Build a Brand and Start a Movement – The Launch of Never North
Three years ago I realized that I just spent 10 years building the biggest piece of crap freelancing business you could imagine.
Crappy clients. Crappy projects. Crappy situations. Mostly bread and butter work and rarely a fun project. I was frustrated with what I built. Freelancing was supposed to give me freedom. WHAT THE HELL IS THIS
I felt this untapped potential inside of me waiting to be released if only I was in the right environment or had the right clients. I would never find it where I was looking though, I had to create it.
So I quit my life and started over from square one. I fired all my clients, sold everything I owned, and set off to travel the world working from my laptop. My dream.
I took everything I learned my first 10 years of business and spent the next 3 years hustling and rebuilding my business from scratch. I’m now working with clients I love and on projects that inspire me and make the world a better place to be. It’s still a huge work-in-progress and I’m learning, but one day I’ll be exactly where I want to be.
Never North is a journey to the top. So you can get what you want out of life and do good work. I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m fighting the same freelance demons you are and finding my way just the same.
Never North was built to be transparent and give you an insight into a growing design business so you can apply it to your own. By sharing what we know we can innovate faster and do greater work.
I thought there would be no better way to introduce you to Never North than to guide you through the entire process of it’s creation. I’ll divide this out into three posts: research + brand development, website design process + strategy, and site development so you can get a detailed look at this project from start to launch.
This serves two purposes:
- You get valuable insights into my design thinking and the process behind the making of Never North. I hope you learn something or it sparks an idea.
- You get to learn what Never North is and what it isn’t. And if it’s right for you.
Sweet. Now, let’s get down to business.
A great logo starts with research
Before starting a logo project there are a few things we need to know. Why the company exists, what makes it special, any hidden meanings, and who’s it for. Logo processes are hard to find and they usually don’t go into much detail about the company or questionnaire. To me, this is a mistake. The questionnaire contains key insights that push the logo direction in exploration. It’s important to understand where they came from to reverse engineer the process.
This information helps you connect the dots and develop concepts! So remember kids, at Never North we practice safe design. Use a concept.
First, let’s learn about the story behind the name Never North and other special meanings, what it stands for, and who’s it for. Then we can get into the logo building process where the fun begins.
What’s in a Name?
I thought it was a great metaphor for how I felt about life. Pirates are independent. They can do what they please and reap the rewards. It’s about setting sail and making up your own rules to the game.
In the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” Jack Sparrow had an unusual compass. Unlike an ordinary compass, it pointed to what the user wanted most in the world, rather than magnetic North and led them there.
“How can we sail to an island that nobody can find, with a compass that doesn’t work?”
“Aye, the compass doesn’t point north, but we’re not trying to find north, are we?”
―Will Turner and Joshamee Gibbs –
This is where the name Never North was born.
North is the conventional path. The path most traveled. The one that your parents and peers probably pushed you to go down at some point or maybe still do. The old adage get a degree, get married, buy a house, start a family, and then when you retire you can do whatever you want.
Why should we delay our gratification?
Never North is for people who aren’t okay with settling. Who want to take the unconventional path, do something different, and get more out of life and business.
Whether that’s traveling the world, spending more time with family, surfing the best waves, or designing for non-profits. It doesn’t matter. It’s uniquely you. It’s what makes you come alive.
Most people think that those kind of things only happen for the chosen few. Well it does, but that’s because those select few making their dreams a reality, have chosen themselves.
Never North is a journey and a destination. It’s a compass that can take you as far and as brilliantly as you believe you can go.
It’s the intersection of design, freedom, growth, and community. Four themes you’ll be hearing a lot about around here.
Our Purpose: Design a better tomorrow
Never North’s mission is to change the way freelance designers do business and as a result design a better tomorrow.
We’ll start by learning why we need to stop chasing money to survive and how we can build a thriving business chasing our values instead. We go all-in for projects that make a positive impact on the world and their success is our mission.
And this is how our army at Never North will change the world.
Design at it’s core is about amplifying messages. When design visually aligns with the message people hear it becomes much more powerful. When it resonates movements form.
To change the way we do businesses we need to be transparent and share information with each other. In order to innovate faster we can’t start from square one, we need to understand what someone else is doing, see the problems, and do it better. Rinse and repeat.
An Exploding Online Marketplace
The internet has changed the game. In 2006, just 6% of the world was online. In four short years it rose to 23% and by 2020 its projected to be around 65% 1 2. This means that at least 3 billion new people are going to be online in the next few years. This represents tens of trillions of dollars injected into the global market up for grabs.
