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Graphic Design Fundamentals: Getting Started

Lesson 15 of 18

How to Design Brand Identity: Showing the Client

Timothy Samara

Graphic Design Fundamentals: Getting Started

Timothy Samara

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Lesson Info

15. How to Design Brand Identity: Showing the Client
Timothy shares his best tips for working with a client in logo design. How many options should you present and in what context? How do you involve your client in the problem-solving and refinement process?

Lesson Info

How to Design Brand Identity: Showing the Client

So from these, you know I go through, once they kind of get to a form that's a little bit tighter, a little bit more refined then sort of the rough brush or the rough sketch. Where I've actually started to think about how large is this part and how much space is there but not so developed that I'm really kind of refining it to it's end point, I make a selection and edit down to fewer candidates. Typically, so of course the ones with the checks are the ones I decided to show and the ones with the x are the ones that I decided not to show for a variety of reasons. Usually it's a good idea to limit the number of concepts for anything that you show a client because they become confused very quickly and suddenly, when there are a lot of options on the table, they begin to want to do the same thing that you as a designer want to do, which is to make combinations of things which is sometimes referred to as Frankensteining. Which tends to kind of dilute the idea and ideas at this stage are not...

intended to be perceived as final designs. These are essentially capturing a concept in a form that's clear enough and defined enough to be able to understand and to see it's potential as well as it's potential limitations. You know kind of a first presentation. I usually limit the number of concepts that I show a client to three or five. At that point there's kind of a threshold that you don't really want to cross but in this case I showed more. I was very, I was pleased with a lot of the directions and because they were so varied, they presented so many kind of nuances or possibilities for nuance in the way that the client might project herself to her market and I really needed that kind of a feedback. That kind of feedback in order to know which one of these kinds of feelings, these ideas, is really the best one as you see it. So after that I made a presentation. Whenever I present a logo, I first present it in sort of a black and white form so that color is not an issue. Clients can get thrown by color very quickly. So they don't happen to like green and the logo is in green, it might be the absolute best mark in the world but because it's green they're just going to throw it off the table. So always black and white. Generally paired with a quick thought about the type. No intention of that being the final thing. I pick something that seemed to have a nice relationship of contrast and scale. I always show the mark also in a kind of credible context that is reduced to fit the size of an actual business card because one of the things that a logo has to do is to be completely recognizable without any sacrifice of information, any degradation to it's form both at a large size and at a very small size. And also, to a certain degree, in very, very coarse media, when you buy an ad in a glossy magazine, you're dealing with high quality printing, with quality control. When you buy an ad in a local newspaper, which could often be the case, you're dealing with low quality paper in which ink bleeds a lot through the fibers, where the reproduction might not be so well, be so great and you begin to lose information. So a certain kind of robustness, a certain kind of separation of parts is really necessary to allow the image form to reduce to a very, very small size and to show up in very coarse kinds of resolution, whether it's onscreen or it's on toilet paper, you should be able to see every element in that mark without any question. So these are the refined versions. Just showing a variety of lock ups. And by lock up, I mean the specific configuration between image form, which is the symbol, or the signet, and it's typographic component, which will always have to be accompanying in. So these are just a number they send you, you'll have seen these all before. Some with some modification. And as you go through these you begin to notice you know certain kinds of limitations or possibilities for problems that could occur. You know if I go back to say this one, in the way that I've sized the mark relative to the type what used to be a very, very sort of concise sort of focused moments begins to kind of spread out so now this whole form, in this particular configuration, is creating a very wide horizontal kind of proportion that could become unyielding if for example I need to get it to a pretty large size into a confined space. So those kind of things begin to reveal themselves as you start to make decisions, even if they are very rough and sort of unsteady decisions, you begin to notice certain things. This mark will only function with center typography under it, for example. In the way that it is right now. And so you learn these things and part of the learning process is what you're sharing with the client when you're talking to them and you say "I notice this about this and you're interested in this particular direction there are some things that we might have to do to accommodate or to solve for potential problems down the road." Here is a version using more hard edge kind of graphical configuration of patterns and textures that could be noodles, rice, beans, corn nuggets, kernels. Nugget is one of my favorite words and I substitute it for many things. Here the lotus, again this time with the spoon. The lotus by itself seemed entirely a little too spa like, a little bit too spiritual and the connection to the cooking seemed a little bit odd. Here's that. That one was a quick edit out. You know when you go to the, when you're in the first presentation, you've worked at kind of refining these things to a certain point and you're basically comfortable with any of them and you have to be, you should be. Don't ever show a client anything that you would not be happy having coming barking back home at you on a different day because invariably they will pick that one and then you, then you have to deal with it. And then you have to tell them why you don't recommend it. Oh, I just stuck it in to make it look like I had done more work. Don't show it if it's, you know if you're not really confident in it or confident in it's potential don't even pull it up. This one, so when you get to that situation, when you look at the main comparison it becomes very easy and very quick to kind of make decisions. You look at things and certain things jump out and the other ones go away. So these are, this is an evolution of the fork as tree idea. This was just another with the large sort of decorative letter form. There's that, the g. There with the sort of Victorian cooking tin kind of typography, using engraving actually within the image and we had a thought that whether for products down the road or even just in different circumstances, the actual engraved subject matter could actually change. Sometimes it could be a wheelbarrow, sometimes it could be an eggplant, sometimes it could be a lettuce, in this case it's a turnip. And so that brings us to refining because we focused on two so theoretically you want to focus on one in order to move forward but these two kind of really spoke to both of us and to the client in particular and so we thought it would be a good idea to sort of take them through a second round of refinement and to see what really kind of ended out. That refinement went on for a couple weeks. These are just some of about 150 different variations in that particular mark with more or fewer spoons, with the spoons cut off, or the handles of them