LogoLounge Founder Bill Gardner on Design, Antiques + Inspiration

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Bill Gardner is something of a collector: He collects antique bagatelles (they’re table-top games inspired by billiards). He collects—or rather, amalgamates—logo designs and translates them into reports that document and forecast design trends.

As the founder of LogoLounge, the international, searchable compendium of logos, Gardner has authored the affiliated best selling LogoLounge Volumes 1-8 and Master Library Volumes 1-4 book series for Rockport Publishers. Last summer, he published Logo Creed, a foundation textbooks for graphic design students and professionals alike. He’s also the owner and president of Gardner Design, a corporate/brand identity firm that has produced effective and award winning results for clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to single-store boutiques.

LogoLounge screen

Gardner is presenting “The LogoLounge Trend Report” at the

HOW Design Conference, where he’ll showcase top logo designs and discuss how styles like swoops and banners and hand-drawn elements are shaping identity design today. We recently asked him about what (and who) inspires his work.

Bill, you’re experiencing a pretty noteworthy career, having worked on the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games and a host of major brand identities. Are there any influential moments along the way that stand out to you?

I’ll tell you about two. In 1983 I had just graduated from college, Cary Grant was presenting awards for a magic competition in Los Angeles and I was planning to be there. You see, I put myself through college doing magic, and it was fun, but I knew I wanted to make design my long-term career. I had always tried to take advantage of the traveling I was able to do by connecting with other designers while in their cities. So I was fortunate enough to also set up meetings with Saul Bass and John Follis while in LA.

You get into this industry at a young age and you look at these design gods as people who have all the secrets and if you could just get a few minutes with them, maybe they would tell you what those secrets are. So, meeting Saul Bass was surreal and he did give me great advice. In fact, the best piece of advice was that, to quote Saul, “There aren’t any secrets, you just have to work hard at it.”

On that same trip I had a lengthy meeting and really great conversation with John Follis. He asked me questions, gave me samples, and offered feedback on my work. Six months later, I was back in Wichita and realized I hadn’t written or touched base with him since that great meeting. So I wrote him a letter of thanks, and it just so happened that the day after putting it in the mail, I received one of John’s Christmas cards with a note saying he was sorry we didn’t get the chance to meet and if I’m ever out that way again to give him a call. Humility is a lesson we all learn eventually.

So, this also happens eventually: creative block. What do you do when you’re stumped for an idea?

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by really great people who can help me break out of a rut and vice versa. There’s no better rut breaker than collaboration. I also think you tend to get stuck when you only have one thing that you’re focusing on—switching from one thing to another allows to you find solutions in places you weren’t looking. A kind of serendipity.

And I’m a strong believer in incubation: Keep it warm, but don’t obsess about it. Watched pots don’t boil.

When you’re not at work, what kinds of creative extracurriculars do you pursue?

I have a passion for shopping, mostly antiquing. I love learning the stories behind all the “stuff.” This passion has led me to own perhaps one of the largest collections of bagatelles. Not the plastic ones! It’s one of those things where you see one, then you start seeing them everywhere, and it became a hobby. I wanted to see how deep the well was … it was deeper than I thought.

They are particularly intriguing to me because—no surprises here—they tell great stories through their design. The bagatelle originally was played with a stick, similar to the game of pool. The stick was eventually replaced by a coiled spring and plunger and the game became the early makings of pinball machines.

They also have these fantastic graphics painted on them that often mirror what was happening in society at the time—from likenesses of Buffalo Bill to the stock market crash—so you can sort of build a timeline with them.

Your HOW Design Conference session will offer a peek backward and forward at trends in logo design. How do you keep on top of those trends?

When the telescope was invented, it was an early forecasting tool. It allowed you to see what lied ahead or what was coming before it got there, and you could plan accordingly. So for example, when spice merchants learned that a new shipment was on its way, they could unload their current stock to make room for the new product.

We apply forecasting to many situations—we may assess an object’s trajectory and make predictions about where it will eventually go. When forecasting trends, the important thing is to become intimate with what is happening every year. Most change happens gradually, but over time, you can see the trajectory and maybe predict the future.

We dream and speculate in order to forecast—some of it’s right, some of it’s wrong—but it helps us connect the dots, see where we’ve been and where we may be headed.

HOW Design lIve

HOW Design Live can help you stay on top of the latest creative and business trends in the design field. Learn about logo design trends from Bill Gardner, learn how to appropriate American style in your work from Aaron Draplin, learn how to explore outside creative pursuits with Jim Krause—and more. You’ll save $100 off onsite prices* when you register for HOW Design Live now.