Wednesday, May 13, 2009

“Lose to Win” logo

Here's a commission from a couple weeks ago that’s gotten final approval. Usually with a client there’ll be a somewhat extended process of selecting and refining initial concepts and before a design is chosen. But in this particular case I kept putting it off, as it seemed to be one of those ho-hum gigs that wouldn’t be very creative or fun to do: the kiss of creative death is in trotting out predictably banal and clichéd solutions to a design problem, and I always want something to be unique and original. I kept envisioning some fat-assed polar bear smoking & drinking, oops, there’s that dreaded self-projection muddying up the artistic waters, which’d be funny, but not quite the positive, wholesome image they’d want to project. Nothing drives me more crazy or gets me depressed than seeing my old crappy material out there still being used by people, businesses and organizations – gives me pause to consider in turn whenever doing work these days. So even if it’s a quick gig I still tend to sit on it and let it incubate a while just to be sure it still looks good the morning after. Artistic one-night stands can be just about as tragically fun as the real thing, and everybody find's out about one.

Finally amidst the flurry of finals and other jobs, I doodled this out in one shot, at one sitting, and felt confident enough to stop right there and first bounce it off the client, see what they thought before wasting any more time flailing around dead-end designs. This seemed to be a subtle blend of cute and almost kinda weirdly twisted, or maybe that only comes into the picture when you consider the source, or that the faint touch of fleshy pink is what disturbs me. I’m reminded of the innocently sexy pirouette from the old Coppertone ads with this coyly flirtatious pose. Like some of my figure drawings, stepping up to the plate and knocking one out of the park on the first swing is rare enough and feels so good that it keeps me endlessly practicing for the next one. Fortunately everyone loved it and I was able to skip right to the verbage.

There was about half-a-dozen variations on the theme experimenting with different fonts. I prefer using two contrasting styles, usually a straight one (like Arial for example) plus a second, funner, funkier one that is in the same aesthetic groove as the graphic. Shown here are two examples; the ideal dual-font arrangement (which ultimately wasn’t chosen) and the original bear artwork encircled by a gold band. That particular detail didn’t go over very well, but I had to push for or at least justify the conscious design choice to have a circular element; in this case it creates a centralized focal point and doubles as an area of value with which to contrast against and thus emphasize the polar bear’s whiteness. Plus using the school colors is always a bonus. Articulating these decisions once again doubles back to the very same lessons I push onto students all semester in the critiques (see, told ya so…). Sometimes part of the artist’s job is to train the viewer to understand, and graphic artists working with clients are more often not required to be able to effectively communicate, and not just with their images.

And as with many logos, the design should translate equally well into black & white, and I always always always stress the simple. This logo is licensed for usage on tshirts, fliers, posters and other non-profit promotional items, so there’s a wide range of products that it might appear on, and the design needs to be flexible (and simple, did I say that already? simple) enough to accommodate multiple usages.

The final step (well, actually the billing and payment process can at times evolve into a similar series of lengthy challenges, especially with institutional bureaucracies) is securing blessings from the appropriate department, in this case UAF Marketing and Communications, which is charged with creative control over any usage of the words “UAF,” “University of Alaska Fairbanks,” “Nanooks” and any other of the intellectual properties they own the rights to. This includes the mandatory inclusion of the little “TM,” and it ostensibly protects them from ripoffs and abuses that would sully the image of the university. Part of playing the game, though purely from a design standpoint I would prefer to use the standard “R’ in a circle (®) that designates a registered trademark, and even so, in many cases the bug is so small when reproduced it’s little more than an annoying speck (that’s what’s at the heart of my aesthetic irritation) that looks more like a mistake than part of the art. Such is your lot in life as a graphic artist, as opposed to the freedoms inherent in other artistic avenues of expression, which are in part funded in turn these more immediately profitable projects. At least this way I can finally afford to get my mountain bike fixed, which, as luck would have it, meshes quite well with the message of this job.


  1. It always seemed too me that the bane of the cartoonist was the amazing amount of flaming hoops they have to jump through, just to get the funny from paper to shirt.

  2. ... don't forget the juggling-while-riding-a-unicycle part.
    Though I have stopped putting my head in a bears mouth (too close to home).