Creating the Designer Fund Visual Identity

A few months ago we embarked on the creation of an actual logo mark for Designer Fund. We knew this would be a challenge as we were designing for an audience of designers, designing for ourselves, and designing for a young organization that was still rapidly developing. Luckily, we had two pillars to build on:

  1. A clear and meaningful mission everyone agreed on: to invest in designers building businesses with positive social impact.
  2. How we would do this: provide angel funding, mentorship, and connections.

The next step then was to define the values that we wanted to stand for. This is a great exercise for any young company but especially important when embarking on a visual identity design as it crystalizes what you want to communicate. The ten we came up with were –

  1. Give Back – Designers who do well should give back to their fellow designers.
  2. Democratize Success – The path and tools to success should be made available to as many people as possible.
  3. Partner Relentlessly – Designers cannot go at it alone. Skilled engineers and hustlers are essential to success.
  4. Inspire Everyone – We need more kids wanting to study design, more students wanting to be designers, and more designers wanting to be designer entrepreneurs that change the world.
  5. Design at the Core – Great companies should have design as a core part of their DNA.
  6. Strength in Numbers – Actively cultivate our community.
  7. Ship First – Get work out to people fast. Iterate faster.
  8. Transparency – Strive for clarity and openness in all we do.
  9. Focus on Impact – Measure and demonstrate the changes we achieve.
  10. Culture of Feedback – It is the only way to improve. Seek it out.

A logo alone cannot communicate all these values, but we knew if we could capture one or two of the important ones we would have a mark that would resonate with the community. The first few months involved a lot of sketching and ideating. We worked with Matt Stevens, a talented designer out of North Carolina, to visualize many of the concepts we had in our sketchbooks and to produce a few new ideas. He also really helped us think through tone/voice by producing various mood boards. Though many concepts came close, none of the marks quite nailed it and we decided to push further.

One of the beautiful mood boards Matt produced. This one felt too polished and sophisticated for the tone we wanted to convey. Often knowing what you don’t want to be is as important as knowing what you do want to be.

We took this body of work and approached a french designer/typographer named Claire Coullon. Where Matt was great in helping us explore tone, color, and a really broad spectrum of high level concepts, Claire was great at helping us hone in and refine a select few directions.

As Claire describes it –

“From our initial discussions and brainstorms, the main overall direction that emerged was to create a ‘DF’ monogram that would be accompanied by a custom word mark. At their core, monograms are traditionally used as signatures and personal seals, which we used to impart a sense of establishment and a solid foundation.

At the same time, we were also looking to merge this with the idea of connections, collaboration and giving something back – attributes central to brand. During the development, we worked primarily with pencil sketches which allowed us to consider a wide range of possibilities within the brief, without restrictions. The initial round of sketches explored three main concepts, each one with its own lettering and monogram designs.

Exploring various monograms and word marks.

The different typographic styles (a slab serif, a stencilled sans serif and an angular script) all focused on using a predominately mono-line weight to communicate a strong, functional and enduring aesthetic. The lines, shapes and execution of the monograms were initially intended to be quite closely associated with the lettering styles, almost acting as a natural extension of the characters themselves. As the development progressed however, we started to look at a more abstract approach to the monogram and letting it evolve into its own visual form.

The evolution of the monogram

While visually interesting, the literal executions didn’t carry as much weight symbolically and we felt there was greater potential by emphasizing a stylistic juxtaposition between the mark and the typography. One of the ideas we experimented with was a calligraphic direction loosely based on a hand drawn lowercase ‘df’ in order to bring in more depth and act as a nod towards the 3D depiction of DNA strands. The accompanying word mark was then also further refined with long, soft slabs in order to accentuate a sense of craft, warmth and individuality as well as establish some continuity with the curves in the monogram.” See more of Claire’s process.

As Paul Rand said:

“A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it means is more important that what it looks like.”

For us, it was important the final mark be not only visually elegant but also rich with meaning. For example –

  1. It connotes a strand of DNA, standing for our belief that design be at the core of a great company’s DNA.
  2. It has a yin/yang element which represents the two seemingly contrary but interconnected forces of doing good for the world and doing well financially.
  3. It has a wonderful balance to it which is so essential to good design.
  4. It connotes an interconnected path which for us represents the strength of connections within our community.

It is still too early to tell if this mark will stand the test of time, but given the way our community has embraced it we’re excited to finally have a visual identity we can stand behind, build on, and call our own.

The final logo and word mark
Secondary logo mark using the “D” and “F” from the word mark.
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