Branding Fitzhugh

By Bill Kenney

One of our recent projects was to create a brand for a local colleague Fitz Haile.

Fitzhugh 1

He recently started his own company specializing in the areas of web development and social media technology. This branding post will cover the process of how we started without a company name and transitioned through the design phases to create a cohesive brand for him to build his company around.

How it began

For those of you who don’t know, the Focus Lab office is located in Savannah’s first and only co-working space called ThincSavannah. This 8,000 square foot floor is home to a great selection of creative companies from the Savannah area. It was at Thinc where I had the pleasure of meeting Fitz Haile. When he rented the space directly across from us, it was impossible to not build a relationship with him. Over many lunches, office parties, award ceremonies and pranks our friendship was formed. And you know what every good friend asks his graphic design buddy… for a logo of course.

The Concept / Direction

Photo of early logo idea sketches

After meeting with Fitz, the idea we wanted to execute seemed straightforward and simple. But, as we all know, moving from idea to execution is never as simple as it seems. Fitz expressed that he wanted a simple flat mark with nothing more than his initials and/or some type of clean vector form for the viewer to identify with.

With a concept like that to work with, usually the first step is some mood boarding (as discussed here) and then opening up the sketch book to flesh out ideas. On this particular project though, the sketching phase was minimal. On some projects I choose to just jump right on the computer to begin designing, and this was one of those occasions. The danger in skipping the sketching process is that it can limit the designer’s freedom to explore ideas, which in turn can limit the creativity of the process. But, with Fitz’s project, I had some very solid concepts that I was ready to bring to life, so I hit the ground running with my laptop.

Since this design was for a new company, and Fitz himself was unsure of the exact services he would be offering, we wanted a design that could be easily viewed and simple to translate. We were aiming for a design that would define Fitz’s brand without limiting the scope of his work. The role of the company was to be semi-avoided intentionally, hinted at but not fully described. This would leave room for him to expand or scale and change the company’s core services in the future without a massive branding overhaul. (Sound familiar?)

“Mystery is not always a bad thing as it can create curiosity.”

Another hurdle we had to leap was the lack of a name. This was such a new venture that Fitz had not yet decided on a name for the company. As you can imagine, this proved to be a bit of a struggle. Just like the rest of us, Fitz wanted a name that was truly unique and he was having issues deciding on the perfect fit. Although it was not our intention to help in the naming process it is an essential parting of branding, so we got involved.

The Name

There were two different paths we explored for the naming process. The first being the recent, web-dictated concept of completely made up words. Companies like Yahoo, Wufoo, Fandango and countless others dot the marketplace with these seemingly nonsensical names that, when executed properly become part of the lexicon. This approach can be effective for two reasons: if carefully selected, a unique name can become very memorable, and it usually allows you to acquire a domain name for your website which is getting to be more and more difficult.

The other naming path we followed was another common trend of naming the company after the founder. The benefit of using Fitz’s name for the company title was actually very pronounced. Fitz had already built up some serious local recognition in his role at The Creative Coast - an arm of the Savannah Economic Development Authority - which he held for five years. He and his name were extremely well known and in a sense, he had already started his personal branding.

Fitz then expressed interested in using his middle name, “Fitzhugh”, which was also something of a nickname. We decided that since it was a combination of both approaches, it allowed us to use the capital he had created through his personal branding, but is more unique than just using the “Fitz Haile” name that so many are familiar with. “Fitzhugh” has the power to stand alone as a company and not be perceived as just a single person.

The Mark

The first set of ideas for the Fitzhugh mark were based around the technical services his company was going to provide. The idea was to use punctuation marks to resemble snippets of code so the viewer’s reaction would be,”Oh, this must be a developer based company.” Some interesting ideas came from this first round such as the play off of his last initial “H” with reversed brackets. These solutions proved to be a bit unclear and didn’t pack the punch we were looking for.

The next iteration took on a completely different route. The ideas were much more playful and graphic-based. Fitz is like us (Focus Lab) in the sense that although he is professional in his work, he likes to be light hearted in his personality. We explored some off-the-wall ideas that included beavers, Sherlock Holmes, old machinery and Legos. Although none of these turned out to be the final treatment, these variations were essential to the process and informed our final selection.

A concept that continued to hang around throughout the process was a simple type-treatment. A bold and minimal use of Neutraface with a full stop. As mentioned above, we were juggling names throughout out the entire process and this version was key for Fitz to choose a name that he felt comfortable in moving forward with. We explored many variations of this layout with accompanying icons, but it all felt forced and over designed. The typeface was much better served when standing alone.

