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A New Logo for
Springs of Africa

Unfortunately, there are still some delays with the land ownership in Got Osimbo that keep us from moving ahead with this project, therefore I am focusing on other projects at the moment. One of those involves some administrative work for Springs of Africa. Springs of Africa doesn't work as an all-controlling centralized development agency, but rather acts as a promotional, networking and funding platform for different sustainable community development initiatives which aim to transform and empower the life of people in East Africa. The dozen or so associated projects include schools, Microfinance initiatives, training in sustainable agricultural methods, tree nurseries and in the future hopefully also promotion of renewable energies and sustainable lifestyle. But the public profile and presentation is lacking and we would like to grow the value of the network for the individual activists. Since new areas of activity have recently come up, we also need to redefine the organization's mission and develop new structures. One of my roles in this is assisting to develop a new corporate identity and especially the redesign and restructuring of the quite outdated website. The first step towards a new corporate design was the creation of a logo and we just concluded this step. You can see the result here:

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The Idea Behind the Logo

With the rest of this post I want to describe the logo creation process, focusing first on the idea and then on the design process to implement this idea. To come up with a logo that represents sustainable community development was not that easy and it took around 2 months until I found a good idea with the help of my girlfriend Anika and Julius, a friend from church.

The first idea I ruled out was having the logo represent the name 'Springs of Africa'. Mainly because the name without any context doesn't necessarily indicate community development, but could rather stand for a mineral water producer. Therefore the logo should help clarify that Springs of Africa is not all about water, but that the name is to be understood as a metaphor. The logo doesn't need to replace the name and shouldn't be used without it either, unlike logos for commercial brands (i.e. Apple or Polo). So I decided that Africa would be represented best in the name, rather than trying to find a good symbol for it, especially because I didn't want to use a geographic representation because it didn't seem very fitting.

Still I wanted the logo to harmonize with the name and therefore I decided to use the shape of a water drop as a container for the rest of the logo, symbolizing that the water from Springs of Africa is not H₂O, but rather sustainable community development. As well as the drop being a metaphor itself for transformation - like water that flows and water that enables growth - and for the power of community - like many drops that form a strong stream - and for multiplication - like the drop which can create many ripples.

It was a big challenge to represent the human element of the work, while avoiding overused stereotypes like people holding hands. But I liked the idea from the old homepage with the open hand. The position of the hand is receiving and upholding at the same time, representing the believe that transformation happens through individuals who are empowered through training, support and community.

Springs of Africa's work is nurturing people to grow and become multipliers of a good and sustainable lifestyle. No symbol represents sustainable growth and harmony with the environment like the tree. Also the tree shows how small and weak things become large and strong over time. Therefore the tree was a metaphor which I wanted to use from the start on.

Springs of Africa is also rooted in faith, even though it isn't a denominational organization. Therefore I didn't want to use a direct metaphor for Christianity, but there are hints in the shapes and colors. The drop stands for the water of life (John 4:14), the leaves have the shapes of little flames representing the holy spirit (Matthew 3:11) and the leaves also have the colors of the rainbow, the symbol for the covenant between God and men (Genesis 9:13) and a reminder of God's love and our responsibility to protect the integrity of his creation (Genesis 1:28 & 2:15).

Shapes and Colors

So the three shapes - drop, hand and tree - represent the ideals of Springs of Africa. The colors of the leaves on the other hand represent the structure. Many different initiatives and people together form Springs of Africa. The three main colors - blue, green and orange - represent the three areas of work in Springs of Africa.

The Design Process

So far so good, once I had found an idea that I thought would work and Diane Omondi had also approved of, I just needed to implement it. Obviously it wasn't that easy to harmonize so many different elements and keep them visible. My starting point was a logo I had found online plus a basic drop and hand shape.

First Idea

Obviously that was very far from usable. First I wanted to study the hand shape. So I took a photo of my hand in the desired position. Then I extracted the outlines in Photoshop, put it in a drop shape and drew some tree branches with the Brush tool. I realized, that drawing with a mouse would obviously not cut it. So I printed the sketch, got a pencil, traced the main forms on a new paper and started sketching around (I am not very good at that). When I was relatively happy with the result, I pinned the paper on top of my iPad and retraced the forms to get a digital version.

Sketches for the Hand

The exercise taught me that the most recognizable shapes of the hand are the joints and the fingertips. But the tree looked pretty horrible so far and the drop had no interesting form either. I found that a slightly asymmetric drop shape would be best. So I changed the drop, opened the file in my iPad, put a new piece of paper over it, took a thin pen, traced the main shapes and started refining the branching of the tree. After I was done I photographed the sketch and digitalized it with the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop.

Sketches for the Drop and the Tree

Even though the tree looked much more natural now, the hand had become very unnatural now. But after replacing the hand again, I was pretty pleased with the overall shape and Diane also liked it - I had actually made a first colored version with the text from this version. But we knew it would still need a lot of refinement, however it was time to sleep on it first, I had already worked 10 hours on it.

The next day I drew the outlines of the hand and the drop with the Path tool in Illustrator. When I started drawing the branches in Illustrator, I realized it was way too tedious to correct shapes with the Path tool and I wouldn't be able to create balanced and fluid leaf shapes. So I printed it out in large again and started drawing the branches with a pencil, correcting the lines around a thousand times. I photographed the sketch again, put it in an underlying layer in Illustrator and redrew the forms with the Path tool.

Harmonizing the Shapes

The next big challenge was making the hand visible again, because at this point the branches grew directly out of the fingers and without the fingertips, the hand was barely visible anymore. So I needed some contrast between fingers and branches. I tried everything: Space, Color, Texture, Value. Nothing really worked, I tried variations and combinations of the former with glows around the fingers or reverse gradients of the hand and branches and I discussed everything with Anika (below you see a little selection of things I tried). From the beginning on I knew that spacing was the best solution because it would keep the shapes simple. But it looked odd with the outline around the fingers. After sleeping another night on it I realized that the spacing looked odd because it was just around the fingers, so I tried giving an outline to the branches as well, creating a consistent spacing between shapes and colors and it worked.

Spacing of Tree and Hand

The last step was to add the color gradients and finalize the shapes - have a close look at the differences in the branches in the image below. For the icing on the cake, I minimized the paths in the vector file by joining all black shapes and cutting the gradients to the right size to avoid the need of white outlines. The ultimate step was to run it through an SVG optimizer and create a very readable 21Kb SVG output (read here why web designers should embrace SVG).

Finalizing Shapes and Colors

The only thing missing was a nice typeface to go with the logo. After little search I decided to go with the beautiful Verlag from H&FJ which comes in 5 weights and 3 widths. I mimicked the more airy lower side of the logo with a lighter weight of the font and gave the 'of' a little twist for the fun of it. You can see the final result together with some text here:

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