Case Study: Designing a New Logo

Developing a new logo for an established brand is always a tricky thing. You want to present a fresh to the prospective clients without alienating or confusing your current customers. Extensis, the company that produces the font-management application Suitcase Fusion, recently decided to replace its dated logo with one that’s more in step with what its customers have come to expect from the company — creative thinking, type expertise, and technical know-how.

Thomas Phinney, who is “Guru of Fonts and Typography” at Extensis, worked with teams inside and outside the company to develop the new wordmark, or logotype. In this blog post Thomas describes the decision-making process of developing the typography in the new Extensis logo. You’ll see what the options were, how ideas evolved, which fonts were rejected and what became the final solution.

Thanks to Thomas and Extensis for letting us use this material.


“”Your logo is not your brand.'”

“Well, of course it’s not! We all know that. However, we also know that it can communicate volumes. At Extensis, we have additional considerations here: If you are in our business — selling to creative teams and font enthusiasts — then the logo typography we choose will clearly communicate more to our audience (on a conscious level) than most other companies’ logos communicate to their audience. In short: our audience knows their stuff, they are smart and discriminating. And yes, they are just about as opinionated as I am. Touché.”
— Extensis Marketing VP Amanda Paull

This leapt out from the many other options:

“Wow, Amanda. That’s… wild,” I said.

She had just given me my first look at this proposed (typo)graphical element of the new Extensis logo. It was just one option, and not even the one being pushed most heavily by our friends at Blue Collar Agency who were helping our re-branding effort. They had in turn roped in their friends at Owen Jones & Partners. Mark Rawlins from OJP, along with Simon Walker had come up with this thing, that I promptly dubbed the “e-head.” It was an “e” for Extensis, but it could also spawn comic-book word balloons. In fact, the first treatments had the Extensis wordmark being “spoken” by the head, like this.

In retrospect, I think that the angle of the sides of the speech balloon being just slightly off from the angle of the italics was one of the reasons these didn’t work for me. “I need some time to think about that e-head graphic,” I told her. “Can I get back to you tomorrow after I sleep on it?” She agreed, and I went off to ponder whether something this radical and arguably lighthearted would work for our brand. It couldn’t be further from the old logo:

I looked back over the feedback Amanda had gathered during the branding survey Blue Collar had done for us.

“Should be simple. Doesn’t have to be over the top.”

“I think we need a bit more kitschiness. Modern, slab serif perhaps.”

“They should use something with a no-nonsense quality, to give the sense of dependability and technology.”

“But it should have a twist, to give the sense of creativity as well.”

Well, the e-head certainly fit the bill on those counts. Perhaps except the “over the top” part. Having the wordmark spoken by the head in a dialog balloon probably met that. But if we just stuck with the e-head by itself? Simpler, and any over-the-topness came from the sensibility it conveyed, not from being overly-complex or too “busy.”

Then there were the directives arrived at for the branding redesign. As mentioned a couple posts back in this series, we wanted to communicate that Extensis:

  • Loves type
  • Is open and approachable
  • Respects design tradition while progressing forward
  • Takes our work and our customers, but not ourselves, seriously

Well, the e-head certainly communicated open, approachable, and not taking ourselves too seriously. As I looked at it more, the more convinced I became that as long as we balanced it just right with a typographic treatment of the “Extensis” name, this could work just fine. Maybe it would be a little bit polarizing, and some people would hate it. But I thought they would at least notice it, remember it, and maybe even talk about it. Yet over time it would just become comfortably familiar. The next day I made an impassioned plea in favor of the e-head (though not necessarily the wordmark-in-the-word-balloon). Amanda and other marketing folks bought it. We explored other approaches as well, but we focused more and more on what typographic treatment to give to “Extensis” that could pair with the e-head.

The setting needed to be a bit less silly and playful than the e-head, so as to counter-balance it a little. But if it got too serious it would just clash instead of complementing. Trying to find the right balance was tricky. Some more wordmarks in word balloons we tried:

But outside of a word balloon approach, they had also shown us two treatments with all-caps slab serifs, Rodeqa and Donnerstag.

Two weights of Rodeqa Slab 4F by Sergiy Tkachenko:

Donnerstag by Jeremy Dooley:

Rodeqa is a unicase font, but I looked at a lowercase version of the Donnerstag.

