Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Future Of Fonts

I am currently reading a number of books on design, but the one with which I am having the hardest time is a book on type. I can barely describe the arrogance that seeps from every line. Most artists think that they are more important than they actually are. But I cannot think of an endeavor that is less important than type.

Communication, now that's an important endeavor. The type is simply a mechanism to do so, and any type will get the job done. There were no typeface experts before computers. Font foundries literally were foundries, molding metal type sets. And most of the early typefaces were created by printers, who undoubtedly saw the important part of their business as, I dunno', the actual printing.

A side-effect of this perspective, which I see as closely related to the movie and music industries reticence to recognize that the world has changed in the past thirty years, is the belief that typefaces are worth money. Some of the particulars of the modern technology world have allowed this strange idea to quasi-persist. One of the issues it that typefaces are of sufficiently little value, and the majority of people use them so sparingly, that the movement away from the legacy paradigm has been slow.

It has been happening, just not with any centralization. There has been no Napster for fonts. Finally, we have something that could be considered the first step toward this, and it's being spearheaded by Google.

Google Fonts is an online collection of generally-well-made fonts that are all free and open-source. This is a great thing since fonts have been free since the dawn of the internet, and many of them are very well-made, but digging through all of the garbage that inundates the free font services can sometimes be an insurmountable chore.

Frabjous day! Google Fonts is a tool specifically intended to allow easy navigation of a curated font collection, free of the junk. Moreover, the visibility of GFonts, which I'm sure they will rename it soon, means that you can be assured that the fonts are, indeed, open source. I've never been caught by this, but fonts that are listed on "open" font websites are sometimes not, in fact, open. If you are working on a truly large-scale operation, the designer of this font way notice, and based on my totally scientific analysis of font designers being the most hilariously self-important human beings this side of Fox News anchors, you will be sued with a hilariously self-important law suit.

A few things that I guess I should specify: first, typefaces are indeed important. The design can communicate certain things: modernity, classicism, culture, etc. This is especially important when a designer has limited creative space, such as a logo. The design also heavily affects legibility, and if no one can read what you've written... well, that kinda' negates everything you just did. But to make the jump from that to believing that font creation is deserving of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars from everyone who want to use your letters is like leaping the Grand Canyon.

The other thing is that there are, indeed, good and bad typefaces. This is the excuse the type-apologists will trot out when justifying a font foundry that charges thousands of dollars for the rights to a typeface. What about the kerning! they yell. What about the hinting! they holler.

Bullshit, I say. Artists have this strange affliction that few other professions have: that once they create something, they deserve to earn money from that work forever. And furthermore, as an artist, typeface design is one of the easiest arts there is. Yes, it can take many hundreds of hours to get a typeface just right. You know what else takes hundreds of hours? A web design. You know how often I get paid for a web design? Once.

It must be said that they do have a legal argument. They have a legal argument just as Hollywood, the music industry, and the book industry have an argument. But the law does not define reality, and reality is changing. Back in the day, when you purchased a typeface, you were purchasing something of great value; you were purchasing finely crafted lettering. But with the emergence of the Internet and computers, that paradigm completely changed. The finite, physical thing underlying the typeface was eliminated and replaced with a zero cost reproduction.

And I know that I reiterate this like a broken record, but it's basic economics that many industries seem to not understand — the cost of a good will fall over time to the marginal cost of reproducing it. If the marginal cost of reproduction is zero, as it now is with data and thus typefaces, then the cost of a good will fall to zero. This is not an exotic concept. This is something you will literally learn within the first hundred pages of an Econ-101 book. Google Fonts is the future because the economic dynamics underlying it are the future.

I do not claim that data wants to be free. Many advocates of free use that line, and most of them are Internet utopianists. They believe that data coursing through the Internet unabated by anything is somehow the natural order of things. That's of course nonsense. All the Internet has done is increase the speed and bandwidth of human communication and human communication is bound by tons of things that I won't go into right now (language, interest, intelligence, etc.).

The Internet is a mere extension of human behavior. Economics, it is sometimes argued, is actually just the study of human behavior. There are no laws underlying everything. There is no natural order to things. It's just people being people in all their varied and complex ways. If people act a particular way in real life, they will act that way online. As such, typefaces are worthless.

The problem we have right now is that the Internet's effects on society are still very, very new. A significant percentage of America, much less the world, still has no regular access to the Internet. This is a new thing. That means that the old ways of doing things, and the old people and systems who benefit from these ways, are going to fight progress. And just as with Hollywood and the music industry, the power that they have will be sufficient to muck things up for a very long time.

It's been thirteen years since the music industry sued Napster. Thirteen years!... good Christ I'm getting old... And yet here we are, with the music industry fighting the same damned fight that they just keep losing. Then again, it took General Motors over two decades to collapse, even though people in the 1980's saw it coming.

Other industries also help to support the dying industry. For example, most major publications will still buy their typefaces. They still spend thousands every year licensing them. Why? Simple resistance to change has a part to play, I'm sure. But the other part is that much of the influence from the "old" industry comes in relation to the "new" industry, in the same way that old money is seen as somehow more respectable and legitimate than new money.

I will only ever use open fonts. Frequently, I will just design a custom font for a job. But unless a client absolutely demands that I use a specific, closed font, I will always use Google Fonts. If you are a designer, I recommend that you do the same. If you design a full typeface, upload it to Google fonts. Make sure your name is attached to it, certainly, but upload it nonetheless.

I encourage you to do this because the more we embrace Google Fonts, the faster that the old font foundries will die off. The faster that one legacy industry dies, the faster that others can follow suit.

And remember, if you are a designer, especially someone who wants to specialize in type: it still has value. It just only has value vis-a-vis its creation. Once created, it is worthless. This is important to remember because when something drops to zero value, it reaches a maximum level of propagation. If a typeface costs $0, everyone who wants that typeface will use it. It will be in all of the places it ever could be. Even at more than $0, typefaces can become damn-near omnipresent. Helvetica and Gotham are so common that they make me physically ill when I see them.

But you know what that does? It increases the value of typeface creation because it is a truth universally acknowledged that a project in possession of a fortune must be in want of a good typeface. When everyone is using Gotham, having a custom font is necessary. That means that you are necessary.

Don't fight it. Embrace it. After all, it's the future.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Random Stuff: Critter Hut Logo

A Series Of Online Casino Renders

This was a series of renders created in Adobe Fireworks and Blender 3D using LuxRender and Cycles. They appear in an interface for a tournament system. Most of my CGI work is confidential, so this is among the little that I can post publicly. I didn't model the woman. I don't know where I got that model, actually. In retrospect, it's kinda' messed up. Regardless, 3D rendering is beyond fun. It's frustrating sometimes because you may not know if you like an image or not until you've done two hours of rendering, but it's still so much fun.

Remember, if you are interested in CGI work for your project, these are meant to be over the top. They're for a bloody online casino. Glitz and glam are the order of the day. For most other applications, you will want something far more muted than this.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wildwind Brand Presentation

All good brand companies must make brand presentations. This is where the rationale behind your design choices is explained. Sometimes, this can become farcical, such as the infamous Pepsi Presentation. But most of the time, it's a dry, methodical affair that companies don't like to reveal since it shows the almost mechanical nature that undergirds the "life" and "energy" of their brands.

Bold and modern is chosen. Bold to let the name stand out, modern to align with the high-tech nature of the company.

A technology company will have an extensive presence online, meaning that the legibility of the logo is critical.

Surveys reveal that lowercase fonts are more legible at all sizes and are more quickly read.

Relying on a font exclusively for identity is problematic. It does not retain identity when scaled very small. By introducing a container, we create two elements of identity: shape and content.

The rectangle is a poor identifier. It is everywhere. It is boring. We must bring life to our creation.

A parallelogram is alive. It implies motion and drive. It is going, while a square merely sits.

Returning to the symantic content of the word, the new shape performs admirably. It aligns well with the implications of the word “wind.” We further this impression with the addition of small lips extending from the leading corners on the top and bottom.

