#7: Logo Design with Sean Farrell (@brand_clay)

Dippin’ Dots-owner-turned-super-graphic-designer Sean Farrell joined us this week to talk about his path to the freelance life as well as his logo design process. Sean is the man behind Brand Clay as well as an integral piece of the Fixel virtual agency team.

If you are wondering if Craigslist is a good place to find jobs, why 99designs sucks (or doesn’t suck), where to find design inspiration, and why all great rappers should have a logo, tune in to this episode.

Mentioned in this episode:

This episode’s soundtrack:

We’re spinning a super cool album this week by Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi called Rome which features appearances by folks like Jack White and Norah Jones.

Opening clip: “Season’s Trees”
Closing track: “Black”



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BRIAN CASEL: Hello, welcome to FreelanceJam, this is episode number 7, it’s the live web show for independent professionals who build the web. We talk about the freelancing business, web design, development, WordPress, anything else remotely related to what we do every day. So tonight we’ll be joined by Sean Farrell of Brand Clay, among other things, and we’ll be talking all about logo design, branding, the process, how he got into being a freelance designer, and a bunch of other topics. But before we get into that I’m joined here every week with the co-host, Mr Dave Yankowiak. Dave, how’s it going? 

DAVE YANKOWIAK: It’s going great! We’re recovering from a holiday weekend and summer’s almost in swing here and things are going swell. How was your Memorial Day weekend, Brian? 

BRIAN CASEL: It was good. Memorial Day I think for freelancers is always kind of like an ‘optional’ day. I saw somebody on Twitter – who said that? I guess today’s optional! Usually if you work in a full time job, a lot of places take this day off, so I think yesterday I kind of took a half day and we headed up the beach in the afternoon, it was the first official beach day of the year, it was like 80 degrees in these parts. 

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Oh wow. Nice! I mean do you normally - my two holidays that I tend to always work on are Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s ironic that I work Labor day, but to me those are some of the best work days ‘cause the email’s not going, the phone’s not ringing...! 

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, totally. I actually had a phone call scheduled for yesterday and I had to cancel it. I was like, I’m not going to be available today we’ll have to make it tomorrow! ‘Cause when I scheduled it originally I didn’t realize it was a holiday. That’s the other thing about freelancing, you kind of never expect these random Monday holidays! If you’re at work or if you work in a school or something you know when the vacations are coming and the holidays, but as a freelancer it’s like - what day is this? Today’s Saturday? Really?

DAVE YANKOWIAK: It’s different, and honestly it doesn’t bug me when I work holidays, I kind of like it. I’d rather just slack off on a regular day when everybody else is stuck at work. So hey, I’m at the beach today!! I noticed the tweet you put up last week that you were looking for some new podcasts to subscribe to. So did you find anything good?

BRIAN CASEL: Let’s see what did I find...? You know what I ended up doing? I’m just like a huge 5x5.TV junkie, and what happened was I think Dan Benjamin is in the process of his move this week or last week and so his shows are not really being updated as much as they normally are, which is leaving us out in the cold here, you know, we don’t have the daily edition to listen to. So I was kind of digging back in the pipeline archives, I found a few good ones there. Mixer G is always a solid thing to watch on a daily basis. Andrew Warner does a great job over there. Let’s see...so what else in terms of podcasts? Another one I’ve been a fan of for a while and it kind of goes off and on in terms of when they release the podcast, is the Think Vitamin podcast, along with their blog from Carsonified. Big fan of what they’re doing over there.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: I just muted myself ‘cause there’s a train going by, so we’re getting our first train of FreelanceJam here, whooo hooo...!! I don’t listen to the Think Vitamin one, that one’s pretty good though?

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, it’s really good. I’m kind of a fan of Ryan Carson and everything that he’s done with Carsonified and the events that they put on, the work that they put out, you know, really good stuff.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: How about, what was the one I suggested, the Accidental Creative, had you seen that one before?

BRIAN CASEL: Haven’t seen that one, actually I didn’t get a chance to check that one out yet, but it’s definitely on the list.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Yeah that’s a good one too. You know it’s kind of fun doing a podcast and then I fin that I should listen to a lot more podcasts now that we do FreelanceJam and try to pick up some things. There’s a lot of good ones out there. Yeah, it’s kind of nice, especially when you’re sitting, you’re trying to get work done, to have something like that to listen to. It’s kind of nice.

BRIAN CASEL: Indeed. You know what – another one that I kind of found more recently and I think it’s a little bit lesser known, is this podcast called Wide Teams, and it’s specifically about teams working remotely, or even like freelancers kind of working with other – collaborating with people remotely, which is what we do every day. So that’s a really cool podcast. I think he has maybe like 15 shows up, talking to all different people, a lot of unknown names, a few good names on there. That’s a pretty cool one to check out, I’ll have to find the actual link for that.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: I must check that one to see if our last guest Phil Montero has tuned into that one before, maybe he’s heard that one. But yeah, if people haven’t checked on our last episode, definitely do that. We talked about kind of the anywhere office and working from anywhere. It was a pretty good show, it was a lot of fun. It was our longest show by far.

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, that was very long that show.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Alright, so should we get on with our discussion and bring on our guest here?

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, absolutely. Let me just get that set up here real quick. Alright. Okay so here he is, Mr Sean Farrell. Welcome to FreelanceJam, thanks for joining us tonight.

SEAN FARRELL Thanks for having me, guys, appreciate it!

BRIAN CASEL: Cool, so Sean is a highly skilled, talented graphic designer extraordinaire. I think a lot of people kind of know him for his logo branding work. He definitely does a lot of other stuff as well, site designs, you know, he was telling me how he’s really into iPhone, iPad app interface designs, a lot of cool stuff going on there. So welcome, can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what type of work you do, for those of us who aren’t aware of what you do?

