“Agency, Rebrand Thyself!” (a.k.a. Eating Our Own Pudding)

Doug Jasinski

When is it time for a marketing agency to rebrand itself?  For us, the answer is right now.

I founded Skunkworks Creative Group thirteen years ago this month in the living room of my then bachelor apartment in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood.  Back then it was a one-man show, focused on providing freelance copywriting services for anyone who would hire me.  From the outset I was a passionate believer in the power of branding and so took special care in developing the name and visual identity for my own nascent business, mindful of the fact that if I wanted to sell branding services to others I needed to have my own house in order first.  I spent several months leafing through the Oxford dictionary from start to finish, looking for words that jumped off the page at me in order to develop a shortlist of company name ideas.  Nothing else in that careful verbiage research came close to “Skunkworks” to my mind, both in terms of being an earworm that would be highly memorable and for the great meaning behind the word as well.  (For the uninitiated, a skunkworks is defined as “a small group of people who work outside the usual rules to create exceptional results.”)  That definition perfectly summed up the kind of organization I wanted to create.  I had the key ingredient for my brand name, and from there Skunkworks Creative Group was born.

Skunkworks Logo Evolution

For the logo, I wanted an icon that would allude to my service offerings as a writer, but that would not unduly box in the kind of services the business offered in the future as it (hopefully) grew.  I ultimately decided on using a vintage underwood typewriter overlaid on a target-site background.  The typewriter to me represented old-world, artisanal quality and commitment to craftsmanship, and was a nice counterpoint to the modern, high-tech edge of the name. The target-site was intended to represent strategic focus on our clients’ objectives. Our primary brand colour was green.

As the years have gone by, Skunkworks has grown from one person to ten, our client base has become concentrated on professional services firms and organizations, and the nature of our work has diversified and multiplied exponentially from pure copywriting to over 15 different service categories.  We have also refined and simplified our logo over the years, losing unnecessary detail and creating a more stylized look with fewer elements competing simultaneously for attention.

As this year arrived, we recognized it was time once again to look at our own logo (and website) afresh. We looked at the same things we tell our clients to consider:  Does it still represent who we are now and where we are headed next? On the name, what do our clients refer to us as (i.e. “street name” vs. “legal name”)? Does the icon evoke the right kind of emotional response we are looking for in our target audience?  What has happened to logo designs generally in recent years? (Hint: sleeker, simpler, more iconic)  We concluded that the time was right for an update.

On the name front, we are known in the Canadian legal and professional services world simply as “Skunkworks” and so the new logo reflects that fact (while our legal name remains the full version). While the typewriter always held special meaning for me personally, we knew from discussions with our clients that it was not an important part of our identity in their minds.  The typewriter has also always  been challenging from a visual design perspective, as the high level of detail required to visually portray a vintage typewriter was at odds with our desire for a sleeker, more iconic, and more minimalist logo that better reflects our agency’s design style.    So, we decided to retire the typewriter and focus exclusively on the wordmark for our street name – “skunkworks”.

In addition to being an interesting word in both sound and meaning, “skunkworks” is also intriguing from a typographic perspective, as the symmetry of the three “k”s and the bookending “s”s makes it visually appear similar to a palindrome.  We decided to reinforce and emphasize this symmetry with an upper-case font (a customized in-house variant of “National” for the font-geeks out there) and use of a very distinctive “K” shape to help draw further focus to the beginning and end of the word, with the effect that the word is read as a single block.  We feel the careful kerning (spacing) of the letters and the symmetry of the word subtly reinforce the idea of professionalism that is at the heart of both our own business and that of our clients.  We then looked to add a more organic element to capture the fact that we are a small boutique agency that builds custom brands in a very personalized way for every single one of our clients, not a mega-factory pumping out standardized one-size-fits-all solutions for clients selling everything from soap to sandwiches.

For many of our professional services clients, their brands are critical assets in the process of separating themselves from their competition, who usually offer very similar services, are staffed with people from the same professional schools, and occupy the same or very similar office premises.  We want to be the agency that helps our clients “be chosen” in this competitive landscape.  We therefore conceived the green jot underlining our wordmark as being analogous to the squiggle that a potential client might scribble onto an RFP when deciding that this agency is “the one”.  (And because nothing is simple when you are a design agency redesigning your own logo, we went through almost one hundred iterations of the jot before landing on the final version – the ultimate winner was first drawn by hand by our Creative Director in soft pencil, then scanned, vectorized, and edited digitally until it passed muster all around).

And so, after several months of hard labour, we have arrived.  Our new identity is a reflection of where we’re at today, and where we’re headed in the years ahead.  We hope you like it and we can’t wait to get started on what comes next.

With warm regards,

Doug

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