270. A Little Design Process via Hawse. 
Sep 29, 2009 at 04:22PM

I love it when designers are open with their process behind a project. Oftentimes, the mess and chaos of creating is as interesting as the final result and it's nice to see how others approach a design problem. I stumbled upon a little project by Hawse Design out of Charlotte when I was reviewing my site traffic as I occasionally do—if they read Graphicology they are obviously good people of high moral standing just like you—and although it's not a rebranding of a large multinational corporation it does shed light on the importance of sketching. Even in our digital age a designer's ability to put thought to paper is essential to creating a well-executed visual solution. Even if those initial sketches are sloppy sharpie scribbles like mine tend to be. There is something magic about that doodling that lets the mind figure out all the details as you go along. It usually takes some time, but it works. Starting on the computer - at least for everyone I know - just doesn't have good results.

Omni Academic Logo Before and After:

For the Omni Montessori School Hawse had designed a pretty nice academic logo (above) and they were tasked with producing an equally solid athletic identity for their Owl teams. And their process of Owling went something like this.

1. Research.

This is a step that all too often is skipped, but research done up front helps the final design have integrity. Of course Hawse was designing an owl - so it helps to know what an owl looks like. Not what you think it looks like, but what it really looks like. I am usually surprised by some little detail that is dug up during my research and bet this was the case with this project. From the creative team, "The next few images show some of the images we referred to more often. We were paying very close attention to the shape of the eyes and different hallmarks of owl anatomy that we could exploit when creating the mascot. Remember, the mascot we design has to be easily produced in a variety of materials and colors." And research doesn't have to be so literally graphic either - it can be demographic, an exploration of artistic methods, figuring out all the pieces your creation will be printed on and limitations, or simply what the competition is doing. Regardless of type, do your research. Early and often.


2. Initial Sketch Stage

For a designer this is where you work and rework your approach until you feel confident about the concept. For a logo such as this, it's all about positioning, angle, personality and bringing the mascot to life. For a more general project it can be something vague like, "What's the big idea?" or "How is this all going to tie together?" Using a journal and doodling is the artist's way of figuring it all out. If you don't keep a journal and go straight to adobe, you'd be surprised what you are missing. The design team had this to say, "As we studied the owl references, we constantly kept up with sketches. These were really more for studying the shapes and relationships, rather than really clean illustrations. This part in the process helps us to build up a mental rhythm of how owls are built." And after two days straight of drawing they began to feel like they had something from which to work. (Below.)


3. Digital Work.

Here's where the craft and skill come to play. What up to this point is a general concept becomes a more final version of that idea. Everyone has their own method and style of how they develop sketches into final or more final artwork. From Hawse, "After we felt we had a good direction from our sketches, I hopped right into Illustrator to begin working on the concepts that we would show the client. Why is the work in magenta? I have no idea. It's just a habit that I started years ago. I think mentally it helps me keep focused on trying new things and not "falling in love" with whatever I've just drawn. My brain: magenta = work in progress // black: finished illustration." Magic can happen during this stage too. Working on several versions of a piece can help each individual concept along. The problem with the image above according to the team was that it still looked too much like a hawk. Pulling from some other artwork they eventually solved this problem.


4. Further Artistic Additions.

Every project is unique and the team needed to address typography that matched the tone of the school as well as that of the mascot. Not only was typographic style important, but also the physical placement and relationship between the owl and word became something that had to be solved. Color was of course crucial and a lot of different palettes were manipulated to see which worked best. (I really dig a couple of these.) And at some point during all of this the hawk became a real owl. (Note the difference in the 'ears' or top of the mascot's head. It's in the details.)

5. Options.

Along the way the team showed three identity options and out of those options came this little guy, which would become an alternative 'detail mark' which I really like. Look for it above in the sketches - do you see it? Keep the journal handy.

With all the hoopla surrounding spec work or logos on the cheap, it's this kind of process that will keep your design work from becoming a mere commodity. If you are only getting paid $5 for a design, you simply cannot afford to put this much effort into the art - which of course makes it far inferior, because it's the combination of talent, time, passion and personal accountability that makes a design something special and you worth being hired. I don't think a stock logo would be as nice as this would you? Well done Hawse, this is a nice example of how process and THE process work behind the scenes during a small (yet loved) identity project. You can view more on their Flickr page here.

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