A light color is chosen for the primary identity. It aligns well with the word, implying lightness, air, and its muted pastel color maintains professionalism without being dour.

Small curves are added. The outward point curves elegantly into the inward dip, completing the brand’s ownership of this now-unique shape.

There is one last step: aligning the word with the image; constructing a link. By italicizing the letters, they merge with the overall construct. The content and image become one; the logo and the name, inseparable.

The text is moved up to make room for secondary branding, such as the company descriptor.

The logo can be reduced in size and retain identifiability. On-screen legibility is retained down to eight pixels in height.

The identity can be reduced to a single, tilted letter inside a rhombus.

This image can be used as a bold, identifiable favicon for the internet.

The container shape can be stretched to fit applications while maintaining identity.

The image is bold and thus flexible, readying it for any print or display requirement.

Subtle brand application builds identification with the symbol and client/company interactions.

Random Stuff: Business Card

This was a business card design for a North-East US voice talent named Al Gates. It was supposed to be an entire website but ended up just being a business card.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Taste of India Logo Design

This is my earliest prototype and my least favorite. It's very default in its overall design and looks kinda' like the text off a Yes album.

This is a late idea and my second-least favorite. The multiple colors get the idea of flavor in there, which was important to me, and the stylized map of India is modern, but using an image of India at an Indian restaurant is just too bland.

You're going to have to forgive me on this one. For one thing, it looks like a beer logo. For another, and I'm not kidding, this is where I got my inspiration... it represents Hinduism. It looks like a person in prayer, but the "arms" are also a Möbius strip, which represents the Hindu concept of Saṃsāra, or reincarnation. The "head" represents the soul achieving Moksha, or freedom from the eternal cycle which is the aspiration of all souls. You have to admit, it's a cool idea! But rarely do I get so metaphysical with my designs. I'm usually pragmatic. They're selling Tandoori Chicken, for pete's sake.

This is my second favorite logo. It's angles are hyper-modern and very bold. The problem was that it was too modern. I felt that customers would be expecting something more than simply a good Indian restaurant.

And finally, my favorite logo. The logo elements are colored, to represent flavors, and the shapes represent cooking utensils and minarets of the Taj Mahal without being too blatant about it. The color bar above Providence does an excellent job of aesthetically completing the logo and connecting the top and bottom parts. It's friendly and open, meaning that anyone walking into a friendly, open Indian restaurant wouldn't be disappointed by it.

Random Stuff: Galewind Business Card WIth Updated Logo

This was done for my employer. It was both a new business card design and a streamlined, modernized logo used for conferences and the such.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Random Stuff: Artist Business Card

A business card for a local artist. The side with the art would be printed with twenty different works by the artist.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Restaurant Brand

A brand prototype for a local restaurant. As with so many things, it wasn't implemented.
Basic logo.

Logo with a dark background and proposed lighting scheme.

Business cards.

Menu cover in leather with proposed polished acrylic logo.

Menu page.

A quick web-site prototype.

A parking stub, metallic print, with stylized number system. This one says 68.

The stylized number set. 2 and 5 are a bit of a stretch. It has a 1980's futur-y feel that is very cool.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Random Stuff: Hippo Studios

While we may be closed, we still have some stuff that we never showed off. And seeing as we have this website, may as well show it off. This is some of our work for Hippo Studios, showing off our logo update and the Hippo "recorder" stamp.

As I mentioned, we updated the logo. It was never used on the web but was spread out to all print materials. This was the logo sheet we provided the client to get direction. One thing we don't do is spare the color.

And finally, a mass-mailing card designed by us with copy written by us and edited by the client. The signature was a fake signature created in-house.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Closing Up Shop

Hello to anyone who may read this. We've decided to close up shop. The stresses and annoyances of running a free-lance shop just became too much for not enough benefit. Our current clients are grandfathered in and can continue to get work done until either we or they die.

It was a tough decision, but to make this entire thing worth it required an investment of time and money that we just weren't willing to make at this point. Perhaps at another time.

I want to thank everyone who took a chance on a small shop and the clients who came back time and time again... and paid their bills.

