Interview: Dave Gouveia on Great Logo Design

When it comes to great logo design, HOW Logo Design Competition & Awards judge Dave Gouveia knows what’s up.

That’s because he’s worked in the design industry for over 19 years and has a variety of successful logo designs under his belt. In 2000 he founded the design studio 3 Dogz Creative smaller_headshotInc. with two co-workers, and he currently freelances for companies such as the Canadian Cancer Society, 9 Story Entertainment and Harlequin. Gouveia, who has two entries in the publication Identity Crisis: 50 Redesigns That Transformed Stale Identities, also designed and co-authored Creative Stuff: An Activity Book for Visual Thinkers.

All in all, the man has the perfect mix of identity experience—from small businesses to corporate makeovers. Read on for Gouveia’s expert opinion on what makes an effective logo and to learn more about his successful design career and best logo designs.

Designer Dave Gouveia's logo in both positive and reverse options; great logo design

Designer Dave Gouveia’s logo in both positive and reverse options

You started with an internship at Hard Drive Design. What initially compelled you to apply for that internship and go into design?
This is an interesting story and takes up two parts. First is why I interned and how I got my job. During my last year of college, every student was required to intern at a design studio. Many of us left the college city to pursue internships in larger cities—booming design studios were easy to come by in Toronto in the early 90s—not so much in my small hometown of Kingston (where the college was).

I found a small studio (two owners, a studio manager and two designers) where an alumnus was working as one of the designers, and I got excited. Little did I know my first few weeks would be spent doing mundane tasks, including sorting, numerically, a two-inch-thick stack of Pantone papers (yup, they made colored papers!).

Having learned to design, I felt there was a hesitancy to let me actually do something creative. Having owned a studio myself I can understand this, but I also feel everyone has a potential that shouldn’t be stifled. Ironically the alumnus didn’t come in to work near the end of my internship, and no explanation was given to me (again, understandable—it’s all politics, and I was an intern). The work, however, kept flowing in, and suddenly there was a need for a designer.

A potential new client (Canadian Tire, a large retail chain here in Canada) was looking for some work, and I was tasked with doing a newsletter. I don’t think they were prepared for what I produced, which came from years of learning design at school, and years of practicing the software on my own Mac (a PowerPc 6100… ancient now, but top of the line then! And with a hefty 5K price tag).

The client loved the newsletter, and became a regular client for years—impressed by that first newsletter. I was offered a job the same day, to start the following Monday. I had a month left of college, a job back home, a girlfriend. I went back and asked my professors their opinion. They said “You’re going to graduate. You are taking design to get a job in design—so take the job.” I quit my job, told my parents and gal I was moving away, and left that weekend.

Interview: Dave Gouveia on Great Logo Design

A variety of the logos Gouveia has created, including one for Brentwood Classics and its sub-brands adesso (diffusion line of affordable retail furniture), ur_style (furniture for small spaces) and Green Product (100% eco-friendly products). Other logos here include ones for BOLD, IMAX 10th anniversary Russia logo, Oak Park Deli, rethinkvfx (the word “think” on this identity was die-cut on stationery, so when you flipped over the paper the word “think” was upside-up and legible—to push the point of “think/rethink/think/rethink,” etc.), Lunar Jim (a children’s clay-mation show) and Rubber Your Ducky (annual AIDS fundraiser event in Toronto).

Now, the second part is that this is completely different from why I wanted to go into design. That honor belongs to my grade-eight journal and love of Star Wars. I grew up loving movies and science fiction. Star Wars was my fave. When I was in grade eight, the movie Young Sherlock Holmes came out, and it was the very first introduction of “good” computer animation on film. I was in awe. Then I forgot about it and went to high school and did high school stuff. Then I finished. And got a job at a Walmart-like retail store. And worked there forever with no future plans.

One morning before opening the manager came up to me and handed me a box and an envelope. No words were spoken. He left, and I opened the letter. It was a form letter with basically an “insert name here” section congratulating me on five years with the company. As a token of gratitude, I was given a gift. I opened the box, and it was a silver keychain with the company logo and the words “Five-year club.” I’ve never felt more depressed. I spent that entire day watching every older staff member and thinking “God, could I be here forever?”

