The Chinese Room logo - the creative process

Hello all!

If you bought the Landmark Edition of Dear Esther (released 20/09/2016), you might have noticed that The Chinese Room's logo was looking a little different...

Dan & Jess (co-founders of The Chinese Room) asked me to rebrand the company a few months ago. As we're a small indie studio, we don't necessarily have the resources financially to outsource graphic design, which is why it's helpful when one of the artists (yours truly) knows some of the basic principles. I've done a bit of branding work in the past with a variety of companies from different industries but this rebrand was a bit different. I'm used to working for clients to create their vision through the artwork I create to establish the brand. In this case, the company I work for, make games for, love and respect required me to take a much more personal approach.

Let's jump in and take a look at the old logo -

The logo was designed by a local Brighton graphic design studio about 4 years ago. It works well as a logo, but as The Chinese Room has grown and changed, it wasn't sitting right as the visual to represent the studio. Red and black are very heavy colours and triangles are quite harsh and sharp. The overall logo is very masculine and corporate - exactly what The Chinese Room is not.

So I began my goals for rebrand -

•    Make the logo less masculine

Sure, it was a good place to start. Especially as it was coming to the end of development for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, there wasn't much time to make huge changes that would take time away from my production schedule. We make games and it was feeling as though the game should take precedent.

So I made the logo fit with the colour scheme for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture to get away from the heavy black and red that predominate.

After we had finished development on Rapture, there was some time to revisit the brand. Originally I started with something very similar to the existing logo.

I wanted to get an idea of how far we would want to go with the logo or if adapting the existing logo would be enough. To stick close to the old logo is simple - people (the wider audience) already feel an affinity to it; it's strong, recognisable and different; it would take a lot more time to do a complete rebrand.

At this time, I looked at ways to use iconic colour palettes from each of The Chinese Room games. The colour palette could be used as a common thread which links the logos and allows the studio to branch out to other iconic elements from our games. This would mean we could generate our own string of merchandise for games that we haven't self-published.

It was a good idea, but it still wasn't right. Dan and Jess were keen to try something completely new, now that Rapture was done, now that we've moved office, now that we're employing new people, it felt like the right time for something fresh.

So now I had a few new goals -

•    Create a new logo for The Chinese Room to replace the old logo
•    Rebrand the company - digitally and physically

Creating a new logo for a company comes back to the core values of said company, as well as where they see themselves going in the future -

•    What are your core values?
•    How do you want to be presented publicly?

Starting from scratch I like to establish buzzwords for what I want to evoke through the visuals. Buzzwords that represent what I feel about the company, how the company is spoken about from the employees and how the founders see the company. I did some research and had lots of conversations with everyone to establish what the core values are.

So what are the core values of The Chinese Room?

Non-linear storytelling
Unique stories and experiences
Authentic characters
Beautiful, thought-provoking storytelling, music and environments.
Environmental storytelling
Rich and intriguing worlds
Discovery, immersion, wonder
Music that supports narrative
Narrative that supports music
A holistic approach to game design
Inclusive practices
Accessible digital interactive experiences
A family of misfits that make games together

It's all very corporate at this point, but it really helps to have the core values up on a wall or visible in a sketchbook to make sure every design tested visualises these. Then it's onto gather reference.

Reference I looked at included Rorschach ink blot tests, origami, Georgia O'Keefe (legend), Penguin & Pelican books along with others.

Something that we're always saying at The Chinese Room is to make things feel more 'Physical.' I knew at this point that the process and journey of the brand will be just as important as the brand itself.

One thing that struck me the most with gathering reference from the Penguin & Pelican books was how similar they were to The Chinese Room's core values. For those who don't know, Penguin Books is a very British Publishing house founded in 1935. Pelican Books is a non-fiction imprint of Penguin Books and was founded in 1937. The concept of how the Penguin Books and Pelican Books came about was to create an inexpensive and accessible way for anyone to enjoy literature. The founder of Penguin Books, Allen Lane, said 'good design is no more expensive than bad.' He believed that Penguin Books should never cost more than a packet of cigarettes, but that they should always look distinctive.

Changing a few words around and you could easily be quoting The Chinese Room:

"The Chinese Room believes that games should be accessible for everyone irrelevant of skill, but that they should always look, sound and narrate distinctively."