“We were aiming for a design that would define Fitz’s brand without limiting the scope of his work. “

With our choices narrowed, but no clear favorite emerging, the selection of the final mark was left up to the masses. The client was very torn on the final choices as were we. I suggested we ask the “people” using our social outlets such Forrst, Twitter, Facebook and even some web-based surveys. We solicited opinions from a wide range of people on a few options, and the voting turned out very one-sided. This actually solved two key issues for us. The vote confirmed that the audience accepted the name Fitzhugh without question, and brought to light a decisive winner for the final logo selection.

The only thing left to decide on was the descriptor, the tag-line that would fall underneath the name. Since we chose not to incorporate an iconic element to represent the company, Fitz felt the need for a descriptor line to give some context to what the company does. The plan was again to be intentionally vague. We did not want this line to pigeonhole the brand in any way which might deter growth in the coming years. After throwing around many ideas, we came to a consensus on “A Social Web Company”. You might be asking, “What the heck Does that mean?” Good. That’s the response we expected and actually invited. Mystery is not always a bad thing as it can create curiosity. And in the case of a new business, creating curiosity is important.

Image of some early logo conceptsImage of a gear logo ideaImage of a Sherlock Holmes inspired logoImage of logo ideas based on brackets

The final mark proved to be everything we were going for. It was a simple but effective use of typography to deliver the company name which still tied to Fitz’s existing local recognition. The descriptor took the place of a unique icon in clarifying the role of the company when necessary.

Final version of logo

Typeface

As strange as it sounds, the final typeface was not a conscious decision. In exploring the different name choices we were using a version of the Neutraface collection from House Industries as a default placeholder. In the end, we became so attached to the look, that no other options seemed to work. We did address some slight weight variations, but the font choice just fell in our lap and we chose not to fight it. The creative process works in funny ways sometimes.

To round it out, we chose to balance the bold sans serif font with a tradition serif font called Palatino. The two fonts compliment each other very well and Palatino translates very well across various web platforms. The similarity to our own brand wan’t intentional, but simply a natural outcome based on Fitz’s personality and goals for his own brand.

Type-centered graphic displaying the use of Neutraface & Palatino

Color

Color, on the other hand, was a very conscious and deliberate decision. When we first met with Fitz he was interested in using a color palette based around navy blue. Initially I was accepting and agreed that the choice fit the minimal / professional look we were creating. As we progressed though, I became very opposed to the navy blue. For me the color represented something far more corporate than the young, creative company Fitzhugh was setting out to be. I began looking for something outside the norm for a tech company, so I wanted to avoid the overused light blues and lime greens you often find on tech related brands. A bold orange really jumped out at me. It had a young, new-age feel to it, but was not completely off-the-wall. It was confident, creative, loud and professional all at the same time. As we also came to enjoy, Fitz is a red head so this color really could not have fit him any better.

Another great part about the bold color choice was it replaced the necessity for an icon. Fitz really wanted a second element such that could be used outside the name to represent the brand. Something that could be used for avatars and other executions where the full mark would not fit. The bold color filled the role of the missing icon, and in our opinion, will work better than any other option could have.

Extending the Brand

Being that one of Fitz’s many skills are web development, he took it upon himself to extend the brand into his new site. He had a few questions here and there, but managed to do a great job in extending what we created and transitioning it to his new website. We are excited to see the executions for items like print, clothing, stickers and whatever other wacky items he decides to slap some orange on.

Photo of Fitz's new business cardsPhoto of Fitz's new website on an iPadScreenshot of Fitz's new Twitter icon within OS X's Twitter applicationShot of a t-shirt design ideaBriefcase with Fitzhugh logo embossedBeer glass with Fitzhugh's logo etched in the glass

Final Product

Both parties could not have been happier with the final outcome. We were able to accomplish the initial goals of a minimal design and lay the ground work for the client to build upon. The fact that we started with no name and finished with powerful cohesive brand made for a very successful project.

Fitz’s thoughts

“Having just started my new business, I was both excited and nervous about starting my own branding process, wary of not finding the “right” look and a prolonged design process. To my pleasant surprise and great relief, Focus Lab guided me through the process with a reassuring mix of awesome design and a laid-back style that quickly put me at ease. I’m thrilled with the final product and continue to get “I love your new logo” positive feedback every week since we rolled it out. Me = happy customer.”