At the start of each year, it’s typical to go through a personal refresh. A new haircut can do wonders, or finally signing up for that pottery class to cultivate a new hobby, or zooming out to the big picture and reassessing career goals. Brands will periodically undergo similar reset periods, which can often take the form of a logo refresh.
While a full-scale, top-to-bottom rebrand with all-new everything is sometimes in order, often brands will instead focus on a logo refresh. This simple approach to redesign helps companies maintain hard-earned brand recognition and successful elements of their existing identities while still giving their look and feel a bit of a facelift. That’s where lettering artist extraordinaire Jessica Hische comes in.
One of the many arms of Hische’s offerings as a hand letterer is her logo refresh process. She’s worked with an impressive list of brands ranging from MailChimp to Southern Living to Jeni’s Ice Cream to refine and elevate their original logos, and ultimately bring the brands themselves to new heights.
But what exactly goes into a typical logo refresh process? How does it differ from or align with creating a logo from scratch? I asked Hische to give us the lowdown on her logos. Check out her thoughtful reflections below!
What are the main reasons a brand would embark upon a logo refresh?
There are a number of reasons why companies decide that a refresh— rather than a rebrand— is the right move. Many of the companies I work with simply want a logo asset that is easier for their designers to work with. Sometimes there are issues with the current logo that make it harder to design around, or make it less flexible on different design applications. For example, logos with long ascenders and descenders create difficulties with balancing whitespace, and logos with tight counterforms or complex details don’t scale well.
Aside from adding utility, refreshes can be a nice way to make an older logo asset play well with a new brand system— we can make subtle tweaks to letterforms that make it better match new typefaces chosen for the brand or blend with the mood of photography better. Startups and new companies often don’t have the funds to invest in a proper brand system when they are first getting started— they design their brand in-house or work with friends to design something that looks good enough for investment pitch decks and a placeholder site, but isn’t meant to last forever. When these companies become successful, they don’t want to scare off customers by completely shifting gears, so a refresh can be a nice way to take existing brand equity but create something that better matches the maturity of the company.
What is your typical logo refresh process like?
My process is flexible, depending on what the goals of a client are. I like to think of myself as an asset for their team— they can pull me in at any point in the process to help guide the logo to the final design. Sometimes clients bring me on very early and I collaborate with their in-house team or an agency they’ve hired to create a wide variety of logos for the different pitched design directions. I work alongside strategists and brand designers, incorporating their research and design thinking into the logo proposals I show.
For these kinds of clients, there are typically five to seven or more unique logo designs shown in the first round, and then each subsequent round has three to five or more variations based on feedback (there are usually about four rounds with this kind of engagement). Other times I’m brought in after a design direction has been chosen, but more exploration is needed on the logo— I tighten up the design and then try different widths, weights, serif styles, ligatures, etc. over the course of three or so rounds.
The lightest touch refreshes happen when a client or their agency has a pretty great designer on staff who has taken the logo most of the way to the finish line, and they just need a final set of eyes and hands on it to take it from 90% to 100%. I love keeping my process flexible because it allows me to work for all kinds of clients with all sorts of budgets.
What are some of the biggest challenges you come up against in a logo refresh?
Many logo refreshes are spearheaded by internal design teams who know how huge of an impact a refresh can make in terms of the overall look and feel of the brand, but they’re also aware of the cascading effects of having an easier asset to work with. It can be a challenge for them to get executives on board with something that seems so subtle, but I do my best to provide them with the right language and tools to prove the value.
Education is key in getting folks on board with a refresh— anyone without a design background has to be walked through the why and how of what’s going on so they become an advocate for the work.
I would imagine a logo refresh is significantly different from creating a logo from scratch. Is that the case? What aspects of a logo refresh do you prefer over creating a new logo? And inversely, what aspects of creating a new logo do you prefer over a logo refresh?
It’s definitely a different process, though there is a lot of overlap. A great from-scratch logo should involve brand strategy, research, and the creation of distinct visual design directions that communicate the values and voice of the brand. Companies are hardly ever just designing a logo when branding a company— there are so many other assets and applications that need to be created as well, so coming up with a holistic vision is really important. With a logo refresh, the brand has an established voice and vision already (though not always articulated in an easy to read format), and it’s about taking what you already see and tightening it up or nudging it in different directions.
If a from-scratch logo has four rounds of work— with the first being the broadest exploration involving very, very distinct directions— a refresh would be like starting a project at around halfway through the third round of that process. The direction has been chosen, but there are still a lot of refinements to be made and alternate versions to try out.
What logo refresh projects are you proudest of? What sets those apart for you?
It’s hard to not list the Squier refresh for Fender Guitars as my top one. They were such a pleasure to work with and the project was a mix of trying out new designs and mixing in historical precedent. I was really happy with the end result, but the thing that is still hard to wrap my head around is that it’s more than a logo, it’s a piece of culture.
More than anything, I love working with brands that I already use and love— Jeni’s Ice Cream, for example. I was a huge fan of Jeni’s before they approached me for a refresh. And there’s nothing quite like having a freezer stocked full of products you helped design!