June 23rd, 2015 by Richard Turgeon
Wired recently ran a piece entitled Typography is Why Jeb’s Logo is Worse Than a Piece of Crap. I say this in a non-partisan way, but it’s one of those headlines that kind of says it all.
Even though Bush has been using a variation on this logo since 1993, the recently unveiled 2015 version unleashed a new barrage of snark from the design community, with pundits criticizing everything from the typeface (Baskerville) to the exclamation point (“I don’t want to be told to get excited”) to the baseline of the exclamation point. AdWeek fed the flames of the controversy by reposting a bunch of mostly negatively “humorous” takes from the twittersphere.
One sunny summer afternoon, a group of hungry type enthusiasts at Extensis set out to survey cart pods across our home city of Portland, Oregon. We wondered, how does the P-town food truck scene reflect in their signage and typography? The PDX Food Cart Font-Off was born.
We Challenge You to Show Us Your City’s Best with the Food Cart Font-Off Contest
It’s time to represent your neck of the woods—with prizes up for grabs. The food cart and truck culture is big in places like Austin, Boston, LA and NY—now it’s your turn to show off the best cart typography your turf has to offer.
To enter, submit a photo of the best food cart typography in your city—then rally votes. Two winners (clinched by most votes, and our top favorite) will receive an awesome foodie prize pack. Enter to win one of two fabulous goodie boxes. Check out the sweet prizes shown below.
Foodie Prize Packs (2) include:
- Oversized Pretzel Pool Float—Tasty, twisty fun
- Sriracha Water Bottle
- Hedgehog Toothpick Holder—for serving cocktails or hors d’oeuvres
- Retro Pop-Up Hot Dog Toaster (awesome grill marks included)
- Ninjabread Men Cookie Cutters (3 different warriors)
- Peanut Butter & Jelly Best Friend Rings (share with your bestie)
- Stainless Steel Bicycle Handlebar Cup Holder
- Sunnyside Egg Shaper—The forecast for breakfast is yolky with some light cloud cover
- Presto PopLite Hot Air Popcorn Popper (#1 best seller)
Extra credit for elegant use of fonts generally despised by graphic designers (Papyrus, Comic Sans, Hobo, Curlz). We’re not saying it’s even possible, but…WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! We just gave you a reason to eat and browse for the best fonts you can find.
Did you watch The Pitch?
In August and September 2013, AMC aired season 2 of The Pitch. For those of you who haven’t seen the show, each episode pits competing agencies against one another and follows their teams as they prepare to battle for a piece of new business—with only seven days to perfect their pitch. It’s a real competition shot documentary-style, featuring brands like Little Caesars Pizza and 1-800-Flowers.com.
Some folks in marketing might consider hiring an agency a necessary evil. An outside team can be a great well of creative strategy, but may carry the risk of being expensive and “excitable.” And there’s always the mysterious “creative process” that often produces the great work, but can’t be defined or revealed. The Pitch aims to the expose the “secret sauce,” which (at times) can appear a little unsettling or flat-out grueling.
Secret Sauce in the Spotlight
It looks as though it might be both excruciating and, at brief moments exhilarating to come up with a provocative idea that resonates— if the documentary is true to life. Some of the agencies sharing their esoteric ingredients on national TV include MC2, Pasadena Advertising, Neuron Syndicate and The Monogram Group. (These four agencies just happen to be customers of Extensis.)
Love or hate the show, it can’t be easy to place yourself in the spotlight while you’re trying to work. We’d like to congratulate these teams for putting themselves under the microscope and on the chopping block—at least they’re all winning publicity!
Sometimes Clients Choose People Over Ideas
“I think what’s important when you’re going to work with an agency is that you share a lot of the same personality traits, because a brand is really a reflection of our personality,” explains Goldberg. “So in this case, we actually liked the agency more than the idea they came up with…”
So what did you think?
The show averaged 330,000 viewers during the first season, according to Nielsen. Ratings have declined in the second season, to about 167,000 viewers per show.
Do you think we’ll see a season three and do you think the series poses an accurate representation of the agency pitch process? Tell us in the comments below and we’ll send you some swag.
I travel a lot for Extensis. Speaking at various events, working trade shows and paying visits to our customers in various cities. Recently I spent some time in Las Vegas for a great event called Future Insights Live.
