Interview with award winning logo designer ATOMICvibe

This edition of The Logo Mix interviews features a special guest, a logo designer that is highly appreciated by our visitors, a regular high-end contributor and a several times winner of The Logo of the Month selection. Allow me to introduce to you Jon Stapp, alias ATOMICvibe, award winning graphic designer, with a special love for logo and visual identity design. Speaking about his venture name, Jon calls it an "a-HA" moment of creative clarity and says that, like nuclear fusion, the ATOMICvibe is the point at which tiny ideas coalesce, and then explode into beautiful design. We're honored and happy to present you an interview with one of the most appreciated logo designers here at The Logo Mix. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself, what made you become a logo designer and how did you start your career?

I was a graphic design major in college, and have been designing professionally for 16 years.

In mid-2010, disillusioned with the creative limitations inherent in working for someone other than myself, I realized that what I really wanted for my career was creative autonomy, and the ability to seek out clients that inspire and challenge me. With a passionate new outlook and rekindled creative spirit, I began building my freelance reputation under the moniker of ‘atomicvibe.’

Although I have been fascinated with identity design for some time, it was not until launching atomicvibe that I discovered my penchant for this specialized design discipline.

Where do you find inspiration to create such great logos?

At the risk of sounding cliché, I sincerely believe that a truly artistic soul need only look around in the world to be inspired. Art, architecture, music, food, travel, nature; these are all constant sources of inspiration for me. I also have a tremendous appreciation for historical art movements such as Constructivism, Art Deco, Bauhaus, Dada, and Cubism. I love the dynamism of wartime, propaganda, and travel posters from the ‘30s and ‘40s, and I have a soft spot for the mid-century modern swagger of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Of course, to stay current with the world of graphic design, I also enjoy browsing the work of other creative professionals on design blogs and showcase sites. Dribbble, Behance, Graphic-Exchange, and Creattica are perfect all-purpose sources of inspiration. For type, I browse Typeverything, Type Directors Club, The Ministry of Type, and The Font Feed. For retro-themed inspiration, I visit Grain Edit, ISO50, and the BustBright Flickr feed. Since I love print design, I spend a lot of time on Under Consideration: FPO and Studio On Fire’s letterpress blog, Beast Pieces. And of course, for logo-specific inspiration, I frequent mostly The Logo Mix, Logopond, Under Consideration: Brand New, and design books such as I Heart Logos, Logonest, and the Letterhead & Logo Design series by Rockport Publishers.

Can you describe your logo creation process?

In order for me to design effective design solutions, I need to personally and emotionally connect with my clients’ values, goals, and motivations. Arriving at this level of complete understanding takes time, effort, and a meticulous process of strategic development that occurs well before launching Adobe Illustrator. This involves conducting an initial client interview, performing industry and target audience research, exercising word mapping routines, pulling inspiration and establishing mood, sketching countless thumbnails, and refining key visuals through tight pencil sketches. Lately, I have been creating a lot of custom type, so I will also conduct extensive type studies, pull type specimen references, and begin to sketch out typography.

Only after all these analog processes are exhausted do I begin the digital phase, which mostly involves technical execution and lots of tweaking to get just the right look. I almost always start in black and white, and once completely satisfied with the forms, I conduct a detailed color study, which involves referencing my initial inspiration materials, several Color Theory books, and sites like Kuler. After developing a full color palette, I create a full-color logo variation, as well as 1-, 2-, and sometimes 3-color spot variations, a grayscale variation, and variations that reverse out of dark colors.

How do you deal with creative blocks?

After letting fly a string of obscenities that undoubtedly scare the neighbors, and babbling nonsensically like a mental ward escapee, I look to more productive methods of overcoming creative blocks. In hopes of gaining new insight, I often reread my client questionnaire and creative brief forms. Sometimes I revisit the word map exercise, and try to generate additional creative launch points. From there, I might spend time seeking additional inspiration, both online and from design books. If I am still completely stumped, it means I have been working too hard, and I need to step away for a bit to recharge my creative batteries. Spending time with loved ones, traveling, exercising, catching up on sleep, and drinking a craft beer or two are among the many ways I mentally decompress.