The fact that these are also books carried a lot of weight with supporting the rebrand as one of the co-founders, Dan Pinchbeck, writes the narrative of The Chinese Room games so eloquently and has won a string of awards for doing so. It seemed incredibly fitting to the company as a whole.

As the Penguin Books are fictional stories and the Pelican Books are non-fictional stories, it mirrors what we do as a game studio -

•    The games produced - the fiction
•    We make the games - the non-fiction

It's the people behind the games that write the characters, score the soundtracks, create the environments that immerse an audience. The game is the collaborative product created by a team of highly talented and hard-working people. Their stories are rarely seen or told. At The Chinese Room, we're trying to expose the development practice of games to make them more accessible, personable and make the games industry a less elusive sector to the wider public. And this is because we who make games understand how difficult it is to make a game and that it is of course art. But still the wider public audience does not know this. Only through exposing practices in the games industry and talking about the journey involved in making a game can we help to cement games as a legitimate cultural form. And this is why it's so important to expose everything else we do - whether it's rebranding the studio, doing talks or making art.

Establishing the Penguin and Pelican Books as a good source for inspiration, I developed visual style tests to understand what aspects could be used for the final logo.

Colours were a big part of it - the striking blue of the Pelican Books is incredibly distinct and recognisable. Blue is the colour of truth, honesty, calm, authenticity, freedom, and wisdom. It gave a solution to a lot of the questions I had to answer set by the brief.

Another aspect was the typeface - Gill Sans is the distinctive typeface used for the Penguin & Pelican Books. It's a humanist sans-serif font which was a good starting point to play around with typefaces that might fit.

It became apparent that digital tests would help to establish colour palettes, play with fonts and shapes easily. I produced a lot of different tests and made sure to get a lot of feedback. One thing that often gets lost in design work is the importance of understanding how much communication is needed to approve and improve a design. Receiving critique as often as you arrange it helps to establish boundaries for when you want to receive feedback and when other people expect to give feedback.

I did lots of visual tests including sketchbook thumbnail sketches, digital 2D mocks and audio visuals.

The bird visually represented all of the values of The Chinese Room. It was important to select a bird that accurately represented the studio. A bird of prey would be too predatory and masculine just as a peacock would be too eccentric. The Goldfinch is a song bird local to East Sussex, England and a regular seen flying around the trees outside our office in Brighton. It has a beautiful song and it's this element that represents our other co-founder, Jessica Curry, BAFTA award winning composer.

Once the logo was narrowed down to the elements of the perched bird, it was back to looking at getting that 'physical' element into the design. This is the rendering and finishing stage.
Even though I make games (digitally), I love using traditional artistic methods and I try to use these as much as possible to feed them into the games we make. I took a similar approach to this and got the logo as far as possible digitally before I was itching to use the art room.

Charcoal was giving a nice result but it wasn't quite right. It really needed to be something slightly heavier to work well as a vector image. Also, a nod to Catherine Woolley for her origami paper.

Making the typeface fit with the logo meant it also had to feel 'physically' made. Using humanist typefaces as a start, I experimented with creating the text in the same method as the bird.

I then started exploring for inspiration for traditional art methods. Print gives a very distinct finish that is difficult to replicate digitally, but allows for heavier lines using ink that would work as a logo. Traditional Chinese seals are stamps carved from wood with single colour ink. Depending on the ink and paper, they would have the possibility to hold the typeface. These were the inspiration for the final approach to creating the logo traditionally using print. This also inspired the square design.

Image source: Wikipedia

Image source: Wikipedia

This led me to start making the logo in linoleum and rubber. Lino-cut artwork is a readily accessible art practice and much easier to carve than wood is. Using the lino-cut practice, it would give beautifully unique, creative and textured results to the final logo.

The results worked really well to establish a physically made lino-cut logo. I took this into Photoshop and Illustrator to clean it up, polish and finalise.

The new logo is adaptable and encompasses the brand requirements as well as the core values of The Chinese Room.

The Chinese Room brand has changed and adapted to reflect the holistic approach of the studio. And now that the new logo is finalised, time for merch! So stay tuned...