This particular project has been a long time in coming and with good reason—it has thus far been the biggest project I’ve been involved with to date. I was approached by Shad Paterson who, at the time, was running a local live music promotion business called “Rock On Preston”. Shad informed me that Rock On Preston was expanding, moving away from purely local live music in Preston towards covering as much of Lancashire, and probably more, as possible. Because of this expansion the name was changing to “Rock On Promo“, to signify the venture’s new expansion into the wider Lancashire live music scene. I was tasked with producing the new brand identity, promotional artwork and CD artwork for their upcoming new compilation album: ROP3: The Fire Within.
Previous to this new release, as life as Rock On Preston, the image and artwork for the first two ROP volumes were of a much more illustrative design, designed by extremely talented local illustrator Jonny Raw.
Now, obviously, I’m not capable of producing this kind of work—illustration isn’t my field of expertise at all, which is why I tend to hire more talented people to do it for me. Thankfully, I wasn’t recruited to produce work of a similar style. Since the release of ROP3 would represent a new life as the more far-reaching Rock On Promo, Shad made it clear to me that the artwork and new brand also needed to be of a completely different style of design. Since my style is much more simple, clean and typographical, Shad wanted me to pursue this for the new ROP3 release.
So It Begins… Studying Typography & Symbolism
Since this project was going to go down a more typographical route, I figured a good starting point was to explore typefaces. Lots of them.
This is just a small selection of the typefaces we explored, there are about 4 more pages I believe. We looked at the obvious choices, such as grunge-style and chunky header fonts, to some more unusual ones, like Old Style serifs and modern sans serifs. We looked at how the different font choices evoked different images and styles. It was decided that the whole grunge-style font had really been done to death in the rock/metal scene, so we went with something a little unusual; essentially, Helvetica with a more masculine, industrial feel.
It’s called Heldustry. And it suited our desire for simplicity and minimalism perfectly.
As a slight side note, remember that there’s not really a wrong method when developing logos and identity systems. Everyone has their own approach and often that will change depending on the client and/or brief in question. Since ROP3 was, from the outset, going to be largely typographical and simple in style, it made sense for me to begin exploring that first. But for the moment, with Heldustry selected, let’s move away from typography to some mark and symbol ideas for the brand.
Again, lots of ideas were developed during this phase; it was important for me to be able to fully explore a vast range of possible mark ideas, ranging from “expected in a metal album” to “OK, that’s unusual”. Here is just one page out of about five I did.
You can see some fairly obvious metal imagery influencing these designs here. The “devil skull” idea, in particular, was influenced by the logo used for one of the world’s biggest metal festivals—Wacken Open Air. But I didn’t want to stay along the beaten path, remember that I was asked to produce something different, unusual (for rock/metal) and simple, to signify a new start for Rock On Promo, so lots of other avenues were explored. In fact, have another page:
You can see here that I was exploring more typographical options. Obviously, a lot of these ideas were open to questioning, even by myself. In my head, I thought the “typographical guitar” idea would work pretty cool.
It really didn’t.
What I did enjoy, though, was utilising that ‘O’ in the middle of “ROP”. I felt that if we could play with that ‘O’ a little more, the mark would have a nice, clean symmetry about it. It would also be wickedly simple, using only three letters with modification, and have an almost “stamp” like quality to it, or as something jewel-like and “ownable”—something you could almost hold in your hand.
After a lot more playing around and sketching, this is what I came up with:
The cog speaks of something heavy and industrial, whilst at the same time being extremely simple in principle and, of course, lovingly symmetrical. Turning the ‘O’ of “ROP” into a cog, combined with our previously chosen Heldustry typeface, really gave this mark gravitas; something heavy, bold, powerful and masculine whilst simultaneously being simple, minimal, clean and sleek. Not only that, the design of the logo is such that it is easily replicable (this design can easily be used for future ROP releases), scalable and distinct with or without colour. You could almost imagine stamping that logo onto some paper, or perhaps setting it deep into some stone. In fact, it was that last particular image that gave me some further ideas…
Thinking With Colour And Material
A complete brand identity system is not just about the logo. The logo is important, but also just another piece of the entire jigsaw. We needed to think about other things as well. Like colour, for example.
A requirement specified in the original brief by Shad was that the general colour scheme of ROP3 should be simple and very distinct from the previous two releases. As you can see from the excellent work at the beginning of this post, the first ROP volume contained mostly purple hues and “ROP2: Ropmageddon” used lots of gold/beige/stone hues. We needed to establish a colour system that could be recognisable as belonging to the “rock/metal” scene but was also different.
Two colours came to mind immediately: black and red. If you were to perform a Google search of “metal albums” and defocus your gaze a little bit, you’d start pick up lots of red and black hues. It’s a tried and tested look for the whole rock and metal scene. Black gives that sense of darkness, foreboding, mystery, heaviness… it touches on lots of metal lyrical and visual content. The reds are more about blood, aggression, the energy of metal music, the passion and creativity involved. I wanted to evoke all of these familiar feelings and concepts for ROP3 but with a twist. The answer was to use black and red as highlights, rather than the predominant colour scheme, a sort of role reversal, if you like. Black and red would be used to colour the main colour, which would be whites and light greys.
