The design firm name conundrum

What's in a name? A great deal when you are a graphic designer attempting to brand yourself for business purposes. Designers are often commenting to me about the difficulty in determining how to label themselves for business purposes. Others in the profession regularly post questions about the issue on online design forums.

Although I've been very happy to use the business name Jeff Fisher LogoMotives for the past ten years, I had the same struggle when first starting out in the design profession - and the challenges continued for a number of years.

When first moving to Portland in 1980, I created a simple red "jf" icon, making use of the font Tiffany, to be used on my resume and stationery items as I searched for my first design job. In the poor economy of the time there were no jobs to be had and I soon found myself taking on independent design projects from a variety of clients.

That's when I started playing with the possibility of creating a name for my design and art efforts. I came up with the term "art-werks, ink." as an umbrella name for what included my graphic design efforts, and the ink line drawings and silkscreen prints I was selling at galleries throughout the state of Oregon. The graphic was a simple image of a bottle of India ink with the top portion of the symbol creating the "A" letterform. The ink bottle seemed especially appropriate as I was often spilling bottles of the black substance all over the furnishings and carpet of my home. I had a rubber stamp made of the ink bottle icon in a circle and would often use the stamped identity imagery on business correspondence. The type was a somewhat phonetic treatment of the business name in Avant Garde.

Following the career interuption of my first "real" job as art director of a group of medical publications, I again needed to establish an image for myself for the contract work I was then doing above and beyond a then current ad agency art director position. I revisited the image I used on my resume about four years earlier. "Jeff Fisher Graphic Design" was the name being used at the time.

A move to Seattle in 1985 resulted in a lot of changes. My partner, at the time, was selling menu design and production services. As restaurant identity and menu design work began coming my way I toyed with the idea of marketing myself as "MenuGraphix." It seemed to be a little too limiting as far as attracting new clientele outside of the restaurant industry. I then introduced myself as "Ad Ventures, Ink."

Once again a pesky traditional employment situation, this time as creative director of a clothing company, got in the way of seriously making use of the new business moniker.

It was about this time that I first tossed out the name "Logo Motive" as a possible business identification. It was met with nothing but negative feedback from family, friends and clients. The name, and the created logo image, was used in one print ad and shelved. I was nearly a decade into my career as a professional designer and all felt I should be using my own name to capitalize on my design reputation.

In the late 80's I moved back to Portland and, while maintaining my Seattle clientele, I needed to reintroduce myself to the Portland market. Initially I used the previous identity with the red "jf." However, it felt dated and I soon was using a very simple treatment of "Jeff Fisher" in Kabel. About four years later I resurrected the idea of using "Logo Motive" again. In Portland the concept was met with the same enthusiasm I experienced in Seattle - and I filed the revised images away.

A couple years later I hit a design career "speed bump." I was feeling bored with my profession and probably experiencing a bit of "burnout" after working in design for nearly 20 years. In re-evaluating my professional options I determined I really wanted to focus on identity design.

The old "Logo Motive" concept came out for another look. By fine-tuning the locomotive image, maintaining the use of the font Kabel, adding "Jeff Fisher" to the graphic, and putting an "s" to what was now the single word "LogoMotive," the business identity for "Jeff Fisher LogoMotives" was born. The best thing about the business name and logo is that my target client audience is told who I am and what I do.

Had I listened to my "gut instincts" about a possible business name - instead of the feedback from others around me - I might have established a stronger, and more permanent, business image much earlier. Instead, I was my own worst, wishy-washy client. Still, the end result was worth the effort and is still chugging along the tracks after a decade of use. I don't think I'll be changing it any time soon.

© 2007 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives


Dani Nordin said...

I was actually in a similar boat when I was first coming up with my name - it's two and a half years ago now, but all of my friends told me that "the zen kitchen" was a horrible name for a design studio and that people would think I designed kitchens, or was a restaurant, or something similar. At my first networking event, the moderator even miswrote my name, calling me "Zen Kitchen Designs" - which annoyed the heck out of me, since every single person I spoke to did end up asking me if I designed kitchens. I could have made a fortune if I did!

But you know, I stuck to my guns, and kept the name, and it's been one of the best marketing moves I could make. Everytime I meet someone now, they say, "the zen kitchen... ooh, what's that?" And I get to tell them. Gotta love those easy segueways.

And for the record, I really like your business name, and would have back then.

Jeff Fisher LogoMotives said...

Dani - Good point! Having to explain your business name is not necesssarily a bad thing. It can lead to some great conversations - and potential clients.

Calvin Lee said...

Hey Jeff - Thanks for the history and showing us your progression. It's always interesting leanrning how things came to be.

- Cal

morealyera said...

Jeff, what a great read! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.