Apollo's Echo

Meet your trendy graphic designer from, er, the Middle East

I’m old. Born in 70’s, I have difficulty understanding the later generations, and it’s not limited to understanding younger Australians (which being a foreigner and not having a shared cultural history adds to the complexity), even in Iran understanding the youth was difficult for me. Note there’s no negative undertone to my words; younger generations are way different than me and experiencing a different world from what I saw as a kid. They see and so think differently.

Now, why I’m bringing my midlife crisis into the business of design? Because I want to say it’s very challenging for an old, Middle Eastern guy to design a logo for an Australian musician perhaps a decade younger than himself. Remember, I’m coming from a country which western pop music is officially illegal.

I remember as a kid in Tehran, my older cousins used to party with the 70’s disco music, but they had to dim the lights and hang blankets behind the windows so the police and militia won’t notice there’s a party going on and arrest them. Of course, unfortunately, we were not that lucky, or careful all the time and sometimes we ended up running on rooftops and throwing drink bottles to neighbour’s yard in the middle of the night, removing “evidence”.

Apollo's Echo logo

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These ordeals are certainly not good CV bullet points for designing a logo for a Canberra based trendy musician.

Appolo’s echo is a Canberra based growing music project by drummer Mark Levers and his friends.The focus is on 70’s pop and soul classic vinyl as well as making their own original music.

It would be too easy to put some visual elements of the disco era to create the “retro look”, but I tried to re-interpret the 70’s and create a modern look for a living band in the 21st century, not a mimic of dead people of the 70’s. In addition to the challenge I’ve made for myself, I had also a real challenge: the name is too long and hence difficult to put together visually.

I’ve made various typographic manoeuvres for creating a balance of positive and negative space but none of them satisfied me. Also, I wanted the design to be risky and alternative to common conceptions of a pop music band. Australian younger generation — from my own observations — like design to be edgy.

Back to the question of negative and positive space in design, I decided to use a blocky typography so the words can fill each other’s negative spaces and interwind. Also, the Hellenic, enigmatic name evokes the feeling of deliberately being difficult to understand, like a maze or riddle.

Apollo's Echo CD design

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Interestingly, there is an ancient Persian typography technic named Bannaei script, which has the very same specifications; geometric, maze-like, enigmatic, black and white, and with a uniform line width. It used on buildings and put together by mosaics of the same size, and that’s the origin of the name “Bannaei” (Masonry).

So I’ve created this typography for the logo which I think I think is edgy enough for a Canberra based band, a logo with hidden, ancient Asian identity under its skin, and modern and minimalist like circuits of a chip at the same time.

I dislike irrelevant and out of context usage of foreign cultural elements as much as I dislike the fake “retro” design which is prevalent these days. But this design really happened organically and not because of my background. That’s why I like it. To me, it is very Australian indeed. A beautiful, organic mix of the best of the different cultures.

So here you are; your trendy designer from the dusty streets of the angry Middle East.

Brand refresh: Myson Home Appliances

 

Client: Myson
Field: Home Appliances
Task: Complete branding overhaul
Year: 2003
Keywords: Bilingual Typography, Rebranding, Home Appliances, package design

Challenge

Myson home appliances used to be private label brand with problems in design coherence and visual appeal. The client needed a brand communication strategy that would help them stand out among the many other products in the market. The budget was minimal and because products had a variety of sources, keeping communication consistent was difficult.

Logo, old and new
Logo, old and new

Solution

By phasing out the archaic and generic old logo, and emphasizing the human factor and comfort that the brand will bring to its audience, I changed the logo and designed a new, uniform design language for all packages. By providing a flexible and scalable design, I helped the client provide designs to a multitude of OEMs across the world electronically and avoiding print and design errors.

Results

Myson is now considered a respectable brand in the target market and sits comfortably beside reputable European and Japanese brands that have considerable advertising budgets.

Avoiding “bullet-point” marketing communication

Usually, a home appliance package has several lists of product features and “selling points” in a flat hierarchy that are presented by bullet-points. While informing the customer about the vital specifications is necessary, by removing the unnecessary “bullet-point” marketing copy and focusing on a verbal communication style, focusing only on what’s important to the customer, I created a clean, clear and different package that stands out on the store shelves.

