In April of 2013, Nate Reusser asked me to develop a new logo for his web design firm. Reusser Design was passing the 15-years-in-business milestone and needed a fresh look to match the ways the company was evolving.
I was thrilled to get this call—designing for a creative firm is a real treat because it usually means pushing some limits with creativity and design. The project began with a fairly loose design brief. The main directive: play around with the “R” for the icon. Keep it clean. Use white, black and cyan-ish blue.
Simple enough. Below are some of the early ideas that got fleshed out.
The “star” logo seemed to resonate the most with the team, so it became the winner from the early design drafts. After refining the forms of the logo and fleshing out type and brand standards, we developed the stationery suite and explored additional livery executions. Reusser even developed a new website using the star icon, which was live for about six months.
As we were ready to pull the trigger on the business card printing, however, Nate seemed restless. Something was off; something was missing. After a heart to heart, he explained that the star logo just wasn’t working out. The democratic process that lead to its final form had created a cool icon that everyone liked, but no one really loved.
To be honest, I felt it, too. It wasn’t a bad logo, it just wasn’t right for Reusser. There was a lack of real meaning behind it. The best branding is always emotional; it needs tell a story and have a deeper meaning that resonates with the audience.
With that in mind, Nate asked if I was interested in another go at the design process, and this time we’d dig deep for some inspiration. I was all in.
Legend has it that the founder of Berne went on a hunt and the black bear was the first animal he encountered. That bear became the symbol for the region.
Nate Reusser’s family is of Swiss decent, and Nate can trace his lineage all the way back to Berne, Switzerland in the 1600s. That’s an impressive heritage, and not many folks can trace their family back so far — or at least not many take the time to do it.
It was in Berne, Switzerland that Nate found the inspiration he was looking for. Legend has it that the founder of Berne went on a hunt and the black bear was the first animal he encountered (and subsequently killed). That bear became the symbol for the region — a black bear against a diagonal yellow stripe in a red square (sometimes it’s placed in a shield shape, too).
Side note: Drive through Berne, Indiana and you’ll see this bear everywhere. The town’s founders were of Berne, Switzerland ancestry, and the community has drawn upon the old school German style. Nate has family in the town, too.
It’s worth noting that the country of Switzerland has very strong ties to the design profession. As you’ll see below, one of the strongest, most iconic and prolific design aesthetics of the past 60 years was born in Switzerland: The International Graphic Style, or The Swiss Style. This gave me a vast trove of inspiration I was all too happy to draw from.
So, with the new brand inspiration in mind, our new design challenge became to modernize the Berne bear and infuse it with Reusser’s clean design aesthetic.
The first step was to figure out the style for the bear icon. Just the head or the whole body? A silhouette? Outline? Would we closely emulate Berne’s somewhat awkward bear image (you have to admit, the bear is quite strange), or would we completely depart from the artwork and create an entirely new bear shape/icon?
Here’s a look at the progression of the icon from early stages. The early concepts kept producing an odd wolf-, leopard- or dog-like shape. Some of them resemble a hulking monster. The shapes that did come out looking like a bear felt more like an outdoorsy camping brand than a design firm.
In the end, however, we realized that we needed to stay as close to the original bear as possible. Otherwise we'd lose a clear connection to the heraldry. I worked and reworked the bear’s proportions to 1) make sure it was clearly a bear, 2) give it the same movement and presence as the original Berne bear, but 3) without the awkward proportions. The bear was tough to nail, but our final solution was looked powerful and strong, but not deadly nor scary.
There’s a friendly courage in the icon, and that felt right for the Reusser team’s forward-thinking approach to web development. Notice the "roar" lines coming from the mouth — I loved them, but the Reusser team voted them out.
Next up, typography and layout. The Reusser team gravitates toward simple, sans-serif typefaces, but we did experiment with some classic Swiss style serif fonts in a few logos. However, how can you create a logo that is based around Swiss heritage without using Helvetica — the ultimate Swiss-born typeface that exists at center of the International Design Style?
There’s a lot of discussion in design circles — even controversy — around the use of Helvetica these days. In the 60s it was revolutionary, but now it’s perhaps the most ambiguous, utilitarian typeface around. You see it every day, and lots of brands use it (from national brands like The Gap, Crate & Barrel, and FedEx to your neighborhood plumber). Within its ambiguity, however, lies a lot of strength. It’s adaptable to any use and, with proper care, the typeface can be nuanced and fine-tuned so that it shines in any application.
I especially love the ultra thin iteration of Helvetica Neue (the most modern and unique version of the typeface, in my opinion), and that’s what we used for typesetting the Reusser logo. Really, there was no other choice. Helvetica is the essence of modern Swiss design through and through. Helvetica Neue Thin modernizes the heraldry-inspired icon and portrays an appropriate degree of tradition and dependability.
The logo is typeset in Helvetica Neue Ultralight with a hairline stroke added to the characters to enhance readability and scalability. The corners were rounded, too, to give the logo a unique softness.
Helvetica is actually Latin for “Swiss,” and Helvetia means Switzerland.
Moving on, to keep the storyline strong, we wanted to stay close to the Berne canton flag, but with updated colors from Reusser’s palette. We toyed around with adding a third color, but decided to keep things simple with grey and blue. Of course, the old Reusser logo as well as the star icon used pure cyan. This time around we decided to specify a near-cyan blue from the Pantone swatches that had just a hint of green. It’s a unique color that the Reusser brand can own.
The work is now done and the logo had a soft launch in the autumn of 2014. Here’s a look at the final logo and some visualizations of its use from the design process.
Nate reports that, in the half-year since the mark's introduction, the bear has been a great conversation starter. "What's with the bear?" is a very common question from clients and colleagues, and this creates an opportunity to share a memorable story — exactly what we hoped it would do.
When any company asks a designer to develop a logo, they are giving that designer a lot of trust. In this case, not only was I asked to design a logo for a company that had been in business for ten years, but this was a family name with roots that are traceable for centuries. No small task.
Reusser’s bear logo is the result of close collaboration with Nate — he kept this one close to the heart. At important milestones, he included his team to guide the decision making. The end result is a design that’s very personal for Nate, but can be owned by the whole team, too. I loved the collaborative process that created this logo. And best of all, this branding has a story to tell.
Reusser is being very judicious with their roll-out. You’ll see that the logo is modestly placed on their website, business cards and other livery. There’s no fuss to it, and no great lengths to explain it. In many cases, the words “Reusser Design” won’t even be present — the shield logo will build equity and stand alone in our market.
This design will inherently encourage questions and conversation and, in the end, have meaning that endures in the minds and hearts of Reusser’s clients and collaborators.
You can see Reusser Design’s work and read more about the history of the Berne canton at ReusserDesign.com.
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