Learned #46: Logos & Uniforms, Part 1

In which we learn about logos and talk about uniforms

These days, getting a new project off the ground involves a few key steps like defining the brand identity* and writing a business plan. Increasingly, these things and all the associated tasks that come with them, are D.I.Y. - there are dozens of software packages and tools that use templates and automatically generated layouts to let you create your own materials.

I've been using a few of these tools to work on a new project; in working out designs for the new venture, I've come to realize that I don't like the Learned logo all that much. I created it in a few minutes without really thinking it through and I'd like to re-do it.

In this issue:

  • What We're Learning: How to Make a Logo

  • What We're Reading: No Logo

  • Down the Rabbit Hole: The Uniform

Let's get to it.

Photo by Rohan on Unsplash

What We're Learning:

How to Make a Logo

First, a caveat: For any new venture, you really ought to hire a professional designer. They are smart, creative people who deserve to be paid for their expertise and experience.

That said, I've got two reasons for going the D.I.Y. route - one, I enjoy this kind of work. In another life, I might have become a graphic designer myself. Two, I have a very limited budget and doing as much as possible on my own allows me to present any designers I hire with an outline of what I'm looking for, which hopefully allows them to work faster, which in turn, saves my budget. But mainly, it's just fun.

The Tools

Google "how to make a logo" and you'll find dozens, if not hundreds, of businesses offering to help you design a logo. Depending on their own branding, this service will cost somewhere between free and about $10 USD per month for access and files.

You'll also get links to helpful blog posts about the design process you should follow in creating your logo. I've got a bit of a head start as I've been doing this for already for other projects and already have my tools selected:

I'm going to be following the advice from:

I've used products from all three of these companies before and generally trust their tools and their advice.

The Steps

Following on and collated from the advice given in the three blog posts I linked above, the key thing I need to do is define my brand. Frankly, that has been, and is, an issue for this particular project (Learned) as it's more or less whatever I'm thinking about at the moment. Still, a common tactic is to reduce everything you want to communicate about your brand down to three words. For Learned, these are betterment, curiosity, and learning.

Next is constraints: Substack (the platform that hosts Learned) requires logos to be 256 pixels by 256 pixels with a transparent background. I've chosen a custom color (#ffa001) for my theme, so I'll try to stick with that color as much as possible.

I had planned to use Canva to create the logo. However, their free accounts do not allow transparent backgrounds or custom colors. Also, their default logo template is 500 x 500. So, after creating something, I would have to re-color and re-size my design. All that said, Canva is still a useful starting point for idea generation.

The Designs

I had a look at Substack's Discover page to trawl through everyone else's logos. I found a lot of headshots, both photography and avatar based, and a lot of blank colors, and a few illustrated ones, but none of those are really what I wanted. So, off to Canva to look at their designs.

Screenshot of Canva’s logo templates and my color.

Canva breaks their logo templates into several different subsections like art / design, cafe, DJ, and so on. Learned is a newsletter, but, unfortunately, searching under the terms newsletter and blog brought me nothing useful.

Ideas generated by using Canva’s pre-made logos.

I came up with a couple of text-based ideas, but I thought I might need something more. Some kind of graphic. What thing would work well for Learned? A pen? A typewriter? Time for some more searches. I found a few things that worked, but nothing amazing. Still, I liked the idea of the typewriter and I had a pretty good sense of what would work, so it was time to move on to acquiring images.

To be continued...

*Defining your personal brand has been a fine line between sick joke and good business decision for over a decade now.

What We're Reading:

No Logo

by Naomi Klein

From the Amazon review:

In No Logo, Klein patiently demonstrates, step by step, how brands have become ubiquitous, not just in media and on the street but increasingly in the schools as well. (The controversy over advertiser-sponsored Channel One may be old hat, but many readers will be surprised to learn about ads in school lavatories and exclusive concessions in school cafeterias.) The global companies claim to support diversity, but their version of "corporate multiculturalism" is merely intended to create more buying options for consumers. When Klein talks about how easy it is for retailers like Wal-Mart and Blockbuster to "censor" the contents of videotapes and albums, she also considers the role corporate conglomeration plays in the process. How much would one expect Paramount Pictures, for example, to protest against Blockbuster's policies, given that they're both divisions of Viacom?