SEAN FARRELL Yeah, yeah. I mostly (inaudible 0:07:09.4) I’m mostly known for logo design, I’m known as ‘the logo guy’, it seems like, everywhere I go. You know, it’s not bad having that rap, I get to work with a lot of designers, a lot of people in the same field as me in regards to doing like design projects, I get to do a lot of design company logos. Yeah, I do love going outside of logos sometimes, you know you do something for so long you want to just branch out. It seems like that’s just the creative scary. I do like doing web design, iPhone application is kind of where – I don’t know, like my passion is now, you know, I did a couple of personal projects here and there and just fell in love with it. I’m constantly in awe, looking at some of the stuff on Dribble and just looking at people’s stuff and I’m always like, I want to try that, to replicate that or do something similar. I don’t really have it that big on my site, like, that I do iPhone applications but it seems every time you publish something or put it out there, more and more people will contact you about it. So that’s kind of where I got my start in logo design, I kind of branched out and tried some other stuff, some more successful projects than others but I’ve always gone back to logo design to kind of be my niche.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: And you’re in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is that right?


DAVE YANKOWIAK: Now is that where you’re from originally, or how did you end up in Ann Arbor, Michigan?

SEAN FARRELL I’m from 10 minutes south of Ann Arbor, so I have been in Michigan my entire life, born and raised in (unclear 0:08:53.0) but you know, when I got married we wanted to move outside of the city, kind of buy the big house, I don’t know if you’re familiar with (unclear 0:09:00.7) or football in any way, we’re a couple of miles from the big house, we wanted to kind of move into that atmosphere, kind of a more down-towny feel.

BRIAN CASEL: Very cool. So are you kind of in your living room there I see behind you? Is that your workspace or do you work somewhere else or what?

SEAN FARRELL Yeah, this is my – I mean, we have a one-bedroom condo and everything’s kind of out in the open, so if my wife’s home and she’s watching TV or cooking or something I’ll put my headphones on and just kind of blast away, but yeah, it’s kind of a shared space so there’s no really particular office space. This is kind of my little cove, I guess you could call it, I have a little nook on the inside of the room.

BRIAN CASEL: Very cool.

SEAN FARRELL You know I used to, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with this, but some of the people I know or meet or have kind of followed my story, I own a Dippin’ Dots franchise. As random as that sounds, it’s an ice cream place and it’s located in a mall, and I used to work in design from that spot. So I was (inaudible 0:10:08.1) selling ice cream for at least a year and a half or so, I just stopped full time – and went full time with design last month, so it’s been a good change, it’s been a really good change.

BRIAN CASEL: Did you say that you were actually working on design work while you were at the Dippin’ Dots?



SEAN FARRELL There were times where I didn’t even want to get up and sell someone some ice cream! I wanted to just keep plugging away at design. It’s hard, because you keep getting interrupted and there’s so much distraction. Sometimes you just felt like you couldn’t put your best foot forward, and so it was the biggest monkey off my back when I finally was able to go full time at my house, my condo, whatever, and just be – you know, and my solitude kind of no-one around me, no-one bothering me for ice cream kind of thing!


DAVE YANKOWIAK: Well that’s good to know there’s actually – I’ve thought of this – there’s like this little drive-through coffee place in my town that’s for sale, it’s right by the highway and it’s just – all it is is a drive-through, it’s not a, you know, there’s no sit down area. But like, man, I should just set up shop in there, and I just love coffee, so I could just be in there serving coffee all day.

BRIAN CASEL: You could set up the first drive-through web design shop!!

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Yeah!! There we go!

SEAN FARRELL: The interruptions would kill. People usually, I mean, people are very nosy when you’re in public with a computer, you know. So people always kind of peeked around, see what I was working on, and I actually generated a couple of clients from working (inaudible 0:11:44).

BRIAN CASEL: (Inaudible 0:11:46).

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Would you like some logo design with the Dippin’ Dots?

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah. So what you need is you need a big team behind you and you’re just like the face of it, you’re not actually getting work done, you’re just like putting something that looks good on your screen and generating leads through your…

SEAN FARRELL Yeah. I was shocked at, you know, some people are really nosy about coming right out and looking at your screen. You know, it was something that I would say hindered more than helped and so I’m glad it’s over now. I would never recommend it to anybody.

BRIAN CASEL: And did you say it was just a month ago that you stopped doing that?

SEAN FARRELL Yeah, I started Dippin’ Dots when I was 19.


SEAN FARRELL I was the youngest franchisee in company history, we opened four stores in two years and then all of a sudden business partner quit, and it kind of – I don’t want to go too much into detail, they screwed me over and long story short, if I would design kind of little things and then, you know, was doing it as a hobby really. And then started finding clients and making some money I guess. I kind of went that route instead of Dippin’ Dots.

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, I mean that’s an incredible change of pace, I mean talk about a career change, you know, that’s pretty crazy. So before I move on, anybody who’s in the lie of chat right now, feel free to add any questions, comments you have for Sean or us as the show goes forward and we’ll try to work them into the show. So talking about that transition, I mean, going from owning a Dippin’ Dots franchise into design. Now what was your first – I mean I guess obviously you didn’t, you know, growing up or in college you weren’t really planning on becoming a designer. What was your fir – I mean obviously you’re clearly a very talented graphic designer and very versatile, so how did you get into that in the first place in terms of your very first design chops, maybe your first paid project? How does that happen when you’re working at Dippin’ Dots?