While I didn’t get a chance to visit everywhere in Las Vegas, I did walk around a bit of the strip and surrounding areas to check out the use of typography in the various logo graphics and signs in the community. As you can imagine, there’s a full spectrum of type use in this town. From the playful and professional, to the downright gaudy and garish, as you would expect, Las Vegas has got it all.
I like the use of the loop in the logo for the roller coaster at the New York New York casino. Classy and it makes me want to go for a ride! This ice cream “signage” had me cracking up, and it even had a nice hand carved look of the faux marble carving. While creative, the logo and signage for this restaurant is less than readable. The Treasure Island Casino has a playful use of typographic elements in their logo. The SciFi look of this deli’s signage definitely matches their schmancy alien like lighting fixtures.
I fell in love with the Aria hotel while I was there. The visual serenity that they’ve created within this building is striking. The typographic use is calm, serene and perfect. Not too much, or too little. It’s in the Goldilocks zone for me.
Of course most everything else is bigger, bolder and in your face. Take the multi-story tall letters of the MGM Grand as a perfect example. These suckers can surely be seen for many miles during the day or night.
I do also like what they’ve done with the internal restaurant Hakkasan’s logo inside the MGM. It’s bold and fun.
Not all is well in Sin City, as you would expect. It’s easy to find issues on the strip, such as this unfortunate signage fail. Have any idea what “After Iours Club Vear” is? Yet, the typographic issues aren’t limited just to the lower-end stores. Check out what’s going on at the official Blue Man Group theater. With as popular and successful as how this group is, you’d think that they could pay a little attention to the kerning in their signage. They paid likely many thousands of dollars on their fancy, flashing lights infested entryway, but to me, all that I see is “THEAT – ER.” While everyone needs to gain the little bit of attention that they can garner, you can really tell that all of these shops are shouting “look at me!” to a probably less than desirable result.
Oh my Crazy Ely, no, please just stop now.
Of course, if you want to rent a machine gun, I bet you can locate a place even within this cacophony.
“Your logo is not your brand”
Well, of course it’s not! We all know that. However, we also know that it can communicate volumes. At Extensis, we have additional considerations here: If you are in our business—selling to creative teams and font enthusiasts- then the logo typography we choose will clearly communicate more to our audience (on a conscious level) than most other companies’ logos communicate to their audience. In short: our audience knows their stuff, they are smart and discriminating. And yes, they are just about as opinionated as I am. Touché.
—Extensis Marketing VP Amanda Paull
This leapt out from the many other options:
“Wow, Amanda. That’s… wild,” I said.
She had just given me my first look at this proposed (typo)graphical element of the new Extensis logo. It was just one option, and not even the one being pushed most heavily by our friends at Blue Collar Agency who were helping our re-branding effort. They had in turn roped in their friends at Owen Jones & Partners. Mark Rawlins from OJP, along with Simon Walker had come up with this thing, that I promptly dubbed the “e-head.” It was an “e” for Extensis, but it could also spawn comic-book word balloons. In fact, the first treatments had the Extensis wordmark being “spoken” by the head, like this.
In retrospect, I think that the angle of the sides of the speech balloon being just slightly off from the angle of the italics was one of the reasons these didn’t work for me. “I need some time to think about that e-head graphic,” I told her. “Can I get back to you tomorrow after I sleep on it?” She agreed, and I went off to ponder whether something this radical and arguably lighthearted would work for our brand. It couldn’t be further from the old logo:
I looked back over the feedback Amanda had gathered during the branding survey Blue Collar had done for us.
“Should be simple. Doesn’t have to be over the top.”
“I think we need a bit more kitschiness. Modern, slab serif perhaps.”
“They should use something with a no-nonsense quality, to give the sense of dependability and technology.”
“But it should have a twist, to give the sense of creativity as well.”
Well, the e-head certainly fit the bill on those counts. Perhaps except the “over the top” part. Having the wordmark spoken by the head in a dialog balloon probably met that. But if we just stuck with the e-head by itself? Simpler, and any over-the-topness came from the sensibility it conveyed, not from being overly-complex or too “busy.”
