My attempt to translate an abstraction into a solid identity.
I used to loath designing logos.
Once upon a time, I had to create 50+ logo options for any given client, simply because the Creative Director demanded it. Few appreciate (or remember) the mental effort and creative time it takes to make just one, polished concept. So producing pages and pages of logo variations required weeks of work… Meaning that nearly all of my billable time was devoted to 49 throw-away-ideas for the sake charging the client 80 hours and maybe winning a trophy. From my perspective, it was traumatic, tedious, and totally unnecessary.
But times have changed, and so has my role.
Today, there’s no fussy CD looming behind my desk dictating changes. Being both the Maker and the Boss, I instead work directly with my clients on the Content Services team, or elsewhere at Mozilla. This affords me the freedom to explore several, distinct ideas, instead of dozens.
So when the team asked me to create a logo for Zenko, I actually looked forward to the assignment.
Zenko is a reporting system used by Content Services at Mozilla for analyzing Directory or Suggested Site campaign data running in Firefox.
Developed by Data Scientist Matthew Ruttley, Zenko reports only aggregate numbers for several key user interactions. This data provides our team the information they need to assess the performance of a campaign, without using personal data. (Because the data is aggregated, it’s therefore anonymous.)
It’s simple. It’s helpful. It’s brilliant.
But how does one communicate any of these salient points through a logo?
The name itself provided the inspiration for this first option. According to Matthew, Zenko means “helpful fox” in Japanese (善狐).
Basically, if Firefox was an actual fox, it would fetch only the sticks you really wanted. It would sense your will, sprint into the forest foliage, and then return with perfect specimens. Finally, as an act of loving-devotion, the fox would lay them at your feet in a pretty presentation.
Although cute and clever-but-literal, this version was my least favorite. (But hey, I had to get it out of my system.)
Then I explored the notion of a report.
At the end of the day, Content Services uses Zenko to build final reports that are then submitted to a client. “Report” typically implies a text-based document that distills raw data into concrete terms. And whether they’re delivered on-screen or in a binder, we generally think of reports as things that have many, many pages.
Conversely, Zenko only pulls a limited amount of information. There are no tables of user data that reveal shopping trends, browsing history, or net worth. Just things like how many total Firefox users clicked on a particular suggested site in New Tab. Likewise, the reporting itself is limited, lightweight, and crystal clear.
Thus I envisioned a simple document that had been folded into a “Z”. With a point and tail to suggest rapid movement, the logo mark was set off-centered above the name for added interest.
While clear and professional, this option was the most boring of the bunch.
Taking a further step back, good reporting helps people solve problems.
In that sense, Zenko helps Content Services find meaningful shapes and patters hidden within basic numbers. The third option illustrates this idea by creating a recognizable, 3-dimensional icon from 2-dimensional objects; implying that Zenko helps you see what is otherwise hidden.
While a strong contender, this logo was missing one crucial element… A personality.
To that end, I decided to take another direction entirely. Something new. Something alien, even.
Word-marks can be a strong, identifiable alternative to an icon-first approach (think WIRED or Lyft). Besides, the ones that tend to work often work best with shorter names like Zenko. In this case, my intent was to communicate a particular idea through the letter-forms themselves: This is a product for higher lifeforms.
Because sometimes I do envision Zenko as part of a larger master-plan to invade the Internet Advertising industry and replace bad actors with advertisers that value user consent and control. (Okay, so maybe not an invasion, but hopefully it’s the start of something genuinely positive.)
It doesn’t take a data scientist to understand why this option wasn’t especially well received. Admittedly, my execution was a bit heavy-handed. For example, black and green don’t exactly suggest a happy invasion.
Which leads us to the final, and winning, version.
Bringing it all back to basics, I thought once more about the essential purpose of Zenko, which is to measure things. Only the thing being measured is very specific (a campaign in Firefox), and relates only to Firefox users generally. As such, Zenko is a very specific tool – one that was made just for the task at hand.
Starting with the notion of a measuring stick (like the ones I played with in elementary school), the simplest shapes possible were used to construct the letters in “Zenko.” The final result was a logo that could live anywhere, but still have it’s own identity. If somebody has never heard of it, they can at least surmise something about what it does. And if they do use Zenko, the meaning is immediately evident.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner.