A Life of Logos & Design – An Interview with Gerard Huerta

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Gerard Huerta’s life as a designer has been incredible. After graduating he began his career at CBS Records, creating artwork and logos for numerous well-known musicians including Boston, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and many, many more.

He then went on to work for himself, where he’s designed the lettering for AC/DC’s High Voltage, and logos for Swiss Army Brands, HBO, Calvin Klein’s Eternity, Pepsi, People, Adweek… the list goes on and on (see more here). On top of this he’s also worked on magazine covers, movie posters, watch dials, fonts and more.

In this episode Ian chats with Gerard Huerta to learn from his experience by discovering his design process when at CBS (which was pre-computers), his approach today, how he’s been able to work with big brands through his career, and more inspiring insights and advice.

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Gerard Huerta Interview Transcription

 

Ian Paget: I understand that your career started at CBS Records. I know that was quite some time ago now for you, but how did you originally get into that position?

 

Gerard Huerta: Well, when I was at ArtCenter College of Design, I was an illustration major and a curious thing happened. We were required to take lettering classes and lettering was probably the most hated classes at ArtCenter. But I had just come off a summer of doing hand lettered signs for a store with a chisel point marker. And as I began working on my portfolio, I started developing a lot of lettering, hand lettering, and I was heavily influenced by album graphics and there was a tower records not too far away from school that I would go and visit and look at albums of the 60s and early 70s. So when I went to New York, when I moved to New York, there were only about five places that I wanted to work starting out.

And I went to all five of them and nobody had any openings or any work. In fact, New York was going through this recession, they were going broke. It was probably one of the worst times to move to New York. But I did see John Berg at CBS and he gave me some freelance work. So I did some freelance work. I still went around with my portfolio, got other work. And about two months later I had a card printed up, kind of an oversize hand littered card and I went back to all the people and gave them the card and went back to my apartment and I got two odd job offers that day. One was to clean up type faces at a sort of a famous design studio or be an album cover designer.

So the decision was pretty easy for me. I was 22 years old, I was hired by John Berg to be an album cover designer. He liked the West coast look of the work that I had done, and so that’s kind of how it started.

 

Ian Paget: I bet at that age you must have been so excited for the opportunity. I mean it’s like a opportunity of a lifetime. Right?

 

Gerard Huerta: It was probably the best job, a kid out of art school who drew and played music could get and it was, it was a fabulous job. I didn’t last long. I only lasted about a year and four months because by that time I had been doing so much freelance, I would run around at lunchtimes and go to New York Magazine or Time Magazine or just different places to just see if I can pick up freelance work. And I did.

So I would work a normal day, come home eat dinner and then I’d worked late into the night and on the freelance stuff and then go back into work in the morning. So by towards the end of my stead at CBS, it was getting very hectic. So I realised if I quit, I’d have the entire day to continue working on the freelance stuff. I knew CBS would continue to use me and then it would free me up to work at other record companies also.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I can totally relate with that because I have a part-time job, but it used to be full-time. I’ve been working on the side for a long time and it can get pretty hectic.

I know you’ve worked on so many logo designs within your career. So I’d love to talk to you about your logo design process, and I can imagine it’s changed quite a lot over the years because when you started out, there was no computers at that time. So I’d love to hear from you, when you was at CBS Records, what did your logo design process look like?

 

Gerard Huerta: Okay. Well interestingly enough, a lot of the work I did early on, it wasn’t really meant to be a logo. And if you look at a lot of those like, well Boston was a bit later, but Ted Nugent, a little bit later was Foreigner. A few of those. Those are really designed as lettering for an album cover. And because I was on the young end of everything, I would get the newbies, I would get the new it was Ted Nugent’s first album, when I did AC/DC, I did work on their first album and it was really meant to be lettering. It really wasn’t meant to be a logo.

Those were sort of picked up in time. And if you look at, for example Ted Nugent, we did do a consistent look of lettering for a good series of albums that use that same energetic script and then the title would be done in the same style.

So I guess what I’m getting at is early on it was just really meant to have a feel and a look for the particular group that I was working with. And I think what happened is they just sort of fell in love with. For example, AC/DC, which I didn’t do it, CBS, I did that on a freelance basis. I had done an album called High Voltage where I did some lettering and then Let There Be Rock, I did a different kind of lettering, which was the bevel veteran we now know and they had used some other typographic after that and then they came back and pick that up in time.

So I guess the point I’m making is it wasn’t really logo design as you would design logo for a company. It was really more artwork to compliment a photograph or compliment the artwork that was being done for the album.

 

Ian Paget: Sure. That was fascinating, and it makes total sense because if you are working on their very first albums, they’re not going to have any form of identity. And by working on the album cover you’re establishing that aren’t you?