Logos and branding are unavoidable parts of living in the modern age. Even if you don’t need or desire any for yourself (which is fine), you can’t really escape them the second you step outside your home. They’re on cars, buildings, t-shirts - anywhere and everywhere someone can place one.

And that’s nothing new. Branding has been a part of our lives since it was invented, just ask the Romans. But that makes books like this that much more important. We need to know how these brands intersect with our psyches. We need to understand what the constant onslaught of branding does to us and how we can push back against it.

And it’s definitely something to keep in mind when deciding what your own brand is going to be.


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Down the Rabbit Hole:

The Uniform

I'm on record as being fully anti-uniform; once, in college, I walked away from a part-time job the second they introduced a mandatory uniform. (Yeah, ok, it wasn't exactly like that, but that's the story I'm sticking with.) I really don't care for uniforms. For a long time, I put that dislike down to general teenage non-conformism and I assumed it would be something I would grow out of. Eventually.

But I never really have. As an adult, the idea that I am anti-uniform and anti-everything uniforms stand for (conformity, group-thought, blind allegiance) has calcified in my brain. Except, I wear a uniform almost every day, and I do it voluntarily.

No one ever told Hulk he couldn’t wear the same thing every day…

In a piece titled Why I Wear The Exact Same Thing to Work Every Day, author Matilda Kahl discusses how buying a closet full of similar items of clothing (white blouses and black slacks, in her case) freed up her mental energy by removing one decision before her day had even begun. By not having to consider what she was going to wear, Kahl was able to put more consideration into other, more productive aspects of her life.

She links to a Mashable piece called Why Successful Men Wear the Same Thing Every Day by Jason Abbruzzee which details the purposely limited wardrobes of icons ranging from Steve Jobs to Karl Lagerfeld to Christopher Nolan. According to the article, they (all men, notably) wear copies of the same outfit day in and day out because, as with Kahl, it freed them from a meaningless decision (emphasis mine) in favor of more important ones.

I remember reading these articles when they were first printed (2015 and 2014 respectively) and thinking something along the lines of "Huh. Makes sense." But I must have internalized it more than I realized.

Every once in a while I'll buy a printed t-shirt - band logos, iconic characters, catchy sayings, word-art, whatever - but for the most part, over the past ten years, every casual shirt I have bought, be it t-shirt, sport shirt, or polo, has been plain black. No logos, no characters, just a flat, matte black. Pair this with a pair of black jeans and a black hoodie and my black wool coat and you have a casual outfit for all seasons. And I don't have to think about what I'm wearing.

Some of my work environments require something more formal and more colorful than my day-to-day. At the store, trying to decide between the green dress shirt and the red-pinstripe, it hit me that no one, and I mean no one, has ever commented on my day-to-day man-in-black look. I walked out of the store ten minutes later with three pairs of khaki trousers and five blue dress-shirts. In the intervening six months, no one has noticed. At all. (Or, if they have, they haven't been concerned enough or impolitic enough to mention it.)

In fact, the only time anyone has ever commented on my all-black wardrobe was while I was teaching at a middle school. One student asked how many clothes I had. When I asked them what they meant, I got the expected "you wear the same thing every day." I explained that I had several shirts and trousers of the same make and so it was the same colors (or lack thereof) but fresh clothes. They couldn't understand. They hated their school uniform with a passion and the idea that an adult, who didn't have to wear a uniform, would choose to do so was baffling. I sympathized. I never expected that I would have become that adult.

That's it. Stay strong, stay healthy. Learn something