Logo Notions:
Inspirations, early designs, and the test of time

June 2005

By Jeff Fisher, Engineer of Creative Identity, Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

In initiating this series I took time to sort through box after box of old projects in my basement and look back on nearly thirty years of income producing design. While in high school and college I did get paid for art, illustration and design work. However, I don’t think I would have considered myself a professional until I was literally working as the graphic designer for the advertising department of my college’s daily newspaper in the late 1970’s.

From as early as grade school I was interested in art and design. As a junior high school entrepreneur I created ink line drawings of historic structures in my hometown as gifts for family friends and to sell at the annual local art fair. The drawings were printed on note cards and marketed, in packets of ten, at local gift shops and galleries under the name “Salem Scenes.” With the first packaging project of a 15-year-old boy came the creation of my first logo. Although the name reads more as “Scenes Salem” due to the text treatment, I do see early hints of the pleasure I still get today from combining letterforms and graphic elements in a somewhat clever manner to produce the identity for a business. My earliest logo effort combined an illustration executed with a rapidiograph pen and very rough letters made from x-acto knife cut graphic border tape.

As I moved into high school work on the student newspaper, and independent study in art classes, I learned that “commercial art” was a potentially viable field of endeavor. While a senior in high school, at the Salem Public Library , I came across the book Graphic Design by Milton Glaser. Glaser’s fun illustrations, lettering styles, publication designs and logo for the Russian Tea Room captivated me and gave a name to what I now wanted to be when I grew up. The humor and playfulness in his work seemed to tie into my own personality.

Learning more about the work of Milton Glaser introduced me to Pushpin Studios and the logo images of his business partner Seymour Chwast. I soon learned that even as a high school kid I could get a free subscription to a design industry publication called “U&lc” (now online) which featured the work of Glaser, Chwast and some many other designers I would come to admire and idolize. With each issues my eyes were opened to the work of U&lc editor/designer Herb Lubalin, Saul Bass, Lou Dorfsman, Mo Lebowitz and so many more incredible designers, artists and typographers. Additional information and examples of the work of many of these designers can be found on the AIGA site in the section on AIGA Medalists. Soaking up everything in the publication, I learned to look at design, typography, packaging, signage, logos, art and culture with a different eye. The recent book U&lc: Influencing Design and Typography edited by John D. Berry, brought back many memories of the excitement I would experience in receiving the tabloid in the mail when little about graphic design was being taught in my high school.

Off to college I went and, while learning the basic principles of design in class, a great deal of time was spent in the art library learning about the design work of individuals such as Paul Rand, Ivan Chermayeff & Tom Geismar, Walter Landor, Primo Angeli and other industry leaders. My schooling took a bit of a detour from the Fine Arts department to the advertising and publication courses of the Journalism School. From my professor Roy Paul Nelson, who wrote the books The Design of Advertising and Publication Design, I learned a great deal about the principles of design and typography.

Much of my new knowledge was put to the test as the ad designer for the daily school newspaper. I didn’t get a great deal of exposure to logo design but I did get to create a few less than stellar, quick and dirty, identities for local businesses – mostly hand drawn and using hand-lettering. Still, I was getting hooked on this design thing. In my first logo design competition, for the University’s Chinese Student Association, my logo design - consisting of C,S and A letterforms creating a stylized dragon – was proclaimed the winner. Soon afterwards I got my first logo design commission when I was asked to design a new logo for the Eugene/University Music Association. In those early creations – all done with ink on illustration board - I was already establishing something of a style and exhibiting that I might actually be learning something from my studies and personal research.

Once I completed school, and moved on to Portland in 1980, I continued my self-education when it came to logo design. I began my collection of identity and logo design books for inspiration and individual study. I able to afford subscriptions at the time but the local library provided a resource for reading Communication Arts, Print and other industry magazines for continuing education and examples of great logo work. A few logo projects did come my way as I began my career as an independent designer. When starting any identity design effort, four major pieces of advice from college always stuck in my mind:

• The old K.I.S.S. principle of “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

• Make sure that sucker works well in black and white before even considering colors.

• Design the image to clearly convey the desired message in all sizes.

• When designing the graphic, give serious consideration to all possible uses of the logo by the client, from print to embroidery to signage.

In digging through boxes and files of old projects I did find most of my first professional logo designs. Although the images are nearly 25 years old, or older, they do seem to still work as well today as when they were originally introduced. Some do exhibit the telltale signs of the boldness and geometric shapes used in many identities of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Unfortunately, the logos are no longer used to represent the entities in question or the companies represented are no longer in business.

The image of a bottle of India ink within a circle was my first attempt at a logo for myself in 1979. I decided to use the business name artworks, ink to represent my design and fine art work. The top portion of the graphic also formed the letter “A.” I used the image, rubberstamped on all my business materials for a couple of years before I was encouraged to introduce my design work with my given name. My logo for the accounting firm Kohnen Larson was one of my first paid logo design projects after college. The abstract “K” and “L” served the firm well for many years. The assignment from the owner of Al Bauer Advertising was to also design an abstract image to represent his firm. In fact, at one time he considered using one of his daughter’s modern paintings as the image for his firm. When shown the design he ended up selecting he said it was “perfect” and represented the fact that in advertising “everything is all neat and orderly, and then something goes out of whack.” Two weeks later Bauer called to say he had just realized the logo was actually abstract lower case “a” and “b” letterforms. The successful design was blind embossed on all stationery items for the company. The design for the Robinwood Shopping Center, consisting of a tree image created from flying birds, identified the mall in signage and advertising for many years.

The logo for the Unity National Insurance Company was meant to convey a solid image for a new division of an existing insurance client’s business. The interlocking shapes were usually only seen as a “U” and a “N” after a second look by the viewer. Being commissioned to create a logo for the La Patisserie initiated an on-going interest in identity design for restaurants and the hospitality industry. One of the first espresso cafes in Portland, La Patisserie was recognizable by its unique logo design until it closed in 2002 after 20 years in operation. The Tel-Med icon, consisting of a stylized human form and telephone keypad, represented the local medical information hotline for a number of years. I was always told that the simplicity of the design gave it the longevity. Combined “S” and “N” letterforms created the logo for Samuels & Nudelman Public Relations. The logo provided the firm a strong, bold identity as it entered the local market.

It was interesting for me to revisit these designs, in some cases over 25 years after their creation, and examine the strength of some of my early design efforts. Using hand-drawn imagery, pressure-sensitive type, adhesive-backed art films, and typography produced by a typesetter, I got a good start to what would become my passion in this industry. It would be over 10 years before the first computer, a Macintosh IIsi, appeared on my desk. By that time I had been working as a designer for nearly 13 years. In 1995 I would make the decision to concentrate on logo design.

A variety of logo designers have continued to inspire me over the last 25 years. David Lance Goines’ poster and logo designs have always fascinated me. The work of Michael Schwab has always forced me to push myself a bit harder in my own efforts. The elegant designs of Louise Fili should inspire all designers. I am always inspired by the work of the Willoughby Design Group, Sayles Graphic Design, Hornall Anderson Design Works, Sandstrom Design – Steve was employed as the editorial cartoonist at the student newspaper at the same time I was on the staff back in college – and so many more. I hope to bring you examples of their work, and their perspectives on identity design, in future Logo Notions columns.

This was the initial Logo Notions column on the site Creative Latitude. Check out additional articles on the topic of identity design at Logo Notions.

© 2007 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives