Design 101: Creating A Design Concept
By Gary W. Priester
To understand the process of creating a corporate identity, let's take a look at a recent project I did for a new mortgage company. Owner Adam Monshi came to my design studio and asked me to help him create a corporate identity to use on his business cards, letterhead, and envelopes. He explained that his company, Columbia Capital Mortgage Co., originates commercial and residential mortgages. He wanted to convey an image of experience, integrity, and good service.
I set to work on designing his company's look....
When I think of mortgage companies, the first image to come to mind is those shiny, gold-embossed notary seals that are attached to legal documents such as mortgages. So, the notary seal might be a good place to begin the design process. If I can turn a notary seal into a letter C, I'll be home free. On the left side in Figure 1,
you'll notice that's exactly what I have done. I created a 36-point star, removed a circular section from the center, and then sliced a triangular section from the right side to make a stylized letter C. I made two duplicate Cs, each one progressively smaller to make a unique logo. Not too bad a start, if I do say so myself.
Next I created a C and an M using a font called Bauhaus 93. The upright M suggests an architectural look and the capital C is almost as round as the sun. I placed the C behind the M and used another starburst to create a sunburst effect. A simple yet effective design except the M reads before the C, which could be a problem. On the other hand, the shapes are strong and the logo can work well in many sizes...so I won't rule it out just yet.
Although I don't feel it's necessary for the logo to convey both home and commercial mortgages, I thought it was worth a try. In Figure 2
I revisited the notary seal. But this time I designed simplified house and building symbols to add to the seal. I created the appearance of gold by applying a simple two-color fountain fill using pale yellow and golden ochre. I created an embossed effect using two duplicates of the type, which was set on a circular path. I applied a pale-yellow fill to one duplicate of the text and offset it slightly up and to the left to create a highlighted edge. I applied a dark-brown fill to the second duplicate and moved it slightly down and to the right to create a shadow edge. I brought the original text to the top and changed the fill color to green. I created an embossed house using the same technique I just described.
Yin and yang
Whenever I design a logo, I like to explore a wide variety of fonts and see if any seem well-adapted for logo use, or if any fonts can be tailored to create a unique logo that is not "right off the rack," as they say in the fashion trade. With the exception of the font used in Figure 1, I didn't find any others that inspired me. So, I thought I'd try the yin-and-yang approach - that is, two opposites. I used a heavy font and a light, airy font, as shown in Figure 3.
A variation of this is to place the light, airy font over the heavy font, change the light font to white, and let the white font become a second read as you can see on the two examples on the right. Overlaying the white font over the heavy font creates interesting and intriguing shapes. The fonts used on the top example are Rockwell Extra Bold (the M) and French Script MT (Monotype). I created a custom C for the bottom C using a circle, an ellipse, and a rectangle. The ellipse and rectangle were trimmed from the circle to make the C, and then the C was rotated 15 degrees counterclockwise. The elegant script font is Shelly volante, which has exquisitely delicate swirls and flourishes in all its capital letters.
Getting the ball rolling
Another approach I like to investigate is letter shapes, or designs that look like letter shapes, such as the spherical-looking logo with the two white (or two purple) C shapes seen in Figure 4.
The illustration on the left side of the figure shows how I created five circles. I combined the outside circles into one solid O shape, and the next two circles into another O shape. The center circle and the two O shapes were filled and aligned to the right. I combined all three elements into one shape and applied a radial fountain fill to give the flat logo a 3D, spherical appearance.
Moving in the right circles
Circles and rectangles can be used with a little imagination to create letter shapes as you can see in Figure 5.
The illustration in the top portion of the figure shows the circles and rectangles used to create the blue logo on the left side of the middle row. The logo to the right uses another notary-seal-like starburst to add drama to the C. (In retrospect, perhaps too much drama?) The two logos on the bottom row are further explorations of the basic circles and rectangles approach. I particularly liked the logo on the bottom right and feltÊit had promise.
And the winner is?
You don't expect me to pick a winner, making all the other designs losers, do you? I didn't think so. But I'll walk you through how each logo looks on a business card and let you, the reader, decide which treatment you prefer.
I added a Web address on the cards because I think a simple Web site will give Columbia Capital a way to offer the latest mortgage rates, which Mr. Monshi can update daily or weekly. In addition, Columbia Capital could offer suggestions and tips to first-time home buyers to engender their loyalty when it comes time to secure a mortgage for their dream home. Adding an extra page to the site, Mr. Monshi can provide a valuable service to first-time home buyers by adding a table to help buyers determine the price range for homes for which they can qualify for a mortgage.
With a modestly priced Phaser laser color printer, Columbia Capital can print their own impressive and expensive-looking four-color stationery, envelopes, and business cards.It'll be a lot more cost-effective than having these items commercially printed. Besides, one of these laser color printers is perfect for printing all the other color and black-and-white business documents, presentations, proposals, and overheads that are part of the daily life of a successful mortgage company.
Better yet, Mr. Monshi can create document files in his word processing application to automatically imprint the logo in color on his letters and envelopes on an "as needed" basis. Furthermore, using custom, blank letterhead and matching envelopes (availableÊat office supply stores), Columbia Capital can have its own high-quality stationery.
And now back to the design finalists. In Figure 6
you can see the two logos I created using the rectangles and circles technique. I'm very fond ofÊboth, though if I had to pick one it would be the second card. The card on the top uses a font called TW Cen MT Condensed. The card below uses one of my favorite fonts, ITC Fenice Light (pronounced feh-nee-chay lite).
Moving right along, in Figure 7
you can see the two logos based upon fonts (except the two Cs on the bottom, which I created as explained earlier, but I'm sure there must be a font with a similar C). Both cards use TW Cen MT Condensed for the copy. Using a condensed font allows the rather lengthy name Columbia Capital Mortgage Company to fit on one line and still be large enough for a person with less-than-perfect vision to read it. I think the blue logo with the script M (as in mortgage), reversed in white is particularly attractive and would look stunning on the side of the Columbia Capital Tower in Portland's financial district. (Always look to the future!)
shows off the two notary-seal-inspired designs. Although the gold-colored 3D logo on the top card took much longer to create, the logo on the bottom is far and away more contemporary and effective. It also conveys a stylized sunburst, which can be interpreted as bright, cheery, and positive, if you're into reading things into logos, and who among us isn't? The card on top uses ITC Officina Serif Book, while the bottom card uses American Typewriter Condensed, which, unlike its namesake, looks much smarter than old typewriter type (for those of you who can remember what typewriter type actually looked like).
Have I saved the best for last? Maybe, maybe not. Figure 9
shows the final two designs. You wanted to see more? I'm on a tight deadline here! The first card, with the spherical shape, is very powerful and conveys all those things Mr. Monshi asked for: "experience, integrity, and good service." Don't you agree? I'm not sure about the purple, even though it is a very regal color, but that is something that can easily be changed in the next part of the design process. The card on the bottom uses a variation of the three circular shapes used above and is also very effective and corporate but not too corporate in its appearance. The font used on the bottom card is Lucida Fax and is a nice typographical counterpoint to the logo.
Go ahead and pick the winner. You (and ultimately Mr. Monshi) will have to decide logo best represents his new business.