It began, as it usually does, with sketches. Cocktail napkins, receipts, small animals, whatever happens to be on hand at the time. This is a glimpse into my design process – a rare and unadulterated look at how I do what I do.
In this case, it was a napkin on Hang’s kitchen table.
When I go about designing a logo, the first thing that I think about is the message and the meaning behind the logo. I like to be flexible and allow the logo to grow organically, which can alter the meaning (sometimes entirely), but it’s helpful to at least begin with something I am trying to say.
The first image that jumped into my mind was that of the bee itself. I wanted an image that would be forever associated with Bumblebee Labs, such as a cute little bee simple enough to have good scalability (like the Cingular man), or a bee abstract enough to be memorable (the USPS Eagle). However, Hang hated the idea of anything remotely cute, and in every suggestion he made, seemed to favor and enjoy more literal branding than abstract.
Cooperating with the client may be the hardest part of graphic design. There are a number of reasons why. I think that in any kind of creation, we create things that we find personally appealing. Some things, especially in the applied arts, only please very finite crowds and are abhorrent to the rest of us. The problem is that we can’t distinguish between when we are on the side of the masses, or in the niche, and assume we speak for everyone else when we voice our opinions. Those of us who are dedicated to graphic design are generally better than the average joe because we devote so much time to analyzing what works and what doesn’t, and are constantly struggling to appeal to the proper audience, regardless of our personal preferences. This isn’t to say graphic designers are always right… I’ll be the first to admit that I inject my personal tastes into my design, as much as I try not to.
Pleasing the client is important, though, and though I try my best to not sell my soul, I still like to get paid. I generally attempt suggestions put forth to me, and see if I can find a way to twist it to my own liking. In this case, I’m quite happy with the end result.
Hang didn’t want the focus of the logo to be on the bee, but on the flight of it, as he felt that it was more in tune with the company philosophy. Therefore, a straight line representing the flight of the bee would probably be insufficient.
My foundation for logo design is always the text. The following were my observations:
- Shape: the logo has a tall letter (not sure what the official terminology is for that) nearly every other letter. This could be taken advantage of to create a unique and interesting design. Nearly every letter also features circular shapes.
- Length: the length of the text was the ultimate determining factor in the final look. It is relatively lengthy title, and thus, may need to be condensed in order to be more easily translated into a number of different uses.
- Number of words: Two words, of incredibly different length. This makes it difficult to condense the length of the logo by placing the words on separate lines, as it generally looks weighted and unbalanced. As they are, the words already feel unbalanced, and a satisfying logo would have to rectify that.
- Word meanings: “Labs,” much like “inc,” “llc,” “corp,” “co,” “designs,” “studios,” and others, is something that you’ll gloss over when you read it. It is a word that is altogether necessary in the title, but is nearly without identity in and of itself. It adds very little character, but acts like a punctuation mark – I call them cognitive suffixes. If it is themed the same way as the identity phrase of the logo (Bumblebee), it will not be cognitively pleasing. This is generally resolved by either maximizing or minimizing the cognitive suffix, to either compensate for its lack of identity, or to relegate it to a more fitting form.
Given these observations, several things became immediately clear. The length needed to be condensed, and because the words were of such differing lengths, the most satisfying solution appeared to be to remove the space between the two. Immediately, the logo felt more balanced, leaving me more room in determining colors, shapes, and other factors. Because the corporate identity of Bumblebee Labs was just as much invested in the identity phrase and cognitive suffix, I determined that “Labs” would have to be emphasized in some way.
After determining the overall shape of the text that is most conducive to the identity, I attempt to select an appropriate typeface. Sometimes, upon examining the shapes and feels of various typefaces, it becomes apparent that the shape of the text ought to be refined, but this was not the case this time.
My primary goals at this stage were to find a font that accurately represented the identity behind Bumblebee Labs, and to find a way to emphasize the cognitive suffix.
Selecting the font for “Bumblebee” may have been the most difficult part of the creation of the logo. The company identity was built around the flight of the bumblebee, not the appearance of the bumblebee, and thus, the graphic portion of the logo was to be focused around the flight path. At first, with the majority of the letters circular, it appeared to be a good idea to have the flight path integrated as part of the text, using a script font.