That night, I went home and cleaned my room in my dejected state. I found my grade-eight journal and inside was a section “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I had written down “computer animator” because of the Young Sherlock Holmes movie. I immediately thought, I love Star Wars, and I want to be an animator on the next movie. I did some research and it turned out a girl from my hometown had gone to my college for graphic design, graduated, took a post-grad in animation at Sheridan near Toronto, and was now working for Lucasfilm. I said, “If that’s what she did, that’s what I’ll do” and applied to college.

Can you tell us about the philosophy and driving force behind your successful career?
I’ve always approached every project with the thought that there is a solution to this problem that only I can come up with. Sure, another designer may have the same idea, but as individuals, we’ll never really execute things the exact same way. I may pick a different font or color, and that choice alone makes all the work I develop my own—and there is a sense of pride that comes with developing something you can call your own and that other people respond to. It’s almost like being a painter or musician.

Having that creative streak inside of me is something that pushes me daily. Even on those days that I feel drained or in a rut, I know that I have it in me to solve this problem—it may be buried at the moment, but it’s there, and I know it. Creativity is such a wonderful trait to have because it can’t be faked. You’re either creative, or you’re not. It’s like being funny. You can’t fake it. You either are, or you aren’t. Luckily I have that trait too.

I have a myriad of [logo] designs that I was
very fond of that never got picked.”
—Dave Gouveia 

Is there any one logo project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge, and can you elaborate on why?
Challenging, yes. I worked on an identity for a friend. I should have anticipated issues right from the get-go because it was for someone I knew. Not in the best buddy sense, but acquaintance enough that there was already a bit of that “friends and family discount” vibe. I provided an estimate (lower than the norm) and got a brief. The name of the company was so blatantly self-explanatory, that it made sense to go in that direction—especially given the discounted rate.

Feedback on the first round of concepts was useless. There was more “This is shit” than “I like this for this, but not for this.” No constructive feedback at all … and where do you go from there? I asked pointed questions, trying to delve into their psyche, see what they were perhaps expecting… and branched off into other directions. Another presentation, another “don’t like it.” After the third go-round, I finally said, “Listen, I’m obviously not the designer for you” and bowed out—unpaid.

Interview: Dave Gouveia on Great Logo Design

Sometimes, the logos you create don’t go anywhere. Such was the case with these logos that Gouveia created in a challenging job for a friend.

Now, having been in this industry for over 19 years, I myself know when something is shit, and when it’s not. Sure, there are levels of refinement and greatness, logos that are “alright,” “good” and “fantastic”—but I know that I produced some good work for the estimate. As of now they still have no logo, and my poor ideas wallow in the “never used/never to be seen” category. That’s the frustrating thing—coming up with ideas you know are good, being given unhelpful feedback and criticisms, and in the end gaining nothing.

What’s your favorite logo project on which you’ve worked?
I did enjoy working on my own logo. It was a labor of love for sure, and I spent many weeks just trying to get it right. In the end I thought it was smart, flexible and memorable.

But for a client, I enjoyed my work on the Moody Gardens Digital Cinema Symposium. Being a big fan of cinema, it was a no-brainer when I was asked to come up with an identity for this event. I immediately began my research phase: What were others doing? What was the symposium about? Why was this important? Who was going to speak there? What would attendees expect, and what were they used to? Answering all of these questions leads me on an exploratory trip: What can I develop that is smart, something they haven’t seen before, and has longevity?

Interview: Dave Gouveia on Great Logo Design

A behind-the-scenes look at Gouveia’s logo development process for Moody Gardens Digital Cinema Symposium. Gouveia began with several different approaches and evolved many of the identities.

My first stop was to research the location—Moody Gardens. Being Canadian, I had no clue what this place was, but I came to find out it was like a massive tourist attraction with an aquarium, water park, 3D and 4D theaters—all encompassed by a visual of three massive glass pyramids. I knew these would have to factor in somehow.

Designing logos can be both difficult and trying. … And in the end you’re at the mercy of the client and their subjective nature.
—Dave Gouveia 

During my exploration I then brought in the notion of RGB colors, as they are the basic makeup of projection and monitors (the focus was on digital, so the color scheme made sense). More exploration into the realm of overlapping imagery (how the three colors come together to form what we see), pixels, traditional film, etc., and I presented five logos.

Interview: Dave Gouveia on Great Logo Design

The five logos Dave Gouveia presented to Moody Gardens Digital Cinema Symposium.

Interview: Dave Gouveia on Great Logo Design

The final logo for Moody Gardens Digital Cinema Symposium.

