Geekdom is a coworking space located in San Antonio, with a bent toward providing a comfortable, useful workspace for creatives and technologists. Since I learned of them and their goals, I’ve thought their mark and visual identity could use a bit of help.
Overview and Current Situation
Over the last few months, Geekdom seems to be steadily growing its posse. They are signing new members, meeting with important people in Washington, D.C., planning an expansion to San Francisco, and all while maintaining a following here in San Antonio. Geekdom is a moderately impressive space and organization; located downtown, they’ve positioned themselves physically where many smaller coworking spaces can’t afford to put down roots. What’s most impressive to me is their focus on bolstering technology education for children. I think this is an honorable goal, and I hope Geekdom is around for years to come. I know I would’ve appreciated the space when I was a kid, and now as a parent and an adult member of the community, it’s inspiring to know that professionals are helping to educate children outside of typically underfunded alternative/after-school education. You can read up on what Geekdom is doing here and here.
While I’ve connected with a few people at Geekdom, made some new friends, and even presented a lecture/discussion on typography with my mellow @okayerik, I’ve put off joining Geekdom’s member ranks. I haven’t joined for only a few reasons. Since I have useable, comfortable office space at home, there isn’t a whole lot of value for me in using the Geekdom space on a paid subscription basis. This isn’t really that big of a deal though, since like many people, I spend money on stuff I don’t really need all the time. The other, bigger reason I haven’t joined Geekdom is that I don’t like their visual identity. I suppose it sounds shallow to base my relationship with an organization on something so seemingly trivial, but I’m a designer; it’s kind of a big deal to me. I’m likely missing a few opportunities to network and meet prospective clients by spending my days at my home office, but their visual identity is really a deal breaker.
Let me explain my case. Geekdom, as they state on their website, “is a new kind of collaborative workspace where Entrepreneurs, Technologists, Developers, Makers, & Creatives help each other build businesses & other cool things together.” Of the people I’ve come across at Geekdom, I can say with some confidence that they are among the smartest and most talented people in their industries.
Geekdom aims to be this kind of think-tank, with brainiacs from all over, meeting, conspiring, hacking, building, planning, and strategizing under one roof. What bothers me is how disconnected their visual identity is from who they actually are. Geekdom’s currently used visual treatment is in no way representative of the professionalism and next-level thinking that has already served Geekdom. It feels slapped together, without any real critical thought behind it, and it does nothing to speak to the tons of brainpower behind the place. I’ll let you judge for yourself. I’ve compiled a few pieces you can look over.
I’ve had some questions I’ve asked myself since I saw the mark and realized the high level of talent connected to the place. Below are some of my questions and issues.
- Why does the crown in the mark seem to have unequally-sized points? This may be intentional, since so much of Geekdom’s recent focus seems to be on youth education. For some reason, people have decided that to appeal to youth, visual design should look like it’s done by children. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is intentional. The imperfection is slight and looks like a mistake especially combined with everything else below.
- Why is the crown placed over the letter O in the word Geekdom? Does the letter O have some special significance? I’d never know that it did because the letter O isn’t called out in any of the collateral I’ve seen thus far.
- Why is the crown used as a hat on the now discontinued Twitter bird, which is then edited and used on Geekdom’s website in red? The crown seems to be a de-facto secondary mark for Geekdom, appearing by itself from time to time. Why is it paired with another wholly unrelated—and I’m guessing—non-financially associated company? This seems to dilute the strength of both Geekdom’s mark and strangely bastardize Twitter’s mark at the same time.
- The typeface used in the logo, which I’m guessing is Candara, seems really pedestrian for a technology-bent organization, and doesn’t feel very well-suited for use as the main typeface in a wordmark.
- What rules are in place for how the logo is presented/reproduced? Sometimes, the crown appears white with red jewels, sometimes it is black with white jewels, sometimes it is black with red jewels, and still other times, it appears hand drawn with multiple outlines.