Digital entrepreneurship is on the rise. More people are stepping out of the workforce 3 and starting their own businesses. The internet has removed the need for gatekeepers and people are starting to realize that it’s anybodies game. These are the people that have chosen themselves and they need designers who have chosen themselves too.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
― Howard Thurman –
There is plenty of work out there if you know where to look.
I want to share every detail of my business, learnings, and strategy so you can use it to grow yours. As you grow your business, you’ll be able to land more and more dream projects, until that’s all you do.
This enables an army of freelancers to say HELL NO! to bullshit and FUCK YEAH! to the companies and people building a better future. The start of a movement.
Never North will design a better tomorrow.
Never North is for the bold and the brave who have chosen the path less taken. At Never North we don’t care where you are, only where you’re going.
Our audience is interested in growth. They want to expand their skillsets, run a better more profitable business, be involved in projects that excite and push them, and get more out of life. They have all kinds of dreams from traveling to crafting to niche hobbies.
They’ve got some experience under their belt, but art school didn’t prepare them for a freelance career. They struggle with finding clients, knowing what to charge, wearing a thousand hats, achieving work/life balance, organization, productivity, feast/famine cycle, marketing, and being alone.
The audience comes from all kinds of backgrounds and areas of the world, but the one thing they share is the desire to do great work, live a good life, and make a positive impact on the world around them.
Never North is targeting freelance designers that are ready to do the work and make shit happen for themselves. The ones who have or are willing to say, “yes” to their dream business and start living life with purpose. The ones who treat life as their greatest work of art.
Put a face to it!
For each project I create personas based on real people I want to target to help me speak to and visualize their user experience as I design. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Joe was a designer at a print shop doing what people at print shops do. He knew he could be so much more and was at this soul sucking job for so long he forgot how good it felt to be creative.
He has a beautiful wife and young son who he’s teaching to skate. He decided that he was too old to get his glory days at an ad agency and if he was ever going to make it, he was going to have to do it on his own. He enrolled in college to get his degree, but is considering abandoning it since he gets better results from online courses and it’s more cost effective. His dream is to move to Hawaii with his family and skate and surf in paradise while running his web design business. He’s been working towards that goal and should reach it in 18 months time.
Amber loves crafting, fire spinning, green living, and Burning Man. She dreams of travel, but can usually only afford to take one short trip per year. She’s hungry for more. She’s heavily involved in her community and loves gardening, eating healthy, and supporting sustainable practices.
She cares deeply about the world around her and wants to make the world a better place. She wants to design for non-profits and build up her freelance business so she can afford to do more traveling. She struggles because her clients usually don’t have very large budgets to work with.
David has been jumping from agency to agency for a really long time. A few years ago he had his first child. He adores being a father, but the agency usually takes up a lot of his free time. In the free time he actually does have he screenprints in his garage. He has the most creative integrity and willingness to fight for it, than any other designer I know. He deeply cares about the result and doing what’s right and is easily frustrated with bureaucracy. He’s likely a better fit for freelancing than agency work, but he’s scared to make the leap for his family’s financial security and stability. They mean everything to him.
What makes Never North different (Unique Selling Proposition)?
We strive to make sure our content is insanely useful and actionable.
Most (not all) of the information out there these days is generic and watered down. While you may get an insight here and there, it takes a long time to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Never North is about fast tracking that process by going into excruciating detail about all things business, design, and freedom, so you can growth hack that shit and #win.
Our ideas are fresh and we have some extraordinary content planned. For example, we’ve arranged with a client to design and develop his brand and website online, week-by-week so you can learn and be part of the process. Live. In the kind of detail you’re reading right now with client interactions included. How would getting that kind of look into a design business help you in yours?
Nobody should have to start from square one.
Never North is and will always be community supported.
There will never be any advertising on the site. Ads clutter up the sidebar and distract from the real message. Plus, we feel it sends a message that we care more about money flashing ads in your face, than our mission to provide you with the most value possible. We want our free stuff to be better than everybody elses paid. If we do a good job, the money will come.
We want you to trust the people and companies we link to from Never North and know that we were never paid to do so.
We do believe affiliate marketing is an honest alternative to ads, so if you want to support Never North and are going to purchase something at the sites we recommend, using our link will earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. You buy something you were going to buy anyways and we get to keep the lights on over here! #win #win. We only recommend things that we use and love and these rules will never be broken.
We have a compelling story.
There are freelancing sites out there that say the freelancer working on the beach is a myth. I’m living proof, it’s not. And I’m not the only one.
This is the new rich. Of course everybody wants to be a millionaire, but moreso, we just want to experience what we think only millions can buy.
Most people think this lifestyle of mine, working as I travel the world, is expensive and out of reach… but you’d be surprised to learn how little I spend.
