Paint the Pavement Pittsburgh

Designing and developing the branding identity and system for Paint the Pavement Pittsburgh 2017.

I. The Foundation — Word Mark and Grids

What is a word mark?

Word mark is a term now used to refer to a specific design for the written name of an organisation, company or product, intended to aid recognition and provide what is often described as a graphic identity (i.e. the word(s) as a visual symbol of the organisation or product).

A submark is an alternative brand element that is pulled from and inspired from a full logo. In short, it’s a variation of your logo. Creating a branded submark is a great strategy for brands with long brand names, and any brand with a more involved logo design.

What is a logo?

A logo is a symbol or other design adopted by an organization to identify its products, uniform, vehicles, etc.

What is a symbol?

It is a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract.

What is an icon?

An image that represents an application, a capability, or some other concept or specific entity with meaning for the user.


Before I began to develop a word mark for Paint the Pavement, I needed to understand the process that goes into creating not only a strong icon that stands alone by itself but one that fits into a whole system. The concept that the class had to develop a set of icons for as a whole revolved around the question: What makes a happy, healthy community?

We could be as broad or specific as we wanted to be. We spent one morning brainstorming a list of words collectively. Well maybe transportation makes up a happy community. Okay, what about transportation makes the community better? Is it the bikes, cars, subways, or what? Why is it one or the other or all of them together?

If we think that nature makes up a happy, healthy community, what about it specifically is it? Is it the trees, the birds, the flowers, the people? And out of all of those, which one can we turn into an icon to communicate our concept?

After making a huge word bank of topics and objects we thought made up a happy community, we each chose two words to develop icons for.

My two words were Friendship and Celebration.

I started out my process by doing 50+ thumbnail sketches for each word. I thought a lot about the different ways friendship is represented. I knew that friendship would involve more than one person. It’s a relationship. But I realized after a little while that sometimes two people being close and happy together looked like they were a couple. Maybe that’s not a bad thing but it didn’t get across exactly what I wanted to convey. So I had to start thinking about numbers…Is it different now if I throw in a third person? Why is that? I started developing more icon sketches with three or four people.

In looking at these icons, you can see the shift in ideas that took place as I progressed. For Friendship, there is the progression from two people to three.

The connotation of two vs. three people for friendship is very different!

I came up with a bunch of phrases and words that had to do with the sketches first and referenced them on the side when I got stumped on ideas. The first two rows have to do with friendship in the way that a connection is formed between two. There is a bond…a mutual love…time spent together. I’m mostly focusing on the idea of connections. The next two rows are a bit bland in emotion but symbolize friendship and connections in a technical sense. I drew out different kinds of “social networks”. This way of depicting friends didn’t feel right. There wasn’t any real human connection. People were nodes and they were connected to others through a bunch of strings. I wanted to give off the feeling of happiness, teamwork, gratitude, and support. I ended up going with the icon where two friends are giving each other a high five. I think that’s pretty platonic and shows teamwork!

For celebration, I didn’t list any words and mostly studied objects that are commonly found at parties.

I think there’s a progression from objects (balloons, confetti, etc.) that signify celebration into people celebrating (giving gifts, dancing, etc). Doing friendship first helped me think about how to compose people together for celebration. For the final icon to symbolize celebration, I chose the two champagne glasses in the midst of a toast. I thought that was generic enough and could be understood universally. It’s not about a specific holiday, specific to any country either.

After another all-inclusive critique, classmates exchanged their icons for new ones to tackle. We were getting really close to finishing our set of icons. For the next step, we wanted to start nailing down things like line weight, shading and contrast:

  • Stroke weight (outer) should be 10pt and inner lines should be 6pt.
  • Shapes shouldn’t be overlapping each other too much.
  • We need to be continue to pay attention to use of contrast in the icons.

We wanted to be mindful of the kind of emotion we would evoke from viewers. Were people afraid? Did they find the icon to be friendly? Did it give off positive feelings? We went around and marked with post-it notes ones that we “didn’t understand from first glance” and ones that were “scary looking”. My celebration icon didn’t do so well.

I guess this could be seen as explosives…or something dangerous of the sorts. It’s not something that necessarily signifies a get together or party. I might see it as fireworks or something related to sparklers but others may not. That’s a bias that I have.

I traded my two words for “Sports”.