We also want to thank everyone who helped us, both with time and money, as we tried this. While we are going back out into the work force, this was absolutely not a wasted effort. It was an experience and an entire series of lessons that we will value for the remainder of our lives. We wouldn't give up the past two years for anything.

So, with no one else to thank, all we really have left to say is good night, and good luck.

It's been a trip.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Providence Rhode Island Branding and Logo

I love Providence. I think it's a great city. The marketing, advertising, and branding for Providence, on the other hand, are awful. Their current "P" logo and simple box design on the website are very capable, but tearfully basic and boring. With a down economy, Rhode Island's economy even more down, and a desperate need to energize economic activity, the city needs new marketing materials. So here we go.

Obviously, I start with sketching. As with any good sketch session, it went on for many pages, but here is a sample. I knew that I wanted to at least try for the “P” logo, since I think claiming the “P” as part of the brand is feasible. There aren't many things out there with a claim on “P”, and the only other major cities that start with it are Portland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Luckily for Providence, they all have horrible branding efforts. For example, Pittsburgh's slogan is “A most livable city.”1

Philadelphia has a strong brand around the word “Philly,” so they obviously have no interest in the letter. The two Portlands, Maine & Oregon, do not have any interest in the “P”, with the only problem being the Portland Art Museum. Its bold, container-logo “P” branding is similar to what I may want, but luckily it is an art museum, and Providence is a city. That gives me some wiggle room.

There are smaller cities out there, like Plano and Peoria, but Providence has some advantages. Perhaps because it is situated between New York and Boston, it punches far above its weight as regards food, entertainment, and business. It also has no small degree of fame. People know about Providence. Importantly, it makes sense that Providence would have a brand. It is a capital city. People are accustomed to capitals having a brand. It would be weird if Sheboygen suddenly had a top-flight branding from Moving Brands, but not Providence. All things considered, I feel safe working on a “P” logo.
Next, I move on to rendering some of the ideas in vectors. Just to get a look at them. Here, I'm able to make a number of decisions.

The flat “P” made out of blocks, the one in the lower right near the two fancy designs, was my first idea, and I really liked it initially. When I put it down, though, its complexity became a big issue. The sketch you see was one of over two dozen, and none of them managed to overcome the inherent complexity of its concept. I tried to make the "P" look like a sidewalk, like the sides of buildings, like plain geometric shapes — everything came out cluttered and complex. For a logo, and truly for an entire brand, that is unacceptable. While tangential elements can be subtle and complex, the core must be bold and impressive.

I thought about using icons of the Providence skyline. For example, the three smoke stacks come from the Point Street power station. When entering the city from the South, they dominate the skyline in a way that none of the default high-rise buildings do. They, too, flopped when actually rendered. The image is way to conservative, way too rigid, and just way to freaking boring. When compared to the other ideas on the page, it cannot compete.

I pick out the ones with which I have no immediate problems and begin the process of winnowing out the crap.

As I stumble through the brain barf that I have produced, I begin to get a better idea of what I want to communicate with the identity. I love Providence. I think it has some actually unique elements to it. Many cities advertise themselves as unique, when in fact they are near-as-dammit identical to any other city of a comparable size. While Providence isn't exactly sui generes like New York or Paris, very few, if any, cities of its small size have half of what Providence has. That is a real asset that can be advertised.

In service of this, I need certain things to be communicated. I want a sense of professionalism, business, structure (this is a city afterall, and not a children's play center), but also artistry and playfulness. This is a city in which to work and live. So what elements of culture can we draw upon? The first thing that comes to mind is that Providence has a number of schools, notably Brown and RISD, and it makes sense to maybe hint at these in the brand.

Brown is Ivy League — always good — but is a bit too straight-laced and snooty. RISD is a much better candidate for inspiration. Every city wants to argue that it is packed with culture and art, but few cities have world class art schools in them. As such, I am immediately attracted to the P inset into paint strokes. It's playful, but not cartoonish. It implies serious art. I like the contrast between the rigid “P” shape and the organic paint. This gives the logo both a professional and an artistic appearance, while also just being interesting to look at. This is a solid logo idea.

