We’ve had Leighton here on Logo Designer Blog before, as part of our “13 Logo Designers Share Their Love of Logo Design” series however now we have him back for a full blown interivew. Enjoy the read, it’s worth it.
So, who is Leighton Hubbell?
My name is Leighton Hubbell. I’m the guy behind the one-person design shop, Leightonhubbell.com and also Hubbell Design Works. I started out over 20+ years ago and have worked in several capacities in the communication arts industry including employment at various design firms, ad agencies and promotional branding agencies.
Even with a diverse set of design skills, I am most widely recognized for my logo design work. I’ve somehow lost count, but I’m sure there are literally thousands of logos in my archives that I have designed for this client or that. Clients have included businesses and organizations throughout the United States and other foreign countries. Larger clients have included Sheraton Hotels, Purina Pet Foods, Hanes USA, Lions Club International, Nestlé USA, Samsung and many others.
For the last eight years, I’ve had my own small studio focusing primarily on logo design, icon design, identity, branding and illustration. Although I’ve worked with many large brands, a significant portion of my business is working with small to mid-sized companies on their marketing and design efforts.
What makes a good logo in your opinion?
That really is a subjective call. What constitutes a ‘good’ logo to some may not resonate with others. A logo may not be technically well-designed, but have a rare quality or high visibility that represents the brand to the consumer better than anything else. It is a rare logo that rings true with a mass audience.
A good logo has a point of view, is well-designed and creates a visual calling card for the company or service it represents. It needs to have enough versatility to work in many situations and venues and is visually engaging.
Combined with good branding design, the logo comes to life and represents not only the company or service, but becomes the key component in the brand.
The important thing to remember is, without proper branding design even the best logos won’t get noticed. All you have to do is look at the world’s top brands and this comes to light.
What makes a good logo designer?
I think it has a lot to do with how visually a designer can think. In some ways, a logo is like a visual puzzle that the designer works out and presents the solution to the viewer. Some solutions are more obvious and some are more conceptual. Although there are several styles of logos (type only, illustrative, abstract, etc.), the designer needs to be open-minded enough to find the best solution for the client and situation.
Having a signature style is great, but it should compliment the brand and not overshadow it.
The designer needs to be able to communicate ideas quickly and clearly, and be able to find several solutions to the same problem.
The best logo designers I know of are all great draftsmen, which is to say that the visuals are well crafted, tightly rendered and accurate. I really enjoy a well-designed mark from a truly great artist.
And above all, a good logo designer has to be a well-versed typographer. Having a sense of appropriate typefaces is very important, especially since this is a purely commercial art form. Being able to select the right font can make or break a logo mark. The type sets the mood or compliments the visual. If the typeface isn’t quite right, then the designer has to know what will make it right.
These days, there are so many similar businesses and business models that it is difficult to differentiate yourself. Consequentially, it makes it that much harder to create a truly original logo visual. Which is why I think that the overall logo design community – the real logo specialists – is rather small.
What are your main methods of finding new clients and which of those methods work best?
In the past, most of my new clients came from referrals, either from past clients or agencies I have worked with. After being in the industry for a number of years, I find maintaining contacts is part of the job. Until recently, that would have been enough. But now, the internet and social networking are becoming more and more of the norm.
In my self-promotional mix, I have a combination of source books, mailing lists and of course, website presences. When I get new inquiries, I try to inquire how they found out about me, just so I can keep track of what’s working and what isn’t.
By far, the website is an invaluable resource to have available. In the old days, all you had was your portfolio, mailers and a phone list. If you could afford it, you got a source book page. Most of the time, you worked by referral and it was very hard to get a following built up. Now, anyone with a computer can find your work on a website to view at any time. The key now, is building up your site traffic. Everything works in tandem from your site, to your blog, to design sites, to postcards, to e-mail blasts to build the self-promotion machine.
What information do you gather from a client before starting a logo?
I try to have a formal meeting or conference call to try and get as much information about the assignment as I can. I used to have a much more detailed form to fill out on my site, but I think some might have found it overwhelming to complete. I have since culled it down.
More so, I ask lots of questions about their business. Who are they now? Who do they want to be? Where are they going? Where have they been? Who is their audience now and do they want to broaden or narrow it? What sort of applications would this logo be used for? Any visual preferences or messages you need to communicate? Who are your competitors? Budget?
Of course, sometimes clients aren’t always ready to answer everything but it does get them thinking in a parallel direction. At first they are looking for a logo, but these types of questions show that there is a much broader process to the design and they can be a part of it.
What is your typical design process when designing a logo for a new client?
My first phase is going through the information that they shared in our meeting. I then take that knowledge and put together an estimate. My typical procedure is getting a signed estimate, a purchase order and a deposit before any work starts. If they are really serious, the deposit requirement usually gets things moving right away.
After the contract is approved and the deposit is received, I start working out thumbnail sketches in my sketchbook or any scrap paper I can find. Usually my brain is working concepts out during our first meeting. So, by the time I start to formally work out sketches, my brain has been processing the designs for a while. I fully believe that your brain is working on problems in the background while your doing other things. Sort of a brain simmer. Nothing interesting comes from staring at the paper and beating it out of yourself.
