2014: Moving AM General towards coherent brand identity.
Three years into my stay at AM General, I began to worry that many of the ‘tricks’ of designing for websites weren’t as effective as I needed them to be. Especially for print design projects. Resolution problems, licensing issues, bad angles, borning execution. I needed to regain the flexibility and dynamism that defined the earliest part of my design career, as the editor for the school paper.
Then, I had more resources, access to budding artists, excellent cameras (for the time) and a dedicated darkroom for photo development. Web design allowed me to cheat most of these conventional resources and fall back on google image searches as I poured over tens of thousands of images trying to find just the right image with just the right licensing permissions.
Towards the end of 2013, I invested in a mid-level DSLR camera with the sole intention of taking back some degree of control over my design libraries. Doing so created a unique opportunity to begin addressing some troubling visual trends I’d noticed with the company’s design strategy, or the total lack of one.
SPLO Design and Marketing Strategy: Before & After.
Military Training is structurally unique compared to other departments at AM General. It is one of the few if not the only one which generates sales on a face to face basis and actually requires a more traditional marketing posture than the rest of the company, which is government contract dependent.
However, over the years several things (success for the most part) inhibited a stronger visual identity from taking shape. There was ultimately no need for any. Nor, in reality, is there much need for it now. But, because I dabble, I put one together anyway.
Step 1: Constructing Libraries from Scratch
If there was one point of trouble, it was getting a hold of parts of the company’s marketing photo library. Determined, new camera in hand, I started building my own tailored to the department’s unique capabilities and access to materials.
I’m inclined to photograph nature. Landscapes, animals, sunsets, but in constructing our photo library mechanical components began to really shine as subjects for serious composition.
The subject, however, was primarily the simulator in our Byrkit street facility. The high contrast / low light imagery was a predominant subject for this iteration. The emphasis was a remanent of when I still owned an SLR camera in college where I often focused on high contrast compositions in low light. What can I say, lens flares and shutter induced spokes of light are fun.
Step 2: Typographic Considerations
Goal number one: getting us the heck away from Avant Garde as the primary typeface utilized by my department. While I won the battle I lost the war. Imagine my surprise this past spring (2017) when they installed the signage on our new facility on the north-west side of town, which features this awkward party crashing art deco eye twitch inducing letter form.
You’re probably thinking: Andrew, there’s nothing that offensive about Avant Garde. Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong. Back in high school, our newspaper used Avant Garde for its logo as well. Our arts and media magazine, Eye Candy, predominantly used it in headlines. So I hit my Avant Garde limit early.
A more serious critique:
We’re an automotive manufacturing company. Avant Garde isn’t the best fit for our business persona. At that time, we had four different variations of the same logo, which appear to be comprised of Franklin Gothic, a highly distorted, horizontally transformed Helvetica LT, and at times Univers LT. Luckily, in the years following, we became a lot more disciplined in our primary logo’s presentation and application. The Avant-Garde variant is an outlier. It’s likely a remnant from the 1980s-1990s, as some of our training booklets dated 1994 utilized it then.
A typeface best served on 1960-1970’s playbills for community theatre doesn’t quite live up to the hype of a company who’s produced one of the longest staying military vehicles in U.S. history. So no, Avant Garde isn’t the best fit for our business persona. Sorry. Not Sorry.
It no longer fit anywhere well and I needed to ground the project’s primary type based on something flashy, and something reliable. I needed to shock us away from the familiar, any piece of marketing material that was slapped together in PowerPoint, featured teal or web-friendly blues. Something.
Eurostile was a no-brainer. A geometric sans serif, time-tested, practically immortal, never quite overused (save for the errant sci-fi film franchise who had Michael Okuda as a lead designer) was selected for body text (because the sensible choice was Eras, but it’s humanistic flare didn’t quite fit my intention here).
I paired the plodding, square, dependable Eurostile with this jazzy free web font called Ailerons. The mockups of this font displayed on Behance looked phenomenal. But then, they always do.
Ailerons has awful pre-installed kerning measurements. But, I’m stubborn and font pairing for the right feel can be arduous. I took my pairing win and sucked up manually repairing the kerning on every instance of it throughout the brochure.
Post Script: I’m noticing as I look at this cover image that I slapped Gotham HTF across some decorative type hanging out in the background. Wish I hadn’t, but it looks like I was going through a Hoefler Type Foundry phase of some sort.