 

Gerard Huerta: Yeah. So you’re creating sort of a look or an identity for them. And because that was kind of my expertise, I did a lot of that. But did things for country music, I did a logo for The Oak Ridge Boys, which they still use. I guess the thing that’s fascinating to me is its unbelievable to me that 40 some years later these things are still being used. It’s crazy, because when you did them, they were just sort of a job and you do it, you do your best and you go on to the next job. So the fact that they have a long life is to me is intriguing.

 

Ian Paget: I’d love to find out then when you worked on these album covers, what did that design process look like? What did the behind the scene’s thinking look like when you was working on an album cover and you was wanting to create a piece of lettering. How did you go about working out what that might look like?

 

Gerard Huerta: When I was at CBS, I usually would do one sketch. I would do a drawing, pencil drawing and tighten it up and I would show it to whoever the creative director or our director involved was like John Berg or Ed Lee or Teresa Elfiery, and most of the time they’d say, “Yeah, great, go with it.” Because I would design it and design it for … To fit nicely with whatever I was working with, an illustration or a photograph.

In the case of classical albums, I would design the whole thing. It would be a whole package because they really weren’t a client, they were dead. Most of them were dead already, so. So we were able to pretty much do whatever we wanted.

But generally I would do one sketch and they would approve it and then I would do a very tight pencil and then I would ink it. My job description didn’t require me to do actual artwork, so a lot of the times John Berg would let me just take it home and do it and charge a freelance fee to do it at home, to do that part of it because it really was a part of what I was supposed to be doing, so that was nice. That was kind of an added benefit.

When I left CBS and worked on things like Foreigner or Let There be Rock or any of those things, generally I would do three sketches, three pencils, all different and that way the art director had a choice and would pick one to go along. I’m sure somewhere in my files here in a box put away is probably two other AC/DC drawings that I had done to show Bob Defrin who was the art director then.

And then one is chosen, you go back and ink it up. Or in the case of colour work you would do with the colour, which would either be done with colour film or cut colour or airbrush. It was all, everything was done by hand. Everything was executed by hand and that craft became a really important part of creating these things. One difference between the traditional way of doing things and the digital way of doing, and I’m talking specifically about lettering. The secret of it being a good letter back then is you had to have a good drawing.

You had to be able to do smooth curves and decent curves and you had to have even strokes, if you had consistent capital letters, those strokes had to be consistent. If we jump over to the digital age, you still have to have a good drawing, but the computer will do the even strokes and the computer will give you the smooth edges. So what I say is you can have all the smooth edges and consistent strokes you want, but if you have a bad drawing, you’re still going to have a bad piece of artwork.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. So I guess what you’re saying, things haven’t changed that much. It’s only the final technology to fully render stuff up. You still need to be good at drawing, you still need to be able to come up with ideas and stuff like that.

 

Gerard Huerta: Well, let me say one thing about that, I love my Mac. I mean, there’s no going back there. There isn’t. And I don’t think I could do it anyway, I kind of marvel at some of the old pieces I’ve done. I have a look at them closely, I go, I didn’t even know how I did this. I can’t believe my hand was that steady and all of that. But the drawing part of it is still key. I still have a complete drawing set up here. The drawing does not go into the computer until in my mind the design or the artwork is 90% there, at least in my head. I mean, I may need 90% more time to complete it but when it goes to the scanner, I know exactly what it’s going to look like, so that’s key.

And I had a hard time making that jump from the analog way to the digital way because it really upset me that I had to completely relearn how to execute artwork on a computer when I could do it so well manually. But there was a period of time in the 90s when I was getting these computer generated logos and drawings from art directors asking me to fix them, to re-draw them and re-ink them. And the writing was kind of on the wall at that point because everybody was going to digital. But the digital was coming through production, it was not coming through the design part of it or the creative people. So you had a lot of people who were executing artwork who were really not artists, they were computer people.

 

Ian Paget: Well, I personally still prefer to do a lot of stuff by sketch, by hand. I’m fortunate to pretty much grown up in a generation where, when I went to school at 11 we had computers at school. So I’m quite lucky that I’ve grown up with it. So for me, the moment I became a graphic designer I was working on computers, I absolutely love doing stuff by hand and I know that you use things like tracing paper so that you can draw the sketch and trace over it to get a more perfect version.

