There is a well known story among marketing folk about the iconic Nike logo. Forty-five years ago Carolyn Davidson, a design student at Portland State, was paid $35 dollars ($2 an hour) to create a logo for the company, which was at that time transitioning from an athletic shoe importer to an athletic shoe manufacturer. They were not thinking about a logo so much as they were thinking of a stripe to go on their shoes, something that would convey motion and, perhaps more importantly, look nothing like the Adidas triple stripes.

Inspired by the wings of Nike, the goddess after whom the company was named, Davidson created what is now famously known as the “swoosh,” which would eventually standalone but originally underlined the company name.  The punchline to the story—and the part branding professionals like to tell when they are facing the impossible task of reaching group consensus on a design decision—is that Nike founder and CEO, Phil Knight, eventually agreed to the design reluctantly, saying, “I don’t love it, but I think it will grow on me.”

And speaking of Adidas, which we were doing just a moment ago, its own iconic mark, the original three stripes which have been echoed in every iterations of the corporate logo over the years, has its roots in two stripes which were not about form, but function. The founder of Adidas and his brother (the founder of PUMA) worked together before having a falling out during WWII. Their running spikes featured two sets of double-stitch lines on the quarter panel. They were there to sew in place extra support on part of the upper that experienced a lot of stress, especially on the shoes of a runner. But they looked like two stripes, and runners came to associate the two “stripes” with a quality pair of spikes. When Adi Dassler (see what he did there: Adi+Das) started his own company he wanted something reminiscent of the two stripes … so, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking … how about three stripes? Another shoe company was already using three stripes, so Adi bought their stripes from them for what would be around $20,000 today, plus two bottles of whiskey.

Both of these corporate identities can be found on just about any list of the most iconic, along with a certain mermaid. After the founders decided their coffee bean store would be named Starbucks rather than Pequod (after the first mate rather than the ship itself in Moby Dick) the search was on for something nautical. An old Norse woodcut of the Greek siren of the sea, a two-tailed mermaid, was chosen because it fit the nautical theme of the name and Seattle’s relationship to the sea.

Stories of famous logos as incidental or almost afterthoughts in the history of a company are not uncommon. The famous McDonald’s golden arch “M” were just arches in 1952, interesting architectural elements on the first franchise restaurant. It wasn’t until a decade later that someone thought to turn the arches into an “M” for McDonald’s, and even then the original logo had a diagonal line through it to represent a roof top, because it was the arches on the restaurant, not the “M” that were important at the time.

The point of these stories is … relax a little about your logo. If you’re a small roaster, there’s a good chance you, a friend, or a family member designed your current logo, if you even have a logo beyond your word mark. Sure, countless great logos came from great designers and/or deep analysis of potential customers and a comprehensive brand strategy. And also, many great logos came from humble beginnings, or simply emerged in the course of doing business. We’re not trying to argue that a logo is not important. We are suggesting that when your roasting business is still small, the logo itself is not as important as what you do with it. There are aspects of your visual brand identity that you should indeed pay very close attention to, even obsess over, from day one. Your logo is only one part of that identity and in the early going the time, talent, and treasure you spend on your logo should not be at the expense of other things that are more important in establishing who you are as a roaster.

The very first Google logo was created with “WordArt,” different colored three-dimensional letters reclining at slightly odd, bit-mappy angles. It didn’t take long for the letters to come upright in a logo created by one of the founders. Since then, a few designers have made good and important changes, but the logo concept is essentially what it was 20 years ago when Larry Page typed it out using open source design software. Why was the original Apple logo multi-colored? Because the Apple II had a color monitor. Why did it have a bite out of it? To provide scale so people wouldn’t think it was a cherry or something other than an apple. Why was green the color at the top of the apple? Because, Steve Jobs pointed out, that’s where the leaf was. Logos tend to have a life of their own, regardless of how involved we are in their creation and sometimes what we imagine as small and inconsequential decisions turn out to be important. Likewise, and perhaps more often than not, what we think are momentous decisions about a logo are forgotten long before it is time for the next redesign of our corporate identity.

Are we really taking almost an entire blog to tell you not to sweat your logo in the early days, early years even, of being a coffee roaster? Well … yeah. Your logo will change over time as your company grows and it is great to work with experienced and talented graphic designers working off a detailed branding brief to create a logo. But at first, a logo is often a collaboration between necessity, aspiration, and whatever is in the cupboard. If it’s not everything you think it should be at first, the best thing to do is focus on your craft and your coffee. That is the quickest route to getting to update your logo or fully rebrand your business. It’s much easier to take a roasting company with great coffee and a so-so logo to the next level than it is a company with a stunningly logo and mediocre coffee.

And yet, and nevertheless, and anyway, having said these things, we will finish Part 1 by seeming to contradict ourselves a little bit, pointing out a few things you should worry about when it comes to your logo, even if it is your very first logo.


Original Design Only

No clip art. No stock elements. Sorry about this. After making a big deal about not making a big deal about your first logo(s), we’re now making it more difficult. But the thing is, people can have different ideas about design. They can like your logo, not like your logo, be indifferent about your logo, all without you losing any credibility. Go to Google (btw, the “L” is not a primary color to convey the idea that Google doesn’t always follow the rules) and search “coffee clip art.” Scroll through those images. There is a fairly good chance you’ve seen some of those images before, on retail menus or business cards or websites. Did any of those sightings correspond to a great coffee experience for you? Didn’t think so.

Going with a word mark and no design element, or a very simple, original, design element, is better than using stock art.

Think Big. Think Small.

The very first Starbucks logo, if you remember, had elements that some people considered slightly risqué. When Starbucks started serving wholesale accounts and bought their first delivery van, they had a giant versions of their logo put on the side of the van, which meant the elements of the logo that some people considered slightly risqué were significantly more obvious, so much so that even the logo’s designer was a little taken aback. He created a new version of the logo in which the mermaid’s hair was strategically placed, a design that continued when the logo turned green. Think about what your logo will look like on the side of a van.

By the same token, you should consider what your logo will look like when it is shrunk down to the size necessary for a business card. In fact, consider all the places you want your logo to appear and consider how it will look at different sizes.


Get Over The Rainbow

Your logo has some really nice colors, but how does it look with only one color? You will need a one color versions of your logo. Many times, just changing a logo to black or white doesn’t work, some of the design elements are lost or it just doesn’t look right. The single color logo usually needs to be designed on its own (or first). It’s also helpful to have your logo available with a transparent background.


Your Logo is an Ensemble Act

Whether you create a logo at the beginning or end of developing your brand visual identify, remember that the logo is part of a team and must work in concert with many other visual and design elements that are part of a business. Everything is connected, like a design version of the butterfly effect, and until you’ve finished developing all the elements of your visual identity, it is best to wear your logo like a loose garment because you may need to make changes. But we’ll cover more of that in Part 2.

Cover image sourced via New Retro: Graphics & Logo in Retro Style.