One of my favourite things about being a designer is the ability to provide a deeper level of contextual meaning to a project. A beautiful piece of design is made so by the careful assembly of multiple parts that can be both obvious and subliminal. In all forms of good design, each graphic component serves a specific purpose; from colour to typography and everything in between, each element is designed to interact as a whole in order to convey its designated purpose. In first semester Type class we learned it as the Theory of Typographic Relativity: much like Einstein’s monumental theory considering the laws of nature, numerous pieces of a greater system come together to form harmony and purpose in a successful design.
These puzzle pieces of colour, shape, texture, type and so on all bring with them their own specific and unique traits, providing the designer with the ability to make educated decisions when composing an image. Things like psychological effect and historical context are taken into careful consideration; it is extremely beneficial to be aware of the ties between graphic elements and their relation to a subject when creating a design that communicates a message. Brand identity development, or logo design in its simplest form, is an area in which this toolbox full of various bits of supplementary information is particularly useful.
Handmade By Hicknell
A Study in Brand Identity Development
I love being a freelance designer and getting to pick and choose which kind of projects I work on. I also love being in design school and learning all kinds of new information every day that I can apply to my work. The ultimate scenario, however, is when I’m able to tie the two worlds together to create a design that not only fits the project scope outlined by my teachers, but is also made for use in the world beyond the classroom. When it came to my final capstone project for three of my classes at the end of my first semester of design school, I was able to do just that.
A few months ago my good friend Alex Hicknell approached me with the request of designing a logo for his startup business, Handmade by Hicknell, the banner under which he designs, builds and sells custom-made furniture and home décor. At the time, I was overwhelmingly busy with schoolwork so the project was kept on the back burner for a while as I tried to find time to fit it into my schedule. Nearing the end of the semester, our class was assigned a giant capstone project that encompassed three different classes—Colour Theory, Typography and Studio—and basically entailed the creation of an entire brand identity for a fictional company, as well as a brand style guide that would outline the standardized visual system and the various stages of process work that would go into the project.
This was one of those opportunities to fuse school and work together that I jumped at immediately. I was really excited to build a brand identity from the ground up using all of the information I had learned over the course of the semester, and applying the project to Alex’s company would allow me to go much more in-depth than I ever had before with a real-world output.
The following text and pictures are a summary of the visual identity development and resulting brand identity guide that I created for Handmade by Hicknell.
Existing Brand Research
When I begin a logo design, I find it crucial to get a sense of the other brands that exist within the same marketplace; even if they are not direct competition or immediately relevant to the brand I am working with, it’s really helpful to have a general idea of the presence and aesthetic of other companies in the given industry. As such, the first step of this project was defining and researching three different furniture and home décor brands—one high-end, one mid-range, and one economy—and then writing a paper describing their brand identities from an analytic position, specifically in regard to colour psychology.
My three selections were the Dieter Rams-designed British manufacturer Vitsœ for high-end, North American classic La-Z-Boy for mid-range, and the ever-popular Swedish furniture giant IKEA for economy. Although these companies operate on a much larger scale than Handmade by Hicknell and are not necessarily direct competition, it was really helpful to take a closer look at the brands and how their logos and visual communications related psychologically to their customers. Vitsœ’s sleek minimalism and sustainability, La-Z-Boy’s comfort and reliability, and IKEA’s modern appeal and accessibility all stem from the products sold by each respective company, but are inherently enforced through the colour selection and visual elements of the brands’ logos and marketing collateral. This research helped me to obtain a sense of how large-scale furniture companies incorporate their brand message into their corporate identity, and got my design gears churning as I began development on the Handmade by Hicknell logo.
For me, the beginning stages of creating a logo always begin with a series of sketches to flesh out a few design directions. My process work can often make me look like a schizophrenic, with little scribbles and notes filling up pages upon pages in my sketchbooks. There is, however, method to the madness: I use the outer edges of the page as an unedited stream of brainstorming, jotting down every little idea that comes to mind. Eventually, I’ll hit something that I feel is strong enough to be expanded into a full concept direction, which I then sketch out in the middle of the page. I like to develop at least three different directions at this early stage in order to give myself and my client plenty of room when it comes to distilling into a final concept.
The overall goal of the brand identity and logo treatment for Handmade by Hicknell is to allude in as many ways as possible to the attributes of the physical products produced by the company, and the feelings they generate as they enter the hands of the customer. The brand identity consists of two main components: a primary logo and a secondary monogram. A focus is placed on the natural materials that are used to make the company’s products—pine trees and an oak leaf directly signify these primary elements, and the scenic background points to the rugged stability and country of origin of the company’s products. An allusion to Alex’s craftsmanship and handmade technique is portrayed through the hand drawn aesthetic; rather than employing rigid and mathematically perfect lines in the logo and monogram, a humanistic undertone is retained through the organic lines of an originally inked drawing.