Providence is loaded to the hilt with restaurants. Every cuisine imaginable is available. Italian, Ethiopian, French, Pakistani: it's a wonderland of flavors. With that in mind, I created the swirl design. I like it, but I am less attracted to it because of its complexity. It won't show as well at smaller prints and resolutions. I also don't think that it is bold enough. It's so complex it actually loses some identifiability. Still, I'm nothing if not adventurous, so I shall make a prototype anyhow.

It actually comes out looking alright. It holds up much better than I thought it would at low resolutions. It begins to look like a video game character when it gets down to favicon-level resolutions, but not bad. I still don't like it though. First, the explosion of colors and shapes reduces the uniqueness of any given element of the design. It doesn't have instantly recognizable gross elements to it and becomes more of a jumble. That's what we want in a good brand a logo: bold identifiability. Also, it looks like a fish making a fart noise with its lips.

The dual-circle P is good. It's curvy and friendly, but it looks a bit too much like a product brand — perhaps a pharmaceutical company. It's good, just not for this application.

I love the word mark that breaks up “Providence RI.” It's quirky and unique, and also forces people to analyze the logo for a second to figure out what's happening. Most of the time, that's bad. But sometimes, sometimes, it can be used to good effect to make something that would be boring, not boring.

The P with the wave running up and down the stem is good, and fits in with the Ocean State, but I'm wary of that relationship. Providence is not Rhode Island and vice versa. Providence needs to have its own identity, so while the wave is a nice touch, I think that it should be avoided.

The six squares represent the side of a building. It's very rigid, very urban, perhaps a bit old-fashioned, and totally not right for Providence. I want art! Culture! Energy! This looks like the logo to a high-rise condo complex with a target demographic of oily bachelors who prefer everything to be dark wood and leather.

The P flipbook fits my needs. It is playful, bold, and professional-looking. It implies construction paper or something similar. It also provides immediate inspiration for an animated logo where scenes of providence flip by on pages before coalescing into the "P" logo. Sadly for this poor little logo, it is here where similarities between other brands becomes a problem. I earlier mentioned the Portland Art Museum, and its “P” looks very similar to this “P”. They used their “P” as a container logo, with images of the art in the museum contained within the logo, which is likely how I would have gone with this “P”, meaning that it is, unfortunately, out of consideration.

So, after the great culling, we are left with the broken “PROVIDENCERI” and the paint “P”. I like both of them a lot and am obviously inclined to trying to make them work together. On first inspection, everything looks decent. Not the best match yet, but the playful breaking of the PROVIDENCERI lettering matches well with the playful color splotch.

Behold! Our basic idea!

Now with all of my critical eye focused on my painted "P", I'm noticing that I don't love the strokes behind the letter. And that's fine! From the very beginning, I knew that the background was going to change. "knock-out" or "negative space" logos, as they're sometimes called, almost beg for it.

The more variety that can be injected into a brand, the better. It gives it a sense of life that allows the brand to stand on its own, separate in many ways from the thing that it is representing. The logo is supposed to try to capture the energy and variety of Providence, so the image must have energy and variety.

Paint is all well and good, and it captures the artistic spirit of the city, but how else can we apply this idea? The first thing that comes to mind is the food reference that we abandoned earlier. I want to bring it back since Providence's dining scene is truly impressive. Again, it's not New York, but for a city with a population under 200,000, it's mind-blowing.
We have the opportunity to create color schemes for different times, such as the seasons. I love making a dynamic brand that can change with the weather, so whenever a work gives me the opportunity to do that, I jump on it.

Likewise, we can use the “P” as a container shape to include images. This moves closer to the Portland Art Museum branding, but our "P" is sufficiently different where it's not an issue.

The paint splat can also act as a container. When this is used, it must be combined with the broader brand so a connection is made. Separate, it is merely an image inside a splat.

It's here where the brand reveals itself. It may not have been specifically intended in earlier work, but it's obvious by now that the real heart of the brand is the "P" mark. Used as a knock-out logo or a container logo gives the brand extreme flexibility. We can use different colors, textures, images, anything behind that identifiable “P”. It is quite powerful.

