Recently, I was approached to talk about the Site 3 logo by a designer who was having a look over our branding. This is an important exercise, because before branding becomes classic, it goes through a phase of familiarity that breeds the usual contempt. It’s good to check during this period if the logo is stale, and if so, to do something about it.

A good logo redesign project will include a review of the initial project cope, and then some redirection to carry the good feelings from the original design forward.

Logo design is a quite specific practice, with its own language and expressive conventions. Some good logo first steps are to pick three visual/conceptual elements to include. These can be tossed wholesale later, but to start a project, a rigid form is useful.

In the case of the Site 3 logo design, my co-founder Shardy of Site 3 Fire Arts suggested a nixie tube and a bunch of gears.

The Monogram

Monogram. So pretty. Prints so incredibly badly.

Monograms are not for everyone, but I feel like done well, they’re the best representation a group can have. Monograms are usually one-colour shapes, which makes them flexible as design elements, and cheap to print. You can get them done up as a stamp and they’ll still work.

The Site 3 monogram is the only element beyond the gears that remains in the logo. It was intended to represent a lamp filament in a nixie tube , playing on both the flames Site 3 came to be associated with, and the classic “idea” lightbulb.

The rounded S is curved, because curves are friendly and creative, and relaxed to imply a relaxed attitude. The thicker part at the top stroke is intended to convey an exclamation-mark-like excitement: all in all, this is an exciting, friendly place to be, and then the top elements are mirrored at the bottom to give a sense of coherence. The remainder of the monogram is pulled to curve slightly forward, to give a sense of motion to the form. Fire is always moving, never static.

The spiked 3 element is intended to recall the 3 in Neutra. The spike also adds assertiveness to what could otherwise be too curvy a logo: it adds some edge, which are then picked up in the mirrored half-circles at the top and bottom of the letter. A machine shop, no matter how creative, contains the potential of risk.

Original Site 3 Monogram Sketches

We chose Neutra because it resembles the modified Gill Sans face used by the TTC. The spiky 3 is a little aggressive, to offset the softness of the S, but also to link us with the Arts and Crafts/Art Deco movement in the early part of the century: Makerism is the direct emotional descendant of the Arts and Crafts movement, right down to its lack of scalability.

The monogram is intended to undermine the usual representations of The Future as very clean, to open space for theatricality.

The Nixie Tube

More refined later tube, with heavy reflections above. The suggestion of a nixie tube is a light bulb that goes beyond an idea. A lightbulb conventionally just “turns on” in a “flash” of creative inspiration, but a nixie is both hard to access - they’re Russian and need special drivers to turn on - and conveys information. Again, it is a flamboyant type of diplay, and originally “gritty.”

Grit has more than the usual amount of design difficulty. It’s hard to reproduce and looks unfinished and faux-vintage in production, and was quickly played down.

The Gears

Makerism in Toronto was originally tightly linked to the steampunk movement, and tends to be heavily gendered toward robotics. We decided to include gears as a nod toward this construction of makerspaces. In the 2012 logo, the S3 shape has been cleaned up a bit and thickened to come forward in the tube, and a glow has been added.

The Logo in 2012. Much cleaner, for reproduction. The gears are “stylized” rather than “flat”

Final Thoughts, spring 2015

A lot of the original logo for Site 3 came out of our co-founders interests - steampunk was big, along with the DIY lasercut/Wiring.org/Arduino elements of making things. The logo of Site 3 was put together to attract the attention of people interested in a flamboyant project that emphasized the sort of difference that is not, in itself, terribly inclusive. It was a success! The space eventually spun off a fire arts crew that took on Burning Man and a half-dozen other startups, almost all of whom do something with laser cutters and 3D printers.

The world in 2015 is substantially different than 2009, and Toronto now has more than ten makerspace/coworking facilities pursuing topically similar ends. Logo and brand design for a space can tell you a lot about what you’re getting when you go looking. Working on this project was a rare opportunity, and I am proud to have pursued it at the time. Next time you work on a logo, think hard about what world it comes from, then get started making the world you want.