Steps to a Good Logo Design: The IBCS Case Study, Part I
In 2015, I was pleased to be able to lay some foundational work in a rebrand project for International Baptist College and Seminary, a small Christian undergraduate and graduate school in Arizona. The first phase of that was a redesign of IBCS’s crest (i.e., official seal), which will serve as their primary logo mark going forward.The redesigned crest was really effective and IBCS was very pleased—but not just because it was visually appealing, which we all agreed that it was. It was effective because, first, it was a spot-on representation of who IBCS is as an organization, and second, every single one of IBCS’s goals and desires for the project was successfully delivered on. In the end, the crest I was able to create was exactly what they were envisioning.
The redesigned crest was really effective and IBCS was very pleased—but not just because it was visually appealing, which we all agreed that it was. It was effective because, first, it was a spot-on representation of who IBCS is as an organization, and second, every single one of IBCS’s goals and desires for the project was successfully delivered on. In the end, the crest I was able to create was exactly what they were envisioning.
“IBCS was pleased not because the logo was visually appealing (which it was), but because it met every single one of their goals and was exactly what they wanted.”
The accomplishment of which I was most proud, however, is that the right solution came right out of the gate without any real revisions whatsoever. In other words, the first version of the crest was the right version, not because it was so creative and artistic, so powerfully appealing as to overcome and subdue every opinion. No, it was right the first time because it was developed through a fail-proof logo design process that is predicated on listening to the client, understanding their product or organization, and then delivering a solution that is directly rooted in that information.
What I’d like to do in these two posts is pull back the curtains and outline the steps in that process. It’s a process that I take a great deal of pride in, because it enables me to consistently deliver spot-on design solutions that meet the client’s needs and desires. And again, it’s not magic, difficult, or rocket science. It all just comes down to good ol’ fashioned listening.
Step 1: Clarifying Project Goals
The first goal in this (and in every) logo design process is to understand the client’s goals. In the case of this project, IBCS’s desire was to have a new crest that would serve as logo mark in both official and casual contexts (i.e., a business letterhead and on their Facebook page). However, they also wanted the crest to be comprised of elements that could either A) function on their own as secondary marks, or B) be the basis for other primary marks.
When IBCS first approached me, they didn’t have a logo or a meaningful brand identity functionally speaking. They had some elements they regularly used that they had picked up along the way, but nothing was official or had any real meaning or connection to anything they were doing, and none of it was used consistently. Their actual logo—the original crest, designed when the school was founded in 1981—they felt was outdated, not constructed well, and cluttered. Though an important part of their history and still usable in special contexts, it simply did not represent who IBCS is today and where they’re headed.
We determined initially that the rebrand needed to begin with a redesign of the crest. It was crucial that the new crest be pregnant with significance and meaning in keeping with their values and commitments. No element in the new crest could be allowed to be arbitrary; it was critical that everything pulse with the heartbeat of who IBCS is and why they exist. Everything had to be there to be sure, coherently connected to everything else, but in a way that would allow each element to speak individually.
Step 2: Identifying Brand Voice
The next step in the process was identifying the voice of the IBCS brand as a whole. The reason for that is because, in its purest and most proper sense, a logo is simply the entire brand aesthetic distilled down to a singular point of visual essence. In other words, if you take the whole brand aesthetic, put it all in a pot on medium heat and let it simmer and reduce for 2 hours, what you’ll end up with is the logo. At least that’s what you should get if the process was done right from the outset.
It is impossible for a logo to say everything—but that’s ok; it doesn’t need to and shouldn’t try to. But what it absolutely must do is contain the whole DNA of the brand aesthetic ‘in its loins’ so to speak. Everything that is stated plainly in the brand must be foreshadowed in the logo, must already exist in essential form within the logo itself.
During this phase I sought to answer questions of the character and nature of IBCS, and to identify the desires and interests of their primary client (or in this case, student). This is incredibly important because it is here in the answers to these two questions that we discover what the brand aesthetic needs to be. Here we find out what the brand needs to say, and who it needs to say it to.
“If you take the whole brand aesthetic, put it all in a pot on medium heat and let it reduce for 2 hours, what you’ll end up with is the logo.”
IBCS’s existing branding was simply ineffective in that regard. Much like their impromptu logo mentioned above, their whole aesthetic was made up of elements that had been randomly adopted over time, none of which were grounded in any meaning or chosen for any particular purpose.
However, after work and research and exploration and some good ol’ fashioned Q-and-A, IBCS’s brand aesthetic became clear: contemporary but not trendy; grounded in a rich tradition but not stodgy or stuffy; rigorously academic but spiritually warm; fiercely intellectual but conscientiously compassionate; above all, distinctively Christian, committed to historic conservative theology and an authoritative and trustworthy inscripturated Word of God.
Step 3: Logo Concept Exploration
Sufficiently-armed with an understanding of IBCS’s desires for the project and having discovered their brand aesthetic, we were ready to begin working out the details of the new crest itself. This phase of the logo design process was made up of more questions for IBCS on my part and exploration with them of both good and bad examples that reflected what they were trying to accomplish. Nothing was off the table at this point; every logo out there—and every element of every logo—was fair game for discussion and examination.
This step in the process is indispensable for clarifying the direction of a logo design, and this was no exception. Every example we considered and every detail we discussed helped uncover the visual particulars of what we were aiming to accomplish. Here are some of the examples we reviewed:
As you can see, there’s a really wide aesthetic and communicative range represented here on multiple levels. Again, however, this kind of exchange and review is a critical part of getting a logo right.
In part 2, we’ll cover the rest of the IBCS case study, as well as conclude with a few observations on the logo design process.