TRÜF Does Branding Like Nobody’s Business

[Natasha Jen: designer, thinker, maker, educator, partner at Pentagram—
and your HOW Logo Design Awards judge this year!]


The creatives at TRÜF say that they’re obsessed with designing better brands—and with decades of marketing expertise from New York and LA’s top ad agencies, these award-winning designers know how to deliver. A couple of years back, we quoted TRÜF cofounder and creative director Adam Goldberg as saying that unicorn clients don’t come around all that often. But after hearing about the team’s latest work, we’re not so convinced that’s the case when you’re as talented as the folks at TRÜF.

beautiful branding for UC by TRUF

Branding Identity for “Horizons of the Humanities”

The creatives recently completed a branding project for the team at the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI), who asked the studio to brand their new “Horizons of the Humanities” (HoH) initiative. UCHRI strives to support innovative, experimental research in the humanities, and HoH reflects that through the topics they investigate as well as through their research methods, according to Beth Greene, research communications and projects manager at UCHRI.

“We were a little wary that an institution would really want to push the boundaries of design,” Goldberg says. “Especially when you consider all the committees involved in the approval process, which usually doesn’t bode well for the end product.”

But, Goldberg says, UCHRI really surprised them by selecting some of the team’s more “out there” concepts and even pushing them to take things further in many instances. “By giving us a long leash and really trusting us, it proved to us to never judge a book (or client) by its cover. Some of the best work comes from unexpected places, and that’s definitely one of the favorite things (and lessons) we experienced with UC.”

Greene says that they too enjoyed the partnership and are excited about the finished identity. “We liked the fact that they took our suggestions without compromising their own viewpoint—this was very important to us because we chose TRÜF for their expertise in communicating these concepts visually,” she explains.

The team at UCHRI is excited about the new visual identity. Greene says that it “captures the initiative without being too literal or too rigid in its design. Many of the components work for multiple initiatives, and we are constantly seeing new ways of interpreting the HoH logo and the patterns and guidelines that TRÜF has given us.”

Greene also notes that they’ve received a lot of positive reaction to the new visual identity. “Several members of our Board of Governors commented on how the logo and overall concept spoke powerfully to the initiative and its pillars, and we’ve received positive feedback from faculty and staff within the UC system on the design,” she says, adding that they continue to receive positive feedback from humanities institutes throughout the country as well.

An Iconography Challenge from Adidas

Although TRÜF didn’t take on the overall branding of Adidas’ All Day fitness app (Adidas tackled that), they were asked to create the accompanying iconography, which Goldberg says was quite the challenge. “Normally you’d think it would be fairly boilerplate to come up with icons for running, walking, etc.” he says. “But it was far from that.”

Adidas wanted to do something different and challenge what an icon could be by going for something more abstract and gestural rather than literal—all the while retaining a minimalist style, Goldberg says. “The icons needed to ‘feel’ like the action,” Goldberg says. “After going through seemingly hundreds of designs, we kept ending up with typical icons that were just too literal. We had to throw it all away and really unscrew our heads and approach it differently.”

They eventually met the challenge by treating each icon like a logo and ensuring that each one stylistically related to the other. “Perhaps we took the long road with this one, but we’re proud of how they came out,” Goldberg says. “Sometimes you have to work through a lot of complexity in order to achieve the simplest solution.”

iconography for Adidas by TRUFiconography for Adidas by TRUF

Ingredients for Effective Branding

You may remember that TRÜF was recognized a couple years ago in the identity applications category of the HOW Logo Design Awards for the beautiful branding they did for investment firm Echo Capital Group. As such, we were eager to learn about any secret ingredients they have for branding. But besides a strong cocktail, Goldberg says the only “secret sauce” for creating effective branding is “experience, homework and really hard work.”

“Putting in the work is really the non-secret secret,” he says. “We’ll produce a ton of designs to get down to a handful that are right for the job. You have to sift through a lot of dirt to get to the gems. Just keep digging!”

He adds that homework, albeit unsexy and oftentimes boring, is the most important step. “If you don’t have a reflexive knowledge about who you’re designing for and what they’re trying to achieve, you’re just ‘hanging ornaments.’ Save those for your Christmas tree or greeting cards.”

That said, Goldberg does have some tips to share:

    • Stop designing logos! Start designing brand identities. The logo is not the brand. In a world where someone can go on a website and buy logos for $99 (or less), it’s really important that we educate potential clients on the importance of what we do or else we’re just harming ourselves and devaluing the entire industry. Whenever I see design colleagues present a sheet of logos to a client without context, strategy or any extensions, it makes me cringe. Do more. See more. There’s always a bigger story.
    • Pick through the garbage. You know the mess on the side of your Illustrator artboard that didn’t quite make it to center stage? Sometimes there’s really good stuff in there. The happy accidents. Those are the designs that were often done instinctively and can be design gold for your current project or one down the road. Speaking of Illustrator artboards, I generally like to start with 20 or 30 of them and give myself a lot of space to just riff. When you’re constantly trying to jam stuff onto a few boards it’s kind of mentally/creatively constricting.
    • Stay hydrated. We were at a creative conference recently and heard one of the best pieces of design advice ever by Marc Hemeon http://hemeon.com/ (I’m paraphrasing): “Drink water. Dehydration makes people grouchy. You can avoid so many conflicts just by being hydrated.” It sounds silly on the surface but we often get so wrapped up in the work that we forget to take care of the most important design tool of all: our brain.

As well as some rules worth considering when designing a logo:

    • Screw the rules. But you can only screw the rules if you know all the rules first. That takes years and a lot of experience ,so don’t try this at home, kids! Solid design principles from color theory to typography to brand positioning (and everything in between) are the foundation of any good brand identity. It’s human nature to forget the basics sometimes and get lost in the creativity of it all. Sometimes we produce a logo that looks really cool, and we’re not quite sure why.  That’s when we have to step back and take another look at what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Sometimes you have to kill the “coolest” thing before it sees the light of day because it’s all style and no substance. Remember, design is NOT art.
    • Know who you are design­-wise. What’s your unique style? Find it and perfect it. Don’t use every crayon in the box. If you’re designing in every style, you’re actually designing in no style at all.
    • Don’t work for a**holes! Do your best to get a sense of how your potential client is as a human being. It’s hard to avoid all of them, and some will inevitably slip through, but trust your gut.  We’ve learned this the hard way too many times. We all need to keep the lights on, but trust us on this one: It isn’t worth it. There’s nothing worse than trying to do great work for sh*tty people.

beautiful branding by TRUF beautiful branding by TRUF
Logotype by TRÜF for Margo Weathers, a fashion & beauty director.

beautiful branding by TRUFBrand identity design by TRÜF for NOVA, a ground-breaking cloud-based platform.


HOW Logo Design Awards

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