The Evolution of a Logo: My Process of Branding Myself

If you have a brand, and especially if you’re a graphic designer, having a logo is important. Logos help establish your identity, and if you’re a designer, it’s another way to show your talents. When designing a logo, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Is it timeless? Will it still work a year from now? 5 years from now?

  • Is it scalable? Is it easy to see at small (as small as a favicon) and large sizes?

  • Is it versatile? Does it work for digital and print material?

  • What does it represent? Does the logo embody what I want it to? What does it say about me as a designer?

I’ll take you through the process of creating a logo to brand myself with, and I’ll show you some of my previous logos and then explain what did and didn’t work with them, based on the four questions above.

My First Logo

When I designed my first logo back in my sophomore year of college, I had very basic knowledge of graphic design. The logo was simple and clean, but it was fairly boring. I knew how to use the pen tool to make basic lines, and I knew how to make shapes. I had also recently learned how to design banners, which clearly I was very excited about.
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The biggest problem with my first logo is that it was the first idea I had, whereas now I know the importance of sketching out ideas, setting goals for your design, and clearly defining what you want your logo to represent. When I designed this logo, I just wanted something that looked good. However, the goal of graphic design is not just to make things look good. Design is about form and function, it’s about usability, and it’s about solving problems. Having a pretty logo with no meaning offered no representation of who I was as a designer. So, let’s consult the questions:

  • Is it timeless? There’s no guarantee that banners would be trendy in the future, or that I would like banners in the future, or that I would like teal in the future.

  • Is it scalable? Scaling this down would make it hard to read, both because of the size of my name and the thin stroke of the letters in the logo.

  • Is it versatile? The logo is too detailed and complex to work with other images, and it would only look good standing alone.

  • What does it represent? I like shapes and lines. And banners.

Logo #2

As I began taking graphic design classes, I found myself learning a ton of new skills. I could make things look 3D! I could cut out parts of an image! I could divide a shape into different parts! I learned about the pathfinder tool and my world changed! It was a very exciting time for a young designer such as myself. However, my abundance of new knowledge and skills meant that my next logo was a little too eccentric.
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This logo looked cool, but it had a bit too much going on. Some of the shadows and angles were not aligned or positioned property. Plus, it didn’t pass the four questions:

  • Is it timeless? The specific colors and 3D look of this logo could become outdated or out of style over time.

  • Is it scalable? Somewhat, but the lines in the design would get lost as size decreases.

  • Is it versatile? The logo only looked good on a dark gray background, and changing the colors made the logo look very different, so the colors needed to remain the same always. This meant the logo always had to be on a dark background. Short answer: No, not versatile.

  • What does it represent? The logo gives off a fun, playful vibe. While some of my work does have that style, the logo somewhat limits its portrayal of my capabilities and discredits more professional, serious work I design.

Current Logo

To reach my current logo, I put a lot of time and effort into creating the best possible design. I sketched out countless ideas, playing around with different ways I could align my initials and create interesting shapes and lines. I wanted to convey professionalism and position myself as a successful motion, UI/UX, and identity designer. Thus, I wanted my logo to be simple, bold, and easy to read, while still looking visually interesting.
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I chose this design as my current logo because it looks sleek, professional, and clean. My initials combine to form a shape that looks like a mouse pointing towards my name, which brings the eye to my name. This logo is extremely effective alone (without my name next to it), making it ideal for marketing materials and branding. It passes all four questions, as well.

  • Is it timeless? Yes. The simplicity of the logo means it can adapt to different mediums, no matter what the future has in store.

  • Is it scalable? Yes. The logo is still easy to comprehend when it is as small as a favicon, and its boldness means it looks strong and powerful when sized larger.

  • Is it versatile? Definitely. Again, the simple lines and design of this logo means it can work for any product, whether that’s a 3D video, a business card, or printed on a pen. The shape is what makes the logo recognizable, which means I can change the logo’s color based on the product and not lose recognition.

  • What does it represent? This logo represents usability and clear, comprehensible design, which is what I focus on most in my work. With the move towards mobile devices and smaller technology, making designs usable and understandable is crucial, and this concept is demonstrated in my logo.

Branding yourself visually takes a lot of time, but once you decide on a logo and style for yourself and your brand, you’re going to look a lot more legitimate and well-established. To learn more about branding yourself, check out my blog post with 5 steps to build your brand online.

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Rebranding Mental Illness

Rethink: Psychiatric Illness is an organization at UNC Chapel Hill that aims to create networks and end the stigma related to mental illnesses. They are committed to changing the way we think and talk about mental illness, and they accomplish this by organizing events aimed at fostering understanding among students and raising awareness about the current challenges in our mental health system. Their biggest project is a student-led sensitization training held several times a year, where students learn the basics about mental illnesses, the resources available at UNC, and how to be an affirming friend and peer.
 

Rethink is an important and influential organization with a community-based approach. They aim to make all members feel welcome and comfortable. Rethink is innovative, modern, and filled with intelligent people. Thus, when they contacted me about redesigning their logo, I was immediately interested.
 

