Ash Renlee came to me at her wits end. While drafting and editing her first book, her platform loomed. Despite her best intentions, and multiple attempts, her site simply wasn't hitting the mark. Her brand was about the adventure and magic of story. When she sent me her attempt at a logo, she'd taken a very literal approach—combining the primary symbols of her theme into one image. There was nothing wrong with it—and it didn't invoke a mood or a world. There was no story being told. Worst of all, Ash wasn't connected to it. Yet, as she spoke I was taken on a voyage of deep blue skies and bright stars. I was reminded of Peter Pan and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Polaris twinkled on the horizon.
A Star is Born
Stories are a strange thing. I often feel them in the distance before they materialize. For Ash, I knew there was something around navigation and the stars. Googling for inspiration, I soon found myself sorting through countless images of the North Star. The brightest star of the constellation Ursa Minor, it is very close to the north celestial pole, making it appear stationary in the night sky. For hundreds of years, venturing seafarers have been guided by its constant light. Polaris was the story. This was my first attempt to capture it.
Ash was completely on-board with Polaris, just not on my boat. That vision was too tame and literary for her adventurous soul. She wanted to see the ship coming right at us, and it had to be steampunk! What if it was flying instead of sea-bound? Her brand came alive. My task became to capture it. While my prototype featured a suggestion of a ship, Ash's vision required something more detailed. The ship itself was another story in the world of Polaris, another vehicle to tell her tale. It's when the ideas spin effortlessly out from the main concept, you know you are on the right path.
Across the Universe
Ship ready to sail, the universe awaited. It was time to bring our two worlds together. Like the ship, my original rendering of Polaris was a bit simplistic. Ash thought it looked like a record spinning on a turntable. :D She had the fantastic idea to off-set the center. When I set about it, I had a vision of Star Wars and the stars in the title theme zooming at me. I was inspired to create that same sense of deep space and forward motion, while keeping clear portrayal of the steady North Star burning at the center. The last touch was another Ash suggestion, pushing the ship just out of the circle of the universe at the bottom-right—a tiny detail that created that final illusion of motion. Now her ship was sailing.
Exploring our new universe, the Polaris image-story began to unfold. A brand story is told through many smaller stories, each adding to and reflecting the larger story. It's the smell that takes you back to your mother's kitchen. The song that reminds you of your first love. The first picture of your newborn child. It's the thread that connects us to the important moments.
In platform terms that translates to wordmarks, icons, color schemes, backgrounds, typography and photography. As I said before, with the right story, the pieces tend to fall into place. There are always the exceptions. In this case, it was the wordmark, specifically the font choice. We must have gone through 100 options. I spent hours scouring the internet and creating test versions. In all fairness, Ash warned me from the start that picking the right font was her achilles heel. We went through three rounds of review before we found the right mix of Polaris, steampunk and readability. It was all deep blue skies and bright stars from there.
Every grand adventure must come to an end. Luckily, coming home feels just as good as setting off. The home port of any platform is your web site—the coordinates to which all the star-charts point. Ash came to me feeling stopped creating a web site that properly reflected her vision and professional standard. We had come full circle. Unlike before, a whole universe surrounded us. From the moment she connected with the inspiration of Polaris, the mist dissipated. She was clear about the home she wanted build among the stars, right down to the ship gliding into position.
Building a brand and a platform to reflect your authentic vision and mission can be as complicated as it is simple. It is as much a journey as writing the book. Its one chapter at a time. I really love being able to guide and manifest this vision with my co-creators. It is very much a partnership. Ash and I bumped heads often as we nailed down the decks on the template that she would carry forward. I knew it was time for me to step away. She was ready to captain her own ship. Safe travels, Ash Renlee, keep your eyes on the horizon.