While I generally avoid using color in branding efforts, especially the logo, since it is best to have an identity be as simple as possible, there are certain situations where color can be used safely. Since this is a branding effort for a city and not a product, the logo is going to mostly appear in glossy fliers and pamphlets, web pages, mailings, and tourist information. All of this is not only going to be full color, but be really full color. At no point will the logo need to be flat, tiny, and printed on the back of a bottle.

That said, a logo that degrades well is always better than a logo that doesn't degrade well. While degradation of the image into something unrecognizable isn't a deal-breaker for me, I would like to ensure that many avenues of application are as open as possible.
It works great. This is one of the reasons why brands should always be bold and simple in their basic idea: even if your application is complex, you can strip things away and not lose the brand's essence. The "P" looks fantastic in both greyscale and flat black, and it is obvious what they are. The flat black could, I guess, be seen as blood or poo or something like that, but I'm not going to try to accommodate the bizarre inferences that weirdos will make. The logo stays as-is.

The second test is much more important. Since this brand will be heavily used in online and digital display applications, it must look good at low resolution. I call this the favicon resolution because favicons are the smallest resolution that a brand must fit in to.
Every instance of the brand fits perfectly in the tiny size. The wordmark is even still legible! This is a success no matter how you look at it.


Next, we move on to the slogan. The current slogan is “The Creative Capital.” This isn't as bad as “A Most Livable City,” but it's not far off. Again, a brand must be impactual2 but also not presumptuous. Calling a city that is really quite small the creative “capital” is just arrogant. It's also bland. This is something that every city could call itself. Providence needs something that other cities couldn't necessarily claim. For this reason, it's better to avoid complete statements.

A good brand captures ideas and emotions, not fully cogent linguistic nuggets. By that I mean avoid sentences. Being complete, sentences also limit the brand. Language is built off of context. The more context you provide, the less flexibility there is in interpreting words. As such, “The Creative Capital” says both too much and not enough. Just imagine if Apple had created the "We're Different From Microsoft and IBM" ad campaign instead of the "Think Different" ad campaign. Nebulous words and standalone words are the best slogans and make for the best brands.

So instead of “The Creative Capital,” it should just be “Create.” If that sounds too much like the slogan to an art supply store, perhaps “Live Creatively.”

I have a strong minimalist bent running through my design. Not the trendy minimalist crap that you see everywhere on Tumblr, but minimalist in the belief that the best design removes everything that it can. As such, slogans with fewer words are always better than slogans with more words, especially when what the slogans communicate is similar. So while “Live Creatively” is slightly different from “Create,” I think that “Create” is better. It implies art, but it also implies construction, building, planning, the future, invention — all positive things.

I had two ideas for the lettering. First, a straight-laced, rigid and modern text, the second a playful take. I prefer the more rigid version for a few reasons. First, that sort of lettering was very popular throughout the 80's and early 90's (anyone remember Whatchamacallit ads?), and since we're not going for a retro look, we want to avoid similarities with past aesthetics. While that wild lettering breaks down the identifiability in the same way as the complex fish “P” logo discussed earlier, the real meat of this is not the image, but the word, so it's not that big of a problem.

My primary reason for preferring the rigid version is that since a city needs to communicate many things, we want a rigid structure to the brand. We don't want every element of it to be artsy and playful. We want playfulness to be slotted into a very well-defined part of the overall brand and to not have it leak out into other parts. That role is being played by the background and to a lesser degree the broken “PROVIDENCERI” word mark. If we add more playful parts to the brand, and not wanting a brand that is defined by playfulness, we run the risk of masking or muting the impact of the elements of that brand that are playful. Strong contrast between brand elements helps them stand out. As such, it is best to leave the other elements of the brand as rigid and professional.


The brand and logo are flexible, so now we can be creative with their implementation.

