Democrats embrace alum’s logo design

By Lisa Schulz

Some would say the skyline of Charlotte, N.C., could evoke a thousand words. One Columbia alumna took the challenge, translating those thoughts into a campaign logo that will eventually meet President Barack Obama’s eye.

Kelly Koeppel, a 1997 Art & Design alumna, submitted a proposal to work with the Charlotte 2012 Convention Host Committee to design its logo for the upcoming Democratic National Convention through k2forma, her boutique design, advertising and marketing agency. Designing was in partnership with Wray Ward, a creative marketing communications firm. At first, Koeppel’s agency was fulfilling a client’s need for a logo, but it quickly expanded.

“It’s such a huge task,” Koeppel said. “We’re not just doing the logo, we’re doing the entire brand experience for the whole Democratic National Convention—the banners, the T-shirts, the mugs—the whole experience. No one in Charlotte has ever done anything this big.”

The design was developed by both firms and then submitted to the committee, host committee members, the Democratic National Committee, mayors and through the political change to the president, Koeppel said.

According to her, the logo tells a story of the city through words about its architecture that are stacked into shapes that mimic the city’s skyline. The Host Committee suggested one sentence be hidden amid the jumble: “Charlotte is a clean, beautiful city with a high quality of life where you will find comfort

and hospitality.”

The logo was chosen from a contract bid submitted to the Host Committee from a number of creative agencies, said Suzi Emmerling, the committee’s press secretary.

“The skyline is always changing,” Emmerling said. “Part of the logo we were looking to design would be a snapshot in time. This is the skyline in Charlotte in 2012. In that sense, it’s definitely a snapshot of this city in this moment of time.”

The project picked up a number of errors and undesired changes through working with multiple people in different firms, Koeppel said. A style usage handbook was created to maintain the correct implementation of the logo when transferring it to T-shirts and mugs.

There are marks for correct coloring and sizing available to any vendor who is going to use it. Most processes have series of approval when using the logo, she said.

“For the most part, for a project this huge, there’s a certain amount of control that you just can’t manage,” Koeppel said. “Even now, we’re finding that they’re picking up logos and combining things and using them in ways they should not be. It’s hard to control every single thing. It’s just so big that there’s no way.”

Other challenges she came across were in her own designs because it was easy to develop a design technique without considering fresh ideas, Koeppel said.

However, taking a workshop by graphic designer Milton Glaser and traveling helped her compare work to the art of those around her.

For students, logo design can be a great way to jump-start a professional career when establishing a relationship with a client, said Kay Hartmann, associate professor in the A&D Department. Working with a client can be challenging because fulfilling their wishes and needs can conflict with the designer’s opinions, she said.

Students should weigh the monetary value of a client’s logo project against its time consumption, since hundreds of options could be submitted, Hartmann said. She had her own graphic design business and suggested students looking to create their own agencies should first work for another firm.

“Consider the balance between opportunity and exploitation,” Hartmann said. “Having your designs accepted is always a thrill, but working for very little financial compensation is not.”

Koeppel had to turn down client work to follow what she desired to do most after she began k2forma in 2007 during the recession, she said. She had a fine art concentration and considers herself to be a painter, which brought out certain techniques and composition that made her stand out from other graphic designers, she said.

“Overall, my experience at Columbia just had such a profound influence on more of the big picture,” Koeppel said. “How I pursue education and how I pursue art and continue to read and think and learn and explore, rather than assuming this is a one-and-done proposition … I always felt that when I was at Columbia, your education was up to you. It was up to you to make it what you want it to be.”