Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you and yours.
From day one of writing this blog, I knew I would eventually have to get to the topic of failure. I’m not talking about the normal disappointments you may encounter when dealing with a difficult client. I’m talking about years of failure. Years of frustration. What I didn’t realize was that finally overcoming one of my biggest design failures would serve as the catalyst for really understanding the anatomy of failure and how to deal with it.
Tackling this design problem was like going on a ridiculously challenging hike. This hike consisted of steep inclines with switchbacks that pulled you deep into the woods, blocking out any hint of the point you’re hoping to reach. For the duration of the hike, you’re sweating profusely, and falling behind because you’re out shape. You’ve rolled your ankle a couple times and you’ve all but convinced yourself to turn around and go back down the mountain.
You sit down on multiple occasions, ripping yourself to shreds in your mind. The one saving grace is that every once in awhile, the forest breaks, the switchbacks stop, and you get a glimpse of the incredible view. And every now and again, a friend waits for you to give you some encouragement. Then it’s back into the woods for switchbacks that seem to go on forever because you’re not even close to the top. This goes on for hours.
Finally, after accidently rolling down a portion of the mountain, falling off a cliff edge twice, and trying to recover from a shattered tibia, you see the clearing. This has to be the end, it just has to be. You pass a couple of hikers who tell you it’s right around that corner. The forest breaks for the last time and you stop. You look up to see your friends waiting for you. The view is breathtaking. It’s that moment where you realize you have finally arrived. And even though you know you’ll have to hike back down, you realize you actually made it and that’s what matters.
This is exactly what it felt like when I was going through the process of developing my personal logo – a project that took years in the making. Okay maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it was a struggle.
When I look back on all the ideas you are about to see, I can remember where I was at as an artist and designer for each one. Some of these ideas and designs seemed to be the perfect solution, the end of the trail, but were quickly scraped or filed away for future editing.
So here’s the evolution of my own logo design. There are also hundreds of sketches that have been thrown away, or files that have been deleted. I know I threw away about 12 pages of 11 x 8.5 in graph paper completely filled with sketches last week out of pure frustration. The designs are presented in chronological order starting in 2010.
At this point I had started doing websites and really had no confidence with drawing or painting, but I was really comfortable with illustrator and coding web pages. However, graphic design and webpage development were extremely boring and ultimately not what I wanted to do.
With the above designs, I had started to work on my drawing and painting skills, but was still in a graphic design mindset. This was because I was questioning my ability to become a successful artist in the gaming industry. This was probably around 2012.
The above designs were around 2013, and I was becoming more confident as a painter and wanted a logo I could sign my paintings with. The black box with the blue outlined initials was the logo I went with for a while. The logo was generated from a hand sketch on a piece of paper and put into Illustrator. That was the logo that I had for a good amount of time, but I knew it didn’t feel right and eventually scrapped it. For the last couple of years, I went with no logo because I just couldn’t come up with one I felt comfortable with. My art was my brand and that was good enough. I often didn’t even sign my paintings. At this point, I realized how irritated I got when trying to design logos.
This logo went on my webpage for about a week when I gave my portfolio site a facelift. The layout became very minimal and I was going for a clean Art Deco look. However, my personality is not Art Deco, so this was scrapped also. I again realized how much I hated wasting time on designing logos, which brings us just about current.
The design process for this blog started when I bought the domain name. My ambition to design a logo for this blog was low and I wasn’t that concerned about it, so I would doodle possible logo designs in between drawings or when I had an extra second or two. However, I became quite unsatisfied with the designs and it turned into a problem that needed to be solved. I eventually figured out I wanted something that worked with negative space, but what I really wanted was a mascot of some sort. The mascot idea got sketched out a couple times, but the results were so hideous, I deleted the files in frustration and sent that idea to the back of my mind for my subconscious to chew on.
Here are some hideous attempts to do a 3d thing.
Frustrated that the ideas for initials in negative space weren’t working, I went in the direction of designing a flag. People can get behind a good flag design. The principle of flag design is simplicity. Out of more frustration I almost settled with second design in the second row. It was simple and got the point across that I was an artist. However, I wasn’t happy that it looked like an app icon. I sought out some opinions, and after the underwhelming response it was back to the drawing board.
These sketches were a bit of a departure from the very angular sketches I naturally gravitated towards. The design that has the orange in it was a quick 10-second doodle that looked to have potential, which was further confirmed when I showed the design to my wife and was given legit approval rather than the sarcastic, “Yeah, that’s good” that I would normally get.
So I took the design into Illustrator. Here are several of the iterations, some with strokes, different angles, the “J” as a stylus. However, the design still didn’t feel right, and I almost gave up on this design. However, discussing the design with a couple friends gave me some ideas. The design still had too much going on. Any good designer will tell you a design isn’t complete until you have simplified it as far as possible, and that was exactly what was needed in this case.
The first design of this iteration path was where I almost stopped. I was very happy with simplicity of the JD. The whole design has a very strong graphic shape, but it still didn’t feel quite like me. At this point, you can see my final design is staring me in the face. Any good designer will also tell you iteration is king. Even if your first design was the best, which is often never the case, you won’t know until you have emptied your mind.
Later that evening, another artist friend asked me what I wanted out of the design. I told him something with my initials and to play with negative space. His response was to break out of the circle I had stuck with. To me that meant going back to the drawing board because here was another failed attempt. In an attempt at humor, I adjusted the design to give him the finger which ultimately led to the design taking on a personality. After contemplating what my buddy had said, I started moving the white circle inside the black circle which gave the appearance of a face looking in directions and is a simple animation trick, which is when the design negative shape slammed into my eyeballs.
With the shape language of the face perfectly clear, I knew exactly how to proceed. The above graphic shows the simple shapes used to produce the final design.
Since playing around with the face was how I discovered the design, I knew the design could take on its own personality, body language, and emotions. Finally! This was me in a logo. This was me boiled down and communicated through simple graphic shapes.
How I felt when I the design was realized.
I present to you the new face of JDScribbles!
This post makes me seem like I have obsessed about this for the last five years. The truth is, I could live with or without a logo, allowing my body of work to be my brand. But as a designer, this has been a nagging design problem that I had never been able to solve. If I can’t figure out the essence of my own design problems, how can I help clients discover the essence of their problems?
The truth of the matter is, designing for yourself and working on your own projects is so much harder than designing for a client. You have no boundaries; you have no guidelines. It is just you and how well you think you know what you want. When you finally figure it out what that is, it’s a great feeling. The greatest success of this design is not the final design, it is all the lessons I have garnered along the way, knowing when to put a project down, knowing when to ask for help, knowing how to self direct, learning that failure isn’t really failure, it is just another step in the design process. You only fail if you give up for good. The final design is just the cherry on top because instead of failing, you finally succeeded in reaching the top of the mountain.
What failures have you overcome? And what are the lessons you took from them? Let me know in the comments.