I love Turbine’s new logo. It’s clean and colourful. It expresses some of Turbine’s purpose: the light green ‘blades’ are like turbine blades or the blades of a propeller and suggest motion, progress and efficiency. There’s also a hint of the infinity sign and the yin-yang symbol which are resonant concepts for software that becomes an intimate part of people’s daily lives. And the green colour points to the environmental benefits of reducing paperwork.
But getting there took a long time. It was, for me at least, a painful process. Or perhaps I should say a learning process. Let me tell you about the journey and then I’ll share what I learned.
The evolution of a logo
Originally Turbine was called RedTape and the logo reflected that.
For the first site, launched in May 2011, we stayed with the red dot from the original logo.
By August 2011, a new designer had evolved the website so it looked more like the application and the logo changed to match it.
This new website saw the dawn of the clock graphic which became a sort of substitute logo (mainly because we often needed something more visual than the plain text logotype).
Over the last year, the clock logo flattened and merged with the name in a new version of the logo.
However, I was never really happy with a clock-based logo, which was a little misleading as Turbine grew to embrace purchase orders, HR records and other features.
So, in 2013, I started a new website project with the wonderful Laura Kalbag and that included a logo redesign.
I’ve always found it quite hard to express what I like and don’t like about logos. It has often felt like designers and business owners are ‘two people divided by a common language’.
One way that I tried to bridge the gap was by using a design inspiration mood board on Pinterest. I also collected images and sketches that I liked and which seemed relevant. I saw this picture of sails in 2011 and it stuck with me.
I also loved these swirling sculptures that I saw in a museum in New York. I think both images inspired the final logo but only after fairly extensive detours in other directions.
That said, some of my other initial thoughts, and my instincts, were more geometric. I sent Laura some classic Mondrian as well as these swirling images.
I also put together a brief for the website and logo with some clippings of what I like, such as:
As well as a visual briefing, I wrote a detailed brief with information about the company, our customers and business objectives. Here are a couple of paragraphs from it as an example:
The site needs to be human, business-like and approachable. Efficient, yes, but with a human face. For example, the hand-drawn elements on Basecamp. Since Turbine doesn’t actually have a lot of people working here, pictures of actual people are likely to be misleading.
The app itself is sober and no-nonsense and users shouldn’t find it too jarring when then they arrive in the trial so we need to pick up some of the colours or style from the app in the site. Set realistic but exciting expectations.
Evolution of the new design
Laura and I spent several weeks going back and forth with different sketches and ideas. She’s very good at responding to feedback and coming up with new ideas.
Laura’s initial concept involved geometric treatments of the letter ‘t’ from Turbine. I think she drew her initial direction from my preference for Swiss design and perhaps from the Mondrian.
This produced some striking designs but after a lot of consideration and some informal feedback from colleagues, I felt that it was a bit too dazzling and hard to read. Also, it didn’t have satisfying layers of meaning or resonance that make a good logo work.
In addition a competitor just launched with a very similar logo concept.
Trying to find a different direction for the design, I sent Laura this terrible sketch of an ‘infinity symbol’ at an angle plus a Zen Buddhist symbol.
In response to this, Laura sent some new sketches.
I christened these designs the ‘Schwas’ because of the spooky eyes. But as Laura evolved the concept, we found a colour scheme and a design that we both liked.
The three highlighted concepts slowly converged on the design we have today. Ta da!
Observations and lessons learned
- Get a good designer who speaks your language and does work you like. (Hello Laura!)
- Keep your eyes open. Snapshot cool images, logos, websites, art and design. Visit museums and galleries. Buy the occasional design magazine. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
- Don’t settle (but don’t stress). Designing a good logo requires effort, dialogue and iteration. Unless the first draft you see is truly perfect, keep working at it. Doing the work digs up new gems.
- Brief well. You can help a designer by giving more information about your world – customers, objectives, goals, competitors. It all primes the pump.
- Learn to speak pidgin design. Understanding how designers think and talk, for example by reading up on typography, will help you build a better dialogue.
- Let designers design. Don’t try to do their job for them. I’m careful not to give direct orders like ‘make it green’ when I’m giving feedback but instead I try to give feedback like ‘to my eyes, the blue version doesn’t stand out so clearly against that background’. It’s a version of ‘when you do x it makes me feel y’. This takes the ego out of the discussion and it helps the designer see with your eyes.
- Be patient. It’s going to take some time. Start sooner!