Design: The Apollos

Early this fall, I was asked to design a logo for The Apollos, a news outlet for campus. We no longer have a campus newspaper, which is not so surprising when you consider we do not have a journalism degree or even humanities degrees. Last winter, a sort of community newsletter was developed to fill this void and to give voice to student opinions and experiences. The Apollos is named for Paul Smith, whose given name was Apollos Austin Smith and went by “Pol” in his family. Pol became Paul when business took off.

Anyway, The Apollos, being new, had been really bootstrapped together in the beginning, but its popularity meant that it underwent changes pretty much immediately. When I was brought on the project, they had already had two different logos, and as you can see they were, well, not so much to my taste. The one below is the older version, while the newer version featured curly script and a background the color of dried blood.


In collaboration with the Chief Marketing Officer, we agreed on a more modern design aesthetic, still featuring an image of Paul, but with a cleaner look. I liked the idea of playing with Apollo, the Greek god, in the imagery as well, and the CMO thought that keeping it “natural” but not too “Adirondacky” was appropriate. These are the first two designs I submitted to test the waters.

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I liked the idea of using laurel to reference the Greek god. Originally I was thinking to use pine or something more Adirondack but it ended up looking like a guy with his head in a Christmas wreath. For the second, I played with the idea of Apollo as the god of the sun. I liked the second one better than the first, but didn’t love the way that Apollos’s shoulder was cut off, a side effect of the original image I was altering.

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After some feedback, we agreed that we liked the second likeness of Paul better than the first, but the sun felt like a halo. Could I make it more Adirondacky? I tried versions with pine needles and birch branches. I preferred the birch branches, but we agreed that it felt too busy for a logo.

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That’s better, but still not loving the chunky shoulders. Clever placement of other design elements obscured this in other versions. Ultimately, the Apollos staff decided to go with the cleanest, least involved design with the chunkiest shoulders:


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Paul has the feel of a visionary, or at least the bust of as visionary, and the font is much cleaner and easier to read while containing more information about the purpose of The Apollos. You can see the logo in action on the webpage.

How did I do it? In my presentation on graphic design this spring, I talked specifically about how designing beautiful things is much more about vision than it is about software. People make designs, not software. As usual, I hacked this together in a perfectly filthy manner, but it worked because I had a vision that I was working to accomplish. Here’s the original photo I started with, courtesy of the archives:

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Using Photoshop’s magic extractor tool, I separated Paul from his background and strategically cropped out the caption at the bottom. I have access to Photoshop Elements at work, and I used their “artistic effects” to play around with the resulting image. I think I settled on “posterize,” and then I played with the sliders on the setting until I got a contrast I liked. There were a few chunks missing from edges of the image here and there where the contrast was too great, so I used the paint color picker and the paint bucket to fill them in.

I imported the file into an appropriately sized Photoshop file, sourced a font, painstakingly aligned everything, and bam! Done. Ok, in reality, it was much longer process because I went through so many versions and sourced so many images (not all of which made the cut into a design version) which needed to be edited and altered. Sourcing the images was by far the most involved part of this project.

I used one design program, built-in effects, and a specially selected font (super easy to install) in order to achieve the end result. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Could a pro do better? Absolutely for sure. But the difference between what I did and what a pro could do is not necessarily software but a vision. Well, a vision and money. I fully expect that The Apollos will have a new logo in the next year or two, and I’m fine with that. I learned a lot as a result of this collaboration. Firstly, design by committee in the mix with a deadline and a full time job is a fairly stressful combination. Although I’m proud of the work I did, this is one of those things I probably should have declined for my mental health. Second, creating a logo with a person at its center, especially of a previously living person and not a character, is actually pretty hard. Evocative imagery is really tricky to get right. When it goes wrong, it looks a lot like a dude with his head in a Christmas wreath.


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