Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your client chooses to ignore your advice.
That’s the hard part about being passionate about your work. Creativity is more than just ideas…it’s passion. And along with that passion comes a willingness to fight for what you know is right. In the worlds of marketing, advertising, and graphic design, however, you must be willing to compromise. (Or starve.) Like any other business, the customer is always right, even when you disagree with their decision. This is the story of one such project.
For a time in the early part of the 21st Century, our fearless leader, Brad Kozak, took a career detour, and went to work for an ad agency that specialized in ads for car dealerships. One of their client dealerships was a small Chrysler/Jeep dealer in Lubbock, Texas, Spirit Auto. Spirit Auto had a logo that was…ahem…dated. [EDITOR’S NOTE: If by ‘dated’ you mean ‘ugly,’ ‘obsolete,’ and ‘in desperate need of replacing,’ then ‘dated’ is an accurate description.] While working there, Brad took the initiative to rework the logo.
“We were told by Chrysler to stop using their old “Pentastar” in our logo,” Brad offered. “They’d phased it out, and we were in technical violation of the dealer agreement.” That was the first challenge. The next was color. “The original logo had a washed-out look, which was not an accident of exposure to the sun,” Brad continued. Then there was the typography. “I’ve seen a lot of bad logos in my time,” offered Kozak. “This is high up on that list.” The logo was a mishmash of typefaces, none of which were well-suited to the purpose. If, as Beatrice Warde said “Typefaces are the clothes that words wear,” then this logo was wearing the equivalent of bell bottoms, chaps, and a cowboy hat.
Kozak’s redesign took the form of a riff off the Texas state flag. “It occurred to me that there were some similarities, and a refreshed red, white and blue color palette would work well, exchanging the Pentastar for a Texas lone star.” Brad offered, “I wanted to combine the flag graphic with a classic typeface – in this case Copperplate. But there was one problem…in order to convey a sense of energy and speed, I really needed an italic face. Copperplate has never been offered in an italic face.” The compromise was to skew the Roman version of the face, to provide an italic-like version. “Despite what some designers think, there’s a huge difference in an italic face and an ‘oblique’ version of a Roman face,” Brad stated. “And just skewing a Roman face isn’t enough. You have to go in an adjust the curves to make it work, optically.”
Brad went through twenty or so iterations of the design, refining it further each time. “Sometimes a logo springs, fully-developed from your brain, like a Greek goddess emerging from the forehead of Zeus. Sometimes they don’t. This one took many iterations to get it right.”
Now of course, there’s a lot more to a logo redesign decision than just “do we want a new logo.” There are expenses to consider – building signage, letterhead, business cards, in-store graphics, forms…all the things that go into running a business. Some companies are willing to ‘slipstream’ a new logo design. Others want to make a clean break with the old, which can be an expensive proposition. In this instance, the decision was made for Spirit Auto, by Chrysler: update now.
“I took the final version of the logo into my boss, the head of our agency, fully expecting an enthusiastic response and a green light to proceed,” Brad recalled. “I was floored when my boss tabled the whole idea. He said they were going to put the project on hold, despite instructions from Chrysler.” Brad left the agency shortly thereafter, to start his own business again. “About six months later, I happened on the Spirit Auto website, curious to see if they’d redone the logo, and if so, if they’d used my design,” Kozak said. “I was surprised when I saw an update to the logo that wasn’t substantially different from the original version.” Brad called a friend still at the agency. “It turned out the reason my boss was so lukewarm about the redesign was that he had designed the original logo. He thought the original looked just great, and the only reason to change anything was appease Chrysler. Here’s a look at the logo they chose:
While they did change the colors a bit, they went from some that looked faded to a red that is almost cartoonishly-bright.
“This just proves the point, that it’s not always the best design that wins out. And as a designer, you have to be able to argue your case effectively, and know when to give in,” Kozak concluded.