Before I say anything else, let me state that I always have a little apprehension about posting stuff like this. It can come off as “sour grapes”, and that’s not how I intend it to be at all. What I want to discuss here is the divide that often occurs between designers and their clients, and why I think it happens – at least, in part.
Recently, a website called petRockBlock ran a logo design contest for RetroPie, a Raspberry Pi-based gaming project they host. RetroPie is a collection of scripts and software that helps you easily set up your Raspberry Pi to use as a retro gaming console. It’s a neat project, and if you’re looking for something fun and relatively simple to do with your Pi, I’d recommend it.
Though I didn’t win the contest, I submitted a handful of entries. I created three versions of the logo and presented four variations of each. That might seem excessive, but my intention was to try to show that the logos were flexible, and that I would be willing to make alterations if they liked any of the base designs. With this being a contest, there was also no opportunity for the typical client/designer communication that would take place under normal circumstances.
As with any design contest, there were stipulations for the design. Here they are, copied from the official contest announcement page, and edited to remove obvious rules that aren’t relevant here:
- Something that looks good small as well as in larger formats.
- Something that we could also use on merchandise, stationary and in publicity materials.
- Flexibility is important in colour as well as style.
- The logo should look good in b/w as well as in colour.
- No words should be incorporated other than the words “Retro Pie” with or without a space.
- Be generic enough to not favour or promote any one system or game.
- We’re after something that will be recognisable.
- It should capture retro gaming as a whole.
- Avoid clichés or the obvious.
- The fewer colours you can use the better.
Most of these requirements were easy to meet, but a handful of them serve to box in what petRockBlock was after; namely, a versatile logo which isn’t generic, doesn’t associate too closely with any one retro system in particular, and which is unique and not too obvious.
Based on all of this, here’s a sample of what I made:
All are very simple, use an interesting color scheme, and weave in some form of retro gaming via the gamepad, the d-pad/buttons, or the blocks/pixels. I took care to make sure that the type was bold, and that there wouldn’t be any small details that might get in the way of reproducing the logo at different sizes or on merchandise. If I broke any rules, it was that I used 3-4 colors in each, but that is a minor problem and I wanted to express each logo in its best possible form.
One other thing I did was avoid using any sort of pie, cake, or pastry imagery, as I felt that that was explicitly being rejected by the stipulations above.
Here’s the logo that won the contest (by Garry Marshall):
By now you probably saw where I was going and expected this – this logo seems to break a number of the stipulations set forth in petRockBlock’s suggestions.
As a designer, I can appreciate that to an extent. When I have a good idea I will try it out, even if the client doesn’t initially want it. That’s really just part of the process; if everyone could pinpoint what designs worked and what didn’t without the designer’s help, they wouldn’t need one in the first place.
I also think the joystick imagery is smart. If there’s anything more about retro games than a gamepad, it’s a joystick. Building it into the pie is somewhat clever, but there we’ve broken the rules again. Or maybe when petRockBlock stated that they wanted designers to avoid the obvious, they meant with game imagery and not pies? I don’t know.
But this is often the case with design work – the client doesn’t really know what s/he wants initially, or doesn’t have the words to articulate it properly. It’s like when you have to take your car to the mechanic and explain the noise the engine is making – you’re not an expert, so you’re trying to communicate with someone who is in the best way you can. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Miscommunication like this is a little more frustrating when it comes to design contests, since you don’t have a second chance to iterate on the work you’ve done. But that’s just how it goes. So while perhaps it initially appears that Garry ignored the guidelines and just created something he liked, I suspect that it was instead a simple lack of clarification that resulted in unclear rules that many others who entered the content chose to follow. I have other problems with this logo that I won’t get into here, but I can’t get mad at it for not following the guidelines.
If you happen to be someone who might ask a designer for help in the future, do spend some time thinking about how you communicate your wishes with anyone who might work for you. Make noises, draw a picture, find images of things you like and share them – do whatever you need to. Some designers may not agree with me in this, but in my opinion, it all helps.