The journey hasn’t been easy for me and has been full of struggles and hardships which you’ll probably get to know in time. I don’t claim to be an expert, but damn it I’m on my way to making it happen come hell or high water. And so are you.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This means that the people around you determine how you think, act, and how successful you will be. It’s motivating to be around other people trying to achieve a similar goal, but they can be difficult to find.
Never North is about surrounding yourself with people who are doing the same thing you want to do, so you can get there faster and with more support.
It’s about not slaying dragons alone anymore.
Everyone else may call you mad, but at Never North you’re brilliant.
Creating the brand
Now that we know the story behind the name, what Never North stands for, and who’s it’s for… let’s get started with the brainstorming.
Sketch the first ideas
The results felt lackluster no matter how hard I tried to push it. While this felt like the obvious answer since the story behind the name is a compass, it felt empty. Unmemorable.
Never North needs to be remembered.
Create a mindmap
After all your first ideas are out on paper the next step is to create a mind map. The purpose of a mind map is to connect two unrelated things to form a unique concept.
Going back to our creative brief we learned that Never North was about design, freedom, and community so let’s start with those words. I write down anything that would represent those ideas. The most obvious answers are the best ones, but no idea is too stupid to write down. They often led to something better.
It’s easy to get some incredibly complex ideas here, but a memorable logo is a simple one. So try to push for symbols that can be represented in a basic icon.
Next to each word on the mindmap draw a small icon to represent the word or idea. This makes it easier to visually connect the dots later on.
Use all available resources
If I have someone available to do this exercise with me, I’ll bring them in and we’ll bounce words and ideas off of each other. It’s just about writing down related words and ideas, you can make sense out of it later.
I don’t always have someone to do this exercise with me so in that case I turn to image search, google, and the dictionary to help me fill out the map.
Search Google Images
I go to google image search to find generic representations of concepts that I may have missed by searching words I’ve already written down. Sometimes if I add the word “icon” I can get better concepts since they’re simple to represent.
For example: For my search of “design” and “icon” I was led to the image above. The bounding box tool is definitely design and could possibly be incorporated into the logo somehow. I write this idea on my mind map.
Check the dictionary and thesaurus
Sometimes a different word with the same meaning can lead you down a different path. So I check out the dictionary to see if any similar words sprout new ideas.
Look for alternative meanings
Lastly, I search google for any animals, colors, or other objects that may have symbolic meaning for the concepts I’m trying to produce. You have to be sure to use the context your audience would be familiar with since these things have different meanings in different parts of the world.
In my research I found the following meanings for an eagle:
- Honor, Respect, Dignity
- Owns the skies and uses powers for greater good.
- Focused on maximum results – knows when to coast and when to accelerate.
- A spiritual quest to discover and choose one’s destiny
- Seize the opportune moment or wait and miss out.
- To see with new eyes.
- Victorious, Strong, and Proud with great humility.
That is just screaming the principals and values of Never North and I love it. Birds also represent community which is another core value of Never North. Birds that fly in a flock can fly farther, faster, and more efficiently than they can alone. All of this aligns with Never North perfectly and after going through my findings I feel strongly that the logo shall be some kind of eagle-like bird.
Make it memorable
The next question is: What can we combine with that concept to make it memorable? I mean if we just do an eagle, it’s an eagle and it has meaning, but if we can make it two things in one… well that makes for a really strong memorable logo.
Looking back at our mind map we can see if we can make a bird AND another symbol in one. What icon could be made into a bird (and this is where your icons next to the words comes super handy)?
A laptop represents location independence, freedom, and designing. It’s our number one tool. You can work from anywhere in the world and in your home with a laptop.
The laptop bird is the only concept worth pursuing at this point because it feels so right. I stop brainstorming and begin focusing on creating this one logo. It’s like love sometimes, when you know you know.
Now I take it to pen and paper and begin envisioning how this laptop bird can come to life.
I wanted Never North to be bold and strong for what it believed in, but at the same time warm and welcoming.
When you look at our shortlist there is really one clear winner. This one is simple, bold, and is flying upwards and out into the distance. Which is where we desire freedom to takes us to. Up and away! The screen on the opposite side is simpler and more visual pleasing, but showing a trackpad and keyboard would make it unmistakingly a laptop.
Refine and Tweak
Now we have the overall direction we want to take the logo, it’s time to refine the idea and tweak it to perfection.
When it was time to look for fonts I had a huge realization. I should have picked the typography first and then created the icon to match it. This realization made me change my creative process, the typography was more important to get right and base the style off of than the icon. The icon should be molded to the typography, not the other way around.