 

Gerard Huerta: I still, I go through a lot of tracing paper, I go through a lot of pencil EDS, Pentels, because sometimes I’ll want it to be high contrast, so I’ll draw it in a Pentel. But I have a drawing for everything because that’s where it starts. It always starts at the drawing board for me. And it’s just the way I work. It’s always been the way I work. I’m not able to look at a page, an eight and a half by 11 page, an illustrator and begin drawing, it’s to remove from my natural instinct to look at a piece of paper, move a pencil around. And I always had this sort of idea in my head that the sketches in the paper, you just have to fight it. You just got to find where to push the pencil to get it right. And that’s always kind of the way I’ve thought about it.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. And personally I find, I don’t know what your drawings look like, but I tend to scribble when I’m sketching, when I’m thinking about things and sometimes I make a mistake and I notice something like, oh there’s an idea in there that I didn’t think of because I made the accident there and you just can’t replicate that looseness in a computer. And I see people jumping straight into illustrator and the work that they’ve done just looks so artificial because it doesn’t have any of that thinking to it. I’ve also experimented with tracing paper just to try it out. I’ve seen people use it and I found it makes you develop the idea further and you explore it in a different way. But when you … If you was to work on that further in a computer it becomes too polished too early.

So yeah, even though technology’s changed a lot personally, I still think a lot of graphic designers should be working on paper at the beginning because there’s a lot of benefits to it and I don’t know what you’re like, but I spend a lot of my time looking at a screen, a good chunk of my day. So it’s nice to get away from computer screens and spend some time on paper.

 

Gerard Huerta: Right. Well I’m kind of the same way. I mean, there’s less time spent at the drawing board than there is at the computer because so much of the work is execution heavy and I can work from a fairly simple thumbnail now on the computer because I know what it’s going to look like. In the old days you had to have your final tissue nailed down exactly because all you needed to worry about or had to worry about is how that ink is going to flow and create a nice line or whatever you happen to be doing. Because that is gone I can work on, use a much rougher sketch.

But again, the process of drawing, of looking at a piece of paper, moving your hand around drawing a certain letter and knowing another letter is going next to it and no different letter is ever going to be in that place, it allows you to be more creative and do more interesting lockups of letters. And that’s why logos become developed that way. For me it’s trying to find that little unique thing about it that it is interesting.

 

Ian Paget: I know you mentioned earlier that you’ve got all of these sketches and stuff filed away, you should put that into a book, I’d definitely love to see those. So if you have any spare time you should get it pulled together and put it into a book. There’s companies out there that help create these books, so I’d love to see those, so.

 

Gerard Huerta: Yeah. Well I have pulled a lot of the old record ones out because I was thinking about doing exactly what you said, which is printing them on a vellum or something so they retain the same sort of sketch quality that you’ve done. And I do have a lot of drawings on Instagram, if you go to my Instagram page and go to my feed or my page, I have the original AC/DC sketch and Foreigner and Billy Joel Turnstiles and Boston with Rogers tracing the outline of the guitar. I had the drawing of the guitar there too, so I could register the pencil onto the illustration to cut the frisket. So yeah, those tissues are around in there. And I do have also my Facebook Gerard Huerta design page. If you go there and under photos, there’s quite a few of them there.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. Well I’m going to check those out. And with the podcast I include show notes, so I’ll put links to those so that people can easily find them.

 

Gerard Huerta: Terrific.

 

Ian Paget: I wanted to ask you as well, so when you left CBS you mentioned that you went freelance and you’ve been doing a lot of freelance work on the side, but I’ve got to say you worked for some huge companies. Like Swiss Army, HBO, Pepsi, Type Directors Club, People, AdWeek, it’s an incredibly long list and that’s a few of them that I know myself. So I know working on your own, how was you able to do that? I mean they’re huge companies, how was that possible?

 

Gerard Huerta: Well, it seems to me that back then it was a bit easier to advertise. There were books like The Creative Black Book and another book, American Showcase, and one of the things that was great about, especially The Creative Black Book, it was a directory of people. They had a photography book and then they had one that was illustration and lettering and all that stuff and they were interspersed with the actual listings.

So an art director looking for an illustrator would be going past an ad of mine for example. And so there was more of an immediacy in terms of advertising directly to your market, which at that time was art directors or designers for me. Now in the case of something like HBO, you’ll laugh at this, but at the time they were a small cable company that was owned by, you know, it was purchased by Time-Life and an art director who apparently stumbled on my work in an album cover called me into to do it. And it wasn’t like a big, big job. It was actually a small job that turned into a big company.

So you know, and that’s just because it’s so old, it’s such an old piece. Swiss Army was interesting because there was a gentleman, Myron Polenberg who worked at CBS when I was there and he worked in the advertising department. They had a separate department and they would do advertising for the record business. And Myron went on to work for advertising agencies and he was a creative director and he eventually got hooked up with a company called the Fortuner Group.

