Dec 8, 2014

My Favorite Brand Identities of 2014

December means it’s time to look back at all the great brand identity and logo work done this year. I’m getting this list out a little later than planned because there were 2 identities revealed in December that I had to include. First thing to know about this list is that it is my list and a collection of my 10 favorite identities of the year. It is by no means a list of “best” work. It is not all new either, some of these logos have simply evolved into an updated mark.

10. BrewDog

There were many good beer identities this year, but what makes BrewDog my favorite is the simple 2 color labels and embracement of a grunge aesthetic, which becomes more rare every year. I love the approach to the label design; each one is identical in layout/composition and each have bold black text. But, each label is easily distinguished from the other because of the color applied to it.

9. Glenfiddich

I’m someone who loves animal logos and although this is technically 1 of 3 animal logos on the list, it’s the only logo that takes a realistic approach to it’s rendering. At least in the sense that it is designed to look like a real deer. It’s a beautifully elegant rendering of a classic “hero pose” composition where the deer is looking up and off to the distance which sells a sense of pride and strength. It also shows that gradients can work when done well and in the right application.

8. IFC

Not only is this my favorite on-air brand of the year, it is some of my favorite network branding ever. It is a perfect blend of modern and retro style. They took modern fonts and used them in a classic way along with a great vintage teal color, but left all the textures out of it so it feels new and clean. It’s really an example of how a good font and good color can carry a whole identity.

7. Football Club International Milano

This logo is the least original of all on the list as it’s just a better execution of a previous logo, but it’s so well done it now feels perfect. Leftoff also has designed some supporting elements for the new identity and shown how some advertising could work. As much as I love circle logos I’m a bit surprised I only included 1 this year, but this is definitely my favorite of the whole bunch. It’s hard enough to do a good 2 letter monogram, but getting 4 letters together so perfectly is really impressive.

6. Mr Parker
Stromme Throndsen

You can’t go wrong with a good red, white, and blue palette. It’s another example of mixing classic elements with modern ones and shows that identity work doesn’t need to be complex; it just has to be recognizable and memorable. Also, you can see how important and useful a pattern can be for an identity. It’s not the logo or the typography that grabs your eye, it’s the red and blue stripes.

5. Brand New Conference Chicago
Under Consideration

I love identities that are so ingrained with a local culture that they could not exist anywhere else. There are some stronger examples of that coming up, but the Brand New Conference is still a good example. The heart of this is based on the Chicago stock market, from the type to the color, to the patterns created with the type, and how it all works in motion graphics. I think Armin Vit is one of the best there is when it comes to critiquing design and it goes to show that he’s not all talk; he can back it up by creating great stuff too.

4. 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Brandia Central

Brandia is one of my favorite agencies in the world, their whole portfolio is filled with inspiring work. They’ve taken the Brazilian World Cup composition and mixed it with some beautiful Russian decoration. The World Cup and Olympics consistently have some of the best design you will see around the world so it’s not unusual for it to be really good but there’s such a unique look to this one. It’s my personal favorite World Cup logo yet. 

3. Deviant Art
Moving Brands

The brand archetype they’re going for is a mix of “outlaw” and “creator” and I think the new logo expresses that very well. I love that at first sight it is an abstract symbol that doesn’t make much sense but like all good art it appears to be one thing but is really something else. The logo is the middle of 2 “A”s, one being turned upside down which makes the mark an ambigram. Or you could see it as a monogram-ambigram of a D and A.

My favorite part of the identity is that it gets its members involved, taking things they’ve created and using them as branding pieces. It gives the identity authenticity, promotes their artists, and is truly unique. It’s a community of professional artist and hobby artists who are all extremely talented. It just says “this is what we’re about”. It raises the expectation of art here, showing that it is not only for amateurs and 7 year old cartoonists.

2. Dungeons & Dragons
Von Glitschka

I’m not sure how much of their identity has changed; this is just about the new logo any way. The typography is fine, but the ampersand by Von Glitschka is my favorite logo of the year. The first time I saw it, my jaw dropped. Not only very smart, but masterfully crafted and the added chrome effect just makes it mean as hell! It’s the type of logo that only comes around once a year at best and makes all other designers jealous that it’s not in their portfolio.