There was an overwhelming consensus with one in particular, and it was approved—no changes. Do you know how rare that is? I was for sure expecting a “please mix idea A and idea B with the colors of idea C,” but no. They liked it, and I had convinced them (I always write rationales for my designs when presenting) that this was the way to go.

The identity then became the springboard for all the collateral at the event, and because of its simplicity, it was easy to adapt to many items—while still providing enough differentiation when needed. It was fun to work on because it was film related, and that kind of thing just gets me excited!2014_logo_august_web_ads_300x250

What’s your best advice for designing logos?
I think the key with logo design is research. Know your competitors and see what they’ve done so you can either apply elements/ideas that work to your approach, or avoid items altogether.

Let’s say an example would be a financial company, and during your research phase you see that 80% of finance companies use blue and a script font. Then I would say, unless directly told by your client to do otherwise, avoid blue and script fonts. Then as you sketch and develop your ideas, other ideas will come to mind. I sometimes find that during the development phase a happy digital accident will push me in a different direction (like accidentally scaling an item 1200% instead of 120%—the result provides a fresh, albeit accidental, perspective).

I think font choice and color also play crucial roles—although I tend to think of my identities in black and white or grayscale first, knowing that color can be added. It’s much more difficult to work backward if you already have a color palette picked out, especially if the logo needs to be used for different media.

  “The key with logo design is research.”
—Dave Gouveia 

After I’ve created something I make sure it works in color, grayscale, black and white, and reverse. Sometimes I also try to think ahead to different versions such as stacked and horizontal. There’s nothing worse than developing something fantastic, and being given dimensions for it to go and there is no possible way it can fit there and look good (like fitting an extreme horizontal logo into a publication banner ad that’s extremely vertical).

The logo that is a part of your own identity is very clever. What qualities in others’ (or your) logos do you appreciate? Is there some quality all the best logo designs have?

I spent a lot of time developing my own logo. It’s the usual story with your own personal projects—they always take forever! As with all projects I started with the message: What do I want this to convey about me? My name? What I do? How I do it?

“Identities should have a bit of story or cleverness.”
—Dave Gouveia 

It’s difficult to pack multiple ideas or concepts into something and have it just “work.” For myself, I narrowed it down to: 1. My name and 2. My strength (print design). In print, the most common color palette is CMYK, so that was a no-brainer. Then I started thinking further and came up with the registration marks. Then I went further and realized by color-coding in specific ways, I could get my initials in there too. So those concepts (name/print, colors/registration) evolved into that one mark.

I got the idea for this all while driving and stopped for a coffee just to sketch it. It almost came in a “lightbulb moment.” Once it was nailed down and perfected digitally, I could start to develop things around it, like my business cards. Four cards, one for each color, and small squares (indicative of swatches) but with rounded corners that are perfectly replicating the curvature measurements of the logo. I think I like those clever twists and items that make you do a double-take and look deeper.

Although, I did include a “dummy failsafe” into the identity to ensure people noticed my initials—when the logo is in reverse, specific quadrants are missing so the DG is clearer. Perhaps now in hindsight that was unnecessary. The only thing that I hate, but felt I had no way around it, was the order of the colors. I really would have liked to use them in the proper CMYK order, but I just couldn’t stand having the black and yellow together (too bumble-beeish) and the yellow is the hardest of the four colors to read, so it made more sense to have it be the least used of the four.

My yellow business card is a bit of a nightmare, but people still choose it when I offer them all four to pick from!

Identities should have a bit of story or cleverness—I think of things like FedEx’s arrow, and here in Canada, Ontario, Hydro’s original logoyou get the OH for “O”ntario “H”ydro, but then you also get the depiction of a plug. Sometimes when things are this good, you can’t even tell that there’s a twist… it’s likely that 90% of people looking at this see plug first, not the letter O and H, and then when they do, they go “heyyyyyyy” like they just solved a DaVinci Code puzzle. Haha. Now, obviously this can’t work for everything, but there should be some reasoning behind what is produced—not just “it looks good.”

“I’ve always approached every [design] project
with the thought that there is a solution to
this problem that only I can come up with.”
—Dave Gouveia

In general, are you impressed by the quality of logos coming out of the design world?
Hmm… it’s really hard to say. Sometimes I see items, and I’m really blown away, and other times I think, “What the heck?” But the key is that I don’t know the story. A good designer will have multiple ideas running through their minds at all times and start developing them. We may show only a few ideas to the client, but trust me, there are many others rattling around in our brains because we are constantly thinking (What if that were blue? What if it were reversed? What if this font were thinner?).