 

 

 

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Brand refresh: Owner writing instruments

Field & Country of Origin: writing instruments, office supplies, South Korea, China and Taiwan

Target market: Southwest Asia
Task: Identity overhaul, package design, typography design
Year: 2005 — 2014

Background: In 2005, whenIwas introduced to the project, the brand had about 5 to 6 products in its portfolio. The overall looks of the logo, packages, and copy were so unattractive that improving them by minor changes were impossible.The following is a selection of activities that lead to persuading the decision makers to accept redesigning the brand from scratch — which usually is a very difficult decision to make for stakeholders, considering the significant investments already made in brand positioning, production, advertisement and mind share.

The brand and packaging before overhaul
The brand and packaging before overhaul

Research and defining brand essence: The project began by studying competition; by collecting product samples from the market and creating a virtual store with the competitors’ products to see how our products compete on shelves, collecting competitors catalogues, studying their visual identities, positioning, product range, and by collecting data from their websites, shops (using client’s sales force as surveyors that visited almost all the country’s shops on a regular basis) tried to get an understanding of the competitors brands and their position in market. By creating questionnaires, and studying company staff attitudes interesting discoveries made; for instance, management was stunned when a small questionnaire, asking all the staff to name their own four favorite brands revealed that nobody in the company mentioned their own brand’s name as their favorite, except the sales director. By creating a map of the players in the market, in hope of finding gaps that brand can fill, it became clear that the strongest advantage that the brand had, was being relatively competitive in pricing. It was the least desired approach to communications — So, after studies and discussions with the client, it’s been decided to position the brand as “a brand of good ideas”, by never directly communicating that the brand is cost effective, we stated that we have good ideas for “everyone”.

Position of brand among competitors
Position of brand among competitors

By communicating the friendliness of the brand an emotional connection with the buyers created meanwhile, gave the brand image some extra room for maneuvering because being a friend of good ideas can have many interpretations that can open a world of creative opportunities in design and communication. During the process, any sub-brand name the company used to have dropped, because initially the offerings were too thin and the best strategy was to avoid over-stretching the brand with confusing naming. It took three months to persuade the client to change the logo to the new one, and change the color from black to red. Package design: By creating an honest, transparent-looking design that showed the product just like they are, the connection to brand values communicated. The new packaging system was a success and gave the green light from management to continue changing every package brand had.

Old Logo

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Old Logo
New Logo

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New Logo

Logo Redesign One of the technical challenges was, due to manufacturing limitations in writing instrument industry, the logo must be very easy to engrave by stamping or laser, print in one color, and etch on very small surfaces like a pen clip.

Outcomes: Due to the positive impact of the brand overhaul, from 2005 to 2010, sales increased 2.5 times and product portfolio increased to more than 100 items. In addition, the brand secured the number one place in mechanical pencil lead sales in the region.

Brand consistency & strategies for reducing time to market: One of the biggest challenges of working on the brand was keeping the message consistent across all mediums and more than 20 OEMs from South Korea, India, Hong Kong and China to create consistent color, layout, and communication, which used to be very difficult for the management. In order to reach consistency, a brand identity guidelines created and distributed among OEMs, PDF used for throughout the entire approvals and production process, all communications done electronically, instead of using air mail, colors proofed using Pantone® system and 3D renderings created for prototypes and used in catalogues for pre-ordering around 6 months before even the actual production began.

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Brand refresh: Hansa

Hansa: Merging 3 brands into one
Field & Country of Origin: Writing Instruments, Promotional Gifts / Hong Kong
Task: Identity overhaul, package design, Typography
Design Year: 2005 onwards
Keywords: product development, package design, bilingual typography, branding, brand refresh

Challenge: Back in 2005, the company that owns the brand, faced tough competition and a fragmentation of its product branding and identity. The company owned three brands, all active in gift and premium market and they all suffered from poor, inconsistent branding communication.

Solution: I got involved with their project when they asked me to design a catalog for Hansa, which eventually led me to persuade them not only to change the branding communication system but also, abandon their two other brands and merge their product lines into one.

Logo, before and after the transformation
Logo, before and after the transformation

Results: It was a very tough decision for the traditional, family owned company; however, the results were astonishing. After a year, Hansa sales increased by 1.5 times and it became the number one gift brand in the region. The brand has hundreds of products in its portfolio. All package designs were done and sent electronically to various manufacturers in Hong Kong. So, I had to find a way to keep all things in harmony, while keeping the costs down. A two colour (black & silver) uniform design agreed with the client. Some of the items in this picture are sold as low as 1.5 USD, but in terms of positioning, since we changed the brand image, costumers see this brand on par with major premium brands.

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