A Lesson for Young Creatives…

Every time I check my bank balance or make a financial transaction on my mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, I’m reminded of a brand identity solution I created for VeriSign in the mid-1990s for the sum of ~$3,000.00. Fifteen years later, Symantec would acquire Verisign’s authentication business to the tune of $1.28 billion in 2010. I was young, I didn’t have to sleep a lot, and I was starting out my business, so any amount of work at any price was appreciated.

I had recently left an in-house position at Apple and was eager to launch a career with my connections with technology startups. We met with the client in what used to be called the “mushroom” building across the way from what now is Oracle’s mega campus in Redwood Shores. We were briefed, we crafted a lot of options, and ultimately the digital checkmark was selected. It wasn’t and isn’t—admittedly—my best work. But, here’s the rub, it’s probably going to be “the one logo” I designed in my career that will be seen by the most eyeballs ever.

For whatever reason, like in the reality TV show Survivor, this logo has outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted all contenders being considered when the top brass of these mergers gathered together to discuss “what are we going to do with the brand?” I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to listen to the rationales behind “why we should keep the checkmark.” The logo has had its moments of evolution in terms of application to a product like Norton security software, and then the brand identity for Symantec itself. All the while, I’ve seen it travel from display ads to software packaging, to the sides of buildings in Silicon Valley. And I wondered to myself privately, “is this the one logo design that will be strapped to my career accomplishments—I hope not.” And then there’s my analytical left-brain saying “but it helped a small technology startup build a story over decades, and then sell itself eventually to the tune of $1.28 billion dollars”. That’s not a story many designers can claim.

There’s always the balance of what is right for the client, and what is right for your portfolio. I always try to propose solutions that accomplish both in varying degrees. The takeaway: your work may take on a life of its own, and become ubiquitous to your daily experience—can you live with what you’ve made?

Personally, both halves of my brain and I are still in therapy, we’re working it out. After aspiring to create logo work like one of my heroes, Paul Rand, while studying at San Jose State University’s design program (shout out) I have to publicly say, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t channeling Mr. Rand when I did this work, conceptually it had merit, the client liked the digital checkmark, and me well… I was young and hungry”.

Let’s do good together.


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