SEAN FARRELL Sure. What had happened was the need for money kind of came up while I was doing Dippin’ Dots. I wasn’t making a whole lot of money. And so I was – I can’t remember why I downloaded Photoshop, but it was just to try to create something for a family Christmas thing, and – a flyer or something, I can’t remember exactly. So I just started playing around with it and I’ll try to condense it, ‘cause it’s quite a story. It’s very all over the place, but you know, I downloaded it, kind of just fell in love with it. It was like learning how to ride a bike, it was wonderful! And so as soon as I got the hang of it I actually put myself on Craigslist and I offered my design services, you know, design – what I knew at the time, I think I learned maybe a couple of tutorials off of PSDToots.com and offered some web stuff for free and logo work for free. It kind of just blossomed. More and more – when you’re in design I think a lot of family members or people you know are always looking to generate some kind of artwork, and so I started just doing stuff for people I know and it kind of branched out. I think my first paid project was maybe like a $20 logo! I really had no idea what I was doing, and I’m sure it was (inaudible 0:15:23) it wasn’t back there. You know, I look back and I’m probably like, I should go remake that guy’s logo! But you know, people like the concepts, I mean they weren’t really polished, they weren’t really that great, but conceptually I seemed to have a knack for it, and logo designs in time – I was doing this out of more of a necessity than a hobby, I just wanted to make some extra – some money. And I started, you know, people saying you know you should charge more. And so that was kind of the end of it for me, you know, I had made some money doing design work, I really wasn’t finding any good clients and I went into spec work. This was only about two years ago, too. I started designing in early 2009 and eventually I got into spec work because I had no idea about it. You know, I didn’t know it was considered detrimental to the design industry or what have you, but that was bad for the community or –

BRIAN CASEL: So when you say spec work are you going on sites like –

SEAN FARRELL Yeah, I was designing like, honestly, like almost 30 projects at a time on 99designs.com.


BRIAN CASEL: Right, wow.

SEAN FARRELL Yeah, I was all for it. You know, I had no idea though that my designs were worth more and my time was worth more. You know, I didn’t win a single contest until I think it was my 110th entry, so take 110 contests and you multiply it by however much time, you know you eventually put into it, and I think the first contest I won was $100. And so was it worth it? No.

BRIAN CASEL: Well you know, I mean, and I think we all probably agree that that spec work is wrong and we’re all clearly against that. But you now, with 99designs I think in a strange kind of way it actually is kind of good for the very new freelancer who doesn’t have a portfolio and also just trying to hone their chops. I mean, there is a place for that and it is real work, it is real projects that clients want to end up actually professionally using. So as wrong as it is in general the whole idea of spec work, I think it does make sense for the new freelancer to just get their feet wet, get their foot in the door to start a business and build a portfolio. A few months into it, you know, move on and start charging real legitimate projects. But I think there’s an interesting place for it.

SEAN FARRELL Yeah, I would say 99designs single-handedly made me get better, real quickly. It was a very short timeline between my really bad work and I guess my better work, and I think it’s obviously because of the group aligned feedback that you get from the clients that are there. They’re not looking to give you a bunch of different direction, your feedback. They’re pretty much like five – you know, one sentence answers. Do this. And then you try to make the best you can. I mean, I try to talk new freelancers coming into the industry, there are better options than spec work. I mean it is great if you want to hone your brief skills and you want to look at the creative briefs and try to conceptualize what you think would work. Submitting to the entry though is kind of feeding the fire I think, you can always use those concepts and put them, you know, as much as people don’t like brand stack either or, I think it’s like brand bucket it, or (inaudible 0:19:16) return or some other sites like that, you know. When I had a lot of unused concepts (inaudible 0:19:21.1) my designs I was in a great spot to just plug in your work and see if people are interested. In that way, you’re actually going to make something off of what you’re designing, hopefully. I mean, the same thing goes for when you design for 99designs or any of these other spec sites, you have no idea if you’re going to get paid or not, and that’s kind of one of the worries. But at least you can use it as just a showcase to your portfolio. Like you said, but you know, eventually - I think it was about 600 entries in, I kind of realised this wasn’t the direction that I wanted to go. It wasn’t worth my time to keep doing this, and so I went onto Logopond, you know, started looking at what was popular and what people like to do, and just tried to I guess mimic their style at first, you know, trying to replicate what they were doing. Not copying but just seeing aesthetically, what is pleasing for a logo. And I think that’s what a lot of people miss is just what’s not necessarily trendy, but what’s working for this current time and design, I guess. And I just started uploading stuff and people gave you honest feedback. I think a lot of designers will give you honest feedback, and –

BC: I don’t want to kind of dwell on the whole spec work thing, I’m just kind of responding to somebody here on the chat who said spec work should never be encouraged to beginning designers. It distracts them from being active finding real clients. And I think that makes a lot of sense, you know. What I was saying earlier was if you kind of dabble in 99 Designs or another spec site, for the sole purpose of building your chops and building a portfolio for somebody who has zero portfolio items, and trying to get a real client, you know, in order to get a real client you’re going to need to show at least some kind of portfolio. So that’s one way to kind of just build it up. In terms of making it a career option and really building a business around it, no. I don’t see that. But you know, Sean, as you said, at the same time it is kind of fanning the flame and kind of building up these spec sites. So there’s definitely two sides of that.

DY: I remember when I started out web design years ago, I didn’t have a portfolio at all. It was just, somebody else said, you know, kind of making up fake stuff, and that’s what I did. I just made up some fake websites and designed them and put some fake content in there and put it in my portfolio, and I think that’s even more accepted now than it was back then, just because so many people are theme designers and that they are creating like these containers that don’t necessarily have real content, but they’re still real designs.