The classmate that had this topic before me did a great job coming up with an icon so I didn’t have too much to tweak. I looked at her sketches to get an idea of what she explored:

Regardless, I still drew fifty thumbnail sketches of what sports could be. I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could push the idea even further. Here are examples of the process leading up to the final icon design:

I had to figure out if I wanted to go narrow with sports or represent it broadly. In many of these sketches, you can see that I tried to draw out specific sports focusing on only tennis or only baseball, for example. I explored different sports from racing to ping pong to soccer. I liked the theme of drawing two rackets or two baseball bats because I wanted to signify that this was a community activity. I felt like showing only one baseball bat feels like it’s an individual thing to do. Since we’re trying to drive interest towards an entire community, I wanted the icon to represent sports in a way that made it seem recreational for all to join in on. In the end, I settled on jumbling different sports together. The final icon I went with incorporated basketball, baseball and football — all three sports that rely heavily on teamwork.

My final “Sports” icons

I think it’s cool to see the two I submitted for consideration side to side because the only thing that’s different about them is the placement of the football. Your eye moves around the image differently when the football is pointing upwards vs. pointing downwards. During critique, it was pointed out that I needed to pay attention to the angles of the different balls and make sure that they’re angled in a way that’s intentional. In the right image, the way the baseball is angled makes it seem as if it’s about to knock the football out of the frame. That’s probably not a good thing and something that I should revise (which I did). The left image in contrast, doesn’t feel like it’s very dynamic. It took me a bunch of tries to land on these specific two shown above.

Here are a couple other options I had tried out among a whole set of iterations. At first, I had to decide which ball I wanted to have shaded. Should I do the tennis ball or football? I asked around and people said it felt more natural that the football was shaded given that it actually has a dark brown shade. I thought it also balanced out the basketball in terms of contrast.

The rest of the changes I made were in the details and angles of how I wanted them juxtaposed. I believe that the final icon I went with is the one in the top left. I angled it so that the baseball is still moving in action downwards but this time it’s not knocking out specifically the football but more so just moving down the page to guide the viewer.

Here are some of other students’ finalized icons. They’re similar in the amount of black and white (although some are more filled in than others) and we all tried to have one part of the icon be separated from the rest.

After establishing a set of icons with the class, we moved on to analyzing the actual content and thinking about the organization of the different pre-application sections.


What’s the Application?

I took the time to read through the packet of information and found myself feeling very overwhelmed. There is so much content to parse through just to figure out how to send in an application…I can understand why communication design is very necessary here. If we don’t put thought into these deliverables, people will be turned away from wanting to send in an application. There’s so much to do from getting permits and finding an artist, etc. I wrote some notes next to these I had questions/concerns about and have included them below.

I’m already confused by the fact that there are three deadlines and they didn’t specify if this is going to be rolling or what. That’s going to be an interesting problem to tackle. I also noticed that there are a lot of other programs and event I should look into and familiarize myself with. For example, the City of Pittsburgh Department of Economic Development and Urban Redevelopment Association. Do they have a website? If so, can we grab some useful information from there to use in the deliverables?

I think I want to help make it easier for people to apply by collecting all of these external forms and links and have them in one place, ready to go so that the organizers don’t get discouraged about applying cause of the list of things they need.

There are so many things to include in the table of contents…I thought that originally it was just “Goals, Purpose, Objectives, Eligible Applicants” and then I saw the full list and was shocked. It’s a lot of information to take in…I wonder if we can leave some of the categories out or regroup them again based on “steps” or “things to do”. Do all things need to go in the same deliverable?

I’m confused as to why there is such a huge emphasis on artists who are “qualified and experienced” cause I thought that this project was supposed to be more of a community effort and not just one person leading the entire thing. I think that’ll be something to look into…Do we reach out to some artists ahead of time and have them show interest and maybe we can hint at that in the deliverable? Can we get them looped in earlier?

I wonder if we could break up this information into three separate deliverables or maybe it’s still one deliverable but three vessels…

I didn’t realize how specific this application was about picking and choosing intersections/streets to paint. We should try to accumulate the excess links and info into one in a simplified packet.

To make this step easier maybe we can do some research on our own and figure out what’s best and have those recommendations in the deliverable.

There’s, again, so much information here that we need to figure out how to organize these dates into sections. Maybe all of these dates live on one big poster. Maybe they’re one page in a booklet. Maybe it’s an interactive checklist found online and in print?

I think it could be interesting to design a set of cards that act as reminders or as a to-do list to get people started and help them along the way.