There were things I liked about Donnerstag, but essentially I just wasn’t happy with how a lot of the lowercase letters were drawn. It seemed very inconsistent, in that contrast between thick and thin strokes varied wildly from letter to letter. Doubtless it was a deliberate design decision on Dooley’s part, but it didn’t work for me.

Somewhere in here we agreed that lowercase was better. Not quite as formal and stuffy, I thought. So Rodeqa dropped out of the running. Then I started suggesting other typefaces. A few of my thoughts…

Museo Slab 300 by Jos Buivenga:

Vista Slab Light by Xavier Dupré:

Adelle Light by Veronika Burian & José Scaglione:

Still, nothing was quite working. Amanda and I spent half an hour going over all the options I’d tried to date, and identifying what we liked and didn’t like about each of them. Finally I went back to Amanda and said, “Give me a day or two to work with some letterforms myself and I can make something we will like. I’ll start with Adelle, because it is just so darned well drawn, and modify it until it meets our needs.”

I started by interpolating a custom weight, roughly mid-way between the regular and the semibold. In my experiments was about as light as I could go and still have the letters hold up nicely even when the logo was really small.

I made the letters quite a bit wider (and thus a bit more rounded), not just by stretching them — that would distort the shapes — but as real designed extended letters. (I got some help from RMX Tools, which I used to add a width axis in >a href=”http://www.fontlab.com/” target=”_blank”>FontLab Studio.) After that, I modified the shapes quite a bit.

The treatment of the x was inspired by Xavier Dupré’s Vista Slab. Lopping off the left part of the t crossbar made it seem more modern and also helped with what would otherwise be awkward spacing between the x and the t. I also lopped off the inner right serif of the n (like Donnerstag or Palatino), and then I had to make the n a tad narrower to compensate for the missing interior serif. I gave the s more playful ball terminals (like Donnerstag or Archer [by Hoefler & Frere-Jones]). Although I had messed with it a lot, the great underlying craftsmanship in Vik and José’s letterforms gave me a great base. Now the whole thing was a bit more jaunty and modern, compatible with the e-head without being quite as extreme.

Soon we began to roll it out internally. The first showing was just the wordmark without the e-head. In retrospect… not such a good idea. But a few months later we showed it with the e-head, and regular human heads started to nod. They could see what I was balancing the wordmark against. Last week it went up on signs at our downtown Portland headquarters.

Every time I look at it I like it more. That’s a good feeling. But I will be very interested to hear what outside folks think of it!

Read previous posts about the decision-making processes behind the Extensis rebrand:

  1. When is it Time for a Rebrand?
  2. Diving into the Icy Cold Waters of a Brand Refresh
  3. Brand Refresh: Getting the Gang Onboard

 

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Posted on: April 2, 2012

Thomas Phinney

Thomas Phinney is a font and typography expert and consultant. In his day job, Thomas is Vice President of FontLab, the font creation/​editing software company. He is also treasurer of ATypI, the international typographic association. From 1997-​​2008 he did type at Adobe, lastly as product manager for fonts and global typography.

17 Comments on Case Study: Designing a New Logo

  1. As a freelancer without a team to work with, I loved hearing the process and thought that went into this makeover. Helped assure me that my process (converstions in my head) is similar to the big boys with teams of designers. Never having worked in an agency setting, I enjoy the inside glimse of how larger agencies work on projects such as this. Thanks!

  2. The writeup of the design process was good, to see the various iterations you went through, but the final result just doesn’t integrate. The letterforms on the Extensis don’t have enough mass to balance the thick forms of the e-head. I know about contrast, but in this case, it just doesn’t seem to gel for me. At best I’d consider this an OK logo. As a logo designer myself, I understand that a large part of the project is pleasing the client, so there may have been many outside influences that directed the design. Neither the icon or the lettering gives me an emotional impact or makes me feel satisfied with the company image. The e-head icon has a 50s or early 60s feel that doesn’t forward “modern” at all. I wish I was more taken by the design, but I just don’t get the coordination or corporate feel of Extensis–and I’ve been using their products for nearly 20 years, and even beta tested various titles.

  3. Very “satisfying” typeface (Extensis); I like the soft/hard contrasts in the word.
    And who could dislike the happy little e-face!? Disarming.

  4. I always hesitate to criticize a fellow artist(s), but I don’t think this new logo works at all. The whimsical “smiley face e” looks dated, and perhaps even derivative of the Goodwill “smiling g” logo.