revealed, staggered, staggering at different heights along the baseline, sometimes with a curve linear environment or sort of cut out along the bottom, centered axis, asymmetrical setting, different kinds of asymmetrical shapes being made by the type, with graphical supporting elements or not. It was a wide ranging study. You have to really go through that kind of a study in depth to really know what the possibilities are. You're testing to find out what can be the best solution, if there can be such a thing. You know theoretically yeah sure we could have picked this one and that would have been fine, would have been fine, not the best. Narrowed it down to basically three versions where we just looked at a difference in type face between them so enclosing it in a circle at brought some of the contrast from the interior to the outside and gave it a little bit of protection and also created much more sort of concise form. Just looking at it with the curved form underneath and here a slightly different curve and different sort of configurations of the type. The other thing that changes between these two rows is the typeface itself. Here kind of a hybrid Sarif/SanSarif that's got some very, very sharp detailing that calls attention to the thins and thicks of lines and masses in the mark. Here something which is much more contemporary has some organic qualities in the curves, especially in the bowl and the way that the ending points of the strokes are shaped and being all one uniform weight provides a much simpler sort of cleaner kind of configuration and so that was how that one ended up. <v Lady #1>Could you talk for a second about the alignment of the text with the mark cause they all sort of offset. Yeah, so first of all, as I've mentioned before, I think I mentioned before how symmetry can be a little bit dangerous. And symmetry to me is also, I've mellowed in my old age. I used to say that symmetry was the work of the devil. Philosophically I am still relatively opposed to it. It's an old, it's an archaic, historical, classical kind of configuration for things and it prevents sometimes creating specific relationships that are better relationships than are achievable with a symmetrical configuration, especially when you are dealing with information. So I really look to be able to create a shape out of the type that is as noticeable and is somehow integrated in it's form with the mark as a composition because these two things, they are a composition. Even though they're not in a particular format, is that they have this eternal life, this dialogue that you can't escape from. They're always going to be seen together and so the relationships have to be really, really as specific as possible so the asymmetry takes away this kind of default quality that I often find in symmetry. And then what I'm looking at is kind of movements of things, you know when it's two lines there's a certain kind of shape, a contour, a relationship of long to short and in the alignment here for example, the aligned edge is connecting to this strong vertical. So by connecting to the right hand vertical, the mark is kind of anchored to the end of the type and you get a little bit more of a free entry here rather than kind of blocking off the visual entry into the mark from the left if the type were aligning on the left. Here the same thing or a similar kind of situation is that this curve leads to the bottom stroke of the n. So all of the ending points of the spoon trees create kind of an optical curve, a literal curve and so the position of the n was the first thing I looked at is that you come over the hill and land at a solid point. And at the same time, the g is positioned in such a way that because of the spacing between the words that the g is actually repeating the size and proportion of the spoon, the rows of spoons next to the, next to it. In this case, this was simply this configuration but without the circle. And sort of the same thing. So those internal relationships between the text element that is the word mark and the monogram or the signet really depend on those specific elements. You know, what's in them and what are they made of and where are their kind of structural focal points. In you know, where are their axis, where is their mass and how does that mass work? You know how is it moving through that text? What kind of shape does this thing make? What is this shape about and how does this shape relate to this shape if it does? Went through the same process with the fork tree. Looking at it with different weights, different line weights and thicknesses, different, some different configurations of the root system which I ultimately ended up linking to the exterior bounding box that holds it. And again looking at the typeface configurations. Is the type resting on the horizon? Is it floating above? Is good nature going to be separated from cooking as a kind of an idea or are we going to refer to the company as Good Nature Cooking as a continuous thought or unit? Started looking at creating other kinds of forms for the ending shape, the terminal shape of the fork up above, inside the box, outside the box, completely contained then there were another 150 or so of those. <v Lady #2>Did you have a favorite on your own between this and that? Yes and no. Ultimately, yes I did but I was, I was actually very excited about both options and did feel very sad, kind of separation anxiety from the one that got discarded. You know, in the end there can only be one. Just a painful part. So that also came down to basically six versions. These are really just, it's the same typeface. What's changing here is the relationship of this hyphen as a graphical element that draws this form outward into the type because it is a big, honking chunk of type to put next to this thing. So trying to get it to talk to the other was you know quite a challenge. Ultimately it was this one, this one won. And I was glad. This is actually the type configuration. So with the type low it created too much of a static kind of angle, the enclosure and the space underneath became really self conscious. Since there was so much visual activity concentrated along the outer contours or the outer parameter of the mark and type as a unit, if it was actually able to fit in there, that it got very stiff and almost a little bit cold, off putting, very kind of flat. So by shifting the two elements off of each other you introduce this kind of unexpected movement. A little bit of lightness. It also allowed me to get the type larger in size relative to the size of the mark so that the mark could be reduced a little bit more. It is a very, very delicate mark but it holds up this, it holds up absolutely cleanly at a size of just under a half inch tall which is as small as I ever need to get it. And then this evolution is what really happened after, it became a solid. So then again, the focus now then is on the mark itself, the type is sort of trying to minimize how big the type is and how much of it there is so that the mark is not really fighting against it but really has quite a place and the type becomes kind of a signature or a sign off. I began to look at color in kind of a rough way but I got distracted by other things so I came back to it. I actually went through about 10 or 12 different color schemes as I was even designing the applications which we're going to look at later. It just was not coming to me. Of course, I went for greens and browns and olives, you know sort of these earth tones and as sort of intuitively and then you know I had the thought, of course you know you're operating in kind of that realm so it sort of makes since to go there, at least to look at it but it was so commonplace that the mark begin because I would take some of these studies and actually put them next to other logos of similar kinds and look at how it disappeared or stood out and that's another kind of a test you want to sort of take the logo through in order to see well, in this kind of competitive environment, you know, does it stand up?

