Case Study: Rikon Hand-lettered Logo Design Process

Published by Nela Dunato on at 20:03 in Graphic design, Creative process, Branding

Rikon Logo Design Process

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 if you have your steps down.

It's also interesting to see a different kind of process where I work by myself, and present a client with a final logo proposal for them to accept or reject.
In a previous case study I published, the process involved a lot of back-and-forth, and I involved the client in the decision process from start to finish. However, after listening to Sean Wess' podcast "The One Concept Approach: How a Professional Designs A Logo", I decided to try this approach for a while and see how my results improve.

The client

"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 over the years
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.

The problem

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.

Sword fighting workshop at Rikon 2010
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.

Research

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:

Convention logos

I've noticed that there are several themes that keep coming up in these logos:

  • Rocket ships
  • Planetary rings
  • Dragons
  • Swords
  • Atoms

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 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 (my poster designs sometimes sucked, I admit it) that will be forgotten in a year. I needed to so this right, because it was to be used for the 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.

Rikon logo sketches

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.

Rikon logo sketches - initial themes and symbols

Then I went on to try out letter shapes, different stylizations of the letter O, incorporating symbols into the logo etc.

Rikon logo sketches - explorations of letter forms

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.

Rikon logo sketches - no censorship, even if it's silly

That's 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 liked one bit, let alone show to other people, I finally had a light bulb moment.

I was doodling in my sketchbook, which is 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 down. Then I started some 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.

Rikon logo sketches - final sketch

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.)

Rikon logo design
Final logo design. Click to view the larger image in my portfolio.

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've 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 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 Wes' 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 mother or cat.

While this is an exaggeration, 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 be having a say on the matter (that part on not being able to satisfy everyone and all that jazz).

I will try this process out with my future clients and see how they will receive it.

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!

Nela
Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

I run a boutique design consultancy that helps creative businesses evolve into premium brands and connect with their dream clients, by crafting extraordinary visual experiences.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...


Your comments

  • April

    April
    2014-08-28 at 20:28

    I *loved* readings about your creative process! It's very fascinating and the final logo is awesome! Thanks for sharing!

  • Laura G. Jones

    Laura G. Jones
    2014-08-28 at 22:12

    Your creative process is fascinating, Nela! I love how you allowed yourself to doodle and go through so many different options, how you gave yourself permission to draw some options that were completely impossible just to allow for better creativity to come through, and how you kept at it until you found a definite winner! This was so inspiring, thank you for sharing!

  • Nela

    Nela
    2014-08-28 at 23:04

    @April, thank you very much, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :)

    @Laura: thank you so much, dear! I appreciate your kind words a lot :)

    I figured I really needed to document this for myself, so I have proof next time I feel concerned that it just isn't working :)

    All the time I had to keep reminding myself that this is all a part of the process, and that I will eventually stumble into something good, because that's just how it works. It's not easy to trust!

  • Beth

    Beth
    2014-08-29 at 04:31

    Loved seeing your creative process! I think you are right--clients are paying for your design expertise and don't need to be involved in every aspect of the process. Glad it was so well received!

  • Katie

    Katie
    2014-08-29 at 06:32

    Popped over from the Freelance to Freedom group, and am so glad I did! I was totally engrossed in your process. Thank you for sharing the early stages of the design as well. I think sometimes I give up too soon, so it was nice to hear you work through the creative process.

  • Stacey

    Stacey
    2014-08-29 at 07:48

    Thanks for sharing your case study so thoroughly! As a fellow designer I could definitely identify with some of the frustrations you experienced. In particular, the unviable ideas - I love how you cleared the space by just permitting yourself to do that. I am actually going to give that a shot next time I find myself in the same place rather than trying to just disregard it in my head!

  • Nela

    Nela
    2014-09-01 at 21:24

    Thank you so much, everyone!

    @Beth: Thanks! Sadly many clients are "trained" (by us designers) to demand more control. I hope I'll manage to explain well to my clients the value of trusting their designer to take care of the details.

    @Katie, I'm so glad to hear that!
    I can relate with giving up too soon. It's a matter of learning to trust yourself that the right inspiration will come if you keep going.

    @Stacey: That sounds awesome, I'd love to hear how it goes!
    Do you know of the "white bear problem"?
    The theory is that if you try to suppress a thought (ie. "I'm not going to think about a white bear"), it will keep popping up. So it's better to just indulge in the "bad" idea for a few minutes, and then get back to your normal work :)

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