We’re going to want to set expectations early for how many people are going to be involved, how long this whole process will take (two months…) and provide important details up front. We want people to be committed from the start to finish.

Natalie + Bettina spent time reorganizing the application into groups.

I had met up with my teammates in the daytime to break down the application as a group. We discussed possible ideas for how we’d approach tackling the design of this document. We were taking note of what seemed really repetitive and what seemed like key information. Natalie and Bettina made a sort of affinity diagram while I stuck to looking around online for a source of inspiration. I wanted to see what the City of Pittsburgh website is like and how we could possibly advertise on there or what the “buy-in” would be digitally.

Looking at the City of Minneapolis application was also helpful. It was clear they had attempted to make the content appealing with bright colors and inviting images. It was engaging enough that I flipped through a good amount of the packet. I don’t think they did a great job with the visual design at all or with typography and grids but it helped to see another take on the application design.


What’s the Wordmark?

After spending time understanding the application process and what the program is all about, we were now tasked with coming up with a unique wordmark that would set the tone for our project. What did we want to convey? How could we hint at the overall message with a wordmark?

Knowing that the project has to do with paint, what can we come up with that’s related? Maybe the wordmark has brush strokes, or is integrated with a paint brush or brush roller. Is the font hand-drawn? Does it look like something that’d go well on pavement?

We also wanted to keep in mind that this project is specifically about Pittsburgh. The Minneapolis campaign would have a very different wordmark than one designed for our city. What makes Pittsburgh unique? How would you know that this has to do with Pittsburgh without saying it?

With all of this to consider, I started sketching out some ideas that blended the two ideas of “painting” with “Pittsburgh”. My first few takes on wordmarks weren’t very successful. They were really all over the place and very experimental. I relied on the same technique I used to come up with the sports icons which meant starting with thumbnail sketches again.

I used a couple of repeating symbols. I couldn’t really break away from using stereotypical imagery so you can see that there are lots of paintbrushes alongside paint rollers or paint palettes. I also began experimenting with cutting out some words and letters. Could I use PGH instead? Maybe it’s just Paint PGH. But I ultimately decided against that cause it could get mixed up with another project. Also we had to be cautious cause there is a popular business here called Pittsburgh Paints.

These are still early explorations of what I had come up with for the wordmark. I was feeling really stumped for a long time and frustrated that I wasn’t having a creative breakthrough. Everything seemed cliche and expected. Most of these also didn’t express anything unique to Pittsburgh. You could apply these to any other Paint the Pavement city projects.

I really started pushing my comfort zone and tried to incorporate more things that had to do with Pittsburgh. You can see that I started integrated bridges into the wordmark but things were getting either too large in scale or too disorganized. It didn’t feel like a wordmark anymore. This step in the process did help me find a new direction to go towards though.

These weren’t that much better but there were some interesting ideas starting to form. I was being more playful with the letters. I started focusing more and more on bridges than paintbrushes.

Here are a few that I particularly liked and thought were experimental. They were good but I could tell I wasn’t there yet. These still were too complicated and wouldn’t work well if I were to try and place them between pages of a brochure or on a poster.

I landed on this one in particular that I really liked…

I thought this was playful, clever, creative, and captured something unique about Pittsburgh. It also felt like it could be marketed towards a range of ages. The addition of the heart added personality to the wordmark. Overall, I liked that it incorporated the bridges, something Pittsburgh is known for, with the imagery of a paint tube. I starred it and started playing around with some digital concepts.

Creating the Digital Wordmark

Although I had made some iterations earlier and even starred one that I really liked, I knew it couldn’t be perfect on the first try. I also knew that there was a high chance the original sketch would lose its authenticity in some way as I translated it into something digital in Illustrator. I reminded myself to be open-minded during this process and try many different things.

I started simple and drew out a wordmark just to get comfortable with the pen tool. I’m comfortable using the feature but haven’t made any original logos in the past to be honest whether that’s for a class project or for some freelance work. So the first iteration I made was pretty terrible:

I liked the idea of having “Paint the Pavement” inside the paint streak of the brush. I tried this idea with a paint roller instead:

I went with a font that looked like sidewalk chalk this time to give it more of a brushstroke effect but ultimately I thought it was too much like chalk. I ditched that font and moved on to another iteration. At this point, I wanted to try creating the paint tube I had sketched out and seeing what that looked like. The paint tube doubles in symbolism as the top half looks like its one of the many bridges in Pittsburgh.

