Thoughts From the Future of Design: Chicago Portfolio School

01.10.2011 / Author: Steve Zelle

The established designers of today will eventually give way to fresh talent. What are the thoughts these young designers have about graphic design and the challenges and changes we face? Will they reshape the way design is approached and valued? In what I hope will be a series of interviews, the students of Advanced Logo Design at the Chicago Portfolio School answer a series of questions provided by followers of the Processed Identity Twitter stream.

If you are an instructor or a student studying logo design, branding or marketing and would like to be involved in a future post in this series, please get in touch.

The Questions:

  1. How do you weigh the desire to create something your peers will love against creating something that meets client needs?
  2. What in your opinion is an example of a successful logo and brand? Why?
  3. Do you, or will you, participate in sites like 99designs.com and stocklogos.com? Why?
  4. What is the difference between customer, competitor, and company perspectives?
  5. What are your thoughts on the statement ‘logos no longer matter’ and what role do you believe a logo should play in branding?
  6. What value beyond the ability to create a symbol should a logo designer bring to their client?
  7. What are your thoughts about crowdsourced design?

1. How do you weigh the desire to create something your peers will love against creating something that meets client needs?

Michael Fortress:

I don’t think these should necessarily be mutually exclusive or polar opposites. I think it’s to what degree are your client’s needs met and how well is your creative accepted by the design community. You may not win out in both of those categories with every project but you can be successful in both categories simultaneously.

I generally begin an assignment considering the idea itself. How do I best express the idea in a way that feels new? Everybody loves creative effective visual solutions!

Neal Gallagher:

I think it is good to get input from peers but I would not change a logo completely if a peer didn’t like a typeface or didn’t like a color that I used. I think it is more important to create a logo, etc. that supports the brand’s personality, and what would be fitting for them, rather than impressing peers.

Brent Fagerburg:

Both aspects, pride in your work and success of your clients, are of equal importance. If you love an idea enough and you know what you’re doing (i.e. it is great as well as logical), getting peers to believe in it as well is a natural occurrence. This is usually the case with clients in the beginning, but the key is that they almost always have a short term memory, so at every creative crossroads the key is to remind them subtly why they were silently nodding during the pitch.

Kota Kobayashi:

Creating positive difference to the client is the first priority. Then it is up to designers to create something peers will love.

Allison Chod:

I want designers around me to appreciate my work but I realize that on a day to day basis not every job will allow for me to act freely in the creative process. I do not set out to impress my peers, mostly because I am not a competitive person in that way. I do want the respect of my peers but at the end of the day you are doing a job for the client and if your work does not meet their needs you’ve failed at your job. I would like to think I strive for somewhere in the middle. I want to satisfy the client with my work because it not only is my job but I want their business again. At the same time I want to be proud of my work, I think it is important to find a balance between the two.

Anne Glista:

Since I’m just starting out I’ve only recently started to see this in action. But I already know it’s definitely a tricky balance. On one hand, as a professional designer you always want to produce interesting work that will not only enhance your reputation but the reputation of all designers and the work that we do. However, ultimately, a designer must stay true to the client who is paying for their services. So, I suppose the ultimate goal is to create something you and your peers will love and provide an absolutely reasonable and professional reason for why the client should go with it.

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2. What in your opinion is an example of a successful logo and brand? Why?

Michael Fortress:

The Nike swoosh has proven itself as a successful logo. The mark captures the spirit of the athlete, but it’s simple enough to be expressed with only one color. It is unique. Enough so that it can be recognized today even without the name ‘Nike.’ I wonder what logo would result today given the same brief.

Neal Gallagher:

One logo that stands out as successful is the CBS Broadcasting logo (the eye). The eye logo is timeless, easily identifiable and has undergone very minor, if any changes since it was introduced in the 1950’s. I think when television was becoming more popular in the mid 1900’s broadcasting companies felt it was important to create an identity that was memorable and stood out from their competitors. I feel as though CBS was successful with their logo because the “eye” sparked interest in television with it’s fresh and simple design in a time when radio was a popular medium for entertainment and news.

Brent Fagerburg:

I feel all of the “inciting emotion” bullshit should be put aside. Clever is good, as I enjoy a visual double-entendre as much as the next logo-snob. Simply put, though, a successful logo needs to be memorable and can kick-ass in one color.