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, totally. And I think also what Sean was saying, something that I did years ago, was I also went on Craigslist and I offered my services for free, for one like, first real client. It was just a simple website, you know, just to get the experience of working with a client, I’m going to give you my services for free. I want to try this out, see if it’s a career that I’d like to pursue. At the time I wasn’t sure, and that’s kind of my very first project working with a client, that was even before I worked for an agency, so that was kind of interesting.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: So Sean, did you ever find any good work off Craigslist? ‘Cause I did it once, like three years ago, and it was the worst project I’ve ever taken on and I vowed I’d never do it again!

SEAN FARRELL: Yeah, surprising – I did a lot of bad (inaudible 0:23:20.2) before I (inaudible 0:23:21.3). I don’t mean to stereotype but it seemed like a lot of rappers, a lot of like new ink and, gosh, what else? Like florists maybe. Just kind of – it was hard ‘cause I was doing a lot of, like, rapper work, and what is that? It sounded so weird I mean you just – I got probably the first time projects I did were for rap CD’s or rapper logos, and so – used to see him to go down that route, and eventually I found – I did a logo for an all-natural organic cosmetics company, and she was the nicest client that I probably ever, ever worked with. I mean, she was great, and I don’t do any work for her now but at the time she was, I mean, I think she offered at the time like $500 for the logo, and she was, you know, this was on Craigslist, and you don’t ever see that usually (inaudible 0:24:23.5) I mean, a lot of stuff that I had looked at was like $20, $30, $50 logos that type of stuff, so my work had to kind of meet that where it was, that’s what I’m following, you know. But –

BRIAN CASEL: Very cool.

SF: Yeah. I wouldn’t recommend Craigslist unless, you know, you can go I think – you go to Craigslist there’s like a part at the top where it says RBA design, under jobs. Normally if you look under there at some of their gigs you can find better companies who are looking for more, like a subcontract type of work.


SEAN FARRELL: They have the – like just as one type of quick gig, so –

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Yeah, that was – I read in there somebody was looking for somebody who was as cheap as possible.

SEAN FARRELL: Oh yeah, that’s usually just exposure most of the time, yeah.

BRIAN CASEL: That’s usually the case. You know I actually – early on I did find actually a lot of work on Craigslist. I didn’t really look at it exclusively, but I think for a good year, like the first year, I was working as a freelancer I really followed Craigslist a lot for just responding to different gigs. And I think a lot of them just – I didn’t end up working with them because the budgets weren’t real, but every now and then, you know, just with volume of responding to gigs, you come up with a few good ones.

SEAN FARRELL: Yeah, I hear that.

BRIAN CASEL: So Sean, let’s talk a little bit about your path now as a freelance designer. I guess one of your recent developments is Fixel, the shirt you’re currently wearing, which is actually kind of cut out of the frame a little bit. I’m kind of scrolling down here for a second! So tell us a little bit about Fixel. What’s that all about?

SEAN FARRELL: Yeah, I hope they’re watching, they’d better be. Fixel originally, it was started by Josh Emslie of the Visual Click and Vin Thomas of Vintom, they gave me a call one day and just asked me if I wanted to be their main branding guy, their logo guy, their (inaudible 0:27:18.8) and you know I jumped at the opportunity. I had actually worked with quite a few of Josh’s clients, he kind of referred them to me, for quite some time. Actually it’s a funny story. He referred at least three or four clients to me before I ever even met him or tweeted him or talked to him in any possible type of way. So I was very quick to make the decision to go and join this kind of design, kind of digital agency, this virtual agency, I must say it wasn’t big enough to get started and have me move out there and to work like that, it would make more sense for me to work from home, since Vin Thomas and Josh and then later on we added Matt Ralpal, I hope I’m pronouncing his last name right, it might be Realpal, and they all lived in Oregon. So I was kind of the odd one out. I felt like, right at the beginning, but we chat on Skype pretty much every day. It has been nothing but a blast working with these guys, they are truly talented. And the fact that I don’t have to handle any client relations whatsoever is also a big plus, Matt does all that for us. So it was just a perfect fit and I loved it.

BRIAN CASEL: Very cool.

SEAN FARRELL: I actually got to meet them last year in November and we’re actually planning our second kind of, we call a Fixel retreat, for this year, I think we’re going to be meeting in Southern California. So that will be nice.

BRIAN CASEL: Awesome! Sounds like a …

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Everybody should check out wearefixel.com ‘cause just that site itself is so cool.


DAVE YANKOWIAK: That little thing with your heads and stuff, that’s just wicked.

BRIAN CASEL: The site is very well done, it’s awesome.

SEAN FARRELL: (Inaudible 0:29:10.9) all kinds of crazy ideas for the mustaches and – I don’t know if you guys have seen that, but if you go on the –

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, I saw it! It kind of mixes and matches the mustaches…

SEAN FARRELL: You can pick a mustache, I illu-traded some mustaches (inaudible 0:29:28.3) so some Photoshop work on it, so yeah, it was a blast, we launched – where we actually design ended all the entire site and that was a whole weekend.

BRIAN CASEL: Very cool.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Yeah, it’s awesome, it’s awesome.

BRIAN CASEL: And so these days how much of your work is through Fixel and how much is independent?

SEAN FARRELL: I would still say that probably 10% of my work comes from Fixel. I work – I can’t say all the different (inaudible 0:30:00.9) but I’m subcontracted through probably fifteen agencies and they’re kind of on a daily basis as well, and then Fixel’s kind of first priority. Whatever comes in after all this other stuff, Brand Clay and I kind of just sort through or sift through projects that I’m excited about.