Then there were the directives arrived at for the branding redesign. As mentioned a couple posts back in this series, we wanted to communicate that Extensis:
- Loves type
- Is open and approachable
- Respects design tradition while progressing forward
- Takes our work and our customers, but not ourselves, seriously
Well, the e-head certainly communicated open, approachable, and not taking ourselves too seriously. As I looked at it more, the more convinced I became that as long as we balanced it just right with a typographic treatment of the “Extensis” name, this could work just fine. Maybe it would be a little bit polarizing, and some people would hate it. But I thought they would at least notice it, remember it, and maybe even talk about it. Yet over time it would just become comfortably familiar. The next day I made an impassioned plea in favor of the e-head (though not necessarily the wordmark-in-the-word-balloon). Amanda and other marketing folks bought it. We explored other approaches as well, but we focused more and more on what typographic treatment to give to “Extensis” that could pair with the e-head.
The setting needed to be a bit less silly and playful than the e-head, so as to counter-balance it a little. But if it got too serious it would just clash instead of complementing. Trying to find the right balance was tricky. Some more wordmarks in word balloons we tried:
But outside of a word balloon approach, they had also shown us two treatments with all-caps slab serifs, Rodeqa and Donnerstag.
Two weights of Rodeqa Slab 4F by Sergiy Tkachenko:
Donnerstag by Jeremy Dooley:
Rodeqa is a unicase font, but I looked at a lowercase version of the Donnerstag.
There were things I liked about Donnerstag, but essentially I just wasn’t happy with how a lot of the lowercase letters were drawn. It seemed very inconsistent, in that contrast between thick and thin strokes varied wildly from letter to letter. DOubtless it was a deliberate design decision on Dooley’s part, but it didn’t work for me.
Somewhere in here we agreed that lowercase was better. Not quite as formal and stuffy, I thought. So Rodeqa dropped out of the running. Then I started suggesting other typefaces. A few of my thoughts…
Museo Slab 300 by Jos Buivenga:
Vista Slab Light by Xavier Dupré:
Adelle Light by Veronika Burian & José Scaglione:
Still, nothing was quite working. Amanda and I spent half an hour going over all the options I’d tried to date, and identifying what we liked and didn’t like about each of them. Finally I went back to Amanda and said, “Give me a day or two to work with some letterforms myself and I can make something we will like. I’ll start with Adelle, because it is just so darned well drawn, and modify it until it meets our needs.”
I started by interpolating a custom weight, roughly mid-way between the regular and the semibold. In my experiments was about as light as I could go and still have the letters hold up nicely even when the logo was really small.
I made the letters quite a bit wider (and thus a bit more rounded), not just by stretching them—that would distort the shapes—but as real designed extended letters. (I got some help from RMX Tools, which I used to add a width axis in FontLab Studio.) After that, I modified the shapes quite a bit.
The treatment of the x was inspired by Xavier Dupré’s Vista Slab. Lopping off the left part of the t crossbar made it seem more modern and also helped with what would otherwise be awkward spacing between the x and the t. I also lopped off the inner right serif of the n (like Donnerstag or Palatino), and then I had to make the n a tad narrower to compensate for the missing interior serif. I gave the s more playful ball terminals (like Donnerstag or Archer). Although I had messed with it a lot, the great underlying craftsmanship in Vik and José’s letterforms gave me a great base. Now the whole thing was a bit more jaunty and modern, compatible with the e-head without being quite as extreme.
Soon we began to roll it out internally. The first showing was just the wordmark without the e-head. In retrospect… not such a good idea. But a few months later we showed it with the e-head, and regular human heads started to nod. They could see what I was balancing the wordmark against. Last week it went up on signs at our downtown Portland headquarters.
Every time I look at it I like it more. That’s a good feeling. But I will be very interested to hear what outside folks think of it!
This is the fourth in a series on rebranding:
- When is it time for a rebrand?
- Diving into the icy cold waters of a brand refresh
- Brand Refresh: Getting the gang on board
P.S. This is a simplified version of the logo development story. The full version would have three times as many steps and shown another 50 or 100 fonts! For the font geeks out there, in tweaking Adelle, I used RMX Tools to create a multiple master, and added a width axis! Then I tweaked both weight and width until I got the initial letters “right.”
[Updated same day to add/resize some graphics and clarify one sentence. And again to add a note on RMX Tools. And again to add links to previous posts in the series.]
