Hotel Sorrento: A Logo Design Case Study

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What do you think makes a branding project “typical,” and what would you say makes it a little more unusual, interesting or exciting?

Seattle-based design firm Civilization has a couple of different reasons for classifying their branding project for Hotel Sorrento as less than typical. For starters, the hotel has been a longtime literary hub and arts and cultural center in its community. And then there’s the rumor that the hotel is haunted by the ghost of Alice B. Toklas, the partner of American novelist, poet and playwright Gertrude Stein. Talk about a colorful past!

Civilization was challenged to design a logo and identity system that both honored this history and reflected the character of the hotel. The first step in their plan of attack was to go hang out at the hotel with cocktails. They also headed to the public library downtown to study vintage publishing house colophons. “[The library is] such a great resource for discovering unexpected ideas and inspiration and is so much better than a Google search,” Civilization says.

Civilization's logo design process for Hotel Sorrento led to an award-winning design in the HOW Logo Design Awards

“The Hotel Sorrento opened its doors in 1909, at the tail-end of Art Nouveau,” says Civilization. “In the last century, this landmark has seen many changes, but has always remained a cultural hub with strong ties to Seattle’s literary community. The original woodwork and marble flooring that remain give the hotel a library feel.”

Getting to Work: The Logo Design Process

Civilization's logo design process for Hotel Sorrento led to an award-winning design in the HOW Logo Design AwardsThe team at Civilization started out by focusing on luxury, but Hotel Sorrento didn’t hop on board with that direction. “The client wanted something that felt more eclectic and captured the character and personality of the hotel experience, which was less luxury and more story-based,” Civilization says.

So they went back to the roots. The hotel first opened in 1909, during the heyday of the art nouveau movement. “When we started referencing that visual style, we came upon work by illustrators like Aubrey Beardsley.” This played a part in the final concept, which ended up being a merging of several different ideas.

Their goal from the start was to create “a mascot or a symbol that made you want to take it home with you, as if you were taking home a part of your hotel experience.” In addition, Civilization notes the significance of both the hotel lobby, which feels like a library with all of its dark wood and old-book smell, and the fact that the hotel regularly host reading parties. “We referenced the world of books and started looking at vintage publishing house logos— for whatever reason, many of which seem to include animals—especially birds,” the team says.

Civilization's logo design process for Hotel Sorrento led to an award-winning design in the HOW Logo Design Awards

The creative team behind this award-winning logo included Civilization art director and designer Gabriel Stromberg.

According to the firm, Hotel Sorrento “attracts the movers and shakers from the arts community, patrons who dress to be seen and speak to be heard—evoking the spirit of a peacock.” This led them to pull inspiration from the mythology of the peacock itself, with “its tail holding the many eyes of the cosmos and acting as a symbol of immortality, which pays homage to the hotel’s impressive longevity,” Civilization says.

And as for the color and type—well, those were influenced by history as well. “The color references an old book, and the type references the chiseled typeface found on the hotel facade,” Civilization says.

All of these inspirations and elements led to the final concept, and throughout the process, Civilization learned not only that a small mark truly can tell a multi-layered, complex story,” but also that “through design, mythology can be created.”

Civilization's logo design process for Hotel Sorrento led to an award-winning design in the HOW Logo Design Awards

Civilization says that they matched a shade of green drawn from a vintage hardcover of a publishing house colophon; photo by Amanda Ringstad.

Happy Client, Happy Firm

The reactions to the Hotel Sorrento identity have been “overwhelmingly positive,” Civilization says, though they are most proud of the simple fact that their client loved the logo. “You do this work in service to the client first and foremost and measure the success of the project based on the client’s reactions,” the firm says. “In this case, the client was very happy with the logo; and then going beyond that to then be recognized by peers that we admire was an immense honor.”

And on that note, Civilization leaves us with the following words:

Design is a space for telling limitless stories. Shapes activate ideas.”

Civilization's logo design process for Hotel Sorrento led to an award-winning design in the HOW Logo Design Awards

[Psst! Have you checked out Civilization’s Design Lecture Series? It’s pretty awesome!]

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