Getting a small business off the ground isn’t easy these days, nor is being a student trying to launch a career in an uncertain economy. But an Alameda nonprofit found a way to support both in a project for its new bookselling enterprise.
Friends of the Alameda Free Library recently opened Books For Friends, or BFF, a small shop located within the Alameda Main Library. There, they sell a curated selection of the books collected from the boxes and bags dropped off by generous book donors. But BFF managers would like more customers to know about the shop and frequent it.
Realizing an important step of marketing is creating an attractive and meaningful logo, Friends Communications Committee Chair Karen Manuel contacted Patrick Kenney, an Alamedan with a long history of offering his graphics expertise to local nonprofits. He created the Friends logo several years ago, so she turned to him for BFF’s new image.
Students challenged to develop best logo
As it happened, Kenney teaches design classes at Berkeley City College, and he proposed offering the logo design challenge to his students as a competition. “The chance to have a committee provide actual client feedback was really significant in offering a professional experience,” Kenney said. “We had 28 different students in this class, who all approached this with a completely different vision.”
The students were excited to have a real-world project to work on while learning the basics of logo design, said Jerry Hsiao, a student in Kenney’s class who is studying for a career in visual design. “We had four weeks to work on this logo,” Hsiao said. “So we started to research Books For Friends and to identify their brand and personality.”
Kenney had the students start with a symbolic pictographic logo element, then add typography, and finally combine them in a way that reflects the brand’s design personality. These initial steps were done by hand with paper, pen, and pencil. “This class is about getting students to use sketching as a rapid visualization technique to explore their design ideas, to be creative before touching the computer,” Kenney says.
The BFF logo committee met weekly to go over the latest versions of student designs. “Every Monday when we would get the students’ new design was really exciting for us, like Christmas,” said Manuel. “We had a really rich, wonderful experience going through the designs. Seeing all the different design ideas was inspiring to us.”
Friends President Karen Butter agreed. “We spent a lot of time going through each one of the submissions and identifying elements that we thought might work,” Butter said. “It was a very interesting process for us. There were three top designs that were really hard for us to select from.”
Choosing the winning logo
Ultimately, Hsiao’s logo prevailed. “I just tried to create a very simple, memorable design,” said Hsiao, who will use his winning design in his portfolio when he starts looking for jobs.
For the Friends, the logo is another way to communicate how the library benefits the Alameda community, Butter said. “We were trying to bring together a lot of different elements including a sense of people, of community, and the library. Jerry’s design includes all of those, and we are absolutely delighted with his work.”
The Friends logo committee included Butter and Manuel, who have been with Friends leadership for many years, along with Philip Barry, who curates the book selection in the shop, and Serena Hom, who has a background in retail brand marketing. “Every review discussion was spirited and we’re thrilled with the final choice,” Hom said.
Kenney was glad the Friends recognized the value of hiring a trained designer, even as do-it-yourself online design websites proliferate. “The box in front of us is just a tool,” he says. “Design is really about the human creative spark.”
Hsiao’s logo now graces both his professional portfolio and a prominent place in the BFF bookshop. Soon it will appear on signs, bookmarks, and other marketing materials for the shop, says Barry. “We’ve finally got everything in place – a great selection of books, a dedicated volunteer staff, and a great logo,” Barry said. “Now we just need to get the word out so customers know we’re here.”
Books for Friends is located inside the Alameda Main Library, 1550 Oak St., at Lincoln Avenue. The shop is toward the back near Dewey’s Friends Café. Hours are noon to 4 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. Most forms of payment are accepted. Patrick Kenney can be reached at [email protected].