BRIAN CASEL: Very cool. You know, that’s interesting because it’s kind of like, you know, I see that pattern happening a lot these days on the web, with these kind of smaller teams, independents kind of merging together but on a contract project by project basis, you know. I mean, some are kind of actually forming mini agencies and real partnerships, but then extending that into these kind of ongoing subcontracting situations. I think that’s a real trend that we’re seeing in this industry as a whole, you know, a lesser focus on the large agencies, cubicles, you know, big corporate offices, to these independent, highly skilled, highly talented independent workers kind of coming together on these little remote …

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Well it’s like the flexible teams, there’s almost more – I mean it’s like, yeah, we all kind of take this path work for AMC or have a full time job, go off on our own and gradually we morph into these mini virtual agencies or virtual teams. It’s kind of neat ‘cause you can kind of pick and choose based on the project which folks you’re going to be working with and who has certain skills to match up with that project, and yeah, I definitely see that trend.

SEAN FARRELL: I think it’s just easier that you can communicate with people more effectively now with Skype and all the different project management applications and that type of stuff, working remote and kind of forming your own dream team, as you will, just seems like it’s the easiest choice, you know.

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, totally. It’s kind of a shame that Sean’s video is still frozen here, shall we try reconnecting the call?

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Maybe just have Sean turn his video off and on real quick.

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, Sean can you try that?

SEAN FARRELL: Yep. Did that work?

BRIAN CASEL: Still loading over here. There he is! We’ve got it. Cool. Alright so let’s see, where were we?

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Well let’s maybe dive more into the branding itself, you know, branding and logo design. I mean, I’m going to start with a really broad question here. Why is good branding important, especially when it’s concerning somebody that’s really – has a really strong web presence. Why is good branding important?

SF: Branding – and this is something that you hear a lot of logo designers and (inaudible 0:33:02.4) designers or branding designers talk about, you know, logo design is not branding. Branding is the interaction between your brand and the customer and the way that they engage the customer, the way a customer feels about the logo. I mean, it can be emotional, it can be very, you know, I think for a lot of people, a lot of designers, you could take a look at Apple’s brand - their Apple logo. Like, when you see the Apple logo you feel a sense of – and I’m not speaking for everybody, but at least for myself – I feel like, and call me what you want, I am a Mac fan now. I used to like – when I first started my design on a (inaudible 0:33:51.3) and I’d never go back.

BRIAN CASEL: Don’t worry, you’re not alone here.

SEAN FARRELL: Yeah, so you know, when I see an Apple symbol I know right off the bat that there’s quality, that there’s trust, that I know exactly what I’m going to get, everything is very uniform, the way all the applications interact and the way the – you know, it’s just kind of like more like the whole uniform – uniformly in everything. I think (inaudible 0:34:20.7) application that is run on a Mac you know exactly what to expect, you know where all the buttons are going to be. I think that – you know – even when, you know, I would say a commercial comes on the TV and you hear a song. You can already kind of know what the commercial’s going to be about, you know, and I think Apple’s brand is just so ingrained into our heads and our culture that that’s more about, like, branding than the actual logo. Like, you know, if you look at my site I have a lot of logo designs. But they don’t usually go past that. Some companies do, you know, some companies hire me to do not only the logo but the strategy that the logo will be used in. So they’ll hire me out to do their – and this can work in a number of different ways, but like let’s say the way their Facebook page has a logo and the way it’s used and now that like Twitter avatar – just stuff like that. And I think a lot of companies miss that, they don’t go to that extent. I mean yes, it costs a little bit more, but you know, I’ve seen companies take my logo and then use it in a number of varieties where I don’t want it to be known that I did it.

BRIAN CASEL: Right, yeah.

SEAN FARRELL: They’ll add a (inaudible 0:35:44.7) or they’ll put a drop shot, you know, just all kinds of different things that ruin I think the way that I meant it to be used. And you can’t fight everybody, you can’t make a client choose certain price points when you’re discussing all these different, you know, up front costs, but I think the biggest thing is, and I want to try to wrap this up I feel like I’m going off on a little bit of a tangent – but branding to me is just a way that a customer feels or someone feels when they first look at the brand, or the logo I guess, and that’s kind of the sense that they get.


DAVE YANKOWIAK: So what would you call – I did kind of mean branding and logo differently there, you know, you design logos but then when you’re doing all those other things, what do you call those before a customer ever has a feeling about those things, when you’re defining things like color schemes and you’re kind of – you know, maybe doing style guides, maybe doing avatar designs, things like that. What do you call all of that?

SEAN FARRELL: Well I would call it the brand. I mean, ‘cause ultimately that’s where the logo’s going to be used in all the different varieties, but when you’re constantly surrounded by the logo in these different varieties or these different mediums, then you get a better sense of what their brand is, or what their brand does, you know. And that’s always been a struggle for me, you know, I didn’t go to college, I didn’t learn about these types of things, and even I feel like I’m learning today of what technically a brand is. I have brand books and things like that, it never seems like I get time to go read them, but for me it’s kind of right now the process of learning about what – just where the logo design ends, and then where the brand and the interaction and the engagement begins, you know.

BRIAN CASEL: Right, it seems like a lot of clients should really kind of focus more on that, or maybe focus more on the part that’s harder to, I don’t know, materialize… here’s your logo and here’s the design file, goodbye. They should really – if they’re interested in that service they should really go for the full package of how is this going to be used, how is this going to tie into your activities and your customer service and your public image, and how you present yourself on the web, off the web and everything. So I think branding and the logo should really be thought of as a larger thing.