Once the logo’s direction had been solidified, it was time to give it some character with colour. Colour can make or break a design, and I had a particularly hard time with adding it to this logo because I felt it was really strong as a single colour. After some experimenting with different hues and their corresponding psychological effects on consumers however, I was able to come to a conclusion with Alex on a colour palette that both fit his company’s objectives, as well as provided an additional layer of meaning to the brand’s identity.
In addition to the handcrafted aesthetic and nature-inspired subject matter, the warm colour palette of rich earth tones lends itself in numerous ways to strengthening the impact left by the Handmade by Hicknell logo. The two main hues of beige and brown are similar enough to offer a harmonious match, yet simultaneously provide a noticeable level of contrast between their opposing light and dark values. An allusion to the company’s superior quality materials that are used to make its products, colours that emulate the pine, oak and maple of Handmade by Hicknell’s furniture products are complimented by a calming green hue in the trees in the upper portion, which represents the company’s commitment to environmental responsibility through sustainable materials and manufacturing practices. Knowing that Handmade by Hicknell’s products are beautifully designed, comfortable and functional, made with high grade woods and constructed with the careful and calculated precision of a skilled hand suggests an immediate level of trust from the customer, and the earth tones once again help to evoke that feeling from the logo’s standpoint. Once a piece of Handmade by Hicknell furniture is purchased, one can rest assured that they have chosen wisely in supporting a business that still adheres to a handcrafted work ethic, and delivers a final product that is more than worthy of the all feelings that the brand instills with its visual identity.
Much like the colour palette’s relevance to the logo, its corresponding typography also provides a richer context through physical traits and historical significance. The use of Futura as the main supporting typeface for the Handmade by Hicknell visual identity lends itself in two important ways: through meaningful form and equally effective function. The Futura type family is available in multiple font widths, weights and slopes, making it an ideal typeface for presenting variety while maintaining consistency. The visual balance and meticulously structured nature of this typeface not only provide legibility and consistency, but are also reminiscent of the mathematical approach to designing and building furniture. Each piece of wood must be precisely planned, measured, cut and finally constructed to form a beautiful final product. Much like the craftsmanship that Handmade by Hicknell displays in its products, the geometric properties that Futura possesses attest to the high quality aesthetic of the brand, and become a crucial element in defining the typeface’s prominence as the most fitting companion to the main hand drawn logo.
Chaparral is a modern day hybrid of two type genres that have been combined to create one unique design with a personality of its own. Similar to Futura’s relevance through form and function, Chaparral provides a broad platform of usability, as well as a contextual meaning that reflects the values of the brand. Its combination of slab serif and humanist type traditions acts as a reference to Handmade by Hicknell’s ability to apply the rudimentary and inherently human skill of building objects by hand to producing furniture with a modern yet unique aesthetic. The attention to detail, the usability and the quality that is beautifully displayed in the company’s products must also be emulated through its brand identity in order to present the best possible representation of the name it is built under.
The possibilities that modern software programs have afforded designers is immeasurable. The output of to-spec digital files that are used to create a tangible product are an obvious start, but the ability to present a design in a manner that reflects a real life application before it is physically created is extremely valuable. It allows important insight to the way a brand functions in the real world, without the added cost of actually manufacturing or printing the product. Visual identities are a perfect example: a brand’s logo rarely exists solely on a pure white plane that is void of any distracting elements. Instead, it is confined to things like the size of a business card or letterhead, a product or its packaging, and company vehicles or apparel. When I create a logo design, I love being able to showcase its suggested applications. Presenting stationery and product mockups can often sell a brand ten times more effectively than simply showing the logo on a plain white background.
One of the primary implementations of the Handmade by Hicknell logo will be in die-cast branding irons that will be used to wood burn the company’s products upon completion. Additionally, stationery and other custom branding supplements will be used to further establish the company and its presence in the furniture industry. An array of these real-world uses is presented through Photoshop mockups that showcase how these physical products could look.
This has been one of my favourite projects of the year—I loved being able to dive into such an extensive design and use some of the knowledge I’ve gained in my first semester towards creating something with such in-depth context. Helping a good friend in developing the visual identity for an exciting new business venture is incredibly rewarding, and I can’t wait to see the outcome as Handmade by Hicknell continues to grow and progress as a brand.
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