Class Description


  • Identify and apply fundamental graphic design elements
  • Add essential design skills to your toolkit
  • Approach and manage the creative process through varied projects


You don’t need to have a background in fine arts or be an Adobe InDesign whiz to create compelling designs. In this class, Timothy Samara takes you back to the fundamentals of graphic design - the same principles he has consistently returned to in his 25-year career.

Through real-world projects, you’ll learn the basics of:

  • Form and image
  • Color theory
  • Typography
  • Layout and composition

Most unique about Timothy’s class is his demonstration of how design theory manifests in actual projects; he cracks open his professional portfolio and takes you into the world of how real designers work. With an extensive career behind him, Timothy’s design services have spanned from web design to print media, to interface design, and to building brand identity. By walking through Timothy’s creative process, you not only see how design elements interact and impact an overall product, but you get a rare view of the problem-solving graphic designers do and the decisions they make. What rules exist and when are they broken? How do you juggle meticulous research vs. spontaneity?

Whether you want to design a poster, flyer, or logo - this class will give you the insights you need to design with confidence. Welcome to the art and science of graphic design.


This class is designed for beginner and intermediate graphic designers as well as more experienced designers looking for a brush-up on design principles, career-changers, marketing team members, and anyone interested in graphic design fundamentals.


Timothy Samara is a New York-based graphic designer and educator whose twenty-five career has so far focused on visual identity and branding, communication design, and typography. Since 2000, he has split his time between professional practice and academia, defining a highly respected reputation as an instructor at the School of Visual Arts, Parsons/The New School for Design, Purchase College SUNY, New York University, The University of the Arts, and Fashion Institute of Technology. Mr. Samara is a frequent university lecturer and contributor to design publications both in the U.S. and abroad. He has written eight books on design to date (all from Rockport Publishers), which have been translated into ten languages and are used by students and practitioners around the world.

Connect with Timothy online: LinkedIn

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a Creativelive Student

Wonderful class! I loved getting the info as to the creative process. Great!

sixtina maculan

Thank you for sharing your experiences in this class. It's been a pleasure to listen, learn and understand, as well as a wonderful motivation.

Øyvind Hermans

I love this class, clear and precise information with very interesting examples. I have worked as a graphic designer for 6 years but have no design eduction, so at times I feel like there is these gaps of design-knowlegde in my decisions, this was the perfect filler of these gaps.