If needed, I do additional research to find out more about the client’s company history, present design and any related subjects. I may go to the bookstore, talk to consumers, tour their manufacturing plant, visit a retail store or whatever venue that seems appropriate to glean more background on the project.
During the sketch phase, I decide what kind of styles might be appropriate for the logo. Is it geometric, clean, rustic, hand-tooled or illustrative, etc? I work in about 15-20 minute stretches and stop for a bit. I come back to it periodically until I think I have enough concepts to start on the computer. Some projects come to me right away and some take more time to process.
If I am doing an illustrative logo, I will show sketches at this point. I used to do that with all my logo projects, but clients aren’t as visual as they used to be. When you show a sketch these days, people get scared or concerned over things they probably wouldn’t notice in a completed vector concept. It’s too bad, but that’s what everyone is used to.
For the more geometric designs, I can usually create them from looking at my sketch. I also have an archive or ‘parts bin’ of elements I may use from past jobs that may be faster than redrawing the whole thing. The more illustrative pieces are traced from a scanned-in sketch and fine-tuned from there.
At some time during the process I may have inspiration for an appropriate typeface. Some logos are driven by the font and some are matched up upon completion of the mark. I have no set process for that.
While I am assembling the concepts, I am thinking about color. What kind of palette would work here? How many colors? Muted or bold? Vivid or conservative? I have many color books that I reference, including tear sheets of work I like in my sketchbook. Sometimes I try to match those color selections.
If I am able to present the logos in person, I make a nice color output of each concept so they are not confused or influenced by the other designs at the same time.
How do you present your concepts to your clients and how many do you usually provide? What final files do you deliver to your client?
Well, since most of my clients are not local to me, I have had to send them in PDF form via e-mail. The primary reason for this is that although I do like to present the work, it is not often that our schedules will always coordinate. In the past, I’ve tried to follow the e-mail up with a phone call, but by the time I reach them, they have already looked at the work. Sometimes, this spoils the surprise.
With each concept, I write a brief creative rationale for the design, colors and typefaces. This ensures that the client understands what the concept and my thinking is and why it’s designed that way – even if they don’t get a chance to talk to me right away.
As far as a count, it really depends on the size of the project and whether or not I feel like things are progressing enough. Some more and some less. Believe me, I am no ‘wallpaper’ designer. There is usually a minimum of designs that I actually submit for client review.
Final files are usually delivered in the standard EPS, TIFF and JPEG forms with a logo collection PDF that I include for a guide to the files and colors.
Has there ever been a case when the client was not fully satisfied with the suggested logo designs? If yes, how did you handle that? Did you charge extra for the additional designs? How often does this happen?
Yes, there have been a few that have not been completely satisfied with the work. Most of the time, that is found out in the first couple of rounds and can be attributed to a lack of communication or bad information in the creative brief.
I’ve also had a situation that the agency owner loved my work and logo styles, however when it came to her own company’s logo, she couldn’t be satisfied. Nothing I presented to her was suitable or appropriate. There is rarely a time when I come away from a meeting with absolutely no leads or possibilities for the next round. I rarely strike completely out.
The trouble was, she couldn’t remove herself from the project and think objectively about what was working and what wasn’t. She was too close. So, we agreed the project was not going well and that there were no hard feelings. I told her that I felt that I was not the right fit for the project and billed her only for the work submitted.
Usually when I can see the project going in that direction and we are at our estimated limit, I will mention that we have exhausted those hours and that we will be going over. From there, I let them decide how to proceed.
The key to keeping this professional is in the project estimate. The designer needs to state to the client exactly what they are providing them for that price. If the designer is vague, then the client’s expectations can be quite different than what the designer is willing to do. If the client has signed the estimate with the terms the designer stated, than there are no mysteries when the bill shows up.
It took me a long time to figure that out, but since then there have been very few truly bad projects. With good communication and a thorough contract agreement, the project should go smoothly.
How long do you spend on average creating a logo? What are the factors that contribute to how long you spend creating a logo?
It really depends on the scope of the project. The inspiration can come directly from them, or from what I glean from our first meeting. Sometimes I can even have a couple of ideas rolling around in my head while I’m talking to the client. They may take a matter of a few hours, but not all the time.
I have had a few concepts that I have sketched out that I want to make sure are figuratively accurate. So, I will do additional research online, at the library or bookstore, or even shoot reference photos to make sure the image is right.
With logo illustration, there is usually some time spent doing thumbnails, rough and refined sketches before moving on to the computer. Some of the bigger jobs require client sign-off on the sketches and often have tweaks that need to happen along the way.
I have several styles that I use for different logos. Techniques like woodcuts or textures can take additional time, but it has to be appropriate for the client to be worth the time.
How do you choose the right colour and font for each logo design project? Do you have any favourite or most used fonts that you use in your projects? Why?