That’s one word for it. Changing a brand that people have lived with so long. You can’t please everyone. You hope to get 2 out of 3.
It’s so easy to overlook that the group most invested in the current brand are those in your own backyard. Employees will prove the most skeptical, which is a good benchmark for “does this pass the sniff test?” After all, if your brand messengers can’t get on board, then you’re not accomplishing much, are you?
Skepticism is natural since we’ve all lived with this current brand for so long. It’s like an old friend (or at least your favorite, albeit ripped to shreds, T-shirt) Familiarity breeds comfort. ‘New’ does not.
My thinking was that the best way to get people on board was to bring them along for the ride. In my previous post I talked about the research process and how involved our employees and partners were at the early stages. Since not everyone was involved in each phase, I started there.
Keeping in mind that those who ‘know’ a brand don’t necessarily understand consciously all the ways in which it touches them, we wanted to weave that in as well: What is a brand? Why does it matter? Research results? How does this alter how we talk about ourselves? What visual directives come out of this?
I modified this presentation so you could get the gist of where I was going.
Aside: You can see that I used Prezi as the medium- it is an awesome tool for presenters who are global thinkers (as opposed to linear). Complex concepts are rarely linear in nature. That’s what makes Prezi so spectacular for communicating (it is also so visually engaging that you can lull your audience into a trance, which can come in handy). If you haven’t used it, you should definitely check them out: http://prezi.com
I presented the research information first. Some weeks later we then did a recap of this and presented the visual elements that key off of it. The visuals were in a state of ‘partial’ completion, but enough to give a real taste. For fun, at that time we passed out a backpack to everyone with the new logo and made some fresh, new-branded desktop art available for people to use on their internal machines. While not ready for prime time, it was just a simple way for the team here to test-drive the new brand. You know, try it on for size.
Following the ‘reveal’, I received a little bit of feedback immediately following. It was all positive, but vague. Then people here started living with it and talking about it and about a week or 2 later, I started to receive regular comments from people about how it made them feel, how others responded to it, etc.
Not that this is the definitive word. It’s a small thing. But my point remains the same: you have to win over the neighbors before you can run for Town Mayor (ok, admittedly, that metaphor is weak, but I think you get the point.)
Is everyone elated? Surely not. But at least we were able to bring them along for the ride so they could see the method behind the madness. At least then, like it or not, they know why we chose the path we did.
So far so good. But next up is our most critical audience yet: YOU.
February 2nd, 2012 by Amanda Paull
In the last installment I talked about how you know it’s time for a brand refresh.
So by now you know we decided to go for it. For me, there were 2 driving reasons to tackle a brand refresh now:
1- Evolution: This company is vastly different than it was 10 years ago. We are not 17 years old; we are 17 years strong (yes I’m a marketer, that’s how we talk…). We are ever-evolving and our brand should reflect the caliber of technologies we are building today.
2- The Human Element: There are truly wonderful aspects of our company that are not readily visible externally. This group is so customer-focused that we will obsess over a single frustrating customer experience. But, unless you have had direct interaction with our sales or support teams, you would not know the depth of our commitment to making users happy. Yet this is one of the core brand qualities that keeps people coming back.
“The friendly skies” of United
Getting Started: the Brand Audit
Oy. Like your first step into the cold pool, getting started is the hardest part.
We started with a brand audit to tell us who we are. (OK, yes, we are Extensis. I got that part. But who are we from the outside-in?) Too many companies try to build their brand on top of who they WISH they were. Consider: any healthcare company—or US-based airline—that you can think of and you’ll see what I mean.
Ever hear the expression “you can’t fight genetics”? Well, perhaps that also applies to branding. You just have to be who you really are and focus on showcasing that, otherwise there is a high probability of looking like a phony.
“Love to fly?” Really? Because the rest of us hate it!
Yes, lost luggage IS special.
What (and who) we asked
First we had to get some probing questions answered:
- Do we deliver what we promise?
- What is our greatest opportunity?
- Why do people choose to work for/work with us?
- What have we never been good at?
Well, you get the idea. You simply can’t be afraid to get the answers you need to hear. It’s important stuff.