There is sometimes a risk of overdoing it with a good brand. You want to stamp it on everything. As I was playing around with website designs, I realized that the rigid design of the "P" actually lent itself to becoming a functional part of the site. I'm dancing a bit close to the edge when it comes to overdoing the brand design, but I'm not over the edge just yet. As long as I restrict the branding to just this intro menu, it will be fine.

This is only the top of the home page — above the fold. Below the fold, which starts just below this image, is a concise menu system. From a usability standpoint, it's always best to give users precisely what they want as quickly as you can. That's why Google's home page is nothing more than a search box. This limits a designer's ability to really wow a user. In this regard at least, we can define good design when it requires user interaction as skilfully taking away immediate information in favor of things to wow or impress the user.

This is why the "wow" element must be clean, impactual, and uncluttered. It needs to be quickly processed and moved out of the way so the user can return to getting the information that they want. You'll notice how there's no menu system up top. No need yet. Just clean white with the logo. We may want to use the upper right for important announcements in the future, but for the sake of this branding, it stays white.

The logo lends itself to being made into a pattern which can then be applied to things.

Colors make everything more colorful.

Some proposed streetside branding.

A business card.
By this point in the development, it is becoming apparent to me that there is a problem. I had, at the beginning, two ideas that I liked: the paint splat and the broken wordmark. I combined them and they worked out pretty well, but as I've gone on, my implementation of the wordmark has become almost non-existent. This is because the two elements are incompatible.

What pushed me over the edge was the wordmark in the lower-right of the prototype web page. It absolutely doesn't belong. It is entirely outside of the aesthetic of the rest of the brand. The clean, modern typeface chosen for the slogan doesn't combine well with the squared wordmark, and it is obvious that that clean, modern typeface works best with the logo. 

What I have to accept is that the paint splat and the word mark are not complimentary elements of a single brand. They are, in fact, two, separate brands that I am trying to glue together. I need to get rid of one, and since the paint splat brand is the more flexible, the wordmark gets tossed.

This fixes some issues, namely allowing me to use the word "providence" in conjunction with the splat logo, whereas the word was previously "owned" by the wordmark. This also frees up some space, since I don't need to shoehorn in the wordmark into places where it doesn't naturally fit. Eliminating the wordmark, while a difficult choice because I liked it a lot, has improved the brand. It also allows me to extend the slogan in a BIG way: a fill-in-the-blank slogan.

Instead of "PROVIDENCE | CREATE", I'm going to put the main word in front of "Providence," allowing us to guide extensions to the slogan.

The final construct, CREATE | PROVIDENCE, directly states the most important part of the slogan that we want to communicate: by simply being in Providence, a person is helping to create Providence. It is a city both separate from, and part of, the people living in it. The more people we have, and the more stuff they are doing, makes Providence all the better.

A prototype brochure with intro paragraphs aimed at tourists.

The body of the text is as follows. Please excuse the slight repetitiveness of it. It's what would be called a draft.
Providence is a unique city. Sure, it may not be as large as New York, or as elegant as Paris, but that isn’t what makes us special. What makes us special is how completely unexpected it all is. We have restaurants that rival cities ten times our size. We have a thriving artistic community, a robust gay community, and a immense system of intellectually stimulating resources undergirded by three world-class universities. Our small size utterly belies our vibrancy. We are a city of life. We are a city of fire and fury. We are a city in a state of perpetual creation and recreation.

That is what we mean by our motto: create. We are creating great things. We are creating a great life. Importantly, we are giving you, our visitor, the tools to create your own experience here. When you visit here, you leave behind a piece of yourself like ripples in a pond. Your acts, your creation, continues to echo in our city long after you are gone. We appreciate your presence because whenever you come here, you help make us better, and that makes us bigger, better, and more vibrant for your next visit. When you help to create Providence, you help us, and you help yourself.

From the depths of our hearts, thank you for visiting. Thank you for making Providence what it is: a city beyond borders; a city beyond time; a city that does not exist in any given state, but instead exists as it will become. A city forever in the future. A city forever being reborn. A city forever being created.

Welcome to Providence. 

