Last year, I took a course in brand design, and got in some more practice by completing some pro bono jobs afterwards. For a few weeks, I worked with the Director of Warrington Choral Society to come up with a brand identity for the group.
At the time, it was probably the most challenging logo design project I’d attempted. In this post, I’ll briefly explain the process I followed, from research and ideation through to handing off a full set of logo assets. I’ll talk about how long each stage of the project took, the problems I encountered, how I solved them or moved on from them, and what I think I learned.
Stage 1: Scoping. (1–2 hours, with client.)
After an initial instant messaging conversation with the client, I put together a little questionnaire to gather information about key requirements. These were the questions I asked:
- What kind of music does WCS perform?
- Who are its members?
- Who are its audience?
- What are ten adjectives that describe WCS?
- What messages would you like the audience to receive about WCS?
- What are your goals for a new logo or brand design?
- What are your fears about a new logo or brand design?
- What specific deliverables do you want? (e.g. a high resolution JPEG version of the logo, a Word template for headed notepaper, a template for posters, etc.)
- What is motivating you to commission this project now?
- When does the project need to be finished? Is there an event or another deadline driving that?
A few days later I realized that I’d forgotten to ask a couple of other important ones, so I followed up with:
- Can you give any examples of existing logos or brands you like or already have in mind?
- Who are WCS’ key competitors? (Both for singers looking for a choir, and competing for audience)
Stage 2: Writing the brief. (1–2 hours.)
From the client’s response, I summarized the following mini logo brief:
- A choral society with around 30 experienced, generally young, members who are good musicians. Mainly Baroque and contemporary repertoire.
- Concerts attract audiences of around 100 people. A quarter are friends and family of the choir at three quarters are diverse, mainly local but some from across the country.
- Audience values the concerts because it’s not ordinary choral society repertoire, there’s a good musical standard, and there are local soloists and instrumentalists.
- Brand adjectives: vibrant, exciting, unusual, musical, committed, professional, growing, inspirational, talented, harmonious.
- Brand messages: sublime music, sung well, locally. We know what we’re doing. Good value for money. Professional. Successful.
- Logo should be: eye catching, memorable.
- Logo should not be: corporate, trendy, too abstract.
- Why now? Choir is working and is a success. Now need a more professional brand to attract more singers and grow the audience.
Stage 3: Research & sketching. (9–12 hours.)
I went through a couple of phases of sketching for this project. This was, essentially, because the ideas I developed out of the first lot of sketches were not working well enough. So I bit the bullet and went back to the drawing board. Below I’ve photographed the eleven pages of paper sketches I did during the project. For reasons specific to this project, though, I also did another 30–40 sketches in Sketch so that I could play around with signs and symbols from musical notation.
Stage 4: Presenting a selection of ideas to the client. (12–18 hours development, 1–2 hours discussion with client via instant messenger, 1–2 hours user testing.)
Initially, I chose to develop these three ideas. The first is a W transformed into male and female concert dress. The second is a kind of blackletter W produced with three crotchet rest symbols. The third is a rotated and mirrored bass clef, with part of a flat symbol for a singing mouth.
The client liked the third one. I spent quite a bit of time trying to develop it, but there were a few difficulties I couldn’t completely overcome. First, the rotated bass clef looks like a C. Second, it is ambiguous which way the figure is facing. Third, it is ambiguous whether the mouth is singing, laughing, gasping, or sticking its tongue out. Reluctantly, I concluded it was a nice idea that wasn’t going to work.
So, after some more time sketching, I went back to simpler geometric shapes. I particularly tried to remind myself one of the first things I learned on the design course — that the graphic doesn’t have to bear any literal relation to what the organisation does. So, I thought, it might be nice to incorporate something obviously musical, but it wasn’t essential. More important was to create a strong and memorable mark.
The other ideas I developed were all based around the W. The first row of graphics above shows a W formed out of the musical trill mark. On the bottom row, the first is a W formed from three overlapping triangles. The second is a W abstracted from the traditional harp symbol (see left). And the final one is a W formed of two triangles and a square.
Stage 5: The final logo set. (2–3 hours to refine, kern, polish, produce variants, supply to client.)
From the second batch of ideas, the client showed a strong preference for another W formed of triangles and suggesting a crown, referencing grand, large-scale choral repertoire. I developed a set of logo variants for the client to use, including a version formed of semi-transparent triangles in primary colours.
What I learned from this project
- Getting a lot of information at scoping stage is invaluable, and imposes important constraints on work.
- Sometimes you have to call time on an idea you like if it’s not working as it should.
- It took extensive development of six or seven distinct logo ideas to get to a final, simple, geometric product.
- Simple is not necessarily easy.
- Minimal still has to be meaningful and meet the brief.
- It is better to sketch too much than to start developing too soon.
- When looking to include very particular graphic elements like musical notation, there is value in doing some sketching on-screen, as it makes it possible to explore and experiment with manipulating those symbols. This can generate ideas that would not have been forthcoming on paper (like my blackletter W made of crotchets). If you think all sketching should be done in a pad, think of this as research instead.
- Colour is extremely powerful. Showing colour drafts of logos to the client is not going to be helpful as you won’t be able to tell if they’re responding to the colour or the overall composition.
- It makes sense to think from the very beginning about how the logo will work systematically. The final logo above could be tiled (without wordmark) in the margins of a poster, for example.
- The brief comes first. Resist the temptation to pursue the wrong idea because you have a personal preference for it.
Note: Thanks to Andrew for contributing to our blog with this article.