Branding Step Two: A Face for Shiba Ramen

Last summer, with the aid of the state bureaucracy and a small filing fee, we breathed life into Shiba Ramen Corporation.  Just like that--poof--a California S corporation was born.  With corporate personhood thus achieved--yes, non-lawyer readers, corporations are people, too--Shiba Ramen needed a face.  So we set out to give it one.  Over the next few posts, I'm going to explain, step-by-step, how we did it, from our initial inspirations, to the various prototype logos we considered along the way, to the last bits of fine tuning before we finally said, "this is it!"

Mon  of the Tokugawa Clan.  The Tokugawa consolidated power over feudal Japan in 1603 and their hereditary military dictatorship--the Tokugawa Shogunate--ruled Japan until 1867.

Mon of the Tokugawa Clan. The Tokugawa consolidated power over feudal Japan in 1603 and their hereditary military dictatorship--the Tokugawa Shogunate--ruled Japan until 1867.

Vague Ideas

In Branding Step One, I explained that our shiba inu dogs were the central inspiration behind the name Shiba Ramen.  We knew from the start that we wanted to feature the shiba in our logo.  These very Japanese dogs have a unique look: pointy ears, curly and bushy tails, and distinctive coat markings.  They're at once cute, elegant, and noble.  Beyond saying something personal about us, having a shiba in our logo would give people an easy piece of visual imagery to associate with and remember our business.  

Now here's the thing.  It was clear to us that a delicate balance must be struck.  There are risks in having a logo that's too "doglike," especially for a food business.  There are also risks in having a logo that's too cute.  We needed a logo that captures something essential about the shiba inu, all while keeping a design aesthetic that represents the overall look and feel we want to project for the business.  Our view was that some kind of abstraction of the shiba's distinctive shape was probably the right way to go for us, but that something more on the cute side was a possibility.  

So there was a vague vision in place, a sense of the right aesthetic.  How do you then translate that into a product you're excited to go forward with as the face of your business?

Mon.    Traditional Japanse family crests.

Mon.  Traditional Japanse family crests.

Japanese Influences

While we looked for a designer to help us, Hiroko spent some time mocking out a couple of rough ideas.  She used Open Office to draw out some designs that might help set our initial direction.  Hiroko thought that something based on a traditional Japanese family seal--a mon--might be a good direction to go.  

Mon originated as heraldic crests of the feudal Japanese nobility, and were gradually adopted by the rest of the population.  In terms of designmon are always monochromatic, usually round, and often characterized by geometric symmetries or the use of nature imagery.

Mon    logos . Sushirrito uses a modern and more colorful take to nice effect (left).  Mitsubishi uses an actual family crest (center).  Berkeley Bowl uses a  mon  made of carrots.

Mon logos. Sushirrito uses a modern and more colorful take to nice effect (left).  Mitsubishi uses an actual family crest (center).  Berkeley Bowl uses a mon made of carrots.

It turns out that some well-known businesses actually use mon-inspired logos.  Examples include Mitsubishi, which uses the Mitsubishi family three-diamond mon (the word mitsubishi literally translates to "three diamonds").  Here in the Bay Area, Berkeley Bowl (home of the most glorious produce section I've ever seen), Sushirrito, and Monterey Market all use mon.  

For our purposes, we wondered if we could capture the essential features of the shiba, heavily abstracted, in the style of a mon.  Hiroko sketched out a very rough idea of representing the shiba's ears and tail in the style of a mitsudomoe, a mon that looks like three comma-shaped swirls, and is a fairly common design element in Japan.  The result looked sort of distorted and extreme, but we thought it could be viable in the hands of a trained designer.  I asked what my good friend Angel thought, and she likened image to "spiky whale sperms."  This logo was going to take some working through.

Can Somebody Help With This?   Our rough first draft modified the swirls of the  mitsudomoe   mon  to represent the shiba's curly tail and pointy ears. 

Can Somebody Help With This?  Our rough first draft modified the swirls of the mitsudomoe mon to represent the shiba's curly tail and pointy ears. 

Know When You Need a Professional

Obviously, we needed a professional to work with us.  We don't have any graphic design training, but that's not too important.  What's important for us as business owners is to be able to find the right person for the job, make sure that person understands where we want to go, and then having a good sense of what we like and don't like when we see it.  And we need to be able to give the designer good feedback along the way.  It's up to the designer to mock everything out and then go through iterative refinements en route to the final product.

We weren't sure where to go to find the right designer.  We're obviously budget-conscious as a brand-new company with a lot of costs coming down the road, so we couldn't go to some established design firm.  We needed an individual who could work with us on a freelance basis, and who would be willing to get to know us and get a bit immersed in the broader Shiba Ramen project.  

We briefly considered crowdsourcing our logo--you can set up online competitions where you post your project and the price you're willing to pay, and designers from the online community will submit designs for you to consider.  This could be convenient, but we really had no idea what to expect in terms of quality or service.  We would be more comfortable if we had an actual collaborator and a face-to-face dialogue.

Pointy Ears, Curly Tail.   Can someone please turn this into a sleek and effective logo?  Toro in Mountain View, CA.

Pointy Ears, Curly Tail.  Can someone please turn this into a sleek and effective logo?  Toro in Mountain View, CA.

It was our great fortune that we found one on the first attempt.  We were introduced to the very talented Misa Grannis by my friend Angel.  When I looked at her website, I learned that she's half-Japanese, speaks Japanese, studied in Japan, is a designer and architect-in-training, and lives right here in Oakland.  Misa had been a bridesmaid in Angel's wedding just a few weeks earlier, so we'd seen her face-to-face before (she'd given a very sincere toast to the happy couple).  That kind of thing--having seen someone live and in-person--is actually important when you're looking for somebody to help you with a job that's as personal as this one was to us.  

When I contacted Misa, I learned that she was an even more qualified candidate than I'd first thought.  She's eaten a ton of ramen, and knows it pretty well, and she loves shiba inus.  Based on everything we'd learned, we realized that there couldn't be a more perfect fit for this project than Misa.  We were pretty sure we were going to hire her even before we met with her, and we never thought it was necessary to talk to anyone else.  She got the job.  And we got off very easy on our designer search.

In the next post, I'll show you how Misa tried to work a shiba into the mitsudomoe mon, along with the other avenues we pursued before making our decision.