12 April 2021

Designing The Perfect Invader website logo

Graphic design walkthrough! Not a poster, but still.

A while ago, biologist Julia P.G. Jones asked on Twitter if anyone would be up for a simple little graphic design project. I said I might be able to help.

She needed a logo for a new website about marbled crayfish. This is a subject near to my heart, since I’ve published several papers about this species and curate a website of my own that compiles as much information about the species as I can find. So of course I said, “Let me try.” Here’s the process I went through.

Julia said they were looking for something that combined a marbled crayfish, Madagascar, and a little bit of text in both English and Malagasy.

I went looking for ideas, and googled the capital city of Antananarivo, where marbled crayfish were first found. I spotted this hillside sign with condensed, chunky letters. I thought they would work well for a logo.

Antananarivo sign on hillside

I found some great colourful pictures of the city. I thought about pulling colours from the city as colours for the logo, but went for something more direct. I searched for the Madagascar flag for colour inspiration,

Flag of Madagascar

White, red, and green was a simple colour scheme, but I was a little concerned that it might be tricky to make it not look like Christmas.

I found a public domain outline of Madagascar and marbled crayfish (the latter at Phylopic), opened up CorelDraw, and got working.

I’m happy with how version 1 of the logo turned out.

The Perfect Invader logo, version 1

The outlines were clearly a crayfish and clearly Madagascar.

I liked the chunky letters on “The Perfect Invader.” The text sort of had to go on the left (west coast), due to the shape of the words and the island. The relatively straight diagonal on the right (east coast) made it harder to fit text on that side and keep the logo relatively compact.

It’s nice when you stumble upon a strong foundation early in the design process. This basic combination of shapes, colours, and text was kept throughout.

I showed Julia several options for text. In the version below, the website title in green is in a font named, appropriately enough, Crayfish.

The Perfect Invader logo, version 2

 And here is another text variant.


The Perfect Invader logo, version 3

Julia was very happy with the basic concept, but had a couple of notes.

She didn’t want the combination of two different text styles, and particularly not the pairing of serif and sans serif fonts.

More importantly, she thought the crayfish outline didn’t look enough like Marmorkrebs. So I created a new outline by tracing a picture of a marbled crayfish I’d spotted in a news story. This was the original.

Marbled crayfish against black background

To get rid of the black background, I inverted the picture in Corel PhotoPaint. Which turned the marbled crayfish bright blue!

Marbled crayfish with colours inverted so it appears blue

Then I used the trace function in CorelDraw to turn my bizarre blue crayfish into an outline, and plunked it on to the island outline.

The Perfect Invader logo, version 4

I liked the island being red, which I liked even more when Julia told me sometimes Madagascar is called the “Great Red Island.”  But Julia asked for alternate colours, so I flipped the red and the green in the version below.

The Perfect Invader logo, version 5

The taglines were too skinny and hard to read, so thickened them up in version below. I made them gray so that they wouldn’t overwhelm the main text.

The Perfect Invader logo, version 5

Julia still wasn’t happy with the crayfish outline. Crayfish are famously decapod crustaceans – ten legs! But in the photo I traced, some legs were positioned under the body or claws so that it looked like it had eight legs (two claws and six walking legs). We didn’t want anyone visiting the site to think we didn’t know how many legs crayfish had.

Julia’s colleagues sent me new pictures of crayfish. Fortunately, it was a plain background, though not quite as stark as the news photo. That plain background made it easier to manipulate the image.

Marbled crayfish

As before, I had to turn the image into an outline. I rotated the image to straighten the crayfish up to a vertical line. I used contrast enhancement to turn the image of the crayfish almost black.

Marbled crayfish in black and white

I didn’t want the white highlights – just the outline. I painted out the highlights in PhotoPaint.

Silhouette of marbled crayfish

 Then, as before, I traced my blackened crayfish in CorelDraw so I just had an outline.

I also moved the crayfish so that the edges of the animal didn’t overlap with the island. I removed some of the small outlying islands in the north. I also think I have finally solved the typeface problem: it is now compact but still dark enough to be read. Both the title and the taglines are part of the Square721 font family.


The Perfect Invader logo, version 6

I delivered both versions of the colour scheme: island red and island green. The team opted for the “island green” version below. They wanted the project to be about positives, and felt that the red could have too many bad connotations. Red is too often used to signal crises and emergencies for their liking. 

This is the final version now on the website. 

The Perfect Invader logo, version 7

If you were to zoom in very closely (which you probably can’t do effectively on this image), you might find my initials and year down in a corner.

I also did a couple of alternate versions for different purposes. One was just the island and crayfish outlines with no text. Another (below) was a “wide” version that shrunk the island down in proportion to the text. I thought it might be useful for a letterhead or some other purposes.

The Perfect Invader logo with text stretching wide to the right.

There are some little “clean up” changes I would like to make, but they can wait for another time.

The lessons here?