SEAN FARRELL: Yeah, I think any logos that are out there, and this is something that when I’ve first started doing logo work I guess later on, but I felt like I didn’t want to just give them the logo and say “See you later”. I think any logo designer out there should definitely learn stationery design any type of branding elements whether it’s (inaudible 0:38:42.2) Powerpoints, anything that will go along with what the company is doing. If it’s a bike company, you know, mock up some bikes with, you know, like actually one of their bikes with the logo on it. You know, try to show them what the logo looks like and offer that in the whole branding package when you first give them the price. I think, you know, when I first started in logo design it was just the logos, I hadn’t included the EPS and that was it. You know the .ai and .png file and send them off their way and I realised they needed more than that and they needed to have stationery design, you need to give them that option to kind of even offer a logo design and that, or offer them separately. But at least let it be known that you can handle that. I think that’s just something that you’ve got to do if you’re a logo designer. ‘Cause you don’t want them to go off and then give their logo to OfficeMax and have them mess it up for you – I can tell you that …

BC: Yeah, totally. So maybe we can kind of run through a little bit of your process for when we are working on a logo for a new client, let’s say they’re either trying to - they’re an existing company and they’re trying to re-do their logo, or they’re a new start-up, a new company and they just need a new brand presence. Before the logo design, how do you start off? Do you start off with a certain list of questions or how does that work?

SEAN FARRELL: Yeah, yeah. It all depends, ‘cause there’s a – like a company approaches me and they want a redesign of their existing logo, either a spruce-up or make it more up-to-date, I guess, that’s a little bit different but I’ll just start – let’s just say for a start-up. I do have a questionnaire and I always give it to – if anybody ever asks for it I give it to them freely. I don’t hold it and say it’s my own. It’s got a lot of questions that I need for them to answer to help me, you know, identify their needs. I think that’s just something every designer, every logo designer, every web designer should have is some sort of questionnaire kind of general feel of what their client’s looking for.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: What are some of the most important questions on that list?

SEAN FARRELL: I think the biggest one for me, without a doubt, is do you have any specific imagery that you would like to see in the logo, and the second one would be what types of logos do you like. Like a general style of what you like, and what logos of mine do you like, you know, if I can see what logos of mine they like, it really, really helps get a general idea of what to kind of design around. I think that really helps. Those are probably the two biggest. You know, the colors to avoid, I have a couple of (inaudible 0:41:34.3) ones, you know, and I can make this available to anybody who’s watching. Do you guys have like a link or an upload or anything?

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, yeah, we’ll link it up on the show notes here.

SEAN FARRELL: Okay, hold on one second.

BRIAN CASEL: No, you know, we’ll handle all that later, don’t worry about that. So how about Dribble and social media and other sources of inspiration? How do these things kind of play into your process for maybe getting inspiration, maybe getting feedback or critique from other designers?

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Dribble’s got to be huge for getting feedback.

SEAN FARRELL: It is. You know, I’ll go through the whole process. Normally like, when I started, I do a lot of research, and research is whether it be inspiration or making sure that I’m not going to duplicate this logo, that’s the biggest thing. I think a lot of designers skip that step. You know, if you go – if you’re designing a concept for a company, I think honestly if you have something ideal on Photoshop or (inaudible 0:42:32.2) or however you do it, you need to Google, you know, let’s say it’s - just anything. You need to Google that specific concept and make sure that it’s not even on Google, ‘cause I think that’s kind of the easiest way to just tell if your concept’s too simple or too, you know, broad, I guess. But I do a lot of research. Dribble I don’t ever use for logo design inspiration. I use Logo Lounge. It’s got a price of $100 a year but to me it has the best logo designers in the world on it. It really helps you step up your game. I mean, sometimes when I look at it I almost feel depressed, ‘cause sometimes, you know, I read some of the others’ work and it just, you know, you want to always kind of go higher and higher, and I think Logo Lounge is probably the best place to do it. If you don’t want to pay that, there’s Logo Pond, you know. I could go through the whole process, I wrote it down just to make sure I’m skipping any steps. I know it in my head but I probably would skip it. I do something that’s called work napping, and kind of like a brainstorm session with myself. What I’ll do is I’ll take – in my questionnaire there’s a question that asks what types of words best describe your company, or list of magic (inaudible 0:43:53.7) or whatever. I can usually grab some of those and then I’ll also grab a couple from the section of what they do. That’s probably something that’s very important is to grab let’s say they’re a social job site, you have two words right there that you need to identify : social and job. So you know, my job would be to write those down and then play off those words. I can even use my one today. And then it gets cliché because the logos have been done so many times that you’ve got to make sure that you’re going – you’re taking the cliché out and making it unique. So what I do, when I use the word ‘social’, clearly for a logo design people will automatically assume a chat logo or two heads, some kind of connecting – you know, those types of things, and then if you take the word ‘job’, I got the words like a tie, or a clipboard, briefcase, spotlight, a ladder, a door. Now some of those are very literal, like the tie is more literal or lateral than the ladder, which is going to be a very kind of out of the box type of idea.


SEAN FARRELL: Normally what I’ll do is I’ll play around with those types of ideas, I’ll start sketching possible concepts and (inaudible 0:45:23.8) and then, you know, I try to sketch a lot, I have a sketch on here three times. I will sketch for – usually off and on for about three or four or five days. I know – if anybody’s ever read any type of logo design blog, you know, sketching is vital because it gets you out of your comfort zone. If you start straight in Illustrator you’re going to go back to doing what you’re always used to doing, and that’s something that people need to realize. That was something that I used to do all the time. I used to start all my logo design projects in Photoshop at the time, and used to always go to the same shapes, the same pen points, and play with the same stuff. So sketching got me out of the box and got me to kind of go outside of what I’m comfortable with.

BRIAN CASEL: Very cool.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: I mean, and that applies to just web design too, I mean, just even wire framing…


DAVE YANKOWIAK: Just to do it by pen or pencil on a piece of paper, it’s like you could think up so many things you wouldn’t think up if you were kind of confined by the tool. There’s no tool. It’s just whatever you’re doing.

