Logos & Branding
Every now and again, the topic of the Austin Podcasters logo comes up. Whether it be due to the usage of it in keynotes for presentation, mini stickers I’ve handed out, or through a test tote bag design, I’ve had printed and carried with me. (It’s sparked conversations at stores about what podcasts I have.) This is a brief write-up about the process. I also share this to help would-be podcasters, side-hustlers, and more to think about their own logos and branding. I, by no means, am an expert but I hope that it inspires many to put a little more thought into their branding whether they attempt to design themselves, or if they hand off to a professional. Myself included.
The Austin Podcasters was officially registered with Meetup and a dedicated website towards the end of 2016 with the hope of bringing together local podcasters to talk about…podcasting. Wanting to give this newly formed meetup an identity, I started to do some research online to help give me inspiration:
I immediately had in mind a word cloud. I can’t say why, but it just jumped out to me. The second was the Austin city skyline. I wanted to combine these together to form the word Austin. Unfortunately, I don’t have examples of those drafts as I wasn’t very good at keeping test samples around. Ultimately, I scrapped that idea as it just didn’t work for me. Instead, I looked at some of the pictures with Austin as the skyline; they all had the buildings in the background and Lady Bird Lake below. This was normally represented as something with a bright sky background and the dark lake below. I wondered, what would the simplest design of that be. Not being very skilled in photoshop, I took a few swings at it. After a few tries, this is what I came up with:
This was the result of attempting to use the city skyline to form the word “Austin” with “Podcasters” below it. (Notice no skyline made from the word Austin? I lacked the skill to actually do that, so the words just stood in its place.) It was meant to show that there were dozens of us below the “sky-scraping” towers we work in day and night. I wanted to show that below the city, in the darkness (dimly lit rooms as we edited our audio), we were podcasters. I wanted the primary image to be split into two colors, so I chose black and white as my primary branding colors with a light grey to be used on the word cloud. I think one of the design rules is to do everything in black and white until you’ve fixed all issues, then add color. I never really graduated from having everything in black and white. Instead, I wanted to keep it in those colors so that when I add other elements, the color would pop much more.
Once I had the design settled as much as I could with my experience, I used it for everything I could; Posters, letterheads, and t-shirts. Yes, I made a t-shirt with this logo but the shirt wasn’t the best and it went no further. Tip: You may be able to see it in an old Instagram post. Still, I kept the story of what the logo was to represent and avoided doing any “literal” representations by actually having a lake and or buildings. Knowing the story simply helped flex the design with posters, and other social media items:
For 2018, I decided to give the logo an update as it was still bugging me. Starting in November 2017, weeks of modifications went by and this was the end result:
One thing that was important was keeping the background word cloud but adding more words that related to podcasting and Austin as well as changing up the positioning of some words. I also wanted that word cloud to bleed into the word “PODCASTERS” to show what’s underneath our skin. Overthinking it? A bit, but I can’t help but feel that this was the story building in my mind. Lastly, with the new logo, I have an alternative version that excludes the word cloud, and I played with using parts or all of it as a “window” that allows you to peak in on meetup events. To be honest, I haven’t used the alternative versions to promote anything for the community.
Next was the wordmark. I didn’t have one before but thought I should have something that was quick and easy to use outside of posters and social media such as a letterhead or anything else that called for a simple, basic, text logo:
Lastly, the next big one came by as a mistake. I wanted a standalone word cloud by pulling the word cloud from the first square logo. The point was that the original logo didn’t lend itself to a t-shirt, or so I thought. The black square stood out and didn’t blend unless the shirt itself was black, in which you had to invert the colors for the top half of the image with its black text and white background. It was just all too noisy for me.
Therefore, I wanted a design that would be friendlier, and much more stylish to print on a t-shirt. One iteration of the word cloud had the word “AUSTIN” smack dab in the center and I loved it:
It then occurred to me. I was not keeping with the design “rules” I put in place. I originally started with what lies below Austin; within its city depths. Why was I crushing it? Like a light bulb, I said to myself that Austin must contain these things. That podcasting was within Austin. I then shifted the word cloud to the word “Austin” to where it ultimately spelled the word itself:
You may look at me and say “Mark, that is hideous. All of this is hideous!” And I would say unto you “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
I’ve designed something that I like 10x better than my current company logo. A theme. A look. A feel. I’m pretty excited about the design. The most important thing is that I have a system in place to share on social media or to send sponsorship letters. Example, for ApexThis, I have no branding identity because I never put branding in place. I simply cranked out a 5-minute logo, chose the colors, and that’s it. When I want to share or promote ApexThis, I don’t have any system in place to do so. And by a system, I mean guidelines and templates. Below are just a few examples of how the Austin Podcasters branding will be used, some you’ve seen, some you haven’t:
Posters / Social Media
Posters for social media takes the base logo and shifts the text and word cloud up to give more room in the black space. This makes it great for keeping the primary look of the logo, but I can play around in the black space to promote blog posts, meetups, welcome signs, and more. Oh, how great this would look animated!
Launched in 2018, the newsletter logo continues with the word cloud element with a lighter transparency on the background word cloud so that it is not overbearing. The word cloud, I feel, links it together with the Austin Podcasters theme. The bold red highlight over “NEWS” adds a different take due to the texture of the word cloud. Multiple iterations of the newsletter logo were put in place, even with test samples of changing the color highlight with each release.
The website was redesigned as part of the logo update. It now uses the basic text logo in the top left corner instead of the main square logo. The “welcome” section uses the word cloud in the background to add texture. (I have an obsession with that word cloud.) Overall, the site keeps with the black and white theme adding color when needed.
The Wrap Up
Working on the initial logo, and the 2018 update, was fun. Many moons ago when I would design and build websites, I jumped into photoshop to throw together a logo and or wordmark. Even further back, I would hand draw various wordmarks and play with 3D lettering. Then, as I did with this, I never followed any rules or proper practices. Not even the basics of logo design and typography. I just learned what kerning is if that helps drive home the point. (Kerning is the spacing between letters.)
Since this project, I’ve read and watched a lot about design and branding and I can see a whole host of issues with what I currently have. I have seen how much designers put into designing logos that could stand the test of time. I’ve seen how designs can create a welcoming feeling to your brand, product, and or show. And I’ve seen how it can turn you off completely.
As a podcaster, you may not have to worry about the basics of logo design and typography unless you are rolling up your sleeves to do it yourself. But learning how to storyboard your concept, tweak, tweak, and tweak until you’ve made something beautiful is something we do each time we outline, script, record, or edit our podcast. Just learning how to do so in a different way is a bonus.