CyborgCamp’s transparent design process

I averted my gaze from the composition adorning the Adobe Illustrator artboard in front of me, purposely avoiding the brunt of its stare and the intense starkness that came with it. I attempted to focus again on the chicken scratches dotting my sketchbook pages (to no avail), or perhaps the multitudes of contradictory feedback which had been offered by disagreeing (yet evenly passionate) volunteers.

The embrace of crowd-sourced editorial direction is of unpredictable comfort and temperature.

cyborgcamp_01

To say that designing the logo for CyborgCamp was a unique challenge would be an understatement. Identity design is typically an intimate process (wherein the logo is a relatively small part) in which the designer attempts to know and express both the character of the brand and the needs of the audience. Educating oneself about those needs is often collaborative, but the actual act of design, of applying that knowledge, is quite introspective by comparison.

But then, CyborgCamp was not an ordinary event. Concocted by Amber Case, Bram Pitoyo and their cadre of evil geniuses, CyborgCamp managed to exude purpose in spite of its organic growth and direction, amorphous in scope. This appealed to my artistic sensibilities, and I quickly realized that a transparent design process would be the sincerest approach. Previously, I would have predicted that prolonged transparency would lessen the final product’s impact. Since this hadn’t occured for the event itself, I discarded that concern.

After an initial meeting/sketchbook-jam with Amber, Bram and others (gorgeously captured on film by Mark Colman, one of the coolest guys in Portland), the first round of sketches was posted on Flickr, the CyborgCamp planning wiki and several Twitter feeds. I should give Bram credit for picking the concept (plant circuitry) that would ultimately be deemed the most sensible, and from there the entire world was privy to each and every obsessive adjustment.

I’m proud of the final product; I think it suited the grassroots-meets-geekery mindset of what became an awesome event. I certainly made mistakes along the way, but these experiences led to a series of simple, guiding principals that may help other designers interested in attempting a similar process:

  • Be a director and mediator before a designer. Otherwise, you’ll slip into tweaking endless minutae in lieu of a guiding vision.
  • When possible, give a few variations of a design at once. “Civilians” and non-designerly folk shouldn’t have to learn your industry’s vocabulary; comparitive observations are much more intuitive.
  • Ask relevant questions of specific people. Bram Pitoyo has a strong typographic skill set; why not ask him for extended assistance in type selection and kerning?
  • When no conclusive “next step” is provided from the community, take responsibility for that decision. These are volunteers who, unlike your clients, do not have an obligation to nudge you along. Avoid work stoppage and ignite the conversation by moving a step forward or back as you deem necessary.
It’s hard to say if I would recommend this process to other designers. In early stages, the feedback of enthusiastic Twitterers is nearly immediate and immensely satisfying. Later on, things can slow to a crawl as community members struggle to find passion for every minute detail.

Overall, transparency is a worthy option for projects as unique as CyborgCamp. For more traditional identities? Probably not. That being said, lessons learned in this experience can certainly be applied to more focused, narrowly-collaborative endeavors. In that, this experiment was monumentally successful.

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