The Partners

The TUSK identity is my number 1 because it shows how much more an identity is than a logo. The logo itself is very cool, but look how it’s created, inspired by African patterns, the colors too. Look how it translates into cropping devices. And look how the logo translates into a beaded bracelet. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better logo application. This identity proves that it’s not about what a logo looks like on a blank white page; it’s about how it can work in application and in the real, tangible world; where it really “lives”. If I were doing a list of my all time favorite identities, this would be in my top 10 there as well.

Dec 7, 2014

Creating ESPN's NCAA Football Game Ads

You know, as a designer I'm not supposed to like these things, but I really do. I don't care they look cheap and a bit amateurish. maybe thats part of the charm that works for NCAA; and the info is clear and readable. it just works and is kind of cool.

Mgdmhl on the Creamer boards requested my help on creating these ads. I’m not exactly sure how ESPN did it, but this is how I would go about it.

1. Start with a cool photo - something with good action and movement to it. I think MSU and Penn ST ones are the best composition wise. I'll work with Braxton attempting a pass here.

2. Levels - You want to take your image into Photoshop and “desaturate” it. (image > adjustments > desaturate). Now we want to blow up the light and dark areas, or to use a guitarist term, "scoop the mids". We want to take most of the gray out and only leave white and black.

Use the levels adjustment and drag the black and white sliders towards the middle. Remember you want to get rid of most of the gray, but it’s good to leave some.

3. Cutting – Use the pen tool to trace around the player. When your path is complete, select the path and delete the background. Export this as a PNG file with a transparent background.

4. Layout – Bring the image into Illustrator on an 8.5 x 11 page. Select the image and click “live trace options” with preview box checked.

 Use the “black and white” setting with the “ignore white” box checked. Those are the only things that will not change if you do another image, the other settings will need some adjusting with each image, but use these settings as a rough guide. Click “trace” once you’re happy.

5. Color – Next, expand the image (object > expand) to create a vector image. If done correctly you should have 1 shape. Ohio State uses PMS 200 and 429, so I went into my Pantone palette and used those colors. Always use school colors, you can find their Pantones easily online.

I repositioned the image and placed some type (United) above. That’s the basics of the style. If you have any better ways or suggestions of doing it let me know.

Nov 20, 2014

Graphic Language: Damn It Feels Good To Be A Designer

If you're involved in the "design community" in any way, it shouldn't take long to realize that this business is unique. I believe the design world is different because it is made up of artists, and artists do not view other artists as competition (unless you're taggin' on someones turf) because the art itself doesn't compete with other art. No client would hire me to create something in someone else's style or vision. We all bring our unique qualities to our work and that is what we are hired for.

In other businesses those who would be considered competition are the enemy, but with designers we call them friends. We freely share our knowledge, talk about our current projects, and seek out others to have this conversation with because there is nothing to lose, only to gain. I have no fear in losing work by helping someone else become a better version of themselves. If I can help someone else get better, then I've made a good impact on the greater whole of design. Also, it's rewarding to be on the other side of it and connect with other designers. To share the things that bind us, and maybe learn from some of our differences.

Design conferences are important for these reasons. Not all designers are fond of them, but I think there is nothing else like it and highly recommend going to a couple a year if possible. (Weapons of Mass Creation, in Cleveland, has been my favorite I've experienced)

The time I spend working by myself is just as special. I like to run my little studio space like a garage. Maybe because I've spent a lot of time in one pre design career, but I'll either be cranking metal through the speakers and drinking a beer while I'm sketching ideas, or if I need some quiet thinking time, I'll go to a coffee shop and enjoy the cozy atmosphere there. What other profession could I do such things? It sure beats wearing a tie and sitting in a cubicle with stacks of paperwork all day. . . or digging holes for pole barns in the Florida sand. I find myself so often in any of these moments taking a second to appreciate the design profession and it fuels my passion for the work. I really enjoy doing this.

Is graphic design the best job in the world? I would say Anthony Bourdain has that; or maybe any professional racing driver. Whatever it is you love to do, if you find a way to make a living from it then it is a good career choice. Find the thing that you geek out about and something that receives your best intelligence. I never regret where I am now. This work and the people within this world make it good to be a designer.

