Face to Face with Jeff Fisher

Jeff Fisher, the Engineer of Creative Identity for the Portland-based design firm Jeff Fisher LogoMotives. He has been working as a design professional since 1978, with a focus on identity design since about 1995.  In addition to being a designer, He is a writer.

He is the author of ” Identity Crisis!: 50 redesigns that transformed stale identities into successful brands” and “The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success: Ideas and tactics for a killer career.

He is currently writing the book “LogoType,” a book about typography in logo design – scheduled for release in late 2011. On occasion, He also write for design magazines. His article, “Self-Promotion the Social Way,” was recently published in HOW Magazine and has been posted on their website. Another part of his personality makes presentations at design conferences, speaks to student audiences at universities and design schools, and conducts workshops for business organizations.

First of all we would like to thank you for taking the time to provide Logo Talks with this interview. Please tell us about your background and formal education?

From the time I was elementary school I knew I wanted to be an artist when I grew. However, it wasn’t until 1974, while I was in high school, that I saw a copy of Milton Glaser’s then new book, “Graphic Design.”  It gave a name to the direction I wanted to take a career. Later that year I began my studies in graphic design at the University of Oregon. Unhappy with the program in the fine arts department, I was convinced to change my course program to the Journalism School; where I could take classes in advertising design, publication design, typography, cartooning and more.  I began working professionally as a graphic design while at the university, as the designer for the advertising department of the daily college newspaper.

Early in my career I was the art director and design department coordinator for a group of medical publications, the art director of an advertising agency and the creative director of a clothing manufacturer. Since my college days I have always done independent design work. In 1995 I began to specialize in identity design and in 1997 I officially adopted the business name Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, giving myself the title Engineer of Creative Identity. Since 1994 my efforts have been honored with over 600 regional, national and international design awards and featured in over 130 books about logos, the design business, and small business marketing. In 2004, my book “The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success” was released by HOW Books. “Identity Crisis!: 50 redesigns that transformed stale identities into successful brands” followed in 2007.  I am currently writing “Logo Type: 200 Best Typographic Logos from Around the World Explained,” with a scheduled 2011 release.

I’m a member of the HOW Magazine Board of Advisors, HOW Design Conference Advisory Council and the Art Institute of Portland Professional Advisory Council. I also write for HOW Magazine, other industry publications, and many webzines and blogs. In addition, I do  a great deal of public speaking, making numerous presentations each year to design organizations, design schools, universities and business groups.

Do you think the formal education is necessary to become a excellent designer?

I don’t think a formal education is “necessary” to become a decent designer.  I think any education is a huge advantage in becoming an excellent designer. In my case, courses in sociology, psychology, marketing, religious studies, history, business, writing and much all played a role in making me a better designer than had I not had such teachings. Education is a life-long process. I would be doing myself, and my clients a disservice, if I wasn’t learning something every day.

What about logo and brand design; do you believe it is a special kind of talent for some designers?

Natural talent and artistic abilities do play a role in success as a designer. I don’t think all aspects of design can necessarily be taught. Some designers seem to have a very innate ability to easily design logos. For others identity design may be a dreaded challenge. For me, logo design has always been an enjoyable combination of visualizing images, manipulating type, conveying hidden messages and combining unusual elements to project a simple, concise message.

What is a logo in your opinion? What makes a good logo?

Recently, while judging logo designs for the upcoming book “Logolicious,” by Peleg Top, I was asked a similar question.  My response was: “A great logo identifies, informs, inspires – and invites the viewer to learn more about a business, organization, product or event.”  The better a designer’s understanding of a company or organization; the better the chances for a good logo as a design result.

There are a lot of people, students and Junior designers have misconception about logos and brands. What is the difference in your opinion?

A logo is an identifying symbol – and it is just a small part of a brand. The brand is the entire public image of a company, organization or individual – including all that is conveyed in print, broadcast, on the Internet, and any message distributed for public consumption. People get a bit confused because a logo is often the most constant visual image of a brand.

What are the reasons a brand may fail?

Several things may come into play when a brand, or rebranding, fails. Those responsible for the graphic design of the brand may not be seriously taking the needs and desires of the client, and the target market, into consideration. The client may have failed to listen to the advice of a knowledgeable designer of firm. The research required to effectively establish the brand, and launch it to the public, may be flawed. Or, it might be a combination of a number of the aspects mentioned and more. The 2009 failure, here in the U.S., of the Tropicana orange juice brand is a good example of a company forgetting one of the most important elements of a brand – the opinion of the customer. If a product is rebranded/redesigned to the point that a large and loyal customer base can no longer easily find a previously familiar product on the shelf; there is a serious problem.

In 2009, we saw a lot of companies like Hilton, Melbourne, and Pepsi change their logos. What you think about that? Is it necessary for a company to change its brand from time to time?

Logos often need to evolve over time to remain fresh or current. Over the past 30 years, I’ve even been hired to refresh, or redesign, logos I have created in the past. Logos I designed in the 1980’s may look like logos that were designed in the 1980’s. They might seem outdated, clunky, or no longer sexy enough to effectively represent a company, organization or product.  Still, when redesigning a logo, I take things into consideration such as:

1.) Customer and employee emotional investment in an existing logo;

2.) The historical perspective of a logo as the identifying symbol for the entity;

3.) The defined justification of the identity redesign (as in, “Does this make sense?); and more.