Kota Kobayashi:

  • Memorable, because it has recognized by stakeholders’ what the brand is
  • Quickly Identify-able, because attention span of modern people is short
  • Expressive, because attributes make up brands

Allison Chod:

I think an obvious answer is the apple logo. It started as a logo mark with logo text and has developed into a mark that can stand on its own (much like the nike logo). The logo is able to represent that actual name of the brand and is clearly recognized to represent the company. Over the years it has taken on various colors, textures and patterns and thus has been able to adapt to the changing times. It has longevity and recognition amongst consumers.

Anne Glista:

Sure, it’s an expected answer, but Nike has consistently been a successful logo and brand. Everyone knows the swoosh, but has everyone (non-designers) thought about the symbol itself? It implies motion, absolutely necessary for the brand, and is also almost shaped like a check mark implying positivity. I’ve read that it was originally modeled after the wings of the Greek goddess of victory (yes, her name is Nike), which is also a great story and adds depth to the symbol. I think it has worked consistently for so long because at its basic roots it represents elements that the company stands for—motion, positivity, and victory.

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3. Do you, or will you, participate in sites like 99designs.com and stocklogos.com? Why?

Michael Fortress:

Never. But if I did, I would dominate!

But honestly, the environment isn’t right for a serious designer. Thumbnails and stars as a presentation and critique system prove that these communities are focused on aesthetics and design as a product only. Not concepts. Not designer/client relationships. Not on design as a form a planning and strategy. Not on developing the designer. But on design as an ornament and as a tool of commerce.

A client that thinks that crowdsourced design is a smart model is one that doesn’t understand how powerful design is.

Neal Gallagher:

I currently do not participate in either of those web sites. I way a do not really have anything against something such as 99 designs because it could be a good way for a young designer to get his/her name out there and build client list and portfolio. On the other hand stocklogos.com is not authentic branding to me, you logo needs to represent what your brand offer and represent its personality; and what you get from stocklogos.com seems to be more of a cliche image with a your brand name slapped underneath.

Brent Fagerburg:

Cool site ideas, sure. 99designs doesn’t feel like my style, as it seems to give way to cater too much to the clueless. Stocklogos, however, is something I could get into if brandsoftheworld.com is letting me down.

Kota Kobayashi:

I might. Because all designers need to be eating and living to create more create meaningful design. But I hope I do not have to do it.

Allison Chod:

I do not currently participate in sites like these and do not intend to in the future. I know these sites are highly debated due in part to the belief that they undermine our profession because not all of the designers are not paid for the work they submit. At the same time, as a designer just starting out I do see these sites as a chance to get my work out there and in front of people.

Anne Glista:

No, I don’t, and don’t plan to. Personally, I’d rather enter into a contract with a client beforehand rather than risk wasting my time with spec work. Also, I tend to be in the school of thought that sites like this devalue professional design work.

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4. What is the difference between customer, competitor, and company perspectives?

Michael Fortress:

A customer is evaluating a brand on a number of different factors. Is it affordable? What does it say about me? What do I want it to say about me?

A competitor compares itself to the brand. What are its strengths and weaknesses in relation to this brand? How can it differentiate itself from this brand?

A company wants its brand to express its ideals. It wants to be recognizable and visible.

Neal Gallagher:

Customer perspective is how a person views your brand from a purchasing point of view (does it look reliable, quality, economical, etc). Competitor perspective is how a brand that offers a similar service or product views your brand. Company perspective is the company guarantee to meet the consumers desires and needs.

Brent Fagerburg:

Aside from the obvious, there is not much of a difference to me. There is a shared apprehensive yet hopeful approach to decision making.

Kota Kobayashi:

No difference. From all perspective, good brand should be loved and respected.

But the needs and wants are different, so you have to satisfy all in different methods.

Allison Chod:

The customer perspective is a mix of what the company wants the customer to think and what the customer thinks on their own. Their opinion could be derived from their own interaction with a product or by the opinions of those around them. The competitor perspective seeks out the strengths and weaknesses of a company. They try to achieve the same successes while avoiding the downfalls of their competition. The company perspective is probably the most jaded of the three. They try to have an all-encompassing outlook but I believe that is hardest to achieve. They want to know their strengths and weaknesses and work to portray themselves in the best light in order to impress and entice the consumer.

