The Canadian Arabian Horse Registry, incorporated in 1958 under the Animal Pedigree Act, is a member-based organization with about 800 members. Its aim is to meet the needs of Arabian horse owners in Canada, to promote the breed both within the horse world and to the general public.
To start the process, we did a brief survey of Arabian and other horse club logos and found that they fell into two general categories.
First, the ‘picture’ logos, featuring a detailed, prominent picture of a horse. When taken as a group within the Arabian breed, many of these logos end up looking quite similar. (Notice how these horses are all facing to the right.) These logos can also date themselves as breed standards (and drawing styles) evolve. The old logo for the Canadian Arabian Horse Registry (the ‘mare and foal’ logo) is of this type and shown in the top left hand corner.
On the positive side, some pictorially detailed logos can be a beautiful throwback to historic types of advertising imagery. On the negative side, they are not terribly versatile and quickly lose detail when used at small sizes.
The second category contains more iconic logos. The more modern of these stuck with a simplified silhouette or knock-out shape (bottom row). Others had more detail but used a simplified line or outline, falling somewhere between a picture and a purely iconic look (top row). The human brain has been shown to recognize shapes first, colors second, and details third, so simplifying the imagery allows the logo to be more immediately recognizable. It also makes it more useful over a wide range of applications, for example with different sizes and colors.
We also looked at the American Quarter Horse Association’s identity system. The AQHA has a particularly strong identity which they rolled out about ten years ago. (I haven’t been able to find out who the design firm is, but am hoping someone will be able to supply that information?) The old logo (top) featured a picture of a Quarter Horse and part of the American flag. The new logo dropped all imagery in favor of a simple red Q. The genius of the mark is that the Q is unique among horse breeds and is an immediate identifier of the Quarter Horse breed (often abbreviated as QH).
The objectives outlined were that the new CAHR logo needed to be:
- a strong identifier for the breed and its particular characteristics
- attractive, easy to use on promotional items, and a representation that members would be proud to display.
We also narrowed down a few other requirements. The ideal logo would be a) immediately recognizable as an Arabian horse, b) immediately recognizable as Canadian, and c) distinct enough from related logos that it would be unique and memorable.
Before starting with any research or brainstorming, I had dashed off this quick sketch:
This was used as a starting point for further exploration. I usually start working towards a solution using only black and white (and shades of grey, if need be, although that often means the shape isn’t resolved enough), as it’s important have a shape that works when reduced to its most elementary level. According to Alina Wheeler’s Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, shape is the first thing that the human eye recognizes, followed by color. Details come last.
Once we got into the process, I did a number of mock-ups for this configuration, and we used the logo on the bottom right as one of the possible ‘final’ solutions. Often shapes that look intriguing in a sketch look less enchanting when rendered in black and white with defined outlines. One of the ideas that we dropped from the circle image was the idea of working a maple leaf into the horse’s mane, however, as you’ll see, we came back to that idea in other revisions.
While I was working on this set of logos, Guto Penteado was putting together some ideas as well. Guto is the local in-house designer for Murray Popplewell’s RaeDawn Arabians and Prairie Machine Parts. We’ve collaborated on a number of horse-related projects in the past. Guto came up with two potential solutions. The first (top left logo, above) incorporated two horse heads and a maple leaf, representing the purebred and half-Arabian streams that the Registry encompasses. We knew that the top head could pose problems in terms of fitting the logo into certain spaces, so we worked to see if the head(s) could be repositioned in a different way.
At this point, we had two potential directions and decided to drop both of them.
We decided that anything contained in a circle looked too much like the AHA logo. Not as critical, but also undesirable, a horse head cut-out within a maple leaf looked similar to the Canadian Nationals show logo. The AHA and the Canadian Nationals show were the two logos it was most important to stay distinct from, so we decided to pursue the third stream, a merging of the mane and maple leaf.
I felt strongly about the two solutions on the bottom right (with and without the cut-out maple leaf), but they received negative feedback from everyone involved – from Tex and Nicole, our touchpoints at the Registry, and from Guto as well. With feedback in hand, I went back to the drawing board. Part of the reason I felt the maple leaf in the mane was a strong image was because it captured some of the excitement that the Arabian breed is known for; I felt that this was still important, however, the visual details needed to be handled differently.
Throughout the process, we worked closely with our contacts at the Registry. Each person involved had a vision for the breed’s future and their feedback was invaluable. This posed some unique challenges as well; everyone involved had their own vision of what the ‘ideal’ Arabian head should look like. As part of the process, we did some tracings of Arabian head photos. We didn’t want a stylized artist’s vision of what the head should look like; however, at the same time, we did have to show some of the extreme ‘type’ that the breed is known for.
In the end, we used Guto’s silhouette from his first design with only a few small modifications. It’s a modern silhouette, in terms of breed trends, but the simplicity works as viewers are able to ‘fill in’ their own details.
The above set of comps was the final round of design. It was decided that the maple leaf is complex enough on its own, so it was cleaned up and simplified, as was the horse’s head. The strokes suggesting the mane were dropped, as they contributed to confusion in the shape.
At this point, it was decided to drop the front maple leaf, and instead to use an angled line along the bottom of the horse’s neck for a cleaner look. The final solution works in both one and two colors.