Let’s talk about design contests. Why do freelancers hate them? Why are “design contests” so prevalent in the design community itself? You had been written some articles about this topic; on the other hand you are a judge of design contests from time to time!

I think a definition of “design contest” is required in the context of your question. To me, most self-proclaimed “design contests” are events that requires a designer to create new speculative (spec) work as a requirement of entering for the chance of winning a prize or having their effort declared the “winner” in some form. One of a designer’s most precious commodities is the limited amount of time one has to create work. I feel that no designer should use that time to provide any free concepts or finished designs to any for-profit business venture. Design has value and designers should be compensated for that time. That’s why I have always been so supportive of the NO!SPEC movement – http://no-spec.com

“Design contests” are so prevalent in the design community, in part, because so many potential clients don’t value the work of professional designers and they have a very willing market of naïve designers who will work for free – for the possibility of some little form of compensation. One of my “Jeffisms” is: “The only thing worse than a potential client who does not value the efforts of a professional graphic designer, is a designer who doesn’t appreciate the value of their own time and work.”

If a designer wishes to create work to improve a personal portfolio, or to gain additional design experience, I always suggest contacting a non-profit cause in which they have a strong personal connection and offering to donate design services or provide design at a discount rate. The end result is “real world” completed projects to include in a portfolio, the initiation of a business relationship with a potentially long-term client, and warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s a much better investment of one’s time, energy and talent than essentially providing a for-profit venture free design services with little or no actual career advancing results.

I have never been the judge of a “design contest” in which participants were required to produce work on a speculative basis for submission.  Instead, I have often been a judge of “design competitions,” for which previously designed works are submitted and reviewed for award certificates, prizes or publication in a design magazine or book. From my point of view – especially when it comes to being a judge or submitting my own work – there’s a huge difference between a “design contest” and ‘design competition.”

Could you describe for us your typical ‘start to finish’ workflow when working on a logo design?

I spend a great deal of time gathering information – in the form my identity survey questionnaire,  in-person interviews and research – before proceeding on a logo design project.  I’ve never been a sketcher. I’m much more of a doodler. When a concept comes to me, I’ll doodle it down on whatever is near me – a newspaper, an envelope, a Post-It note, meeting notes or a shopping bag.  Few of my logo design ideas come to me while sitting at my desks.  Most often I find myself coming up with logo project solutions when driving, in the shower, while working in my garden or during some other activity unrelated to graphic design. About 80-85% of the time, my first concept will evolve into the final logo design. In numerous cases I have create one design I feel will best serve the client’s needs and desires, and it has been accepted as the final logo.

What is your opinion and comment about these logos:

– New Pepsi Logo: I’m not a fan of the new logo. When I see it, I see a person from behind with their red shirt moving up their back and their blue pants falling off their rear-end. With the addition of one simple line, the logo could identify a plumber working under someone’s kitchen sink.

– The 2010 World Cup Logo: Too many graphic elements. Too many colors. It’s too cluttered to be a truly successful as an identifying symbol.  It feels like a poster design to me; rather than a logo.

– The New Logo of Melbourne: I like the concept and how the design serves a number of purposes in its different color treatments. However, knowing how municipality logos must often be put into use; I think it’s a bit too complicated to be an easily used symbol. I also have a concern about the “inspiration” for the design – a point of view I share with Logo Talks as reflected by a previous post on your site.

– The New logo of LogoTalks: I really like the type treatment, colors, and the concept behind the icon. However, I think the imagery of the face, within the icon, is too small proportionally to the size of the icon itself and the type size selected.

As a professional logo designer, what is the secret to success in logo designs?

Simplicity. Of the hundreds of logos I have designed, the most successful and memorable – and the identities with the greatest longevity – have been those that have been the least complicated. When designing a logo, I often find myself subtracting elements of the design to get the logo down to the simplest concept with the most impact.

After 30 years of designing logos and identities, how do you feel about your chosen profession?

After 32 years as a professional designer, I still love what I do on a daily basis.  I think that is a great measure of the success of one’s career. Life is too short to be stuck in a job that makes one miserable. Passion, excitement, having fun and appreciating design challenges after over three decades is a very good thing.

What advice and tips do you have for logo designers?

I have a number of tips for those who design logos. Appreciate the true value of your time, energy, talent and design efforts – and charge clients accordingly. Do thorough research of a client’s needs and desires, and those of their target market, prior to launching into a logo design project. At times it is necessary to tactfully remind a client the logo is not being designed for them personally; but to best meet the needs of their business and clientele. Develop an well-tuned understanding of typography as a logo design element. Challenge yourself to create unique, memorable, strong and sometimes clever logo designs – rather than settling for quick solutions to a project brief. Have fun in all of your logo design efforts.

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    7 Responses to “Face to Face with Jeff Fisher”

    1. Graham jac says:

      Really it is great interview and the best one that i have reading this month !
      I would ask you Mr.Jeff, How can i know if i am good logo designer or not ?

      thanks so much

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