Rethink’s past logos did not quite portray the message they wanted to send. They included brains, lightbulbs, and question marks. They wanted to move past those: brains were too cliché, lightbulbs gave the wrong implication (i.e. that ending mental illness is as simple as turning on a lightbulb), and question marks implied that people with mental illness were just confused. Other mental health organizations use puzzle pieces and gears; but again, that implies that people with mental health issues are broken and need to be “fixed” or “put back together.” While mental health should be addressed, people who are struggling should not feel like they are broken or incomplete. We needed to move past their previous logos (below) and portray what Rethink was about now.
 

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Rethink’s leadership team explained to me that they wanted to communicate concepts such as “homegrown” and “familial” to describe Rethink. We decided that using a head would be the best way to represent mental illness, but that the ideas of community and support could be represented using multiple heads. That led me to the idea of overlapping heads to show a sharing of ideas and connection among individuals. For colors, I went with a teal blue color combined with a deep purple. Using cool colors is calming, and the contrast of the dark purple with the soft blue allows for easy readability. I noticed that when the two heads overlapped, they formed a shape that looked like a lightbulb, so I added that element into a few sketches, just in case the Rethink team wanted to move in that direction instead.
 


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After seeing the initial drafts, the Rethink leadership team liked the text used in the top row of logos and liked the bottom center design with the head outlines overlapping. The overlapping heads represented community, and having outlines meant one head was not “on top,” which would imply that some people are more important than others. After making a few more edits, I created the final logo in blue, purple, and white to give the team color options.
 


RETHINK_purple_squareRETHINK_white_squareRETHINK_blue_square

 

Working with Rethink gave me an opportunity to think critically about how to represent the complicated topic of mental illness in a logo. I was challenged to create a logo that represented community and support and moved away from traditional mental health logos that rely on brains, puzzle pieces, gears, and lightbulbs. I also enjoyed the conversation as we discussed what we wanted the logo to communicate and the importance of what certain designs would imply about mental illness.

Expressing Complex Concepts in a Simple Logo

One of the most challenging aspects of logo design is communicating the complicated company values, mission, and services in a simple logo that translates easily over print and digital mediums. Especially now that over half of all digital media usage is via mobile devices, there’s a huge push for simple logos that scale down to mobile devices easily. That’s simple enough if your client wants a logo with their company name and a simple shape, but what if you’re designing a more complicated logo?

I was recently faced with this challenge when designing a logo for a program within the UNC Environmental Finance Center. The EFC offers many tools and resources, including a calculator used as a Financial Health Checkup for Water Utilities. The tool assesses the financial performance of your water (and/or wastewater) utility fund and demonstrates the financial strengths and weaknesses of the utility fund in the past 5 years.

Pretty cool, right? But not pretty simple. When I was given the task of creating a logo for this tool, I was told to:

  • Communicate that this resource deals with money/finance

  • Find a way to show that the tool evaluates the health of a water utility

  • Make it obvious that this is about water

So, all I had to do was create a simple and clean logo that communicates the complex ideas of money, health, and water in a way that was easy to understand but also visually appealing. A water utility in a doctor’s outfit holding dollar bills? A coin wearing a stethoscope swimming through pipes? No, those wouldn’t work. I needed to somehow show that this tool evaluated the health of the financial performance of your water utility fund. Also, it needed to be simple, easy to understand, and aesthetically appealing in all forms of media.

As with any logo design, the first step was sketching. I decided to first sketch out simple ways to illustrate each of the three concepts I needed to communicate, and then find ways to combine them into one image.

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Sketching ideas for money was fairly simple. I decided any of the options could work, so it just depended on which of these ideas went best with the visual representations for health and water.

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Illustrating health was a little more complex, because I needed to communicate the evaluation of health. While some of my ideas represented health, they didn’t represent evaluating your own health. Only the stethoscope, heart monitor, and checkmark represented the evaluation of health. The check seemed too vague, and the heart monitor brought in two extra elements (heart and jagged line), when I only wanted one. Bringing in two elements for health would overcomplicate the logo. I really liked the flexibility of a stethoscope, so I decided to move forward with that.

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To visualize water, I figured I should keep it simple. Using a water drop seemed like the best option, as any other ideas I had were too complex. Plus, displaying water with a showerhead or sink didn’t make sense, since this logo was about water utilities.

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Now I needed to find a way to combine these all together. I decided to first find a way to combine money and health. My favorite ideas were the stethoscope on the piggy bank and the stethoscope that formed a dollar sign. I decided to move forward with those ideas in Adobe Illustrator and create those vectors.

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After designing the two options in Illustrator, I decided the piggy bank idea was too complicated. It ended up looking awkward and clunky. However, the stethoscope/dollar sign idea looked clear, concise, and visually interesting. Next step: Typography.

