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Riverfest Logo: Director's Commentary


Welcome to the Director's Commentary for my latest logo project! If this was a DVD extras segment, you'd be hearing catchy theme music and attempting to navigate with a dancing themed cursor. Also, I realize nobody cares about the Director's Commentary except for the director and some Big Nerds...so let's jump in, nerds! I've broken it down scene-by-scene because I'm really committed to this theme.


But first, some context. The Riverfest logo has been living in the shaggy-adolescent stage of puberty, outgrowing the 2013 imagery but not quite pulling off a glow-up. In a moment of desperation, I dropped the guitar last year, but it was clear that this patched-up effort wasn't a real solution.


Scene I: A Sneaky Escape


I was close to the deadline. I keep saying "it will be fine, I'll get it done in time" (because it needs to be done in time). I've doodled versions of the logo for weeks. I have a moodboard, I've tried script fonts, distorted fonts, eye-searing color palettes, but it's not working. I need...


...something CUSTOM.


So I get out the nice supplies, Huge paper so you know it's serious. Ink and brushes for maximum character and river-water texture. And then I make big letters. Refine 'em with some pencilled guide lines. With the deadline breathing down my neck, I scan them and pick one, then pull together a simple poster. The poster's presented in a big reveal at the staff meeting, with a whisper of a disclaimer. "I need to refine the letterforms, but it won't change that much."

-End Scene-


Scene II: A Reckoning



A week later, my blissful commitment to design crime comes to a screeching halt. My eyes linger on the poster print-out I've left on my desk. "This SUCKS," I realize.


What have I done?


Forget refining the letterforms. The next step becomes clear. I grab a pencil, print a tabloid-sized page of the offending logos and tear it to shreds (verbally).

  • No real visual identity.

  • Tries to be neutral, ends up bad instead of bland.

  • Solves zero of the old logo's problems.

  • None of the letters interact.

  • The R is so ugly.

  • Haven't committed to a serif or sans so it floats in a bizarre middle.

Time to draw new stuff that actually solves these problems. It's easier to go from "letters need to interact and belong together" rather than "make a better logo than the old one."

-End Scene-


Scene III: Swimming Laps


This is the part that takes forever and that I always wish was over. A lot of butt-in-chair and picking out tiny details, looping back around for an eternity. The big tiny things for this project:

  • The F. I looked up script font Fs, filled a page with 'em to get a feel for what you can do with the letter, and stared down that gap between R and E.

  • The endcaps (or lack thereof). How to make it look finished? After the serif/sans issue, I couldn't settle for a noncommittal look. The chunky slab thing felt too computery and not fluid.

  • The Es. They needed to match but fit 2 different slots equally well.

  • That S-T combo. S is a tricky letter already, but I had to go and throw in a whole conjoined-twin situation.

  • Spacing. River was nice and unified pretty early on, but Fest floated in no-man's land, lost in the current.


-End Scene-


Scene IV: Iterate is the Easy Way to Say 15 Hours in Front of a Computer

I learned how to map letters in Adobe Illustrator with the Beziér Method, thanks to Adé Hogue's excellent zine.

I'd tried the method in the past, but this time it finally clicked.

I still got confused on one part of the process, scoured the internet for tips, and finally said "Why don't I just try to make this work." In about 45 seconds I had a solution. Turns out it doesn't have to be pretty on the process side to look pretty as a finished piece.

Printing out paper versions and drawing with pencil helped SO MUCH. It's like speaking in my first language. Talking through it with my design-minded mom and brother helped a lot too. (Accountability for weird kerning!!)

-End Scene-


Grand Finale

Let's do a quick comparison:

The 'logo' that I attempted to pass off without thought, versus the swooshy, problem-solving logo of today.

I've learned that I really can't get away from the tough work of sitting and thinking about a project, as gleeful as I feel when skipping it. I was reminded how helpful (and sorta fun!) writing out all the problems can be (e.g. "I hate this dumb round R").

What about you? Have you learned anything? Most of what I get from Director's Commentary is the fact that a real human made choices to get us to the fully-fleshed-out project. So maybe this is just my way of reminding you and me that robots don't make logos, people do. And it's as complicated and as simple as you might imagine.


-End Scene-

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