Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Here's a low-res preview of what our eventual logo will look like. Isn't it lovely? I'm so glad that Alicia and I both liked the same design. It was funny how the elements came together. I suggested STAR as an acronym of our initials. Alicia came up with the idea of a shooting star and quite rightly wanted a feeling of motion in the image. We both love purple so that choice was easy. And our wickedly talented graphic designer found a font that's both publish-y and contemporary. I love it when bits and pieces merge into a greater whole.
I thought I would talk a little about branding today and the graphic branding process because this is something that affects authors, too. If you're building a website or blog, you'll be confronted by decisions that are similar to the ones we've addressed in the last two weeks. In fact, only this week a friend with an established web presence emailed me a mockup of her new business cards with a request for feedback. Even with the foundation established, even with a beautiful website already in place, she still had to think about how her business cards tie into her brand and which graphics and details to include.
So, here is what we were thinking when we came up with our ideas, and here are some ways that ymmv.
Sample conversation that occurred over and over for months:
A: What should we call it?
T: What should we call it?
Occasionally, one of us would email a list of keywords or ideas to the other. And that would lead to a lot more Uhhing and Hmming and an occasional check to see if we could get a domain name for any of the options under consideration. It was very frustrating at the time because it felt as though the perfect name was just beyond our grasp. We had a relatively easy time coming up with a number of other central concepts like the eventual format for the books themselves. (Oddly enough, that format ties in very neatly to the name and logo, but that's a story for another day.)
At one point, we sat at my dining room table with dueling computers -- my laptop set up to mine a thesaurus and rhyming dictionary and other word tools, and hers to search the availability of domain names. I tried living with a couple of our ideas for a few days at a stretch to see if they would grow on me. They never did, so it's probably lucky that we couldn't get the domains.
Some of you might remember a few weeks (months?) ago, there was a brief gigglefest in the comments here about our initials being T&A. That got me thinking. Yes, blame yourselves, Team Comments, for the name STAR Guides. You made me think about our initials.
And as soon as I thought of it, I got a little sizzle inside. You know that feeling when your instinct knows it's right? But I sat on the idea for a couple of days before I sent it to Alicia. I wanted to be sure the sizzle wouldn't fade, and luckily, she liked the idea, too.
With the name STAR, several other things snapped into focus. We knew we would have a star graphic on our logo, a no-brainer, and we easily drifted to the name STAR Guides. Each book in the initial series will focus on a fiction topic, and will be named accordingly: The STAR Guide to Narrative Elements, The STAR Guide to Slush Survival, The STAR Guide to Openings, and so on.
Your pen name might function much the same way. It's your name brand. It should serve as a strong starting point for your other branding efforts -- your website, your blog, your facebook page, and so on. One key difference, of course, is that human names don't usually come with built-in thematic branding potential. Unless you choose a name that's also an English word with strong connotations (Rule, Dare, Tower, Moor, Quick, etc.), you're probably dealing more with mood and tone than with actual meanings. (Crusie, for example, is a name that just sounds like fun.) Or you're in a position where you have to build associations between your name and your brand. (Rockefeller, for example, didn't start off with the connotation of wealth, but built it over time and through circumstances.)
Alicia and I both favor purple, so it was really easy to choose that as our base color. But more than that, it works. Purple is the color of creativity, or so my feng shui expert told me. It's bold enough to stand out on the spines of books on crowded shelves, but not so bold as to be overwhelming. I also think it has a playful edge, but it's playful without being juvenile. I think that's good and suits our purposes. Adults should be able to have fun with their writing yet still remain adults.
We thought at first about doing purple with white, which would clean but not high-contrast. And then we started thinking about cream or a soft yellow, which would still be soft but would give more contrast than plain white. And then our designer came up with the golden highlights, and it was all over. It's bolder than what we originally planned to do, but that design absolutely leaped off the mock sheet. I fell in love at first sight (again with that sizzle, the same feeling I get when reading something really special in the slush pile), and Alicia preferred it, too.
I guess the lesson in this is to choose a color that speaks to you and to your purpose in more than one way, but be open to ways to vary it. If we had stuck to our original intent of doing something soft and clean and lower contrast, we never would have seen this gorgeous star. Big shout out to our designer for coming up with that.
I want to take a minute to talk about why we chose this particular designer to do our logo. I know lots of people who can do graphic design, and so does Alicia. But our designer is the creative director for an ad agency, with loads of experience with branding through images. She's incredibly sensitive to color and layout, and I've never yet seen a design from her for anything that read cluttered or busy, even when there was some detail in the design.
We wanted a design that was clean and strong -- something that would read at a glance even when reduced to the size of a spine logo. Not only did our designer "get" what we were looking for, she came up with dozens of ideas to make our original concepts even better. She thought of things we never would have thought of on our own. She made us look at black and white mockups, something which puzzled me initially but made incredible sense as the process unfolded. All in all, her work ethic and results proved repeatedly that she's the right one for the job. I genuinely believe we got a better logo in the end because we worked with this particular designer.
When you're choosing a graphic designer, look at lots of samples of their work first. Is this someone with a strong design sensibility, common traits that come up over and over again in the work? Do all the designs read feminine or masculine, or do they all use dark colors, or are there other similarities? If so, that might be what you get. All the various cover artists I've worked with over the years have definite design sensibilities -- some are whizzes with fonts, some are adept at complex layouts, some do cool things with shading and fades to control the movement of the viewer's eyes across the images. Learn to see these things, and decide which elements work best for you before you hire your designer.
A word about web design and graphic design: They're not the same thing. Don't assume that someone with mad web skillz can deliver suitable graphics. Maybe they can, and maybe they can't. We're talking about very different skill sets, although there is some overlap in areas like layout and color work. But before you assume you can hire a web designer and get a good graphic designer in the bargain, ask a lot of questions about where the graphics came from. You might be surprised to learn that some professional web designers sub out their important graphics work. They are willing to do basic stuff themselves, but the important things (like logo builds), they leave to the experts.
My mind is much occupied these days with these sorts of business issues, but I think it's worth blogging about them even if they're not as much fun as character and pov and plot.