Nov 19, 2014

What Kart Racing Taught Me About Challenges & Self Improvement

I think the experienced, in any field, will tell you that skill growth happens by 1.) stepping outside of your comfort zone 2.) surrounding yourself with others who are better than you 3.) pushing your abilities to their limits. As I advance in my design career and try to apply those 3 things to it, I am often reminded of my growth and advancement in my days of kart racing.

Those 3 principles when applied to racing become 1.) add horsepower 2.) find better competition 3.) race on a more challenging track. I doubt myself often about my design abilities; I am my own worst critic. I often avoid applying to a position or taking on a job that is a bit outside of my comfort zone. "What if I can't do it?". "What if it fails?". I have been pushing myself lately more though, to learn new things to make myself better. The confidence comes from reflecting on my experiences of racing karts, because  I've already overcome so many comfort challenges in that world. I was always challenged by things at the time I did not believe I was ready for. It always turned out that I was more ready than I knew.

Those 3 things that challenge us and mold us into better versions of what we are, were thrown at me all at once my first year of karting. I was 13, and it was the final racing weekend of a quite successful rookie season. For the final race I:

1.) Moved up to the next class. From purple plate rookie, to gold plate Junior (more horsepower).

2.) Raced against a larger number to karts (from average of 4, now to a field of 12) who were a few years more experienced than I, and all had at least a whole season with the gold plate engine.

3.) Went to a more challenging track, Willowdell Speedway in Ohio. The track that "will either make ya, or break ya". A high banked bullring that required no lifting of the throttle or braking, even for the adult classes.

That racing day, we get in a few practice laps, a "hot lap" session, about 1 minute long. "Wow, it's fast. It pulls a lot of G's. The engine is much more powerful. You get real close to that wall. . . What the hell have I gotten into?". At this point, I'm just hanging on trying not to wreck the kart.

This is a different racing format than I'm used to as well. Instead of racing in 2 heat races and a feature race, there's a qualifying session and 1 heat (the class is broken into half based on qualifying for the 2 class heats) before the final feature race, where all 12 karts will compete.

The banking at Willowdell was so steep that to exit the track, you pulled to the infield and drove through a tunnel that went under the track. To get onto the track, you drive in from the top of the backstretch. But, for qualifying, you push your kart onto the track and line up in the infield.

"You sure you can hold onto the kart when you push it out there?"

"I think so"

Nope. The kart rolled onto the banking and ripped itself from my hands and stuffed itself into some tires that lined the infield. FAIL. Gather it up, push to the line, and watch all 11 drivers make their laps before I do mine.

"You see that rut right there? You think you can straddle that?"

"I'll try".

Yea right. A huge rut in turn 3 right in the racing line and to avoid it I have to move my right side tires up the track about 2 feet more than where I was in practice? . . . Screw it, I'm going through it. And I did. Making my qualifying lap the kart jumped sideways a bit but I hang on to it. Pull to the infield, through the tunnel, push back to the pit, and find I qualified 10th of 12 karts. This puts me in the 2nd heat, starting 2nd. Front row, outside against the wall. not only a bit scary, but a huge disadvantage to be on the outside. Surely, I'll be "freight trained" and watch the whole line of karts on the inside drive by me.

I hate this damn track. Why am I here? I have no chance win and I've been winning a lot this year. I'm just not ready for this class or this track. I can't wait until this night is over. I am so frustrated with myself and the situation. Let's get this fucking heat race over with.

I win the heat race. I lead every lap. Had my foot on the throttle the whole way and never lifted. . . I think I've done something kind of special here. I will now start mid pack in the feature race and with a new found confidence, maybe I can win. Who wins their first race at Willowdell? Could I?

We're on track for the feature race, lights out on the back stretch, coming through turn 4 and taking the green flag! Half a lap down and iIm maintaing speed with everyone else. A whole lap down and I've passed one guy as we order out to single file. Going into 3 the kart in front of me makes a move on the kart in front of him . . . contact. Spin. I hit him. . . directly with my right front, tire and I knew something was bent. Spindle? Tie-rod?. Dosen't matter, we're under caution, I'm restarting 4th and I'm going for it.

I finished 11th, one lap down. The bent spindle was too much to overcome. We leave the track and I have found some great respect for this track and those drivers that win there consistently.

"What do you think about Willowdell?"

"I hated it at first but I like it now. I'd like to go back next year"

"What happened in the feature? Did you bend something?"