Anne Glista:

This is a complex question and not an easy one to tackle. I think one thing I’ll say about this is the difference between these is changing. With so many more companies wanting to engage their consumers through social media and other trends, we are seeing companies who are more responsive than ever to customers. One company I think of is zappos. I remember when you could only order shoes from zappos. I remember when it was the first site where I could look at shoes from every single angle. I loved being able to read other customers reviews and ratings. I loved the free shipping and free returns, with every purchase. No other shopping site that I used offered that. Now this site is bigger and better than ever for shoe lovers like myself. I greatly value the trend where companies are starting to pay more and more attention to their customers and engage with them as much as possible, I think its only making brands that much better, which serves to create competition because every company is looking to stay on top of what’s new and what’s next.

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5. What are your thoughts on the statement ‘logos no longer matter’ and what role do you believe a logo should play in branding?

Michael Fortress:

There seems to be more focus on brand personality than ever before. And while the logo is still the face of a brand, more attention is being paid to things like what it’s wearing, where it’s hanging out, who it’s hanging out with.

Take the Seattle’s Best rebranding for example. When the new logo was debuted, it was poorly received. Recently, Seattle’s Best showcased their new packaging system and it was viewed as a success despite the logo, which was given very little realestate on the packaging.

To me, that illustrates how all aspects of a brand are important, not just the logo. While the logo was seen as a failure, the brand alltogether is viewed as a success.

I logo should still be the best expression of the idea, but it’s not the only outlet to consider.

Perhaps part of this shift is the result of the array of forms of media that we consume today. You have the opportunity to reinforce your personality in print, on the web, on a mobile device, on apparel, on packaging, etc.

Neal Gallagher:

I think logos will always matter. The logo is they way consumers remember your brand, and without that logo, brands would just blend together and be forgotten. I think for some people the logo is a status symbol and it is important for them to be seen with the logo on their clothes, computer, car etc. so the logo will always matter.

Brent Fagerburg:

Blasphemy! There is no universal set of guidelines for what a logo is, but only a definition for what a logo does: encapsulates a brand in a vastly simplified, iconic package. With the age of all this modern technology the kids are using these days, in order for brands to keep up it seems logos matter more than ever.

Kota Kobayashi:

Thoughts: I agree to a certain degree. These days, there are so many more ways interact with stakeholders than just displaying a logo. And the interactivity can express the attributes of the brand. But logo is still the sum of all of the attributes to be expressed.
Logo should play the role as a reminder of brand attributes rather than face of a brand.

Allison Chod:

I do not agree with that statement. Logos are a large part to brand recognition for a consumer. The logo is what allows for brand loyalty and ties a consumer to a product visually. I believe a strong logo should be part of branding a company. Target is one company that has done this successfully. They have created their own style of advertisements and their strong focus on the target symbol and color red makes it hard to watch any other red dominated ad without assuming its for Target. They have created a brand image in the consumer’s mind through the use of their color palette and logo.

Anne Glista:

My thoughts are, “who made such a statement?” And, “that statement makes me sad.” It’s difficult for me to be out and about in my everyday life without looking at logos and identities and evaluating them. I realize that behavior is not representative of the general public. However, I suppose that fact can lend itself well to one point- and that is, the general public doesn’t purposefully think about logos or discuss what makes a good logo, but if a logo is well designed and works well, the general public will recognize it, and may be more likely feel a certain way about a company. They may be more willing to purchase something, to trust a company, to want to know more about a company, to laugh at a company, the list goes on and on. Smart logo designs will always be necessary in a consumer driven environment, and it’s up to us as designers to make them smart. As far as a role that a logo should play in branding, I would say that depends on a lot of factors including but not limited to the client’s goals and budget. In general though, I think a logo is important in branding and only helps a customer know, trust, and love a brand.

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6. What value beyond the ability to create a symbol should a logo designer bring to their client?

Michael Fortress:

Being a good designer comes with an understanding of people and human nature. I client may not always understand their audience in the way that you do. Having that knowledge is valuable

As a designer you’re probably the coolest person that your client knows! You know technology and cultural trends and you listen to great music. You can use this to help guide their brand and to keep it relevant.

Neal Gallagher:

Beyond the ability to create a designer should bring insights into the brand to show that you know what the company is about, what they do and what they offer. I would have a reasoning behind why the symbol was created, an explanation/example of how the logo is versatile across many mediums and also why it could only be the logo for that client and no other.

Brent Fagerburg:

An understanding and acceptance that as a designer, they are now a part of the brand itself—not just a hired gun. Great brands have great stories. Any designer should cut-out any arms-length professional mumbo-jumbo and be willingness to truly believe and grow with the client, and become a proud part of that story. Otherwise, down the road you’ll have some big company bastardizing that symbol into a Pepsi-circle.