Existing Collateral and General Visual Identity
- Why does every interior photo of Geekdom, its members, and facilities, seem to be of poor camera-phone resolution? The photography is also widely disparate in terms of overall quality of formal aspects like tone, composition, and balance. It’s disconcerting to see substandard photos used in collateral for a place full of technologists and industry leaders.
- Concerning interior signage and way-finding, why are some signs printed while some are handwritten? There also seems to be a binary code-based visual motif on office door signage, but it isn’t repeated anywhere else.
- What was the methodology in creating the word clouds posted on the walls in Geekdom? There doesn’t seem to be any discernible consistency within each group or among them; sometimes words are capitalized, sometimes they are verbs, sometimes nouns, sometimes proper nouns, etc. A professional organization should have very few if any recognizable holes in visual logic, and these kinds of inconsistencies undermine the image and goals of Geekdom.
- There are several different typefaces in multiple weights and styles throughout Geekdom’s various collateral with no apparent consistency. Printed material appears to use several weights and styles of Helvetica, Candara—the typeface used in the logo, as well as a sprinkling of decorative typefaces. The sheer amount of faces used makes it feel like there was never really a plan for the typographic design of the organization, and if there was, it was never really adhered to.
Instead of being the guy who just has all these complaints, comfortably talking shit over the internet, I decided to spend some real time and take a stab at correcting the issues I’ve found with Geekdom’s visual messaging. I’ve done this mainly because I have an interest in putting together something that I think will better serve Geekdom’s goals and ethos, and in-turn, my community at large. Below, I’ve outlined the major components of what I’d recommend in redressing these design greviances. This has been a labor of love, not a labor of hate. It took some time to put all this together, and do the research. I’m not trying to call anyone out or talk shit; I just wanted to do it as an exercise and put some stuff together I was happy with.
Enough Pillow-talk, Let’s Do This.
This is how I’d solve the problems I see with Geekdom’s existing visual identity. You can take it or leave it.
The Primary Mark — The Shield
The new mark, herein referred to as The Shield, immediately suggests the concept of a community. It also simultaneously communicates the connection to heraldry, originally made by the current Geekdom mark, by using the basic archetypal shape of a simple three-pointed crown. Paired with the archetypal shield shape, it effectively adds a perceived scholastic component to the mark, communicating the idea that the Geekdom concept, space, and ethos are those of community and education. All of these components work together to quickly convey an image of professional community.
Visual meaning, as related to physical scale
Special care has been taken so that depending on the scale at which the mark is reproduced, the different meanings of the design become more pronounced. For example, reproduced at small physical sizes, which will likely be the most frequent use of the Shield, it looks simply like a shield or coat of arms. This is ideal because this capitalizes on the equity Geekdom has established with the use of the crown in the existing mark, but tones down the overt nod to monarchy. The coat of arms as a motif, communicates a larger elite community, as opposed to a crown, which connotes a singular elite figure in control of a community. Communicating the idea of community is imperative to promoting Geekdom’s goals. At large sizes, reproduced as interior signage in the Geekdom space for example, the mark’s details demonstrate the community aspect further; three ambiguous figures huddle together in collaboration.
Logo and Headlines
After much consideration, the graphic element of The Shield has been paired with a typeface named FF DIN, designed by Albert-Jan Pool in 1994. While Pool’s iteration is modern, it is based on DIN 1451, defined by the German standards body, Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN) in 1931. This typeface has unique qualities that work especially well for Geekdom’s visual identity. DIN’s many variants have long been used for communicating efficiently. DIN was designed specifically for this purpose and has been used most notably in German road signage, and technologically-focused collateral around the world. It is a popular typeface, but avoids (slightly) the ubiquity of Helvetica, or the more pedestrian Arial.