Color selection is definitely an art unto itself and I have been told it is one of my strengths. Part of my interview questions and creative brief cover the information I need on the subject of color. The other part is instinctive to the design and usage of the logo. Factors like demographics, branding image and mood have a lot to do with the color palette that is selected. Some colors have specific things associated with them and therefore can help shape the viewer’s perception of the logo design.
I do have some favorite fonts that I use rather frequently, but they are always evolving. Kind of like a favorite classic shirt that you keep buried in the closet. Every once in awhile, you get it out for something special. One of my more commonly used techniques is trying to pair up a serif face with a complimentary sans-serif face.
I love type, so if I come across a new one on HF&J’s site, Veer or say FontHaus, I’ll try and keep it filed for a new project. Every once in awhile I get to use it. Like a kid in a candy store.
Do you have any main influences that affect your work?
My interests have a fairly wide range, which have a direct effect on anyone’s design style. I enjoy the outdoors, cycling, woodworking, music, movies, technology, art and car stuff. Pretty diverse.
I own a pretty large collection of logo design, illustration, photography and design books. My obsession with magazines has me thumbing through new ones all the time. There’s a lot of great art direction happening in magazine design these days.
Growing up, I followed quite a few cartoonists and illustrators from the books and magazines in my parent’s bookstores. Now, with the internet I find myself admiring many of the great illustrators I see on the dozens of inspiration sites posted everywhere. The creativity, styles and diversity are amazing.
What is the most challenging part about logo design and how do you deal with it?
The negotiation and business part tends to create the most challenges for me. Many people aren’t used to working with a logo designer and have their own expectations. Some have a great respect for what we do, but most people need a little education. I think the bulk of the population have no idea how much impact logo design has on product and service branding and how much it should cost. It is very much taken for granted.
I think the single best action I have taken to improve my business and business relations has been updating my estimate or project agreement form. After some research, I found some excellent sample forms in the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook for Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. Upon incorporating the very thorough itemization and legal terms into the form, it has helped improve the tone for the business portion of the jobs.
The new project agreement has dramatically weeded out the ‘tire kickers’ and potentially difficult clients for sure. The professional tone it sets also smoothes out both my intended deliverables for the assignment and the client’s expectations. There is much better communication and it is less likely to create disputes. I highly recommend it.
What are your most favorite design resources? What gives you inspiration and where can we find it? How do you deal with creative blocks?
In the past, I would go to different art events, museums or the like for a recharge on creativity. A few times a year, I’m a guest instructor at a class at my alma mater Art Center College of Design. Seeing what other people are creating is always inspirational to me. Being a one-man show can be very isolating sometimes. Not much on water cooler chat.
My favorite books at the moment are a lot of the Rockport titles like the LogoLounge series, the Letterhead and Logo Design series, the 1,000 series. Other favorites are the Type Directors Club annuals and Von Glitschka’s texture books. I’ve got the entire TDC library from Volume No. 1 on.
Websites include Logopond.com, LogoLounge.com, Little Box of Ideas, LogoDesignerBlog, David Airey, Smashing Magazine, Behance.net, Dexigner.com and others.
Now, I find sites like Twitter, Digg and StumbleUpon are a huge, almost overwhelming resource for new and inspirational nuggets of information and imagery. Especially, Twitter. I have met some really great creative people that I can chat with all over the world. Before, you might see their names in a magazine or book. Today you can chat with them in real time. It’s amazing.
For creative blocks, I find that having a little balance in your life helps work those out. By balance I mean, getting out and doing something else besides design for an hour or two. Get off the computer, phone or whatever and take your mind off of things. I go hiking, or mountain biking to get some exercise. Many times during my rides I’ll come up with blog article ideas, logo concepts, promotional ideas or whatever. You’ve got the wind in your face, the sun is out and your feeling good. Sweat is very inspirational.
What are your plans for the near future and where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
For now, I am continuing to challenge myself and improve my work. What’s great about this industry and the pace that it is evolving is, you never quite know what’s around the corner. Just when I thought I would never work on this or that, someone inquires about a project. Trying to keep abreast of the print and online world and where I can continue business is my present plan.
In ten years, I will be hopefully continue to work in the industry in some capacity, whether as a designer or an illustrator. Ten years ago, I’m not sure I could have imagined what we are doing now as an everyday thing. Technology has exploded in that short time.
In any case, it won’t be something in concrete. I’ll try and keep my options open.
Lastly, what advice would you give to an aspiring logo designer? And any last words?
Always, always, always work on your portfolio. Your portfolio is the single best investment you can make in your working career. Unlike any other industry, your work and your presentation have got to be well-crafted, displayed and up to date, or you won’t last. Take the time to do that right and it will pay off in big dividends.
When you’re just starting out, you need real assignments to cut your teeth. Just about everything I’ve learned in this business has been learned the hard way-by making mistakes. But, rather than give up, I persevered and learned from the experiences being wiser the next time. It takes time, but it’s really the only way to gain the knowledge.
Instead of entering contests, find yourself some worthwhile start-up business or charity that you can spend your time on and really craft your work. You have the satisfaction of helping someone boost their business and you get real world business experience in return. And, hopefully some cash for the efforts.