The "Create" slogan encourages creative interaction between the customer (citizens and tourists) and the product (the city). This is critical because a good brand is only as good as the entity that it represents. Brand insofar as it is an abstract association between a person and a thing is created during interactions, so the truly difficult part is nurturing that interaction when the vast majority of it takes place between people and the disparate elements within the city. Thus, the more interaction, the better.

This gets to the ultimate point that I wanted to make and it's one I hammer home with any branding: a brand is only as good as the product. Yes, a brand can be better than the product for awhile. Hitting the airways hard with a large marketing campaign, packaging the product in flashy designs, engendering good feelings: all of these things can help butter over a sub-par product, but it is ultimately smoke and mirrors. It is an illusion that cannot help but fade. Providence cannot simply brand itself and then hope that the constituents of the city will make a good product. The city must become intimately involved with the creation and maintenance of that product.

The best way to do this is to have a robust set of experiences that people can have within a city. Don't just provide categories. Provide actual itineraries for visitors and citizens — provide structure. Recommend restaurants, link to review websites, have citizens be able to post on the brand pages with minimal meddling by site moderators. Governmental branding initiatives try to avoid this because it means that their focus must be on one business over another. That's very heartbreaking and all, but it also doesn't matter one bit. If providing a good product means that some businesses will receive some attention while others will not, that's the way this must go. Simply providing a list of businesses to visitors and citizens doesn't do anything. That is why no one ever goes to city websites and instead goes to Yelp! and Citysearch.

The city must provide things. Bring the various elements of the city under the new branding. Run special promotions and events. Engage the people! It's not simply enough to have some website where an intern posts about what's happening in the city. People don't care about that. Even if they subscribe to your Twitter, they are ignoring it. Give them a reason to pay attention. Provide coupons, deals, packages, and passes to events managed by the city. Don't just rely on the businesses and groups within the city to provide an infrastructure of stuff. The city must be its own mini-Groupon, Ticketmaster, event planner, and promoter.

The city must be far more engaged in its own impression and construction than is currently the case. I'm talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, invested in community gardens, free computer labs, community food projects that engage people to cook and eat, and targeted events for specific interest groups. Host inter-faith nights, Dungeons & Dragons nights, ice skating competitions, and graffiti challenges. Engage local businesses to donate prizes in exchange for co-branding. Major events should be taking place under the Providence brand every week. Many of these things can be done cheaply and engage huge numbers of people.

The events must be free. Other elements of the event can be monetized, be it food carts, souvenirs  or experiences, but the initial thing must be free. It's the only way to get people out the door. To see how the city is currently failing in this regard, if we go to the current Go Providence website and look up a list of things to do, it is very long. But if we look up the list of free things, it has fewer than ten items. Every year in Rhode Island, attendance at the beaches reaches record levels. As the economic downturn has remained steadfast, people are increasingly going to the beach because it is one of the few things that can be done cheaply.

This isn't necessarily a moral issue, although I think that that argument can be made. It is a societal issue, though. It is a problem for all aspects of society and this is undeniable. It increases crime, reduces economic activity, reduces the value of the city's brand, and makes it difficult for any municipal effort to increase public perception of, and interest in, the city. It is imperative that the city provide a large selection of free things.

The more that the city provides, the better the experience. The better the experience, the better the public perception of the brand. The better the public perception, the better the city as an entity unto itself becomes. The better the city becomes as an entity, the more people will seek out the city as opposed to other cities and experiences. This causes a feedback loop of good things, driving population growth, economic activity, and prosperity. In short, the city's motto becomes more than just a branding exercise; it becomes an honest representation of the city's values and character.


1: Yes, I understand that this is because Pittsburgh has been rated the most “livable city” in the U.S by The Economist, but that's nothing to brag about. It ranks 29th globally. Worse still, a person with knowledge of this ranking coming to the branding will think that Pittsburgh is essentially saying “Yeah, we're alright.” Worse STILL, that's only one ranking system, and it is heavily biased toward English-speaking cities. Other ranking systems, such as the Mercer Quality of Life Index, put Pittsburgh 50th out of 50.

2: I'm aware that this isn't technically a word, but I'm using it anyhow, dammit.