Yes, market research is invaluable. But at a certain point you hit serious diminishing returns (think: looking down the ramp of a ski jump.) There is a point at which you have enough evidence to move forward. Tom Fishburne recently created a timely Brand Cartoon on this very topic.
In light of this, we chose to spend our time talking to our brand messengers: customers, employees, industry partners and sales partners. We had a 3rd party team send out a survey to our employees and then conduct a series of in-depth interviews with customers and partners from across the globe (from customers like Publicis, to partners like Adobe and Microsoft). These guys know us, our product offering and how we fit into the bigger context of the industry. And, as we learned, they are happy to be brutally honest!
What We Learned
A few ‘pull quotes’ from the research:
- “If they want something that’s solid and works they’re going to purchase our product.” (Employee)
- “We really strive for quality: the fonts on WebINK are just one example.” (Employee)
- “Solid products. Extensis really cares about the functionality.” (Sales partner)
- “The most valuable piece is the internal talent.” (Industry partner)
- “The best thing about the product is the depth of engineers that can work on the product.” (Customer)
Clearly, the employees here are the nerve center of this place. But we have done a poor job of allowing this character to show through. For me, this was the biggest take-away: “They like us but they don’t really know us.”
We are not some monolith technology company that is slick but impersonal. We engage our customers and value their opinions, we share that feedback across the organization, we act on it whenever possible, we work very hard to satisfy. We really do lose sleep over doing the right thing. We really do groove-out on making customers’ jobs easier. In short: There is a face, a heart and person who cares behind every box. That’s exactly the Extensis we need people to see. OK. we can do that!
So it turns out those icy cold waters were rather refreshing, after all.
Out of this mass of data we were able to distill some basic visual guidelines to pursue. We need to communicate we are a company that:
- Loves type
- Is open and approachable
- Respects design tradition while progressing forward
- Takes our work and our customers, but not ourselves, seriously
So taking these and articulating them into a visual architecture is easy, right? (gulp) This is where my ‘be brave’ advice comes in to play. And this is the point at which I’m preaching it to myself.
Next up: The Visual Brand: It’s Decision Time
Finally, 2012 is the year of CHANGE!
Of course, we know we are guilty of some of these (I’ll let you be the judge) so, we’ve decided that it’s time to embark on a makeover. Truth is, we’ve been working on the research piece of this in the background for a while. So why not learn from our trial and error? Swallowing our pride, we are going to share throughout the process to help those of you who may also be considering taking the plunge.
And now, a reality check.
A Pep Talk
There is never a good time for a brand refresh. It’s a universal truth you just have to suck up. Sorry.
For us, we are always on the cusp of some new product launch or initiative that will hamper the process. That’s how it works. I suppose if you don’t have competing priorities that complicate it, then you’re likely missing something.
But, don’t let timing deter you from the big decision. There are obvious and compelling catalysts for a company rebrand: acquisition, technology shift, etc. And then there are less obvious, organic catalysts. (See list above)
The bottom line is this: Companies Evolve. You find yourself introducing products or services in response to market opportunities and one day you wake up and realize that the overarching brand in your head is not the one the outside world is experiencing. At least that’s our situation. Lets face it, if you are moving your business forward, you create the opportunity to ‘outgrow’ your current brand—and a refresh is in order.
What’s the desired outcome?
Smarty-pants marketers (and academics) will cite things like “increase shareholder value”, “capitalize on market trends”, “create buzz”, yada. I can’t subscribe to this. You increase shareholder value by fostering happy customers. If your effort doesn’t, in some direct way, touch your customers, then what value is it?
In my mind, brand is about connecting with your audience. It’s about how you, as an organization (of people), interact with the audience (people) and how they (people) feel about it. That’s it. Granted, there may be a hundred ways to impact this, but it really is that simple. And when you bring in new audiences, or narrow in on one market, you may need to noodle on how your company communicates. If you keep it simple, probability of success skyrockets.
Why agencies LOVE brand redesigns and marketing teams LOATHE them:
As an agency, a rebrand is a huge challenge that gets the juices flowing (it is also a large task which is good for your bottom line). It is quite exciting. No matter how invested you are however, you are never going to forever ’live’ within the brand you help define.* It doesn’t work that way. Some may regret this disconnect, others may relish it.
