How we developed Salv identity, part 2: Producing the design
April 14, 2020
This post is part of a series on how we developed Salv identity. Also read the other posts in the series:
- Part 1: History, mission, and name
- Part 2: Producing the design
- Part 3: salv.com domain, three lines, and what’s next
Project structure and visual design
Having internally established the mission and name, it was time for the visual production part. I very much appreciate the importance of brand and the craft of making it. My own background and strength is more in product design, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to produce everything needed on my own.
A common step at this stage is to do a project with a specialist agency. I knew we had neither the funds nor time for a full brand project, nor did we really feel the need for many things that are typically done in such a project. As discussed above, we felt strongly about our name and mission, so we wouldn’t need to reexamine these parts. It’s highly likely we will do another iteration of the brand work in a few year’s time that might add more depth and nuance to all the elements, but at this time, we just needed a strong partner to think along, hop onboard our mission and do the execution and production with us.
I immediately thought of Priidu Zilmer. I first worked with Priidu at Skype back in the day. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and done many work and hobby projects together over the years. Priidu works as a freelance designer these days and I was delighted to find out that he is interested in Salv and has availability for us. Priidu did most of the actual creative and production work in this project, deserves all the credit, and I cannot thank him enough.
We went ahead and kicked off the project. The team consisted of Priidu, myself, Jeff (one of Salv’s co-founders) and Tiina (our head of marketing and communications). We gave ourselves about a few months of calendar time to pull the whole thing off, realizing that we all had other commitments and none of us would be full-time on the identity project.
We settled on a weekly cycle. We’d have a call every week where we’d go over past week’s work and plan for the next week. We supported this with a Slack channel for any ongoing back-and-forth. After the call, Priidu would often go off to do research and production and then virtually bounce ideas around with us through the week. Myself and Priidu had additional syncs through the week about technical and practical matters as needed. It was all fluid, organic, and worked well.
As suggested by Priidu, our first order of business was to pick a logo direction, which would frame the whole brand and identity and inform most of the other work. He’d develop it first in monochrome, devoid of color and any other styling.
There are three styles of logos: wordmarks, literal/metaphor images, and abstract marks. We couldn’t think of a good metaphor for an image to use, and we’re not (yet?) able to deploy an abstract mark that the world would associate with us. That left us with the wordmark direction, which was fine, because Salv is a great name to work with: it is short, and has good characters that easily lend themselves to interesting styling. Priidu set off to explore typographic options.
We explored many directions, and eventually ended up with two clear options. One was robotic/techy/mechanical, possibly grounding us into the space of future, machines, and technology.
The other direction was more rounded, connected, human, and with a script-like quality. Here’s an early sketch.
I felt this to be an important fork in the road: one that would inform not only the logo, but the whole Salv identity and story for quite a while. While the first version has potential for interesting letter shapes, angles and connections, we felt it talks too much about technology, and too little about humans. Sure, Salv uses and builds a lot of technology, but it’s not the heart of our crime-fighting mission—humans are. The humans doing the crime-fighting, the victims in whose name we do the fighting, and everyone who comes along to this journey. We need to align lots of minds globally, and our technology is just a small piece of this.
After more iteration and tuning, we arrived at the final handlettered wordmark.
It is playful, unique, and has some easter eggs that we didn’t plan for at all. Can you spot the cat and the man looking at each other, embedded in the logo? How many logos do you know with an embedded cat picture? 😀
Color and font
Having picked a logo direction, we next focused on picking colors and fonts.
We developed a vibrant color palette that works well on both light and dark backgrounds.
In parallel with the brand and colors, we were also working on our website and print materials, so that we could test out the materials in context. We had both light and dark backgrounds on our website, and it emerged we can’t have the exact same color set equally usable on different backgrounds. Thus, if you were to inspect the Capri, Pear, Tangerine and Rosé color codes, you’d find that they have slight differences based on the background, for somewhat better contrast and readability. Not all combinations are fully accessible from the contrast perspective, so we recommend using the more colorful ones with care, and with large enough text sizes for good readability.
There wasn’t much of an inquiry process to inform the colors. They don’t represent anything in particular. We just wanted to have a set that comes across as both professional and interesting, and is usable across various media.
We picked Whitney by Hoefler&Co as our main typeface. Brand identities often use several typefaces for different purposes, e.g by having a separate “headline” and “body” font. Whitney, however, is highly versatile and has many beautiful weights, such that we can use Whitney in various configurations for all our type needs.
Whitney is a commercially licensed font, and we obviously have acquired the needed licenses for both web and desktop use. We can’t use it in all situations, though, and Open Sans is a great alternative/fallback. It is similar to Whitney and quite versatile. Importantly, it is usable pretty much everywhere, including the standard startup productivity suite of Google apps like Slides.
The colors and type lend themselves to interesting, bold, and beautiful combinations. Here’s a typical title slide from one of our presentations.
The font discussion applies only to our print and digital marketing materials, including our public website. For in-product use, there is an increasing movement over the past years to just use the system font stack. Here are some relevant posts from CSS-Tricks and Booking.com on this. We’ve done the same, and it works well for us.
A technical note about Hoefler&Co ScreenSmart fonts
ScreenSmart fonts are a version of Hoefler&Co fonts that offer to improve readability on the web: “Specifically built for the screen, to perform at sizes from 9–18 pixels. Their forms are adapted to anticipate the effects of coarse pixel grids, and their styles are adjusted to ensure that each weight is appreciably different from the other members of the family.”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Fonts optimized for the screen. We tried to use ScreenSmart fonts on our website, but it didn’t work out well, and we ended up not using them. We’re documenting this, so that if somebody else happens to run into the same problem, this might be useful to know.
When we designed the layouts in Figma with desktop fonts, and applied the designs with ScreenSmart fonts and CSS, we found out that the regular and ScreenSmart fonts have significant differences. At the same stated pixel size, the fonts are actually rendered at visibly different sizes and other metrics like weight. The design and web versions didn’t match. We’d have to hand-adjust the stated pixel sizes of the ScreenSmart fonts in CSS to get them close to the design in Figma and desktop fonts, but it would be a tedious process and not a 100% match. We asked Hoefler&Co support about this, who were quick and helpful to respond and basically confirmed this is how it works.
We ended up just abandoning ScreenSmart fonts and using the regular versions of Whitney fonts also on our website. This way, we could fully match the design and implementation, and wouldn’t have to do any hacking of the sizes. Fortunately, Hoefler&Co has a generous Cloud.typography option which provides a subscription to all of their web fonts for the same flat fee, including all versions of Whitney, so this switch didn’t have any impact to our costs. Concerning readability, we just take care to pick appropriately large sizes of our fonts, make sure all the styling like colors and line height provides contrast, accessibility and readability, and carefully test on all our target platforms.
Part 3: salv.com domain, three lines, and what’s next