The Pillar Branding Journey …

The Pillar project was born out of the 20|30 community. I had designed the first web site for 20|30 and its first logo. As I have a background in type and graphic design, I always design my own logos. Here’s one from a startup I never launched …

Here’s an iteration from a project I worked on a few years ago …

In my typographic training, I studied the work of Paul Rand, Massimo Vignelli, Raymond Loewy, David Carson, April Greiman, Tibor Kalman, Wolfgang Weingart, Erik Spiekermann, and many others. I believe in bold logos, because bold logos can withstand more mistreatment — for example machine stamping, embroidery, or stenciling. Having designed several typefaces, I am into the detailed crafting of a logo as much as the conceptual work.

When it came to the 20|30 design, I wanted to signify “turning the decade” from the 2020s to the 2030s, which quickly brought me to the odometer metaphor:

Having more or less perfected that (it was difficult to make it so it looked like the 30 was coming down, rather than going up), I started doing some experiments cutting away and getting to the “bones” of that design, which led me to the current 20|30 logo, where the color comes from a suite of slightly desaturated, what I call “citrus,” colors:

People like the name and the logo. The lesson here is that the metaphor is often better than the simile — you don’t need to hit people over the head, you can just point to where you’re going and let their imagination do the work.

Just for historical purposes, here’s a sketch I made of an icon for the coin that came before the Pillar concept:

Note that the more literal your metaphor, the cheesier the icon/logo looks. The more abstract your icon/logo, the more sophisticated it is (as long as it still works). Start with the similes and then throw them away in favor of gentle metaphors. We will see this principle again soon.

The Pillar Project
When we started the Pillar project, I messed around with hundreds of designs …

And again, it’s easy to fall into the trap of getting too literal. I always remember David Carson’s advice — that the solution can be found in the problem itself. So I spend a lot of time doing experiments and sketches and seeing where they lead. At some point, after looking at hundreds of bridge photos, I made this little doodle:

I asked people in our Slack to vote on colors, and people liked the yellow version (my favorite was the magenta), so we used it in the gray paper and on the web site. We made good use of the bridge theme and had fun using photos of bridges to create shapes on each page of the site (see it now, before we overhaul it early next year).

Clearly, this was never going to be a logo. Just before we launched our ICO, I created the Pillar shield, which people liked a lot:

The shield lends itself to clothing, and the icon works well in tight places. During the ICO, I promised a redesign and that we would launch the new brand early in 2018, along with a new web site and our first wallet.

The Design Team Comes Together
Just after the ICO, I put out a call for designers to take a shot at designing the wallet. The goal wasn’t to get the final design of the wallet, or even the direction. The goal was to find talent. The results were good enough for us to pay three winners and invite them (plus Eli, who came in fourth) to New York for a design workshop, which took place in October. The team immediately coalesced and started on the design problem in earnest — leaving their proposals for the contest behind and generating fantastic new ideas. The enthusiasm and commitment to Pillar was phenomenal, and soon we hired most of the people who were at that workshop. The wallet design will make its debut in a few months, and we’ll document it as well.

Time for a New Logo
I started playing with the logo from scratch, not feeling bound by the legacy of the badge or the bridge. I fired this over:

In this effort, I started with San Francisco font and modified it heavily to create the subtle pillar effect without hammering it in too deep. People on the design team were eager to try their hand, which I encouraged. Here are several of their efforts:

There were many more experiments. Dmitry suggested we think about a design philosophy and could use a blue pillar as our icon, and design the logo with that in mind (see row 5):

I liked the idea, but I decided that the icon should not drive the logo, rather the other way around. I did some user testing. As they say at IDEO (logo by Paul Rand) — prototype as If you are right; listen as if you are wrong. I tested three designs on various groups (icons below cards):

The results were interesting. The majority of people who were already Pillar token holders/supporters preferred the shield version. They liked the existing motif — “guardian of your data” — and wanted to see it continue. Among our internal group, the vote was split between the shield and the center version. Among LinkedIn people, twice as many preferred the shield to the center, though a few people said that the twin-towers version on the right was the “obvious choice.” On Facebook, where people didn’t know what Pillar was, the one on the right came in first with the center one in close second place and almost no interest in the shield.

I had a confetti version that some people liked a lot, but others didn’t.

The Final Decision
I decided to let go of both the shield and the “twin towers” on the grounds that they were too much metaphor and that if we release either of those designs now we would be stuck with that visual device forever. Shields are everywhere now. While we all have good memories of the shield days, we have to think of the millions of people who will soon see the design for the first time. They won’t be saying, “Huh? What did you do with the shield?” The twin-towers was simply too literal for me — I think we’d be stuck defending it for years. The confetti can come back later — I have left the design space fairly open. After many tiny adjustments you probably can’t see, and sending various drafts to some world-class design friends and getting their feedback, here is the final Pillar logo (RGB color space):

A couple of things to note about this. The red and blue squares are not squares — they are vertical rectangles — but the eye sees them as squares. They are also identical in size, though the blue one looks fatter up close (back away from your screen to see it change, or use photoshop to prove it). The p and the a have been heavily modified to be more vertical. You can see that the p is just at its breaking point — any more narrow and it would lose its p-ness (yes, this is a technical typographic term, and the a still has its a-ness intact). The blue dot serves a purpose — it gives us room to explore in the future using colors and squares. Without it, we’d be stuck with black-and-red forever. We had a capital-P version that looked good, but we felt that lower case was more personable and less corporate. I would still call it masculine, but the small touches make it more neutral.

After converting from RGB (screen) colors to CMYK (printing) colors, you’ll notice that the colors are much more subdued:

Tricks of the Trade
The font is Aktiv, by Dalton Maag. A vertical format helps emphasize the pillar-ness. The square dot is actually brighter than the blue used for the name, though you didn’t notice that until I just pointed it out. I initially had the logo larger and centered on the card. Dmitry helped me make the logo smaller and flush left, which is much better. There’s a lot of white space around the edges for trim, and there’s enough room for a longer name — though a really long email address will break this design. The type is 10 pt but the @ signs are 9 pt. The hyphens in the phone number are raised up to the height of the center of the number 3 (a normal hyphen is down for use in lower-case letters). And both the T and the + sign are hanging a bit to the left, to avoid a visual gap on the left margin. I did a lot of kerning (adjusting width between characters) to make the phone number look good (it’s not my real number, but look at the 74 pair — they are much closer than they would be without adjustment). I don’t recommend spending a lot of time doing that for each phone number, but I’m a bit compulsive about such things.

I’ve always had my cards printed on letterpress, but it’s time to embrace mail-order ink-jet cards, because we are bringing people on too fast. Crypto-time has eliminated the hand-crafted feel of a letterpress card, but it’ll have to do for now. We need to get back to designing the interface and launching a wallet.

Final note: I want to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to Roy, Eli, Drew, Franky, Dmitry, Thais, and others who were part of this exploration. I definitely had a “heavy hand” on the process, and I appreciate their willingness to support my design work. I think in the future, we’ll see rather more of them and less of me, and that’s probably a good thing.

David Siegel is a serial entrepreneur from the United States living in London. He is the CEO of 20|30 and the Pillar project, both of which have newsletters you may wish to subscribe to. He is the author of The Token Handbook. He is the world’s first web designer, the author of Creating Killer Web Sites, the designer of the Tekton and Graphite typefaces, and the producer of Zapfino. His full bio is at dsiegel.com. Connect to him on LinkedIn.