In a way Shad had already given me the answer. When I had previously asked him, in our initial Q&A session, to provide me with any imagery which appeals to him, this was one of the images he sent. A simple, typographical grunge night poster, but look at all those lovely red, black and light grey hues. In fact, this poster killed two birds with one stone, because not only did it provide the basis for the new ROP3 colour system, it also got me thinking about texture.
Texture is used extensively in rock and metal artwork. As an example, have a look on Google for “metal gig poster”, and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll find metallic textures, stone textures, burnt paper textures, scratched chalkboard textures, carbon textures and plenty more. It lends a very dirty, used, but above all real feel to the artwork. However, I didn’t just want to use textures as something to make the artwork look prettier and more “grungey”; I wanted to make it part of the whole ROP3 brand.
Earlier I mentioned that the logo I had developed for ROP3 had strong gravitas and looked like you could set it deep into some stone. This idea stayed with me so I decided to make stone texture an important part of the brand. Everything would look like it was carved out of stone or set into it. This is a powerful image, it may even evoke the phrase “to set in stone” in your mind. This is what I wanted to convey; this immense sense of gravitas, of permanence, importance, heaviness, weight and power. Superb concepts to have for a metal album, don’t you agree?
An earlier concept that also stayed was an idea for the album cover: the Fire. The compilation, after all, was called “The Fire Within” and so I felt a reference to this title, this sense of passion and energy, should be included and made part of the ROP3 brand.
The Final Phase
With these important pieces of the jigsaw in place, it was time to start developing the album artwork.
When developing the ROP3 album artwork, I kept in mind, not just the colour system, stone textures and other important pieces of the entire ROP3 brand jigsaw, but to the core concepts of sleek simplicity and minimalism. So, in my mind, what better opportunity to utilise the strict grid systems and heavy typographical emphasis that was made famous by the Swiss/International style of design. I took heavy influence from one of my all-time favourite graphic designers and masters: Josef Müller-Brockmann. You can see this influence clearly on the back cover, the inside of the booklet and on the actual CD itself. Using Heldustry and combining beautiful typographical layouts with a strict grid system presented this wonderfully simple and clean look. Combined with the minimal colour system, the stone textures (note I took the idea of stone literally, a lot of the main content of the artwork is bordered then “inset” onto a slab of stone), the elementary flames and the stampable ROP3 logo; all of this combined into a cohesive, consistent brand system that was beginning to look fantastic.
This, then, was further applied to the promotional artwork. Starting with the “Coming Soon” teaser flyers and posters.
One idea I explored and utilised in the promotional artwork was a happy lesson I learnt from Apple. I gave the actual product, the album itself, a lot of room. I wanted to make the CD the focal point. Particularly with the flyers, I made the image of the album so big so that when a person was holding the flyer in their hand it would be almost like holding the actual album. Along with the ROP3 logo, I wanted the album to feel “ownable”, something clean, simple, distinctive and attractive. Since these were part of the “teaser” campaign, I didn’t want to present an awful lot of information, but certainly I wanted to feature the album and its contents as large as life as possible.
Once the album was released, we began running the next run of promotional artwork.
More information is, obviously, presented this time but I still wanted to make the actual product itself the main focus of the artwork. I implemented shadows rather heavily to really make the album “pop” out from the poster and flyers (note: I am usually averse to using the term “pop” to describe an aspect of design, but in this instance it’s entirely justified). I wanted to make the album seem more ‘real’, something that people could almost touch and hold.
There was one more round of artwork to be developed, and that was the “Available Here” poster, to be used in any venue that was selling the album.
We went for a slightly different angle on this particular design. Shad indicated that for the “Available Here” poster, he wanted to deviate the colour scheme a little in order to differentiate this poster from the design of the others that people will have already been accustomed to for some time. So, the selection of light and stony greys that formed the main bulk of the ROP colour system was switched with red hues instead, a sort of “inversed” design if you will. Otherwise, every other aspect of the ROP3 brand system remained in full force: the Heldustry typeface, the typographical style, the prominence of the album itself, the stony textures and designated colour system. Keeping things nice and consistent.
The photos of the artwork above were provided by the very talented Shona McLoughlin.
Unleashed Into The World
ROP3: The Fire Within was made available, not just at various retail stores and venues throughout Lancashire, but also online, via the Rock On Promo site, iTunes, CDBaby, Amazon, Spotify and LastFM. In addition to this widely available online consumption, part of the plan to release the new ROP3 Rock On Promo compilation album was to also set up a “ROP3 Tour”. Bands featured on the album would be booked for various live shows throughout Lancashire over several months where, coincidentally, you would also find the album, brand and artwork available for purchase.
The photos above were provided by the immensely talented Neil Forshaw of <JAG> Photography.
The work of ‘Design By Izo’ is second to none. Extremely professional and works with you to get exactly what you want. I cannot recommend him enough and I would not hesitate to contact him again for future projects as he is reliable, talented and has good customer service skills.
– Shad, Rock On Promotions
Ian Cylkowski aka Izo
Logo & Brand Identity Design
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