"Yea, it felt fast the first lap but after that wreck it wasn't the same. I had to lift a little in the middle of the turn"

"What did you learn today?"

". . . . I can do more than what I think I can. I didn't even think I was going to make it through qualifying without wrecking".

A week later I was talking with my dad. A friend of his was at the track that night watching the races. He said Bob had told him "I saw your son race at Willowdell. He won his heat race. He's really good". That's a compliment I'll never forget. That's the comment that reminds me to push myself and do uncomfortable things, to surround myself with those who are better than me, and to keep growing. And to remember that even though my own worst critic lives inside my head, I can do this.

Sep 22, 2014

Presentation, Organization, Communication 3 – Elements: Form

Form is one of the easier elements of design to define and recognize. Form simply takes a 2 dimensional shape on a 2 dimensional surface and makes it appear 3 dimensional. It’s what makes a circle into sphere, or a square into a cube. We can do this using value, color, texture, and perspective, to create the illusion of light and shadow which reveals form.



Perhaps the simplest creation of form comes from values like in the pencil drawing in the Art & Copy poster above. Imagine the drawing of the smoke starting as lines and shapes, then being filled in with different values that suggests growing, bubbling clouds of smoke. The drawing then appears to have depth that isn’t really there because its on a 2 dimensional surface. The decision for creating the smoke comes from defining a light source, and wherever there is less light, the values become darker.

The logo above is in color, but it doesn’t use multiple hues to show its form. It’s a single hue with different values added to it. The values fall the same way as before where there is an established light source and the highlights and shadows fall around the object according to that light source.


Here, designer Kris Bazen only uses 2 colors in the entire logo. There are no gradients or transparency in the shapes, so the form comes from using the lightest color where the highlights would be on the car.

On the Army Knights logo it is the same principle. It is made up of solid colored shapes and the colors are arranged by value, the lightest representing highlights and black the darkest shadows. The logo is not perfectly realistic, but is good enough to be believable. The light source is coming from the upper left and all drawn shapes are determined by that.

What is known as Flat Design usually appears as though it was made up of construction paper and is a great way to study form, because it is focused on “stacking” shapes to create it. It is usually drawn in 1 point perspective and uses solid colors like the examples before. Fraser Davidson is one of the masters of using color to represent light and create form in design. Here is a great example of that; solid colors and 1 point perspective, but the images do not lack form because of the established light source and believable application of color.

In my opinion, there is no better “flat” illustrator than Justin Mezzell. Although you can find gradients and texture in his work, I think his most impressive pieces are those that only use solid shapes and limited colors. Mezzell’s style is a bit like cubism, where for example, he will show multiple sides of a building, but without perspective. It’s as if you took a cardboard box and flattened it out. From there he “stacks” shapes to create depth and form. In the illustration above, nearly every line runs straight across the page (top to bottom or left to right) but his use of color and light creates the form of a building with protruding elements and another building in the distance.


What makes Glennz Tee's illustrations so great is his ability to create form using solid colors. He is great with light and shadow, minimal color palettes, and uses multiple perspective points (usually 2) to create form and depth. All that is being used in the Space Defenders illustration and what is different here from work like Mezzell’s is the perspective, or viewer’s angle, which keeps the work from looking flat.

The Importance of a Light Source

As we’ve seen you can’t properly convey form without establishing a light source. All of your decisions will stem from that. So what happens when a design uses color and shape randomly to create form, or doesn’t follow a light source? You can look at the below images for an example.

This logo uses a confusing application of shape, color, and value to create its forms. It has no established light source and the entire logo appears chaotic. The shapes that were drawn are randomly placed, struggling to have form. Because there is no foundation of light to start with, the end result is unbelievable.

This logo also has no established light source and the shapes that fill the logo are also randomly placed. Does the light come from directly overhead and center? If so, the highlight (yellow) would not fall on the nose/snout as it does, which appears as if the light is from the upper left. The black and purple shapes fall randomly as well; there is purple where there should be black (according to the light on the horns).

It doesn’t take a lot to get started on the right path of creating form, it’s all about the light source. From there, the values fall from light to dark as the light disappears. If you’re using multiple colors, remember that the lightest color represents the brightest highlight, or try using warm colors for light and cool colors for shadow. Below are a few links to help you develop your form skills further:

How to Draw Perspective Shadow (YouTube)