    The typeface used doesn’t at all suggest a program that provides precise typographic control….the spaces between some letters (the E and x, the n and s) are awkward, the s’s look ill-formed, and the lower case e doesn’t look like it really goes with the other letterforms. Finally, the smiley e doesn’t look like it even belongs with the Extensis, as if they found themselves neighbors by accident.

    Again, sorry to seem hypercritical, and I know art is subjective, but in this case I preferred the original logo to the new one.

  5. very open, welcoming. typeface has gorgeous enhancements. win-win.

  6. I love the “x.” The round serifs on the “s” strike me as being different from the rest of the logo. Overall, I feel like the type portion could stand over time. The smiley-e, while a bold move, probably won’t last as long. What a great project to work on. You should feel good about the work you did. However, be ready, as every typophile on the planet will have a different, yet strong opinion.

  7. I almost never made it to the end. In my mind it went: boring, boring, boring, not so boring, getting better, beautiful job. I’ve looked at the new logo several times and liked it more each time. Now it’s off to redo my own.

  8. When I first saw the wordmark — without having read the article — I assumed that you’d “mixed and matched” different fonts to make the mark, that it was a deliberate attempt to showcase your font-related products. I didn’t think it was a good decision because I thought the word look too unbalanced. But now that I know it’s the same font, I think even less of it.

    And the “e-head” reminds me of all of those “web 2.0″ logos that were everywhere a few years ago. And it really just doesn’t work with the wordmark at all.

  9. Wow, you needed 2 other agencies as well to come up with that?

  10. I am not a designer or font guru, just an ordinary computer user. When I saw the logo I wondered what was packman doing trapped in a blue balloon? I would not take it as the letter “e” which is the start of your name.

    As for the name, the “te” seems out of place in the word. Why do you want to emphasis those letters? When I look at your name the word “ten” pops out to me.

    It does not work for me, but I am just a causal reader of computer articles on logo designs.

  11. The logo is really important for one successful brand! One of the most crucial things this logo lacks is readability. When a user visits a web site, or visits any medium in which a logo is displayed, the first thing that hits them should be the logo. And for some reason or another, the first place us humans look is the upper left hand corner of a site. There’s also nothing exciting with this logo. For a logo to be effective, it has to “brand” an image, it needs to stick in your head. HireRemovals

  12. Here’s your problem, that big Egyptian capital “E”. It no longer strengthens the identity. Drop it. Move the e-head in closer and your done. Now it’s more playful and compact with a hint of sensibility toward those typographical conscientious customers.
    Doug Campbell, Austin TX

  13. I love your process and totally get it. But sometimes due diligence produces too many good ideas and I think trying to include all of them in your logo redesign sends this project off the rails.

    Suggestions: With some tighter kerning at bigger sizes, the type logo will have more impact and scan as a unit better. My main problem here is with the rounded serifs of the “s” characters. I get your concept with multiple typographic designs representing the core business of Extensis in managing many different fonts, but this detail feels forced. One idea too many undermining a cohesive design. Perhaps the “curved” serif of the “x” can be added here?

    As for the “e” head, well…it doesn’t do anything for me. It is pictographic without the slightest hint of relevant meaning to Extensis. If it is also meant to stand on its own, double-ditto!

    As this appears to be a done deal, perhaps these comments will be helpful in any future modifications.

  14. I was astonished when the company I rep changed its logo and branding after nearly 30 years of using an appropriate and adorable/recognizable logo. A new owner wants a fresh look …in our case I believe it was a huge mistake. We went away from something concrete, yet playful, that really spoke to who we are…an educational toy company. The new logo could be for any type of business…it is abstract and uses many different (read: expensive to print) colors. See the new look at Discovery Toys.

  15. Love the color, love the symbol side. I also like the style of the slab serifs from the E across to the n, but I feel the round terminals on the two s characters throws it off. I would move back to the slabs of Adelle for those to eliminate the “Frankenstein” effect.

  16. I rather like the ball serifs, especially in proximity to the dot on the “i”. Two things just kill me, though: the cap “E” — why didn’t you lop off a serif there? It strikes me as overly horsey compared to the playfulness of the other letters; and for pete’s sake, fix the kerning!

  17. Brilliant case study and would say very attractive design in the end. Logo Designer across the globe facing difficulties on daily basis because there are clients who are very intelligent and knows about color combination very well and in the same way there are clients who doesn’t know about designing and starts suggesting you different things and when you come out with their given result they tells you that the design is horrible.

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