Kota Kobayashi:

Market analysis, Effective positioning in the market, Presenting brand attributes, and finally the visualization of the idea.

Allison Chod:

A designer should be able to recognize the needs of the client as well as the consumer. The designer needs an understanding of the product and the brand’s growth potential in order to design an appropriate mark that will be timeless.

Anne Glista:

I think in an ideal situation, a logo designer will work with a client to discuss key words that identify their brand, the message they would like to portray, and possible applications and uses of the logo. Also important is the study of the look and feel of competitors logos and a discussion about how the new logo will be different. I also think a discussion about or education about proper uses of the logo can be an important added value depending on the client.

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7. What are your thoughts about crowdsourced design?

Michael Fortress:

I’ve voiced my thoughts in my response to question three. But I have to wonder if there could be any way that crowdsourced design can be used for good. Is it the model that is evil or the way that the model is used? Can we as a design community steer that beast onto a more benevolent course? Could there be an effort or incentive to crowdsource design for good causes that can’t otherwise afford design work?

Or not. I think it’s the model.

Neal Gallagher:

I think that if a brands turns to crowdsourcing for their logo design, it shows they do not really have a grasp on what their brand stands for. I think that as a designer it is our role to do a little bit of research and find insights and use that information as a basis for the design rather than simply asking the public what they would like to see.

Brent Fagerburg:

Per my answer to question 3, it’s a cool idea, but it makes me picture designers as nameless gladiators in an online bloody colosseum (they even use a thumbs-up/thumb-down visual in the intro video for crying out loud!). This may seem harsh and possibly a little uninformed, but it seems there is little offered in regard to a natural relationship between the client and designer; an expedited process that cheapens what it means to be a designer. That said, logo competitions truly are fun and a great way to see how others in the field approach the same creative problem.

Kota Kobayashi:

I think it can bring the average salary of designers. So I am not sure if I like it. I might sound selfish, but I would like to keep the business as lucrative as possible. Design nerds like us can survive.

Allison Chod:

I think it hurts the designer. It gives the client all of the power. Designers on sites like 99designs.com do hours upon hours of work and more often than not do not get any form of payment. It gives the client the opportunity to have multiple people working and only having to pay one which is unfair to the designers and their time.

Anne Glista:

The Gap debacle of last month has cinched my view that crowdsourcing is not the way to go. I’m all about the idea of competitiveness as one inspiring factor in work and in life, however, I’m with the school of thought that good designers are valuable enough to be hired based on prior work experience, reputation, or a referral.

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Biographies

Mig Reyes (Instructor)

Mig is a designer hailing from the Windy City, creating for the web within the confines of t-shirt awesome best known as Threadless. Aside from designing the internets and modeling t-shirts, Mig also runs an inspiration resource called Humble Pied where he interviews some of the brightest minds in the creative industry to share a piece of advice. On top of all that, Mig serves as the Social Media Liaison for AIGA and teaches at The Chicago Portfolio School.

Mig’s work has been recognized with the likes of HOW, CMYK, Print, Rockport Publishers, UnderConsideration and blogs including Grain Edit, Smashing Magazine and Swiss Miss. You can find him speaking about design and general awesomeness around the country at schools, companies and conferences, most recently including The School of Visual Arts, Zappos and The HOW Conference.

Website: migreyes.com
Twitter: @spigumus

Michael Fortress

Website: mfortress.com
Twitter: @mfortress

Neal Gallagher

Neal Gallagher is a midwest born Designer and Art Director at DraftFCB Chicago. You can find him cruising around the city on a skateboard or bicycle.

Website: ncgallagher.com

Brent Fagerburg

Brent is an art director @ leo burnett/arc worldwide. He likes to make things look good. He loves to make things feel good.

Website: abeautifulmountain.com
Twitter: @fagerburg

Kota Kobayashi

Kota is an ambitious designer based in New York. He utilizes the marketing skills that he gained in the US, and the delicate sensibility of Japanese culture in his design. He is currently a part of the very talented team at Tender Creative.

Website: kotakobayashi.com
Twitter: @kotakobayashi

Allison Chod

Allison is originally from St. Louis, Missouri and is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University where she studied creative advertising. She just completed a year in the Chicago Portfolio School’s design program and is eagerly anticipating her career in graphic design.

Website: allisonchod.com

Anne Glista

She lives in Chicago and enjoy design, photography, live music and beaches.

Website: anneglista.com
Twitter: @anneglista





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