sure you can see that from a branding standpoint, it's a tremendous challenge.
You wouldn't believe it, but we also like outdoor activities such as archery and sword-fighting
A part of the organization committee formed a small team that would represent the society as a client. My role was that of a designer, but since I'm so deep within the organization, I've also had the perspective of the client, which made my job easier.
We held a meeting where I posed some questions that helped us all clarify what our main goals were, who our ideal convention visitor is, and what the focus of our branding would be.
We decided that between a futuristic sci-fi style and an archaic fantasy style of font, we'd prefer the former, although ideally the logo should fit on a fantasy illustration just as well.
Even though visitors of all ages and backgrounds come to our convention, we decided that our current focus on people aged from 18 to 30 was fine.
Promoting science was one of the more important components of the convention. We have really good connections in the science departments of the University of Rijeka, so we can expect we'll always have a pool of great lecturers at our disposal.
After clarifying a few more details as it relates to our target audience, I collected my notes and started researching.
By "research" I mean using Google image search and Pinterest for finding other projects in the same genre, and evaluating their branding and logos. I usually collect these references on a local folder, but since I wanted to include my team, I created a secret Pinterest board and invited them all in to pin and comment. (I made the board public now.)
I've found a pretty wide array of logos, from conventions and related events, societies and publications in the sphere of sci-fi and fantasy genre, as well as science. Here are some examples of what I included:
I've noticed that there are several themes that keep coming up in these logos:
- Rocket ships
- Planetary rings
Some societies and conventions tried to incorporate both fantasy and sci-fi by combining elements such as dragon and a rocket ship, or a sword and a planet. We concluded on our meeting that we would not be doing that.
The logos we liked the most were actually those that used neither of the clichés, such as Convergence and Sci-Fi Expo — although, IFL Science had plenty of such graphics, and their logo is pretty neat.
We agreed that the fonts are what we liked the most about certain logos, so it was a clear signal to me that I should be focusing on hand-lettering a custom font, which I love to do anyway.
The creative process
When I finally sat down to do some sketching (because I always start my logo design work on paper), I encountered a huge block.
First, I had fears that I wouldn't be able to make a logo everyone in our team liked. I know, it sounds silly coming from someone who's been doing this for years, but I guess this never completely goes away. Every creative act implies vulnerability and possibility of rejection.
But even though I know this, it's been a long time since I had to pitch my solution to a large group of people, all of whom have equal say in the matter. This logo was not a one-year poster design that will be forgotten in a year. I had to so this right, because it was to be used for years to come.
You can bet that this pressure I was putting on myself didn't help at all.
I would be sitting down for 60-90 minutes at a time, sketching various ideas. At the end I had well over 50 different sketches that I didn't like at all.
I started with a sheet of paper where I outlined some important qualities and values that would be guiding my creative process (as discussed in our initial meeting), and I also sketched some of those clichés I mentioned earlier, simply because I had to start somewhere.
Then I went on to try out letter shapes, different stylizations of the letter O, incorporating symbols into the logo etc.
I did not censor myself at all. At one point I even sketched a totally unviable solution combining a dragon, a d20 die and a rocket ship, just because I had to get it out of my system to make room for something that actually works.
That's the creative process for you right there. Sometimes frustrating, always unpredictable.
After more than a month of simmering and feeling disheartened because I wasn't able to come up with a solution I even liked, let alone wanted to show to other people, I finally had a light bulb moment.
I was doodling in my sketchbook, which is a part of my regular morning creative practice. I just painted random shapes with watercolor, and it was very freeing and colorful. It had nothing to do with this project, but I'm certain it somehow helped me to get in the right state of mind where I could solve the problem.
As I put away my sketchbook, I remembered I had an idea for the letter R and I went to sketch it. Then I started sketching different planetary-ring O shapes, and the idea hit me.
I first did it in a single thin pencil line, and then I drew it thicker, in a font more similar to what I envisioned.
When I finished the last sketch, I had a distinct feeling I had a winner. I couldn't wait to vectorize it to see what it looks like finished.
I took the scan into Inkscape to draw the vector, and it took me about an hour to polish the exact letter shapes, thickness and spacing of the font.
The result: Final logo
For my presentation to the team, I made a regular black-on-white sample, but also a white logo on a NASA photo of a star cluster, because it was more representative of how the logo is actually going to be used. (I would advise this to other designers too. When the client sees the logo in context, they can imagine how people are going to interact with it in the future, and it corroborates why you made certain design decisions.)
I e-mailed the logo to my team for review, and the comments were overwhelmingly positive. Everyone liked it, even though I initially thought it wasn't possible!
I immediately set out to prepare final vector files and the branding guidelines document, as well as social media graphics, so we can put the logo to use the very same day.
I'm really looking forward to using this new logo on posters I'll create for the upcoming event in October. Stay tuned for more eye candy!
Notes on the “one logo concept” approach
This was the first time I was consciously "excluding" the client from the process between the briefing & research phase and the final delivery, and I'm really glad with how the whole thing went over.
I must agree with Sean McCabe's remark that "if you didn't narrow it down to one proposal, your job as a designer is not over".
I know some clients will probably have objections to this, because they want to feel in control of the process. I also know that my former clients appreciated very much that I gave them the control over the choice, when I should have just made the decision myself — but I was convinced that I was "supposed to" give them more options, because that was "what everyone else did", so they expected it.
In the end, I do feel that the job of the client is to know their business and their clients, and the job of the designer is to know about design principles and make decisions that are based on objective arguments, not on the personal sense of aesthetics of the client's family members, or what have you.
(Some clients really do involve their friends and relatives into their decision process, even if these people are not their target client and shouldn't have a say on the matter.)
I will try this process out with my future clients and see how they will receive it.
2021 update: I kept using the one concept approach with my clients since this project, and had amazing results. While some logos did require a few revisions to get the client to accept it, I now also limit my revisions to one, and some logos (like the one in this case study) I'm able to complete without a single revision. I detailed this approach and the benefits of following it in my recent article: One logo design concept, one revision: why this method works
I hope you enjoyed having a peek behind my process!
If you want to see more, here are some of my previous logo design process posts:
Do you need a professionally designed hand-lettered logo? Check out my logo design & branding services!