This is why marketing teams hate rebrands (no, you are not alone). They are thrilling, in a ‘stick-your-neck-out-and-subject-yourself-to-endless-lashings’ sort of way. Have a vision—on any given day you will need to defend your decisions. You have to commit (because you DO need to live within this brand). And above all, you have to be fiercely brave. Easy, right?
Well, I’ll let you know. We won’t be rolling out new materials for a while yet. They are coming soon, so until then, you can go through the process with us.
Next up: Why Extensis dove into the icy cold waters of a brand refresh
* If you do bring in a partner to assist in the process, choose wisely. Make sure they are as invested as is humanly possible. Fortunately, we’ve done just that. Shout-out to Blue Collar Agency and Owen Jones Partners.
For anyone on the receiving end of a very odd package from Extensis- no, that’s not a rat in that box. It’s a mullet. You know- some hair for your (styrofoam*) head.
Our friends in the press received these 2 pieces separately and this week we see the mullets are arriving because we’re getting a lot of commentary on them. 98% of people have enjoyed them (for those 2% who were more confused than entertained- sorry about that! We meant it all in good fun.)
Odd? absolutely. Entirely off the mark? well, not exactly. We’re leveraging the ‘business in the front, party in the back’ approach- but applying it to software. We affectionately call it the CreativeMullet. Some feedback:
- MacLife Magazine: We just received a few promo packages from Extensis. So I opened it. It’s a mullet wig. I’m not kidding.
- WFI posted: Just received Extensis’ “Creative Mullet” and am highly amused! http://twitter.com/wfi
- PCMag.com: Lance Ulanoff posted: Extensis sent me a mullet to promote Suitcase Fusion 3 + WebINK–I ain’t gonna wear it. http://yfrog.com/4b8jitj.
He then relented…” If enough of my followers ask, I will don the Extensis mullet and post a picture–and hate every moment of it.” Tell him to do it!
And one group was so enamored with the wig that they posted several pictures on their blog. So to the entire team at Digital Photographer Magazine (UK)– YOU LOOK BRILLIANT!
If you’d enjoy making fun of the Extensis team (never a real stretch) check out our Mulletude (on Flickr).
*FWIW- Unable to find ‘hat-able’ heads in anything other than this material, we have donated to a Carbon Offset program (through the Nature Conservancy) as a counter-balance. We don’t want to increase our footprint- quite the opposite.
May 24th, 2010 by Amanda Paull
As some of you know, we recently went into a Technology Preview for our web fonts service: WebINK. Slowly, we are unveiling the service as the pieces fall into place.
What is it?
In short: it is a service that enables you to add custom fonts (not just the tired “web safe” ones) into your Web designs. We handle the licensing issues and browser file formats. You simply add short line of code to your website CSS, and our font servers “in the sky” deliver your fonts- instantly- to any browser viewing your site. The service is driven by our Universal Type Server technology (’cause we know how to manage fonts, eh?) At last, your online brand can have as much personality as your offline brand. Say what? Creative freedom AND Brand consistency? That’s crazy talk! 🙂
We just posted some overview info to give you a flavor of what the service will include. (If you are a Suitcase Fusion user, you’ll have even more to be happy about- but we’ll save that for a later post).
Very soon, we’ll open up the font “Playground” (as we affectionately call it) it’s an interactive space where you can sample and play with every typeface from our partner foundries, before committing in any way. (you have to try the shoes on first, right?)
How many fonts? Well, thousands so far, and climbing. There are more in the hopper, but our type geeks (um, I mean “type aficionados”) put them to the test first. (If they don’t render beautifully on screen, then what’s the point?) To see our current partners in the preview- you can take a look here.
Next up: We’ll be attending An Event Apart in Boston this week to hobnob with other Webophiles. And fairly soon after, updates will start flowing from the “guys behind the curtain”- the developers and product managers who are bringing this to life. Keep your eye on this space.
Do you have a website? Blog? Online Portfolio? Join the preview at www.webink.com. We’re looking for testers with opinions– and we’re listening.
And for all our current users, thank you!
Are you a foundry? Interested in getting your creations on the Web? Contact us!
PS- if you’re the curious type (ha- get it?), the Manage This blog and the Extensis site are serving up WebINK fonts already. (check the source.)
The Extensis blog is serving up: URW Grotesk Light