However, this proved to be problematic in several ways. It displaced the cognitive suffix, pushing it further to the side, or forcing it onto a second line. It also placed further emphasis on the identity phrase, making it much more difficult to put an appropriate amount of emphasis on “Labs.” In order to compensate for the noisy integration of the flight path, “Labs” would have to be written in big block sans-serif lettering. This resulted in a logo design that was altogether busy and inelegant. At this point, I decided that it was best to integrate the flight path graphically, to both maintain the proper balance between the lettering, and to keep the logo clean.
Having a vague notion that the graphic portion of the logo would entail a curvy flight path and a rounded bee, I began sorting through fonts with blocky, sharper features. It was at this point I stumbled upon the “Discognate” font, and enjoying the fusion of the sci-fi edge with the rounded inner corners, rendered the logo in it immediately. It turned out to be precisely the typeface I was looking for.
I still needed to determine how to differentiate the two words in the logo, but it seemed that the best way to do so was with color, and I had yet to determine the color scheme.
Theming the logo and brand was perhaps the easiest part of the design. The bumblebee itself is comprised of various oranges and yellows, and offset with thick black stripes. It was only logical to put the logo in black, white, and some sort of orange or yellow. However, orange and yellow are fairly difficult to display clearly upon a white background, so I opted to invert the design, putting “Bumblebee” in white, and highlighting “Labs” in a golden yellow for emphasis. The emphasis was only complete with a small stroke around “Labs.”
It was somewhat of a challenge to represent the bee in a way that was accurate to the identity. Though the bumblebee is often portrayed as a cutesy animal, this would put too much emphasis upon the bee, and distract from the flight pattern. I sketched out a simple oval bee in Illustrator with two thick black stripes, and used that to test out various flight patterns.
The flight pattern was to be the highlight of the piece, and therefore the largest in relative size. There is great natural beauty in the logarithmic spiral, and I determined that it would be a good way to depict a flight pattern. I also liked the message in the idea of a spiral; it seemed that the bee was rising out of obscurity, and increasing in velocity as it did so.
I quickly mocked up two preliminary designs integrating the spiral into the text. The first had a largely circular spiral, located above and outside the text. I rather liked the look, but at Hang’s suggestion, saw that it was disjointed. Knowing that it would be difficult to make a clean and elegant logo with the spiral in the middle ground (behind the text), I opted for a small spiral that ended in an underlining trajectory.
Having a preliminary design complete, I then focused on the design of the bee. Using a gradient mesh to create custom lighting and shadow, I made the bee appear to be rounded. This was largely an aesthetic move, as the bee in its prior state was amateurish and plain. This is not to say that plain designs are bad designs, as simpler designs are often better than complex ones. In this particular case, as the design is supposed to represent a complex real-world object, it needs to be as simple as possible, but still complex enough to communicate effectively.
Desiring to emphasize the progression of the bee, I decided to go with a fading gradient into the background, with a white highlight on the bee. This posed some unique problems, which will be discussed below, but was in the end quite a rewarding effect. Noticing the high stark contrast between the white middleground and the black background, I opted for a glowing effect on the outside of the streak. I strongly believe in organic design; logos will often only have a couple of natural solutions to visual problems, and will suggest them to you if you are willing to stand back and analyze them periodically.
The problems in this logo were largely technical, and due to my ignorance of the tools. The first problem was that of the bee itself: upon printing, I noticed several black artifacts all around the orange edges of the bee (always print your logo!). I had created the bee as three layers: the top comprised the highlight/shadow, the middle was comprised of orange stripes, and the bottom was a black oval. Even thought the orange stripes appeared to completely cover the black, the edges came out in print. I knew that, at this point, I could no longer cheat my way around it; I needed to learn the tools which manage the combination of paths in Illustrator. After a couple of brief primers and tutorials, I was back on track, and made a cleaner version of the bee that was completely free of artifacts.
The second issue was that of the color progression on the spiral. I wanted a gradient that would follow the path I selected, but could not find a way to do so short of rasterizing the image and painting it manually. I posted my problem in a couple of design forums, and in a few short hours, found a viable solution. If I mapped an art brush with a gradient to the path, the gradient would follow the path precisely.