And the Fortuner Group was a company that distributed this Swiss Army Knife for the Swiss Army people, Victoria Knox in Switzerland. And they were sitting around a table one day and decided, we should do a watch. And the word Swiss Army had not been copyrighted here in the United States, so they copyrighted the name and Myron was working on packaging for the Fortuner Group. And they said, “Well, we got to get a watch designer.” And Myron said, “Well, let me take a stab at it.”

So he drew up the watch, he called me to hand letter the dials and the hands and tick marks and all of that stuff. And we did the original one and it just took off. It just became one of those funny iconic products. So I worked with them for about 14 years and did probably 75 dials of which maybe 25 to 30 were actually implemented.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I’ve seen a few of those on your website, they were … It’s so weird to see because you, it’s one of these things that you don’t really think about that somebody sat down and worked out where all those different components should go. And I mean, it’s pretty cool how you eventually got into it because it sounded like they was potentially going to find a specialist but you just happened to be in the right place at the right time to get the opportunity.

 

Gerard Huerta: Well that’s pretty much the way my entire career worked. It just … You happen to be there. I happen to know Myron, Myron used me for lettering at CBS so he said, well let’s do a dial together and we found a lot of interesting things about working on watches, how you have to draw numbers so that the ink doesn’t fill in. Because ink has a thickness and all these numbers are so tiny on it.

So there’s ways of drawing numbers where you exclude parts of the numbers. I call them notches that when they get printed, those not just fill in but they look sharper. If you didn’t create a notch then you would get a sort of a softer curve within an angle and it would look as good. The same … Another thing would be because you have a one and two on the right and you have a 10 and 11 on the left, you have a lot more weight on the left hand side.

So you can’t just line up the numbers and have them be accurate, you have to kind of visually move things around a little bit so that overall, visually it looks good. And I remember sending these dials, dial artwork to Switzerland and some guy would sit there and he would move everything mechanically, exactly where it was supposed to be and it would come back. And I would say, “No, no, don’t move it. You got to put it back. Go follow my artwork,” because it’s a visual thing. It’s optics and you develop an eye for these things and you look at it and you go, why isn’t that look right? And so you address it and you fix it. So I learned a lot doing the watches. That was actually a kind of a great exercise for me.

 

Ian Paget: Would you mind talking a little bit more about optics, because I know you’ve done loads of typography in your career and logos and different things and all of it requires those optical corrections. And I see a lot of young graphic designers, a lot of graphic designers in general, they use grid systems and they put all their art work together correctly. But as you know, like with that example of the watches, sometimes when you do that, something just doesn’t look right. So would you mind explaining more like how you would go about working optically rather than mathematically.

 

Gerard Huerta: Okay. Well the mathematical part of it exists, but in the end your eye is going to tell you if there’s something that doesn’t look right and then you have to fix it. A good example is, I see the AC/DC lettering reproduced a lot and when I designed that, the top of those letters, the top of the A and the C are pointed and the top of the D is flat. Well those points need to exist beyond the horizontal line of the top of the D because there’s very little mass to the top of those letters.

So those letters actually exist bigger than the D, they’re taller than the D, but they’re optically done that way so when you reproduce it, it looks like they’re all the same size. And I look at some of these AC/DC logos that people have reproduced and the C is always way too small, because they’re lining up the point of the C with the horizontal part of the D at the top, so the C visually looks smaller.

That’s a good example of addressing the optics of it. The math doesn’t work in that case. It’s the same way why on a capital E you always put the crossbar slightly above centre and you do that so it’ll look like its centred, the same way with an H. The H is never mathematically centred as the crossbar because it’ll look too low, the eye tells us that it’s not right. So you have to make an adjustment to that.

So a lot of it is just looking at, you just look at things. You turn things upside down, one of the tricks that I use all the time is you might space something and it looks good spaced and then I’ll turn it upside down and look at it. So I’m not looking at the letters, I’m just looking at the negative space between the letters and then you can find that you might want to make adjustments, that a letter might look like it’s a little too close or too far from another, which you don’t notice when you’re looking at the word.

The other thing I think people tend to do is when they have two verticals, for example, a double L, they always jam them too close together and they’re not paying attention to the fact that if you have two Os together, you’ve got a lot of negative space there at the top and bottom between those. So you have to work for the situation that you can’t control. Another combination would be a capital R and a capital A. You get a lot of negative space when that happens because you have these two legs that come together, so the optic change would be to move the leg of the R slightly in so you can close up the spacing.

