Designing the Full Circle Brand
A Reflection on the Design Process for Kent State University’s Class of 2017 Visual Communication Design Senior Show
I think that most design students in our program have at least once thought ahead to the branding of their senior show. The show represents the graduating BFA class (bachelor of fine arts) and the work they’ve created over the past four years in the VCD program (visual communication design) at Kent State University. The quality of the show’s concept acts as an indication of how strong the class is — and subsequently, how strong the school is.
The concept for Full Circle was conceptualized by Emily Thomas, Brandon Mahone and myself. We did research, concepts and iterations to produce the final brand guidelines — which instruct other designers how to cohesively use the elements of our brand. Our team is proud and excited to share this concept with our class, school and the design community.
Part 1: Research
We started by asking the question, “what are we trying to communicate?” The final answer is more of a selection of the best answers because there are so many ways to correctly address this question. Through our discussions, we of course wanted to make sure the design was clean, accessible and engaging, but we also wanted to confirm that our concept adhered to more direct principles that reflected our experience in the program. This stage took around two weeks.
What are we trying to communicate?
- Quality of craft
- Breadth of work
- Rigor of ideas
Once established, we began research and compiled the senior shows of the classes before us.
Through investigating previous shows, we gathered some takeaways:
- Names explored a culmination of the undergraduate experience
- Vibrant colors energized content/grays had an opposite effect
- White type felt sturdy when saturated in a loud background
Part 2: Creating Concepts
By seeing what the previous classes had created and knowing the principles we wanted to base our concept off of, we began creating multiple concepts. This stage took around a week.
Concept A: The Process Look
A process book is a compiled guide that allows a viewer to see progression of a project from the beginning to end through research, rough sketches, screen shots, scans, photos, and multiple rounds of work. The name played off of this concept and suggested that this year, we’d focus more on the iterative process than limit the work to the final pieces.
Concept B: Tracking Out
In typography, letter-spacing — called tracking by typographers, refers to a consistent degree of increase (or sometimes decrease) of space between letters to affect density in a line or block of text. The name plays with the idea of our class leaving/trekking out into post college life.
Concept C: Spectrum
Used to classify something, or suggest that it can be classified, in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme or opposite points. As a class, we’re a spectrum of talents, skills and experiences.
Concept D: The Baseline
The baseline is the line upon which most letters “sit” and below which descenders extend. Similar to Tracking Out, this concept married a typographic term with a metaphor about our senior class. We eventually decided that a baseline had a negative connotation related to “the standard,” which didn’t feel uplifting enough.
Concept E: Full Circle
When something “comes full circle,” it completes a cycle, returns to its beginnings — in our case, a new phase of our lives is beginning. We appreciated the nod to the fundamental geometry which reflected a theme in our first year of VCD expressed through the exercise, “point, line and plane,” which required us to use only the three named graphic design elements to create dynamic compositions representing a given object.
Concept F: Reflections
As a graduating class, we’re reflecting on the time we’ve had in the program, our work and what will be happening next. The visuals were lead by expressive typography that looked as if it had been displaced in water and the water disturbed.
As a group, we decided to move forward with Full Circle. The concept spoke to both the passage of time and appreciating our experience. We were excited to use some of the simple geometry to establish a visual language. It was at this point we had a conversation about color: All the previous senior shows had used some range of colors for their primary identity. We wanted to be the first class to rely on black and white alone for our primary identity. Black and white are a designer’s bread and butter — fundamentals we cannot work without. We wanted to pay tribute to this idea.
We established our timeline as all design projects must and got to work.
Part 3: Developing the Brand
We started with sketches, moved to digital translations and held critiques over Google Drive. This stage took around 3 weeks.
How did we want our brand to look/feel? What was the tone and how could this be accomplished through visuals?
How should Full Circle feel?
- Strong & assertive
- Minimal & modern
Phrases associated with our brand:
- Passage of time
- Evolution of ideas
- Journey and arrival
- Completion of experience
There was a point where we realized that our use of circles was getting out of control. We didn’t want the brand to look like typography for carnival advertisements. It was at this point we made two decisions:
- Type will not be set on a curve
- Circles will not be used
This was slightly risky, but fun. We had established rules and now we were taking the most obvious (use of a circle) and quite literally breaking it (into two semicircles). It’s exciting to create a rule that challenges everything to be more conceptually rigorous and less easy. “We’re creating a brand called full circle and there won’t be one full circle in the brand.” It could have been simple. Black. White. Thin strokes. Swiss type. A single filled circle as our mark. But as Professor David Roll said in my corporate identity class my junior year,
“your designs need to be simple but not simplistic.”
Part 4: Pitching the Brand
We refined our work and created a presentation to sell our concept to the class. There were three other concepts. Some of our slides:
Part 5: Preparing the Brand Guidelines
Though our concept had been selected to represent the show, there was now a laundry list of to-do’s that needed to be to-done. I hadn’t appreciated how much work needed to go into creating a brand we thought we had basically finished. Between the concept being selected and the guidelines required to be due, there was less than a week to finalize everything:
- wordmark kerning (Manually adjusting the space between each letter to feel perfectly spaced. We had previously been using the standard spacing that came with the typeface).
- adjusting the spatial relationship between the logomark/wordmark
- creating multiple versions of the logo on black, white, colored backgrounds, photographs, etc.
- dictating the required clear space to appear around the logo
- incorrect wordmark usage rules
- incorrect logomark usage rules
- incorrect logo (word+icon) usage rules
- typographic use scenarios (when to use what font of the typeface)
- finalizing hierarchy/weight relationships of type
- finalizing CMYK/RGB values for all official brand colors
- finalizing color use scenarios (when to use what color)
- writing a language guide (how should our brand tone/voice operate?)
- creating a graphics guide (how do our graphics interact)
- developing in/correct use of graphic elements
- creating environmental graphics for the exhibit space
- writing content for all sections of the guidelines
Here are some of the pages of the final guidelines:
Part 6: Creating the Show
The rest of our class was waiting for the guidelines so they could start implementing the brand on their own various applications. I’m taking on the website with the awesome Lesley Teater.
It’s exciting to be able to stand in front of the brand we created and see how our classmates give life to brochures, mailers and social media using the our established principles.
Much gratitude is owed to our senior show advisor Associate Professor Gretchen Rinnert, the School of Visual Communication Design, the College of Communication and Information and Kent State University.