Brandmark Case Study: Atria Books
Book | Space: Evolution of an A
When Simon & Schuster launched their new imprint Atria Books they needed a brandmark that would convey a long list of attributes. The mark should express the youthful and edgy energy of new literature. It should refer to the word’s origins, a central Roman courtyard, and the light that comes in from above. Perhaps it should symbolize the sun itself. It might suggest winged flight, and it might also say “publishing” and institutional gravity at the same time it looked like “youth.” And it might also refer to the letters in the name and it absolutely had to work well at the size of a thumbtack on the spine of a book.
When I receive a brief like this I start by focusing on one or two elements, and gradually see what disparate concepts can be blended in a graceful way. A successful brandmark conveys an idea, but never at the expense of graphic coherence. Early on I decided to keep the “A” as my primary reference. I worked both with pencil drawings and calligraphically, going back and forth between the two modes. Here are some of the steps, much condensed, and the thinking that led to the final design.
Youthfulness expressed with the more casual lower case “a” combined with a spiral suggesting the centrality of the courtyard. Fits beautifully on a thumbtack . . . . .
Continuing to work quickly and calligraphically with a pen; the spiral simplifies and begins to express dynamic motion, a completed space, and finally evolves into the sun, partially surrounded by the arch-shaped structure of the right-hand stroke.
I begin to think more about architecture, and about the way institutional solidity and motion or flight can interact: the energy of flight, the trace of flight, and a more literal wing.
A return to origins: the courtyard, history, reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of a man whose proportions are determined simultaneously by a circle and a square. Leonardo created the drawing in homage to the work of Vitruvius Pollio and his book “De Architectura” which drew a relationship between the proportions of the ideal human being and the orders of classical architecture. In terms of this logo, the “A” stands in for the human, or the reader, while the circle and square represent the publishing house.
Yeah, but I feel like I have seen Leonardo too many times. I want something more proprietary, fresher, and simpler that will have impact at a very small size. I go back to direct drawing with a pen and begin to like this direction. In the parallel vertical strokes I begin to see the structure of a book.
I like it when an idea leaps. The A is a book, and it is a space, and the light can come in through the door, just as the reader can enter the book. How literal to be? Do I need a crossbar? I start to mix elements from earlier approaches and begin to subtract.
It comes down to two basic variations. Should it be solid or line? Rounded or crisp? Which one is the quickest “read” and which one still coveys they character of the imprint? A traditional well-constructed capital “A” puts all the weight on the right-hand side, but now that the A has become an object it is clear that the weight belongs on the left, with the implied sun shining from the upper right. Here is the final logo:
Brandmark Evolution: Case Study
The Atria Books logo went on to extend in style to several other imprints, and became a long-lasting mark. This is unusual in a world where constant reinvention is the norm. I credit that to a good team and a great product. Collaboration and communication is an essential part of good brandmark design. A good designer is a good listener, and a good client is a good storyteller and dreamer. A good client has a great idea or product they believe in, and they can convey the specifics of what they are looking for to the designer — while still keeping the doors open to surprise and unexpected solutions. They trust the designer to think, to explore and to try ideas. With trust and collaboration a designer does their best work.
Although I created this logo for corporate branding and the publishing house had a pretty clear idea of its identity, as you can tell from the initial brief the vision was still somewhat in flux. Over the years of designing brandmarks for businesses and individuals of all sizes I have found that there is an invisible side benefit for the business. The creative thinking that goes into making the image that represents a company’s essence comes back to reinvigorate and clarify the nature of the business itself. Visual design and corporate mission dialog, collaborate and change each other. In a media world drowning in sameness and visual noise it is more important than ever to leverage design to connect. That starts with the way a business establishes its visual identity.