What do you think makes a great logo?

A logo can take many forms. It can be simple and iconic or elaborately illustrated. It can be clever, abstract, or literal. It can be a symbol and type combination or a type-only wordmark. But no matter what form a logo takes, a great logo is one that is not only attractive and unique, but is also thoughtful and memorable. It must strike an emotional chord with the intended target audience.

Great logos tell stories; they communicate messages, values, and conceptual meaning; they are creative and intelligent. And the only way to accomplish any of this is through a systematic research and development process, which takes time to craft and shape into perfection. As such, it is impossible for a great logo to be “cranked out” in an hour or two. Logos that fall into this category are little more than banal eye candy that do nothing to build brand equity.

What do you think are your best logos so far and why?

Because I am constantly learning and improving my skills, and I try to challenge myself with every project, I always feel like each new logo is my best. Yet when I reflect on old work, I am reminded of my fondness for much of it. This reinforces the notion that conceptually strong work is timeless, regardless of the techniques or processes used to create it.

‘Glaze’ is one such example. It was one of the first atomicvibe logos that generated universal appeal, and it continues to do so. Designers seem to love it, and many prospective clients seek out my services because of it. In addition to being featured in logo design books such as I Heart Logos, Logonest, and the upcoming Logopond book, it has also won awards such as Logo of the Month: August 2011 here at The Logo Mix, as well as Overall Gold Winner in the 2011 Brands of the World Awards.

I have included what I consider to be among the best logos I have created in the past couple of years.

What other design work do you do besides logo design?

I am an all-purpose, print-based designer, and my background is in marketing and advertising. I have done a lot of full-scale marketing campaign work, which comprises materials such as publications, newsletters, brochures, billboards, posters, packaging, promotional materials — virtually anything printed. Because of this background, and my desire to focus on identity design, I also thoroughly enjoy branding. Additionally, I have been recently incorporating more illustration into my work, as well as custom typography.

Where can people see your work?

atomicvibe website
Under Consideration: For Print Only
Design and Design

What advice would you give for aspiring logo designers?

Being creative and artistic are obvious components to any designer’s success, but savvy business acumen is crucial for survival. To protect oneself, and to be taken seriously as a businessperson, it is important to become familiar with areas such as pricing, contracts, and copyright laws. Know your value as a designer, be confident in your abilities, establish a firm list of policies and terms, and be true to yourselves. The Graphic Artists Guild book, Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is an invaluable resource, and should be required reading for all aspiring graphic designers.

Also, I realize how difficult it is to build your reputation when you are just starting out, but be wary of speculative (spec) work! Spec is essentially any work you do in hopes of getting paid. Many “design contests” and crowdsourcing websites are little more than thinly veiled spec work schemes that not only undermine the entire graphic design community and devalue the hard work of established designers, but they also victimize inexperienced designers desperately trying to establish names for themselves. Keep our industry alive, and learn all you need to know about spec work at NO!SPEC.

A more effective way of building your reputation is to undertake self-initiated design projects in which you create fictitious companies and design visual identity systems for them. Approach this exercise as if you were designing for an actual client by establishing goals, objectives, core values, and tone. Post your finished designs to social networking and designer showcase sites, and seek out the objective criticism of seasoned logo designers, who will help you perfect your work. At this point, seek out awards and book publishing calls-for-entry, and submit as much of your best work as you can afford. This can get expensive, but the exposure and recognition you will receive is worth way more than the nominal entry fees charged.

And finally, while computers and design software are amazing tools packed with all sorts of great features, it is important to remember that they are not idea generators. Intelligent design solutions start with brainpower, and should follow a structured process of client communication, creative thought, research, word associations, and sketching. If you are too quick to launch Illustrator, you run the risk of sacrificing concept for technique, and will end up slighting not only your clients, but also yourself.

Thank you very much for your time.

You’re welcome. I appreciate the opportunity.