I had done a masthead for Architectural Digest and one of the things, again, when you hand letter something is you can address those optics. The two Rs are different and the two Cs are different in that masthead. And the reason being is they exist in different worlds within the masthead. So you have to make an adjustment for that. And when you hand draw it, it’s very easy to do.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. Thank you for that. I think for me, understanding Overshoot… that for me was a total game changer. When someone first pointed out to me, I think I made the mistake on my own logo and I was speaking to someone that worked on a lot of type and he told me, “Oh, you need to fix your A.” And I’m like, “Huh!” And I’m thinking after the change was made, “No, it looks too big.” But once I started to understand all of this, you see mistakes everywhere… kerning mistakes in letters. You can see the A needing to be slightly higher to compensate for the flathead of the D, you need to compensate for that. And how you mentioned that the people have changed that, you see that type of thing all over the place. And I think just understanding these minor optical tweaks there, knowing that levelled up all of my work.

So I hope anyone listening to this that doesn’t currently apply optical adjustments to any of their work, definitely do it. It will make a massive difference. And I think the best way to learn it is by studying letters… Open a font, create outlines and then go in and study it because there’s so many minor adjustments in typography.

 

Gerard Huerta: That’s correct. And understand too that a lot of this I learned in a lettering one class from an old time lettering teacher Mortimer Leach, and we would have to take a saying, I remember the sayings. one was the graphic arts upper lower case that we had to hand letter in Caslon with the lower case about an inch high and you had to do a tissue of it.

He would come in and correct it, tell you where to close it up, where to open it up, where you didn’t have enough weight, and then you would put a tissue over and you’d do it again and you would do it again and do it again until you had everything right. You turn it over, you’d put graphite on the back, you’d trace it down onto a piece of two ply Strathmore kid finish paper. And with a 150 pen point, you would go through and carefully ink the outline and then fill it in with a brush and then clean it up with white paint.

Well, it didn’t take very long after doing about four of those exercises where you learned a lot about just the optics of letters and the spacing of letters. And I don’t think they teach that anymore. I don’t think anybody is actually teaching people how to draw letters and you might say, well why do we need to learn to draw letters? We got all these alphabets and typefaces and things we can adjust. Well, you learn to draw letters, so you learn how to see. That’s really the key thing is learning how to see things.

Whether you ever letter again in your life doesn’t matter, it’s just now you can look at it, set a typeface and I’m sure you’ve said things in a typeface, you go, boy, this is a horrible, this is a horrible typeface or the hinting is bad or you know, whatever. Those things, they’re … It’s like anything else. You have all levels of work, good work down to bad work and we would just try to stay away from the bad work.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, and I mean since we’re talking about letters, it’s really strange when I studied, like what I did is just as an experiment, I opened up, say like a letter A, created outlines, and then I started drawing over it just to study it. And it’s so bizarre because you look at letters every day, but you kind of become, they become invisible because you don’t see the individual letters. You see the words that they’re saying and it becomes an invisible tool.

But going in and properly inspecting them, how they’re put together, if you ever start creating your own letters, and I think, because this audience is logo designers, I think that’s very likely that people will be modifying or creating their own set of letters. You can learn so much by just stopping and really looking at, and I think you’re right. You learn to see. I drive my friends crazy when I’m pointing something out that isn’t quite right and they’re trying to work out what I’m talking about.

 

Gerard Huerta: It’s interesting because I have three boys and none of them are really in my part of the business. I have one that’s a videographer, one it’s an internet business and one that’s, he’s in a marketing agency, but it’s very funny having grown up around me they … It’s amazing how much they know about what I’m talking about because they’ve been around it, they’ve just been around it their whole life.

And in fact, my oldest, I mean he can tell you any typeface. He can look at any typeface and know what it is. He’s just trained himself to do that, but I think it’s been based on this knowledge that all these typefaces at some point somebody had to sit down and design the letters, draw the letters, whether they ink them or later digitise them or whatever happened. And I tend to look at everything as artwork because someone had to create it. It doesn’t just show up.

 

Ian Paget: Very, very true. Now I kind of want to, since the episode is about logo design, and we briefly covered this earlier when we spoke about your experience at CBS, but when you was working for yourself, you obviously worked on a lot more logo design work. I’m curious if your approach to logo design changed and if it did, would you mind talking through how you worked from start to finish? Working on a project so that we can pick out some useful insights from you.

 

Gerard Huerta: Yeah. The change … I think the most important thing when I approach a job is the appropriateness of it. Is it fulfilling what it’s supposed to be? And generally, I mean, I do work on a lot of different things. For some reason, in the last year I’ve actually worked on three band logos, surprisingly. And it’s just because there’s a lot of guys doing 70s type stuff and they want a 70s type logo and they call me. And generally what happens is I will give them three to five different drawings, and when I say drawings, they’re usually comprehensive. They’re done in the computer. I will draw, I’ll do my pencils, I’ll scan those in, and then I’ll put them in the computer and tighten them up.

