ZNotes: a journey in identity
It’s surreal looking at the original ZNotes logo and realising that 15-year-old-Zubair’s free WordPress blog still lives and has grown to a point where brand guidelines and trademarking has to be done!
“Why is it called ZNotes?”
“Because you’re Zubair..?” Well, yes and no. The decision was really made by an algorithm. You see when I first arrived on WordPress.com to register a sub-domain, my initial choice of ‘studynotes.wordpress.com’ had already been registered and as it had my name on the account, the form suggested “zstudynotes”. I’d been sitting there trying different permutations of ‘revision’, ‘study’ and ‘notes’ and tired of it all, I just clicked proceed. I didn’t imagine anyone who knew me would come to this website!
So the journey of ZStudyNotes began. There was no logo at the time, just plain old text in the header and a list of some PDF files. Soon after, I realised that the “.wordpress.com” bit of the domain was cumbersome. And actually, did the ‘study’ even need to be there? It wasn’t adding a huge deal of meaning. So the ‘study’ was dropped, and scavenging a free domain service, the website returned as ZNotes.tk
At some point in Grammar School, I decided to install Photoshop on my computer to get rid of backgrounds. As with every Adobe product, its steep learning curve meant I spent ages on YouTube with tutorials and was sucked into the world of graphics designing. With these skills, I had to come up with a logo for this new website of mine.
The Real OG
Authentic and handwritten. At the end of the day, you always end up ‘writing’ some stuff down for last-minute revision and that’s what I thought the logo should represent. At first, I tried handwriting myself, scanning it and then vectorising the logo on Photoshop. That didn’t work… Instead, I spent ages looking through web fonts to find something that was similar to my handwriting.
With the final two fonts I picked, one of them was great with everything but the letter “Z” and in the other, the “Z” had the curliness I liked but the other letters were “too pretty” to be mine. So I combined them! And as I was using two different fonts, the positioning had to be thought of. In the end, this was the result:
This logo lasted quite a while and starred many iterations of the website development.
Pink ‘n’ Pretty
Back home after my first year of university and with a four-month-long break, I returned to the now growing website that was ZNotes. It needed a revamp – with the increasing number of subjects, the navigation was getting fussy and I wanted to freshen up the overall look and feel. So back to the drawing board!
Weirdly, the first element of this new logo that came to me was its colour! #DA1D56 – the ZNotes pink. Doing some research, the colour was being used in some other application but it struck me – the pink brought out energy and youthfulness but tamed by its darker hue, a sense of stability.
Another issue I’d been having was that the irregularity of the handwriting meant the notes were harder to read with that logo as a watermark. So this new logo had to bring some stronger fonts. Keeping the “NOTES” in the bottom leg of an edgier “Z”, I came up with the main text element of the logo.
The pink had to be incorporated but it felt a bit too much as a single colour. Messing around on the colour wheel, I decided a gradient with lighter blue would look fun! And yet even with drop shadows inside the letters, the background seemed empty. One thing that was key to this design was the sharp, geometrical elements so I added a light overlay of a geometrical texture to the background. And so, the logo was ready to go public! We were able to generate black & white and watermark versions from using just the text elements and the main logo would be implemented in a circle frame – because I liked the infinite continuity of a circle’s path.
The New ZNotes
Today. Another 2 years later and the “Graphics” folder overflowing with one-off design pieces for each of our new ideas, it was time to consolidate it all. But it wasn’t just a logo update anymore, we had to set down defining guidelines for the ZNotes brand. And now with more than 2.5 million humans who had visited and interacted with our resources, it was no longer something I could do on a whim.
So the last leg of our journey began with a few prevailing ideas; having established an identity of both reliability and relatability with students, the main assets of the logo had to remain. Although the gradient and shadows looked cool on the web, they lost their glamour on print especially in a smaller size as they became hard to read. We also wanted to bring consistency with the typography in our content and logo. So researching in font pairings, we came to a consensus on the combination of Raleway and Open Sans.
Most importantly, we brought on the amazing Leona onboard for this project, a graphic design student at Norwich University of the Arts. While it sounds like a simple design brief, it took many iterations and over a month to get to this final stage!
Although it looks pretty similar, the font of the “NOTES” has been updated, and the angle of the diagonals of the “Z” adjusted to 45°, providing a guideline for the separation of the two colours. The #DA1D56 pink continues to live but the new blue has been selected to pair perfectly with it by constructing an equilateral triangle in the colour wheel and picking the colour in the blue hues – I’m a mathematician so of course, I had to do this!
But with the logo comes with a whole host of changes in the form of social media designs, templates for our official documentation and even a revamped pitch deck!
Which brings me to the end of one of the longest pieces I’ve written since starting my math degree – who knew I had so much to say about branding? Keep a lookout for our visual updates as well as some cool new features coming in tow with this update!