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, absolutely. I remember that when I was kind of starting out, a lot of times I would just always start in Photoshop because I just felt more comfortable using the computer. I don’t really come from an artistic background. My designing kind of came – I was first a front end developer before I kind of ventured into becoming more of a designer. I remember about two years ago when I started to really make the effort to work sketching into the process. I mean, it made an immediate impact, even just the roughest sketches of a lab just made the work in Photoshop happen so much faster, you know, it just really gets rid of that endless phase when you’re staring at the blank screen. You know, at least once you get into Photoshop you had some idea of a direction where you want to go, even if you end up in a completely different direction, at least it’s giving you that momentum, at least you’re putting things on the page that you can move around later.

SEAN FARRELL: Yeah, I agree with that.

BRIAN CASEL: So it sounds like you kind of started your work as a logo designer, and then ventured more into the web design stuff and mobile stuff, if I’m not mistaken? I mean, how about for a web designer who’s trying to get more into logo design work, or maybe they’re getting a lot of requests for logo design but they’ve kind of been focusing on web design. Any suggestions for how to kind of make the transition into logo design from other design disciplines?

SEAN FARRELL: I’ve heard – and this is just something (inaudible 0:48:22.3) web designers spot that, if you’re used to design websites, and even I have this problem, it’s almost like, you know, you take a (inaudible 0:48:34.1) canvas but then say you want to make that same painting kind of out of one inch canvas, you know, you’ve got to take – when you work in Lab it’s great because it’s like you said, it’s got blank canvas, you can pretty much put whatever you want on it nowadays and there’s no limits. But when it comes to logo design there’s such a strict guideline you have to follow, and it makes that transition so much harder.

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, it’s really a totally new set of limits in terms of complexity and then also kind of conceptually, you know, on web design you’re thinking about usability, you’re thinking about navigation, content, you know, interface, things like that. But with a logo you’re really thinking more emotion and kind of attaching different ideas to a company and branding, and these kind of things.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Or like Sean said before, how is this going to look on a bike? This logo’s going to be used on more than just a website, it’s all over the place.

BRIAN CASEL: Right. They really are two very different design disciplines. I’m not even sure that – I mean, I know that in my experience I tend to really separate the two. If I’m working with a team I would usually try to find a logo designer just for the logo and a site designer for the site and maybe have them collaborate, or if I’m doing the site we would kind of collaborate. I’ve certainly seen designers that are great at both, like Sean, but you know, I think it’s pretty common and certainly acceptable to kind of specialize in one or the other. That’s kind of interesting.

SEAN FARRELL: Yeah, I mean it’s just, you know, today I had to work out a logo that has to fit in the menu bar, and when you take that smaller canvas, your limit – your creativity is so restricted. You have to literally kind of create the simplistic form of an idea, and kind of make it unique somehow. And that’s kind of the challenge of logo design. When you get into web design, you get the challenge of making, you know not only making it look great but also making it very usable. So I think both, you know, it’s the challenge (inaudible 0:51:00.3) as well as iPhone and Mac applications and whatnot.

BRIAN CASEL: Yeah, certainly. And the size limitations, these days especially with web design clients. I’ve had a few who are now requesting the logo be compatible with the fabe icon size.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: How do you say that? Fabe icon?

SEAN FARRELL: 16 by 16.

BRIAN CASEL: Sixteen pixels by sixteen – that is so small, you know, and it’s still got to be like a recognizable mark.


BRIAN CASEL: So it takes some creativity to make those limitations work, you know.

SEAN FARRELL: I agree with that. Yeah, I mean, you know, you do have the instances where it is hard and you have to kind of think how will we tie in this branding for this logo to work, and some different avenues. Like, for example, if you had a word mark or a logo that was just – a logo type, that wouldn’t look that great for let’s say like the iPhone application icon or, you know, (inaudible 0:51:58.1) avatar and stuff like that. So you have to kind of work around some of those limitations. Everything has flexibility.

BRIAN CASEL: Very cool.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Well we can probably kind of wrap up here, but Sean I kind of want to ask how do you see your business or what you do evolving as you go? I mean, do you see yourself doing more of the Fixel thing or more of the Brand Clay thing? Where do you kind of see your business going? Do you see yourself in your living room a year from now?

SEAN FARRELL: Hopefully not this living room! Hopefully some other living room. Me and my wife have actually been talking about moving so hopefully…but yeah, that’s a good question because I try to think obviously down the road. It’s hard not to – I dream, my wife always has to contain me ‘cause if it was up to me we’d be living in Hawaii probably! But you know, I think right now I probably turn away more projects than I take at Brand Clay, and that’s a good thing. I’ve been very blessed and I’m thankful for that. I haven’t been – I would say that I’m just not a trusting guy when it comes to design, I’ve been lucky to work with people that are trusting and trust me with their projects, but I don’t think I could ever be the type to try to take a job and then try to hire someone to do it, unless I didn’t think I was the right person for the job. And so that’s kind of, I think, hindered my growth a little bit, probably as much as it has helped, you know, kind of having that same particular style throughout your entire process helps people know who you are, know what you design. I think that’s really important. But you know, when it comes to Fixel versus Brand Clay, I would love to work more on Fixel, and we talk about this almost on a daily basis, you know. There’s a lot of projects coming in but not all of them are always catered to me. Josh is the main new ideas designer as well as Vin, and so when it comes to the illustration and the logos, that’s where my area of expertise is, and I would say most of our projects are more UI since a lot of our designs are heavily UI aced. I mean, we haven’t done that many logos yet, so people don’t know to hire them or hire Fixel for logos, but when they come to my site, and I haven’t updated my site since November, but they’ll see pretty much 90% logos versus the web design and the iPhone work. But, you know, I would love to work with Fixel on a more full time basis.