People have a hard time reading really reading pencil drawings. They really don’t have a good sense of that. So I’ll spend the extra time to execute them. So I have … I mean, I’ve got thousands and thousands of words I’ve drawn that were never used. One thing I like to say is I’m in a business of rejection because I can do 10 sketches for a client and he’s only going to pick one. So I have a 90% rejection rate, which is really true. But what’s nice about it is you have a lot of these letters that you can go back and look at that might inspire you to design something based on, maybe a couple of letters that you’ve drawn that are accustomed and look interesting and you can flesh it out into something else.

But generally it’s basically that, it’s you show them three to five, we get around to revisions and then they pick one, you execute it, you do colour studies and then pretty much finish that up. You provide them with a illustrator file and some high res JPEGs and just whatever files they need. But there’s no real secret, that’s pretty much the way it goes about.

 

Ian Paget: I’m curious to dig in a little bit more into like the way that you’re thinking on these projects. Because I know that you said, I think you used the word appropriate. How do you know what you’re going to work on? Like are you asking any questions to the client or are you doing any kind of research or is there anything that you are doing to try and understand what’s right for them?

 

Gerard Huerta: Yeah, there’s … I had an interesting project, I’m not a golfer, but I had an interesting project to design a mark for a golf course in California, so that is the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. And I was not that aware of anything golf, I just wasn’t. And they put together for me a page of golf logos from, golf courses, private clubs all over the world. And it was really interesting because I would have never gone in a direction like this. And they had a lot of descriptors about it.

They wanted it to be historical, they want it to be unique. They wanted it to have something that was specific to them. It kind of went on and on and on with all these descriptors. But golf logos, it’s interesting because it’s almost like when you see a group of golf logos there is a traditional style to them, they really hearkened to the past.

It’s very much like seeing, when you see college logos, shields, there’s kind of usually a shield or something that colleges have which automatically you see it and you know it’s a school. It just has a shield. Golf logos are the same thing and consequently we went through many, many comprehensives to come up with the final piece that we came up with. And it was a really interesting exercise for me because it was an area I didn’t know, I didn’t know of and was not aware of.

If somebody says, here’s a bank, let’s do a bank logo. Well you got a good sense of what that is, a secure and all this stuff. But the golf thing was a very interesting project, probably one of the most interesting projects I’ve ever been on just based on kind of what I had to go through to get from one to a hundred.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. I’ve always found interesting with logos because one thing that a lot of peoples speak about is that you want to differentiate from the crowd.

 

Gerard Huerta: Yes.

 

Ian Paget: But this appropriateness, if you’re creating something that should be for a college, you don’t want to tread too far out. You want people to be able to recognise it as a college. So I always find it fascinating that you need to try and understand what that sector looks like and then try, and do something with something different, but keep those characteristics with it in some way.

 

Gerard Huerta: Well, again, you’re communicating something so someone has to be able to look at it and understand what it is. Because I was not in that world, I didn’t really kind of get it, it wasn’t until I was well into it where I … I mean, we came up with a really, what I think is a really nice market and they were very pleased with it. But it was interesting because it did have some history to it and the history was that of a sea serpent, what they called a sea serpent, washed up on the Monterey shore in 1925.

Well that happens to be the same year that the golf club started, so we took a sea serpent, they wanted to show land and sea. So we had a sea serpent and then we had a golf flag, it was intertwined in the golf flag and it was historical. It had all of the things, but it took us a long time to get there, to get something that what happened to be a logo committee could agree upon. Because there were about 10 people on a committee.

And interestingly enough, I was contacted by them and they wanted me to take a trip out there, which I didn’t want to do. They were interviewing tons of designers for this. Were submitting work and doing Skype presentations, and I did my presentation. I didn’t think it did well. And then they called me and they had four people that they were trying to pick from. And then in the end they finally pick me.

And it was interesting because the guy in the logo committee, this gentleman, Eric Heizer, he said the thing that we liked about your work is that it looks like a different person did every piece. And I thought that was an interesting observation because it said to me that this idea of appropriateness to me is very important. It’s not to create a style, it’s to create the right look for the client, depending on who the client is.

So that was kind of a nice thing that he said. And in a meeting he said, “This is the guy that did the AC/DC logo.” We’re not going to get the AC/DC logo, we’re going to get something for us that looks like us. And it was interesting that he made that distinction because I had never really thought much about that, about the style part of it. Because he said, we looked at these other designers and it looked like the same guy did everything and we just didn’t want that. So anyway.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. Well I think it’s interesting because when you’re working on something like logo design, you don’t really want to have a style. You need to properly represent the business.

 

Gerard Huerta: That’s correct.

