Intense Minimalism 2010: designing the logo

6 minute read

The title of this blog came out one night. I was writing. Most of the time when I write at night I think about myself. The name “Intense Minimalism” came out with no effort. It was just right. It’s perfect because it describes well my attitude: to find the perfection in the detail, a detail that’s like a fractal, a part and a whole.

As you might guess by this, I’m also a logo lover.

What is a logo?

A logo is a form of expression, it’s a sign that maximizes a specific meaning (signified) while it minimizes the number of strokes (signifier) to represent it. As you can see: it’s intense and minimalist.

For me, the platonic idea of a logo is represented by a circle:

The circle is a very strong symbol. The one above is an ensō, by Kanjuro Shibata XX. “Ensō” is a japanese word that means “circle”. It symbolizes enlightenment, strength, elegance, the Universe, and the void. In Zen Buddhist painting, ensō symbolizes a moment when the mind is free to simply let the body/spirit create.

As you might guess, the circle symbol is so strong and so common that you can hardly build a logo with “just” it. But for me, it shows the characteristic a logo should have:

  1. Simple: fewer lines is better.
  2. Self-contained: it doesn’t need anything else to “stand” in a page, on a website, etc.
  3. Balanced: it’s well distributed on the two spatial dimensions.

Some examples:

My first logo

When I was a kid sometimes I picked up a paper and started thinking about a “logo” for me. At first I wasn’t thinking about a logo, but about a monogram. I spare you those ones, they were plain ugly. Then one day, during my high school, I drew one I thought it was pretty good. Years later I vectorialized it in Illustrator. Here it is:

Today I think that’s quite naive, and that’s an euphemism. For the most part I regret using it for so much time. You can also see that it’s blue: my favorite color is blue. I just wasn’t sure on what shade of blue I should use, but that’s it.

Problems? A lot:

  1. It’s a “D” from my name, but that’s not very clear.
  2. The concepts it expresses were mostly in my mind, but they didn’t match anything real about me: yes, it’s something blooming up there (like the coat of arms of Florence). Yes, it resembles a comet. And a sail. Too much.
  3. It has small parts so it can’t be very small.
  4. It isn’t enough bold to be used with a filler image.
  5. It is quite within the “enso”, but not enough.
  6. Aligning it with text is a big problem.

So, 2009. I decided to evolve it.

The evolution

So I decided to evolve it. At first I thought I could blend it with the infinity symbol, but it was too pretentious. Still, the task of building it was interesting since very small variations on the curvature of any of its parts was able to “break” the perception of it. I forgot: it was a D, an infinity symbol and in a “perceived” 3D.

It’s unfinished, it was a nice experiment, but it’s still ugly, if not uglier than its precursor. It’s cool playing with the infinity symbol, it’s cool trying pseudo-3D, but well. No. Rewind.

So I simply decided to give elegance and boldness to the first one. Still an evolution, I was trying to build something new with old pieces.

This was fine for me. It was elegant. It solved many problems of the first one. It was also technically “perfect”, built with just a two ellypses in different sizes and positions:

If you read up until now, you should notice that I “forgot” everything I was saying in the first paragraphs of this article. My friends were saying “uhhh nice nice”: I had to convince them it was good.

The months were passing. One evening of october I was talking with Gaetano Grizzanti, a guru for me in the brand design field (go check his company, Univisual and its wonderful and powerful logo). I showed the logo to him.

“It’s good …for a military organization.”

That was it.
No more words.
He changed topic.

I went to sleep with those words in my mind. The next morning I looked again at the logo and it was clear to me that I was ignoring my own ideas. I was stuck in some mental loophole. The logo was good for a Space Marine legion.

I took again in my hands the book about japanese calligraphy I had on the shelf. Then I immersed myself in all the books and websites about logo design, to “clean” my mind.

The process

Designing a logo for a person is both easier and harder than doing it for a company. First of all, I wrote down all the things I wanted my logo to be able to express. A long list of words about me, my profession, my style. Then I killed all the words that were too much “external”: I wanted a logo able to express me, not what I can do or how I appear on the surface. Then I killed all the words that were too common, too “everyone wants this”, too abstract.

Then I did a little bit of copywriting on the remaining words, there were just a few. I wrote them alone on a sheet of paper.

  • simplicity
  • meaning
  • hybrid
  • synthesis
  • pragmatism

And I simply realized that what I was trying to express was just a variation of Intense Minimalism.

I took another sheet of paper and then for the next two weeks I took some time every evening to draw logo ideas and the next day to think about it. I showed some of them to my friends, got some feedback and started again the next day.

  • Simplicity called strongly for “just the circle” but as I’ve stated before, you can’t make a logo from just a circle.
  • Meaning was intrinsic in the logo concept by itself.
  • Hybrid. An unity made by different parts.
  • Synthesis told me to do something that in some ways should converge to an unity (the last synthesis possible).
  • Pragmatism meant that it should be some sort of geometry. Or something handwritten (like the enso above).

This is the last of the sheets I filled.

The Intense Minimalism logo

  1. Simple an geometric. Just three circles (three one of the “perfect numbers”).
  2. The middle part isn’t just the overlapping part between the two external circles: it’s a perfect circle by itself. It expresses well how the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
  3. Also, it’s like the additive property of the RGB space: blue + blue = white.
  4. It expresses well the hybrid concept: a unity made by different parts.
  5. The two external circles are of light blue and dark blue.
  6. It’s a little 3D, since it could be viewed as a ring, slightly angled.

My favorite meaning is the second one.

The typography

Univers has two close siblings: Folio and Neue Haas Grotesk, also known as Helvetica. They were all released in the same year, 1957, and they have the same father: Akzidenz-Grotesk.

As Gianfranco hinted me, I didn’t add anything about the logotype itself. I skipped that because in fact it’s the same logotype I’ve used for years on my italian blog. It’s born alongside my attraction to the Univers typeface, mostly in its condensed variations.

The “leaves” are something I took from my first logo but they are there hinting to something living, something that’s blooming, while in a discrete way.

The interesting part about it is that John Boardley of I Love Typography fame gave me an hand in december of 2008 to correct some kerning issues (i.e. “a+l” tighter, “ten” to be readjusted). It’s a small detail but helps in defining a better result overall, and it was a short but interesting conversation with him. He’s a great guy.

Logosheet

As I always do when I complete a logo design, I made what I call a logosheet, an editable PDF with all the important traits of the logo, the inverted form, some rules on its usage and a few more details. The PDF is editable in order to take from it the logo when you need it.