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I drafted a few ideas that emphasized “Financial Health Checkup” and used the same colors in my logo’s image. I liked the two on the left the best, because when “for water utilities” was stretched too much, it looked clunky and large. The typography in the bottom left corner looked the most professional and clean, so I decided to move forward with that one.

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And, finally, I combined the typography with the image, which I decided to put in a water drop to bring the final element in. Changing the color of the main text to blue made it fade away too much, so the bottom right was the winner. My boss and I were both very happy with the final result. Check it out live here!

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Kids Change the World

If you’re a designer looking for non-profit work or you’re a non-profit seeking a graphic designer, check out Grassroots.org. Their goal is to connect charities and non-profits with tools, volunteers, and resources. Through Grassroots.org, I’ve found a lot of great non-profits with important missions and designed for them. One of the first organizations I designed for is Kids Change the World. KCTW is a “global youth-led non-profit organization that envisions a world in which young people work to combat societal issues to ensure all are blessed with the opportunities that allow them to lead productive and fulfilling lives.”

About the Organization

KCTW01Kids Change the World was started by Christopher Yao. When he was 10 years old, Christopher was diagnosed with an physical impediment, an under jaw bite. He was told that he needed corrective surgery before he turned 18, but the surgery would be extremely expensive and painful. However, Christopher found a doctor who was able to solve his problem without using surgery; as a result, Christopher became passionate about helping children with severe oral problems. This led to him founding Kids Change the World. He has since been named one of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America, and has been recognized many, many, many times for making such a difference at such a young age.

My Contribution

Initially, Christopher approached me and asked me to redesign their logo. He wanted the design to look professional and clean, but also colorful and kid-friendly. The final logo featured two small hands on splashes of red, green, and blue paint; those colors are used again in the logo’s words. After designing the logo, I’ve gone on to design many other materials for Christopher. In addition to promotional materials for Kids Change the World, I also designed a logo for Smiles for Lives, a group within KCTW which works to “fund surgeries through various nonprofits and partner hospitals to change the lives of children through life-changing cleft-lip or palate surgery and post-surgical therapy.” Featured at the bottom of this page is a flyer I designed for the Smiles for Lives Read-A-Thon 2015. I’ve also worked with Christopher to design a logo for Medical Marvels, an umbrella program over Smiles for Lives.

Why It Matters

Graphic design is very important for non-profits. When you’re just starting out as a non-profit, appearance is especially important when looking for partners and supporters. A professional logo establishes legitimacy and makes it look like you know what you’re doing (even if you don’t). When you go to a website and it’s poorly made, difficult to navigate, and looks like it was made in 5 minutes, you’re going to be a lot less likely to donate to that organization than if their website looks sleek, clean, and professional. You could start a non-profit with the best mission statement and plan that’s ever been created, but if you have no logo, a plain website, and no social media presence, the only people who are going to give you financial support are your parents (if you’re lucky). Whether you like it or not, your appearance and branding matters, and that’s why it’s so crucial for non-profits (and all organizations) to have an established identity and brand. Websites like Grassroots.org are great, because they help non-profits find talented individuals to design for them and grow their brand. Design can also help you think about what you want to communicate and how—who is your audience? What appeals to them? What sort of presence are you trying to establish? How do you want people to view your organization? Graphic design is so much more than pretty colors. It forces you to define yourself, your values, and your goals, and then challenges you to communicate all of that visually. If you’re operating or thinking of starting a non-profit and need graphic design, check out Grassroots.org or email me at lisa@lisadzera.com.

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That Lucky Bracelet

That Lucky Bracelet is a global organization that sends “Smile Packages” (which include lucky bracelets) to children and teens throughout the country who are fighting a life threatening or severe life altering chronic medical condition. They’re “dedicated to spreading joy, one Smile Package at a time to pediatric patients.” They’ve got branches in Boston, New York, Pennsylvania, Seattle, Texas, Toronto, Italy, and New Zealand. I first heard about TLB when the founder, Sophie, approached me and asked me to publicize her organization. Once I read up on what TLB did and how much they have accomplished, I wanted to do more than just share a post about them. I noticed they had no logo and offered to design one for them based on Sophie’s direction. She immediately accepted and gave me some basic direction.

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Sophie liked the idea of having the T and B in “TLB” in plain text and then emphasizing the L using a script font that was comprised of beads. I decided to use a serif font for the T and B, which would give them an ever sharper contrast to the cursive L. Because TLB has branches in many different cities, I decided to keep the logo black and white and use a colored background, which would allow for differentiation among the locations. Because the bracelets are made out of beads, I used a subtle shade on the beads that comprise the L to ensure that the audience understood the connection. The light gray used in the beads was also the color of “That Lucky Bracelet” at the bottom of the logo, which tied the colors together and made the logo feel complete. I played around with making the L behind certain parts of the T and B. However, because the bracelet is the most important part of the logo (both because of the physical bracelet and the emphasis on the L for luck), I kept it in front of the other two letters.

That Lucky Bracelet is growing quickly and expanding into even more cities. They’re always looking for more volunteers, so check out their Facebook page to find ways to get involved!