 

Ian Paget: And like you said about communication, you want to communicate certain things and you can do that with aesthetics. And if you’re an illustrator then you want to have a consistent style because people will employ you for that style. And that’s, they’d be hiring you because they’d be expecting something similar to what you’ve done.

Do you think maybe they wanted to work with you because you worked on the AC/DC logo?

 

Gerard Huerta: I don’t know. I just, I really do believe … Because they, somehow I got ahold of this and I don’t know, I probably shouldn’t have, but I was able to see the designers that they were looking at and in a page with some of their work on it. And I think it was really true that the selection was made based on the fact that they didn’t know what they were going to get. They could look at all these other guys and they could have a sense of what they might.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. You would never know what to expect from them, but from you, you’d solve it.

 

Gerard Huerta: Yeah. So that was kind of cool.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to ask you about something that you mentioned in a previous interview you’ve done… you said that you primarily deal with creative directors or other creative people rather than working directly with clients. Is there a particular reason for that?

 

Gerard Huerta: Well, yes there is. That has changed. I’m not sure how old that interview is, but the landscape has changed quite a bit. I think it used to be, if I go back to, say the first 15, 20 years of my career, art directors knew how to draw. They went to art school like I did. They took a different direction of maybe being an advertising art director or something, and then designers the same way. So they’re kind of clued into what you do, that’s a specialty that maybe they don’t do.

And for a long time I was hired by designers… I still am… to draw and execute things. And it might be even something as simple as an existing logo that is old and years ago was photo-stated so many times and it’s rounded off and it’s this and that and what we’re doing is refreshing it and redrawing it. And I stress that word drawing because that’s what it requires. It requires someone to take a look at it and draw it.

The direct clients, it’s more common now. I’ll get a call out of the blue from somebody who’s has no art experience, but they need, they have a product or they need something, an image for that. And then I will create it. But I think that’s only because I’ve created a body of work that they could look at and go, “Oh, maybe we could hire him because he’s done all these things for all these companies.” Not, “Oh, he really knows how to draw a nice script, let’s call him to do a nice script for us.” That might be something that an advertising art director or a designer would ask for. Whereas the direct client, it’s sort of starting from scratch. And I’ve had some crazy jobs.

I did a job a couple of years ago and the assignment was to fill a wall in a hospital rehabilitation room with words. And the client came from publishing. He was giving money to this hospital to create this, it would turn out to be a beautiful rehabilitation. It looks like a club. It’s got a lot of machines and things and it’s for heart rehabilitation.

So I had this, I think is about 10 feet high by 46 feet wide wall that I had to create something for. And so I told the writer, give me some words, give me lists of words that I can work with it so I can kind of figure out what I can do. And it was interesting because I got all this words and there were four, I call them the four, four letter words, love, hope, heal and life, that seem to speak to me as being, four panels that I could work with and then use all these other words, list them underneath so I could use those to sort of decorate around the main words.

And I created these four colourful panels. They were creating an illustrator but they were printed up at a five by 10 feet and mounted on the wall. And there were about 111 hand lettered words that I did all kind of integrated and done. And I’d never done a job like that where I was actually kind of the creative director and taking it through to the execution part of it. So that was kind of a unique thing to me and I’m very proud of, I sort of call it my assisting chapel because it was about a three month project of doing nothing but drawing words for this piece. So I can send you some pictures if you’d like to see it.

 

Gerard Huerta Typography Wall Design

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I’d love to see that. I can include those in the show notes as well for anyone listening that might want to check out. But yeah, it sounds like a massive piece and I’m sure there was a lot of work that went into that, so I’d absolutely love to see that if you have, yeah if you can ping something but afterwards.

 

Gerard Huerta: I’ll email to you as we speak.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, fantastic. Well while you’re doing that, I’m going to ask you one last question because we’ve done about 50 minutes so far and this might be a big question…

So from your experience… you’ve been working on logos now for years… and some of those companies were small when you worked on them, but they become fairly big names now. From all of that experience, what would you say are the most important characteristics of a successful logo design?

 

Gerard Huerta: Okay. Well first of all, one of the things I like to say about it is that if you design a logo, you have to have exposure because you can have the best logo design in the world, but if nobody sees it or it doesn’t get exposed, it’s meaningless. It has no meaning, it has no life. So exposure is a big, I think a big part of it. Of course, the recognisability, the colour, those things are important.

