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Branding Case Study: How to Brand from Concept to Design

Starting a new brand involves these three steps: gathering research & goals; identifying what the brand is (and isn’t) about, & creating ways to visually communicate those insights.

1) Gather Information through Questionnaires

I had the pleasure of working with my friend Joey on his company “Hard Target Co.” Joey is an adrenaline junky who has gone from motocross, to canyoneering, to hunting to ice climbing, but from all these experiences shooting has become his passion. Joey has a vision for helping shape the shooting community in a way that focuses on the craft of shooting rather than the idea of letting bullets just fly.

After he contacted me for the project, I set up a webpage for us to use as an online desk which had forms for him to fill out. After reading what he wrote, it became apparent that the business wasn’t merely about making high quality targets , but the brand was about becoming an efficient marksman. Joey is passionate about seeing people develop skills to correctly handle their weapon and do so with the utmost efficiency, knowledge and fluidness that they can.

2) Identify Who the Brand Is (& Isn’t)

We needed a mark that would communicate the name and brand. My aim was to make a mark that communicated strength, precision and marksmanship. The hard thing about this project (other than the name :)) was the amount of marketing landmines in the gun industry. We had to go back to the drawing board time and time again because there was imagery or terms which happened to be used by subcultures in the gun industry which Joey didn’t necessarily want to be identified with.  We also wanted a mark that wasn’t goofy or looked like everyone else in the industry.

We went through several rounds of concepts. Joey wanted a mark which incorporated a symbol rather than a standalone typographic mark, so just using typography or hand-lettering for the entire mark was off the table. There were three images which lent itself to parts of the brand: an anvil, an arrowhead, and a shield.
The anvil was a strong mark but was too literal. It focused too much on the targets being made but not enough on the mission of Hard Target Co. which was shooting.
The Arrowhead communicated a sort of strength, was visually appealing, and communicated ballistics. It was interesting, in that it had a .50 caliber represented in the negative space, but it created a little bit of brand confusion in the industry. (Are you selling targets for Bows or Guns?)
The shield communicated strength and touched on the core of the brand. Many brands in the gun industry are caught up in looking tough rather than elevating their skillset. Hard Target is more about the craft involved in shooting, and also the kind of people it attracts are those who are training because of love of the sport and also a desire to protect themselves and their own.

3) Find Ways to Visually Communicate Your Brand

After the concepts were talked through and mockups were sketched, I went to designing the logomark. The logomark need be replicated not only online but also on packaging, apparel, and most importantly on steel. I wanted something that was simple enough to be spraypainted onto targets but intricate enough to recognizable.

I went with a line-art style which incorporated weighty lines. It created something professional and transcended cliches. It’s a mark that would feel comfortable in various circles, whether that be the weekend shooter, the gun enthusiast, or the weathered soldier or even around law enforcement. 

A bullet was formed in the middle from bending the top of the shield and looping it through. This was to add elements of shooting but also of fluidity to the mark. It’s the fluidness that a marksman shows which communicates the hours and practice it takes to become an efficient shooter. After the mark was finished I looked into typography which would go alongside the logomark.

After this I created a few sub-marks, and designed a color palette. I worked on tee shirts and collateral pieces, one of which was business cards. These cards were designed to be used as a target to help customers zero in their scopes and challenges their skills. I worked with Joey in getting these just right. They incorporated a 1/4 inch dot in the center, followed by a 1 inch concentric circle. A concise description explained how they were designed to be used. If shot at 100 yards away the dot and circle represented 1/2 MOA and 1 MOA (Minute Of Angle) respectively. This is a measuring system commonly used among shooters. (Something I didn’t know before starting this project.)

With the visual identity in place, I’m looking forward to designing Hard Target’s website in a few days, using the Squarespace platform.

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