I liked how it turned out although there were still visual details I needed to refine. I began to play around with stroke effects in Illustrator, discovering that there was an effect that could make lines look like brush strokes. From here, I wanted to throw in some color to better visualize the wordmark but also to give it some energy. Adding in yellow made things look and feel a lot better. It definitely gave off a different voice once I saw it in color. But in critiquing this exact iteration, I’d have to say that I couldn’t fully see the connection of this wordmark to Paint the Pavement. This could easily be the wordmark for Pittsburgh Paints, a popular company in the area.

I also wasn’t totally liking how the text was set on the paint tube. Overall this wordmark felt bare without the paint streak coming out of it. And also I got lots of feedback that the details in the bridge felt a little distorted or hard to read as an image.

I wanted to take a step back and focus first really on the foundation of the wordmark which was just the image itself. I realized I was trying to really perfect two things at once but really I should nail down the image and then focus on integrating the text. I started refining the shape and details of the bridge to make it more recognizable. Classmates suggested to round out the edges and to also make it only three gaps at the top instead of four. I tried both for a while and made iterations to see what felt right.

I elongated the white space in the image, making it a lot more noticeable that it’s supposed to be a bridge. I simplified the number of parts that were in the image, taking away the strip that was running across the bottom. I decided to have no text on the actual paint tube at all. I wanted to keep it simple given that there already is so much going on. Then I shrunk the stroke weight to make the lines lighter. It was a little too defined before and almost looked a bit like clip-art.

I started narrowing things down and looking at the fonts:

After finding a couple that had a brush/hand-written look and feel, I added it to the image:

I liked a bunch of these options above but something still felt a little off about them. They felt too harsh and too defined. Something was mainly off about the stroke around the wordmark. I did a jump forward and stripped it entirely of an outline. It immediately felt a lot lighter.

I went with the bottom right image as the subtle detail of it being on a tilt gave it some feeling of motion. Here was an early draft of how it would look on a document.

What’s the Concept?

After establishing a wordmark, I spent time thinking about what the driving concept would be that distinguished my project from another classmate’s take on it. I wanted to focus on having Paint the Pavement be accessible to anyone who was interested in participating. I wanted to come up with different ways to involve community members. What would the role of a student be? What about a business owner? How can we include people so it’s not just about artists? I developed a narrative that backed my wordmark and idea. I focused on the fact that Pittsburgh has these bridges that connect all these separate communities and bring them together. These bridges have lived through the good and the bad. They’ve been utilized for celebrations and protests. Bridges are iconic to Pittsburgh.

I came up with the idea that Paint the Pavement would result in a community day where everyone could come participate in the festivities and painting.

There would be road painting (a tradition done by seniors at my high school to kick off the start of the new year), a t-shirt design contest, tie dye booths and more! I also put some initial thought into what some promotional advertisements would look like for Paint the Pavement. I imagined that these posters would be put around town asking people to doodle and draw what they’d want to see painted on the pavement. Maybe there would be some social media part incorporated into this. For example, by the end of the campaign, these drawings would be collected and made into a huge digital collage showing off everyone’s ideas.

Making a Prototype

Now we were starting to get into thinking about the physical form of our mailer. Would I be putting the application information into a booklet? A brochure? A big poster? How did I want people to interact with the piece?

I figured I could make a book but I kind of wanted to do something different and try and create a brochure or a fold-out poster. I started prototyping, trying out an accordion fold.

When I actually started sorting through the packet of information, I realized that there was way too much text for me to include in just a simple fold-out. I definitely would need something more like a brochure and probably would have to split the mailer into separate parts. I latched onto the idea of having a brochure that would have a little pocket to hold smaller booklets.

With actual information taken from the application packet, I made a small prototype that organized and laid out the different goals of the project.

Designing the Content

I went with a simple design at first to get a sense for how much content there would be and how I would go about designing it. I quickly jumped to a different design once I started thinking more about typefaces and colors.

Color Studies
Exterior of the brochure (early iteration)
Interior of the brochure (early iteration)

I had lots of trouble designing the middle panel at first. You could apply for the first, second or third cycle of Paint the Pavement. If you applied to the first cycle, you’d follow the relevant dates. I wasn’t sure how I’d format all the information. Was there a better way to get the information across? How could I reduce the amount of repeated text?

Further Process + Iterations

After having done more iterations and looked at type, hierarchy and content more closely, I landed on a better version for the final version.

Final Interior Design
Final Exterior Design
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