FF DIN is at once modern and classic; it moves toward the future without forgetting the past. Because of this, it is quite appropriate for use throughout a system communicating technology, education, and collaboration. DIN was designed with these specific things in mind, so it makes perfect sense here. For as clean and efficient as FF DIN is, it also tones down The Shield, giving it a slight human element, without dumbing it down or patronizing its audience. DIN is a true workhorse typeface; it is easily designed with, and is good looking at various sizes.
Due to its overall neutrality, it works well communicating all sorts of information, and is suitable for use throughout Geekdom’s foreseeable collateral, from digital and printed promotional materials, to dimensional, interior way-finding and decorative signage. DIN is also highly legible at relatively small sizes and is thus well-suited for headlines and short runs of call-out text and subtitles in addition to its obvious use for headlines.
Body Copy/Running Text
Elena, a typeface designed by Nicole Dotin for Process Type Foundry, is a modern serif, designed for rendering longer passages of running copy. It is a low contrast typeface, making it easier on the eyes when reading for extended amounts of time. It was released in 2011, and for being so modern, it has many classic features that would suggest it was created much earlier. Elena Basic, shown in the supporting collateral mockups here, comes in Regular, Regular Italic, Bold and Bold Italic, which is likely deep enough to accomplish most of the visual communication for Geekdom. Elena’s full set includes extra glyphs such as ligatures, extended numeral sets, and small caps for a wider range of typographic expression.
Elena has been chosen for Geekdom’s new look specifically because of its unique design properties. It has a warm feel, due in large part to its organic terminals, but maintains a seriousness that doesn’t color the content it is displaying. Elena looks excellent in print and digital media, and feels timeless because of its visual neutrality.
Elena was also chosen because it works well with DIN. In this updated visual identity, the two faces will be in close proximity to each other quite frequently, so special care has been taken to make sure the two faces play well together and don’t overpower each other.
Color System and Consistency
The existing color theme for Geekdom has been sparsely executed, a contrast to how dynamic of an environment Geekdom is. Recommended with The Shield identity is a subtle, yet intelligent development, deeper than the existing palette of red and black. There appear to be at least four different versions of solid red colors currently used on the website alone. This new system addresses that inconsistency for efficient visual communication and reproduction of the brand’s identity.
The Shield has been designed using Pantone® swatches, which have been converted using Pantone®-approved standards, to corresponding web-safe colors. A secondary color version has been developed to use The Shield in different reproduction methods, as well as single-color, and grayscale versions for use when necessary. All of these steps ensure that whenever and however the Shield is reproduced, there is a system for color-correct reproduction to maintain brand consistency.
The main palette for Geekdom’s identity remains basically a red and black palette, but the actual values for these colors have been tweaked to modernize their look and feel. A secondary, complimentary palette has been developed for use in Geekdom’s deeper collateral, with attention paid to how these colors work in print, digital media, dimensional signage, and interior space color themes.
The Short Shield / Secondary Mark
A secondary mark, herein referred to as the Short Shield, has been developed using an all-consonant version of the type. This type of abbreviation is popular and turns out to be a quite elegant way of visually shortening the length of the Shield mark. This version is also quite useful for communicating with a select demographic of Geekdom’s core audience, chiefly, its technologically-inclined and web-savvy patrons. The Short Shield is perfectly suited for marketing collateral geared to this audience, such as t-shirts, and other fashionable promotional gifts. As with the Shield, the Short Shield uses the same strict color system for reproduction across a wide range of media, as well as multiple lockups to maintain consistency.
That’s what I’ve got. I look forward to seeing how Geekdom’s visual identity grows and changes, and I hope at least some of the issues I’ve outlined here will be addressed soon. Geekdom is too important of a venture and has too many educated people involved to continue to look so confused when it comes to their graphic system. Their strange and muddied visual identity is the biggest reason I haven’t joined. Geekdom’s identity would end up representing me and my design ethos ipso facto, and as it stands right now, I just can’t roll like that. I hope I haven’t come across like a jerk in explaining my complaints, and to that end, anyone who wants to have a conversation about it is welcome to email or call me. Real talk.