I think now what’s happened in the last few years is that people are looking, 80% of the time they’re looking at a logo on their phone. So that’s changed a little bit of how I perceive logos, they have to work small because of how people are behaving. So that’s, that’s another thing. As I said, the drawing’s important and the appropriateness is important. But I think that pretty much sums it up. I don’t think there’s a whole lot more than that for me.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, I totally agree. And you know what you mentioned about phones, social media, if when you’re scrolling through your feed now, some of those icons, they’re tiny and if your logo isn’t suitable to fit within that space, you can’t really see it. And companies are having to find solutions to work with that.

There’s companies like Google, they’ve come up with interesting solutions for it. So rather than having one logo, they’ve got like a whole kit of logos that they can use. Say for example, they’ve got that small G which has the four colours and then they have their main logo and then they have the four little dots. It’s a logo system rather than just a static logo.

 

Gerard Huerta: Yes. Well there’s been many times where I’ve had to draw a logo that may be complicated or be a long title that will have to be slightly redrawn for the web and for small uses, usually it has to be a little bit bolder. The letters have to be a little bit bolder, but more space between them. That’s just a generalisation. But usually you find that’s what you have to do for the small ones, so they don’t smash together. But yeah, many times I’ve done a second version for reproduction, particularly for smaller uses.

 

Ian Paget: So how would you, I know you just explained about increasing the spacing between it and making it slightly bolder. Would you actually just physically create a separate file that’s for small use?

 

Gerard Huerta: Yes. It would be a separate image. And you would make sure that it’s identified that way. So somebody who doesn’t use the wrong logo. So for instance, I would say three quarter inch, might be the name and then three quarter inch, so somebody understands that at that size or smaller they’re to use that.

 

Ian Paget: So how are you going about making sure that that does look the same? Are you basically taking the logo making smaller and then just adjusting it?

 

Gerard Huerta: Yeah. So again, it’s an optic thing. You reduce it down and you look at it and you go, okay, what is happening here? What is happening to logo? It’s getting too thin, it’s getting too jammed together. You make those observations and then at a big size you start to adjust it and then you reduce it down and make the comparison and you just kind of get it to a point where it looks like the one that’s large because when it’s now small, it doesn’t, it doesn’t look like the one that’s large.

 

Ian Paget: And it’s interesting because I haven’t had many people or seen many examples of small versions of logos. I mean I’ve spoken to people about it before, but I’ve never really named the best way of solving that problem. So thank you for sharing.

 

Gerard Huerta: Yeah it’s such a minor thing, but I guess when you delve into these things as deep as I do, it’s important. I mean I think about going back again to the watch business where we had to have the words T Swiss-made T at the bottom on a curve and that was specially drawn so that at that tiny tiny size that it is, it would read. And you’re talking small, you’re talking really small and the same with even the word Swiss Army. We would hand draw, with that notching that I explained so that when it reproduces its sharp.

We even drew calendar dials, the numbers that you just see in the window where you just might see a 31 or you’ll see a one or you know, because the calendar spins around. And that was always an interesting thing because the 21 is going to look different than the 22, because the 21 you’re going to have a much wider two that you’ll draw because it’s next to the one, but the 22 takes, those numbers have to be smaller to fit. So again, everything I’m talking about is just really relating to what’s in front of you and making decisions as to why they do or don’t look good.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah, well I think you really stressed the importance of looking at everything optically. I know I’m doing it with a project at the moment where if you can imagine this U-shape, but there’s a top part, the upper part of it bridges in together. So it creates a droplet within the middle of the U. The main logo itself is gold foil on a white background, but when you invert it, and it’s on a black background, everything looks too chunky. So I’ve had to make everything a little thinner so that it looks the same when it’s on the black background, it’s compensating for that blurriness that happens when you’re …

 

Gerard Huerta: Exactly. One of the things we learned early on is when you reverse something out of black and it’s white, it’s always going to look heavier than it does normally. And yes, if you feel you need to make that adjustment, then you make it.

 

Ian Paget: Yeah. Well I think it made a big difference, just reducing the overall weight of that logo and it just looks so much nicer doing that. So I totally agree with kind of everything that you stressed in this interview about working optically and I hope people that are listening that don’t currently work that way, do work that way. But Gerard, I just want to say thank you so much for coming on. It’s been an absolutely fascinating interview. I really value your time and thank you for sharing some of your story and experience with us.

 

Gerard Huerta: Well, thank Ian. I enjoyed it also. And I did send you some, a few pictures so you could see that one large job.

 

Ian Paget: Amazing. Well, I’ll keep an eye out for those, and like I said, for anyone listening, they can go and check those out in the show notes for this episode.

 

Gerard Huerta: Thank you.

 

Ian Paget: So thank you so much again for coming on, I really appreciate it.

 

Gerard Huerta: Okay, thank you.

 

Thank you to the sponsor, FreshBooks

 

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A Life of Logos & Design - An Interview with Gerard Huerta

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