The Making of a Logo

April 16, 2010 Published in the May 2010 issue of Seattle Met

I LEARNED A FEW THINGS from writing Seattle Met in cursive over and over again in chocolate syrup in my bathtub (9). First: Use cold water to rinse between sketches. Because if you flush the tub with hot water, your writing surface warms, and your next stream of chocolate will turn runny upon impact.

Second: Smucker’s Magic Shell contains edible-grade paraffin wax, so it quickly hardens when squeezed onto a cold surface. This locks in the shape much better than, say, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, and gives you more time to photograph your work for reference.

Third: I’d drawn the M completely wrong in the earliest pencil sketches of our new logo (2, 3, 10). The subsequent move to a digital version (11) was the main reason the logo was bothering me. The M simply didn’t match the rest of the characters—it now seemed desperate for attention in its garishness. But the publisher and editor loved that M; it wouldn’t be easy to convince them to change it, especially this late in the process—and with photos of chocolate syrup as my only proof.

Experiments like this began last November when we decided we wanted a new logo that would better reflect who we are and aspire to be with this magazine. Most of this intense logo redesign process is kind of a hazy blur to me, but I can try to piece it together for you.

Initially we considered a new logo set in a slab serif font (1). Then our publisher, Nicole, suggested we try a custom script, because she felt it would be more special and unique.

My first stab at the S (4) was inspired by the Shelby cobra (5), but that design morphed over time (8). I sent my first digital sketch to typo-grapher Jessica Hische for polishing, only to find that her draft (12) exposed a lot of weaknesses in my design. That sent me scurrying right back to the drawing board. Many sleepless nights ensued.

I dimly recall other experiments: Pasting our new logo onto the covers of other magazines, to look at it more objectively. Presenting it upside-down on other covers, to help identify flaws in a different context.

I know why my desk drawer is littered with lunchtime sketches of the letters S and M on Qdoba napkins (6), but why is my iPhone’s camera roll now filled with close-up pictures of frozen food packaging (7)? Oh, right: Because I compulsively photographed logos everywhere I went. I vaguely recollect pulling away from a freezer case, closing the foggy glass door in front of me, looking down the aisle at the display of chocolate syrups in squeeze bottles, and seeing in them the writing utensils that would naturally yield the thick, curvaceous, free-flowing lines I had been trying unsuccessfully to simulate in a computer.

After my bathtub experiment, I swapped out that M and thought: This is starting to look familiar now. This is starting to look right. Now it looked stylish, playful, smart, and friendly. Confident, but not garish. It looked like us (13).

Oh, and one last thing: The bathtub experiment doesn’t work with ketchup. So if an idea wakes you out of bed in the middle of the night, and you want to sketch it but have no chocolate syrup left, you’ll just have to go back to the grocery store and buy some. Just make sure to bring your camera phone.
Benjamen Purvis

To read a related note from publisher Nicole Vogel, click HERE.

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