Design is always a process of refinement. 

It’s good to work with other people to get their feedback.

External links

The Perfect Invader

Picture of sign from here.

11 April 2021

Sunday scraps: Second book cover draft

This is another early cover concept for the Better Posters book.

Much better than my “cover that looks like a poster” effort. But more iterations were to come...

09 April 2021

Poem for my publisher

I was a little miffed when I saw this book coming out from my publisher, Pelagic Publishing.

A Natural History of Insects in 100 Limericks book cover

I was like, “Whoa. I never knew rhyming verse was an option!”

I might have written a very different book if I’d known that.

There was a publisher named Pelagic
Whose name just might have been tragic

“What's the wide open seas

Got to do with books, please?”

“Who cares? We'll still work our magic!”

08 April 2021

Respect for posters

This is what respect looks like.

"Paris 1900: The Art of the Poster" book cover

I stumbled across this retrospective book that examines the advertising posters of Paris’s Belle Époque. It includes the work of artists like Alphonse Mucha and Henri de Toulous-Latrec. 

We often separate work done for art work done for galleries or museums as “fine art” (or simply “art”) and work done for advertising as “illustration.” But with time, those distinctions dissolve somewhat. It didn’t matter that these posters were created as advertisements for products and theatrical shows instead of fine art meant to hand in a gallery or a home.

Imagine the loss if only the work these artists created for galleries was deemed worthy of that treatment. We got lucky that these works were preserved at all. We can thank French poster collectors for that.

Likewise, in academic work, we separate work published in journals or books from work presented at conferences, particularly posters. But while the Parisian posters are now recognized as work worthy of preservation, curation, and scholarship – both as a window on history and as artwork of interest in its own right – academic posters are not so recognized.

While the Better Posters book is primarily a “how to,” I hope that one of the secondary purposes is that it starts to create some kind of record of conference posters. We need more.

06 April 2021

The unboxing of the Better Posters book

 Advance copies arrived yesterday!

Better Posters book in box

Love to say more, but I have lectures to prepare!

05 April 2021

Writing a “forever book”

It's only forever, not long at all
One of the things I aspired to do in the Better Poster book was to come as close as I could to writing a “forever book.” 

I think I spotted the phrase in something written by Edward Tufte; maybe in his forum. Certainly his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1982) feels valuable more than 40 years on.

So in the Better Posters book, I tried as much as possible to think about general principles. I didn’t want to delve into the details of how to align things in PowerPoint. I wanted this book to have a long shelf life. I didn’t want it to be like the first book on poster design I reviewed in the early days of this blog: it hadn’t aged well and felt horribly dated.

I knew “forever” was going to be impossible. But I had my eye on the long game. I was hoping I could write a book that would still feel current and useful in, say, 2030. At least.

Of course, we all know that pandemic hit in 2020 and that conferences (and therefore poster sessions) as we knew them stopped. The pandemic accelerated trends that I thought might be ten years away and pushed them to now.

So it will be very interesting to see if the book will be overtaken by events. Can any book about pre-pandemic events still feel fresh and relevant in a post-pandemic world?

We shall see.

Related posts

Review: Scientist’s Guide to Poster Presentations

04 April 2021

Sunday scraps: First book cover draft

“The cover should look like a poster,” my editor said.

“That’s... a completely logical idea,” I said.

I mocked up this.

Needless to say, this is not a very good book cover. I doubt I would have sold a single copy if this had been the cover. This is why you work with professionals, people!

02 April 2021

Rejected blog names

For a while, I thought about whether I should give the Better Posters book a different title. Ultimately, I decided it made sense to keep the phrase “better posters” as the title. Enough people have visited this blog that I thought it made sense to keep the little itty-bitty brand. 

But if things were a little different twelve years ago, I might have a different title for the book.

Poster Bliss
This blog almost got called Poster Bliss instead of Better Posters.

One of the big inspirations for this blog was Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen blog. I liked the idea of trying to do for posters what Garr was doing for presentations. And that led me to think about naming the blog similarly to Garr’s: [Presentation form] [Word indicating calm and enlightenment].

I kind of liked the title (still do!), but I decided against it. From imperfect memory, I thought it was maybe a little too presumptuous and ambitious. Plus, it was a little too similar to Garr’s blog.

That Mike Morrison converged on the phrase when he created the #BetterPoster hashtag on Twitter was kind of proof positive that the phrase was a good one – even if people sometimes muddled his efforts and mine!

I think “better” ended up encapsulating the spirit of this project. I’ve said from time to time that this blog isn’t Perfect Posters or Excellent Posters, it’s Better Posters. I never try to destroy someone’s style, but I try to find ways to improve what is already there. It’s just about trying to make posters a little better than they are now. Constant improvement is the samurai way.

01 April 2021

David Tennant in places where he shouldn’t be, poster edition

Better Poster book cover with David Tennant added

Happy April Fool’s Day!