When I begin my search for fonts I go to myfonts.com and create an album. Then I go through their library by keyword searches and add any font that I think might work to my album. When I have a good selection I head back to the album and see which ones stand out. When you have them next to each other it’s much easier to see the winners.
At this point, a few fonts should stand out from the rest. In the case of Never North, there was only one. You can check out my shortlist album of fonts here.
Next step. It needs some kerning. If you don’t know how to kern I recommend you play this game. Here’s my before and after for Never North.
Now that we’ve found our font we need to get the icon to match it. Putting the bird icon next to Brandon Grotesque makes it feel ‘off.’
Why? They have different ‘feels’ to them. The bird is very rounded around the edges making it a bit softer than the curves around the letters of Brandon Grotesque. We need those curves to compliment and match each other.
There’s a visual puzzle I’m trying to solve until the logo “feels” right.
The other areas that feel off are the head and the tail of the bird so we’ll work on those too.
While the perspective of the tail and the head look correct based on the lines, they don’t feel correct. The tail and the head are aligned with the bottom of the laptop. Let’s see what happens when we align them with the top?
Now, the head looks much better (not quite right, but closer) and the tail looks awful. We’ll move the tail back in alignment with the bottom of the laptop and keep the head aligned with the top.
Now we’ve matched the curves of the laptop bird with the curves of Brandon Grotesque. Our final tweaks will be to get the tail and head tweaked to perfection. So lets create some variations.
I started to get really frustrated with the tail and head because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong about it. So I reached out to one of my peers for some feedback and critique.
My friend, Vonster suggested I choose version D and simplify the head. At first I was leaning towards B because I felt that A, D, and E looked like the bird was taking a huge crap instead of a tail. I was likely overthinking things and decided to move forward with variation D. You tell me? Is my laptop bird taking a big crap on Never North? The jerk.
Simplifying the shape of the head also gave it a more eagle-like beak which better represented the logos roots.
Seek critique of your work from peers. They will help you see things with new eyes and provide a different perspective or solution. Which means the quality of your work levels up.
All of these small tweaks took hours of playing around until… we found the perfect balance.
The expression of color
You always want to design a logo in black and white first to make sure it’s simple enough to be used across all mediums. So now that we have our black and white logo, let’s splash some color on there!
The first thing I do is head to colourlovers where I begin searching some terms to describe what kind of vibe or style I’m looking for. For Never North I choose: freedom, punk, bold, different, modern, and pink.
I was drawn to a color palette that was similar to, but not CMYK. It gives it a little Never North twist to represent the unconventional rebellion side of things, but at the same time fun and uplifting.
Once I settled on that color concept, no other color palettes came close. It was only a matter of choosing the right hues now and I tried over 200 combinations of teal, pink, yellow, purple, and black to find the perfect match.
I’ve represented the color choices below in mustaches.
Pink – Hot pink inspires a more passionate, playful, and sensual love over other hues. It exudes warmth, happiness, and a love of life. 4
Teal – Blue signifies trustworthiness and reliability. Teal enhances the ability to focus and concentrate, think clearly and make good decisions, and develop good organizational skills. 5
Purple – Purple inspires creativity with intellect. It’s unconventional, individual, and original. It hates to copy anyone else and likes to march to the beat of it’s own drum! 6
Yellow – Yellow uplifts the spirits and helps create enthusiasm for life. It can awaken greater confidence and optimism. It’s the color of ideas and helps us find new ways of doing things. 7
Black – Black implies self-control and discipline, independence and strong will, and an impression of authority and power. It’s the color of sophistication and is associated with sexiness and seduction. “Black is the end, but the end always implies a new beginning. When the light appears, black becomes white, the color of new beginnings.” 8
And this is how the brand of Never North was created.
Whew. Wow. Thanks for reading all that. I hope you learned something about the process and thinking behind developing a logo. The next step is to dive deep into the content strategy, site map, web design, and overall vision for the brand which we’ll get into in the next post in this series. In the finale, we’ll learn how it was all put together, changed, and built from comp to code. If you don’t want to miss out, be sure to subscribe below!
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Now if you could please do me a favor?
The community starts with you! Let me know in the comments if there is anything you can add or improve about my process or what you learned and how it will change your own logo process.
If you know of someone who could benefit from this article please share it with them. It helps me and it helps them. Every share helps build our army to design a better tomorrow.
- Internet World Stats ↩
- The Rise of Generation C ↩
- ‘I’m Outta Here!’ Why 2 Million Americans Quit Every Month (And 5 Steps to Turn the Epidemic Around) ↩
- Color Psychology: The color pink ↩
- Color Psychology: The color Turquoise ↩
- Color Psychology: The color Purple ↩
- Color Psychology: The color Yellow ↩
- Color Psychology: The Color Black ↩