BRIAN CASEL: Very cool. Yeah, I mean it sounds like you’re at that kind of sweet spot of a freelancer’s career where you really get to pick and choose the projects that you want to work on. It’s interesting, because a lot of us try to reach that level and then once we do, it’s like okay, how do we grow? But maybe we should kind of stay put and just enjoy it, you know, at this level. Obviously you can raise rates or you could do different things.

SEAN FARRELL: (Inaudible 0:55:25.8) I do is raise my rates, and so, you know, if you contact me now I’d say my rates are probably almost double than what I usually charge.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Did you raise them $10,000 to $20,000 for a logo like I told you?

SEAN FARRELL: No, and that was actually a (inaudible 0:55:42.7) but you know it’s just a lot of logo designers are people who have never – you know, if they want (inaudible 0:55:47.4) to the industry they don’t know what to charge. And I had a hard time with it for a long time, and it’s not necessarily what you think your work is worth but it’s more about what the industry thinks. You’ve got to up it and honestly I think when people see a higher price they think they’re getting better quality, and they are. And that’s what you have to realize, is if someone sees your $100 logo, more than likely it’s going to be a $100 logo, and so that was just something that I had a problem with for quite a while and, you know, I just started talking to more and more logo designers and, you know, and you guys already know (inaudible 0:56:26.0) is awesome, and they’re always willing to share information and collaborate and talk about stuff. Just like this, FreelanceJam. So it was great hearing what people thought, you know, and what people think I should charge. If I could charge $20,000 for a logo then my wife would be pretty happy!

BRIAN CASEL: Indeed. I mean, we could spend an entire show just talking about pricing and everything, actually I think one of our upcoming shows will be all about that, so that will be interesting. So I guess it’s time to kind of wrap things up here, so Sean Farrell thanks a lot for taking the time and joining us tonight.

SEAN FARRELL: I appreciate it, you guys have been awesome. I love the show, so I appreciate you guys having me on.

BRIAN CASEL: Cool, so you can check out Sean on his website brandclay.com. He’s on Twitter, brand_clay, he’s part of Fixel which is wearefixel.com and we’ll be linking up everything that we’ve been talking about tonight in the show notes.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: We’ll link your Dribble, too, I enjoy your – I follow you on Dribble and it’s just cool that I kind of see the evolution of some of the stuff that you’re putting up there.

SEAN FARRELL: Got some cool stuff coming out there in the next couple of days so get ready.

BRIAN CASEL: Nice, nice. So thanks a lot for everybody joining us on the chat, it’s been cool. A lot of conversation going on tonight.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: Yeah, awesome chat tonight, awesome chat. And sorry during the show we don’t get to a lot of the questions in the chat, we do those more during the jam sessions, but we do watch it and we kind of try to work those things in. Brian, what do we have for tunes this week?

BRIAN CASEL: So the tunes are from Dangermouse and Daniel Lupe – I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing that correctly, but it’s another collaboration album with Dangermouse. I’m kind of a fan of pretty much anything that this guy touches at this point, you know, everyone of his work, you know, he’s from Narls Barkley and Broken Bells and a few other pretty cool projects. So anyway, this one, the album is called Rome. I first found out about it through their interactive film that was put out in partnership with Google. One of the songs, so the song that you’re going to hear here at the end, they did this kind of like interactive video where - it’s pretty cool, if you go to ro.me and use Google Chrome, it’s a pretty cool, like interactive music video where your mouse movements kind of follow, kind of control the camera as you go through this kind of animated story. It’s really cool you guys have got to check it out! So Jack White is a guest on a lot of these tracks as is Nora Jones and she’s the guest on the two tracks that we’re featuring tonight. So the intro clip is called Season’s Trees, and the closing song is Black. So that’s tonight’s jams.

DAVE YANKOWIAK: It’s a cool album.


DAVE YANKOWIAK: Well thanks Brian, thanks Sean, another good show and everybody check the log in the next couple of days and Brian will answer some of the things we’ve been talking about, thanks for tuning in.

BRIAN CASEL: Alright, take care, guys.


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  1. @daveyank @CasJam @brand_clay Watching now! http://fixel.cc/mvh5Fm

  2. There’s a place in the industry for 99designs and folks who participate in logo design contests. I used to participate in those contests (back before it was called 99designs), and like Sean I eventually found it to not be worth it financially. But it did help me grow as a designer.

    It does serve a useful purpose for designers, and even for clients it fills a need. Those clients don’t have real budgets. They have a couple of hundred bucks to spend max, and if there are some young designers who need practice and are willing to do the work for what the client is offering, then good for them. It’s not taking work away from other designers. Those clients would never have picked up the phone and called you, nor would they probably be able to pay whatever it is you’d quote them.

    Everyone likes to make the blanket statement that all spec is evil, but it’s not so black and white. I think there’s a valid and non-evil place for 99designs in the world, as is the case for a lot of spec businesses. istockphoto is technically spec (photographers submit photos with no guarantee of compensation) or at the very least it’s “crowdsourcing”, which puts it in the same category as 99designs by most definitions of the term. But most designers seem just fine with taking advantage of istockphoto’s affordable images despite it being an evil spec/crowdsourcing company.

    We can’t have it both ways. We can’t say spec is evil only when it suits our own personal situations and opinions. Spec isn’t always all bad, and it shouldn’t always be immediately dismissed as a non-option.

  3. In case you missed it: This week’s @FreelanceJam episode w/ @brand_clay talking brand design, freelance biz and more http://t.co/HXMhTSk

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