The problem is that we can’t show everything, so there is a lot of trial and error. You make it blue, you feel it doesn’t work, you scrap that idea and move on. We are the professionals, and we’re tasked with “knowing” what works and what doesn’t, and educating our client on that. But sometimes you have a client who says right off the bat, “I love green, hate every other color, and prefer thick fonts”—so you go away, shaking your head, and develop tons of ideas using those criteria.

You also come up with your own ideas, throwing everything they said out the window and coming up with something that you feel “solves it,” but even during a presentation you may get stomped down and end up using something you didn’t like that much or weren’t proud of.

So when you have limited things to showcase, and you end up using “that” logo—and someone like me sees it –I can’t be too quick to judge it, because maybe your other idea was the best thing since sliced bread, but they picked the weaker idea. It doesn’t make a person a bad designer and further, it doesn’t make it a bad logo. Even some bad logos have good qualities, and that differentiates us from the “logo-for-$99” guys. I have a myriad of designs that I was very fond of that never got picked.

Interview: Dave Gouveia on Great Logo Design

The logo options Gouveia presented to the Mississauga Festival Choir. 


“The idea behind the [Mississauga Festival Choir] logo is that a choir is all about different people coming together to create a cohesive and understandable performance. There is still that individuality, but combined there was a group harmony. So, the letters MFC were developed from a great font called Multicolore, where all the letters are made of individual geometric elements, and finally refined in bright colors to denote the excitement and passion of the group,” says Gouveia.

Interview: Dave Gouveia on Great Logo Design

This “shows all the variants for the Mississauga Festival Choir and the Chamber Choir, and they were also celebrating 30 years that year, so a complementary anniversary logo needed to be developed concurrently. This is just a small sample as I always create black-only, reverse options, and grayscale options—I’m very meticulous in the grayscale respect and rarely use the built-in ‘convert to grayscale’ options available in Illustrator. The tones never end up being as good as if you do them manually, allowing you more control over the visual contrast,” says Gouveia.

What’s one of your biggest pet peeves in logo design?
When someone develops a logo in Pantone colors first, then just hits the “convert to CMYK” dropdown, and you end up with awkward percentages in color like 26.74% Cyan or 1.64% Black. I always point these things out to clients— they should be aware of them and how they don’t feel very “organized.” I have fixed many a logo developed by others into proper, manageable color formats, and I also try to avoid any kind of “stylistic” effects (like tinting percentages). I’d rather use a different ink percentage to achieve my effect.

Coming across logos with weird colors, effects applied, vector shapes not combined and grouped and just messy—that stuff gnaws at me. Developing identities is a long-term goal. You need to think about adaptations of the logos, where they may go, how they may be treated.

Back in the early 2000s, my old studio 3 Dogz landed Visa International as a client. At the time they had just paid a massive branding agency God knows how much to develop a revised identity and look and feel. There was a huge style guide of dos and don’ts, and grids to follow—all the bells and whistles you’d expect to see in an agency-provided identity handbook.

“Developing identities is a long-term goal.”
—Dave Gouveia 

3 Dogz was the first studio to actually start implementing the new style into creative, and almost right away we found faults—things that seemed basic, like “What happens when I scale this graphic to billboard size?” These measurements and ratios no longer work, and the resulting creative looks wrong and doesn’t follow the new style.

Sure, everyone forgets things, but this seemed so basic (no one is ever going to scale something? c’mon) that it actually pained me to know how much money they made, and here’s our three-person shop finding errors and inconsistencies in the first week of seeing the document. Craziness, and proof that hiring big doesn’t always mean hiring best.

Is there anything else you’d like to communicate to logo designers?
Designing logos can be both difficult and trying. You can do all the research, all the sketching, all the conceptualizing of a disciplined army, truly bust your ass—and in the end you’re at the mercy of the client and their subjective nature. Anything can fall flat at a moment’s notice because they “don’t like a specific color” or “don’t like rounded corners.”

The key is knowing how to sell your idea and back it up with your research. Why you chose a color. Why you went with rounded corners. In some cases the answers will be self-explanatory (something called “the red dot” you likely wouldn’t start developing in green), but if you did use green, you better have a good reason behind it so that you can convince the client that not only is it right, but it’s the best choice and hits all the marks they set forth in their brief.