Designing A Logo for The Ape

20 August, 2007

So, out of the blue, I spent a few hours collaborating last Friday with a major open source thought leader to design a logo (above) for one of his projects. Here's the story…

Early last week, Sun senior Web guru, co-chair of the Atom Publishing Group, and recent RailsConf keynoter, Tim Bray, wrote a blog post welcoming a new committer to an ongoing project of his called The Ape. The Ape is the Atom Protocol Exerciser, an almost-but-not-quite validator for Atom implementations. Basically, as Tim says in his full description of The Ape, since Atom is a fully fledged publishing protocol and not just a feed format, the output of evaluating the performance of implementations must be more sophisticated than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down and hence The Ape was born.

Having done some work parsing and generating Atom feeds, but not having heard of The Ape before I was intrigued and so clicked through immediately. On The Ape's page, I found a form for submitting the URI of your Atom implementation (along with any necessary authentication info) and a box on the side that said:

It would be nice if there were a cute picture of an ape here, ideally grooming another ape for fleas and parasites. Got one?

I immediately thought: 'hey, I could make something like that.' So, I spent an hour at the end of the day last Friday in Illustrator and ginned up a simple little line drawing of two apes grooming each other. I combined it with a simple little text treatment of 'APE' (in an all caps version of my favorite, News Std Gothic Bold) and sent it off to Tim.

To my surprise, Tim wrote back almost immediately with enthusiasm and some suggestions for improvements. My first draft was in stark black and white and the text treatment was somewhat brutal. He wanted color (something "surprising") and the whole thing to feel friendlier. After batting a few quick iterations back and forth, we settled on the logo you see above and, now, on The Ape's homepage.

Tim made a great design client (a rare and precious thing); he had a specific image in mind but wasn't too picky, he gave good clear feedback without being harsh or overly critical, and he settled on a final version without calling for endless fidgety revisions. The final result came out much more Hanna-Barbera than I was originally picturing and, I think, much better.

It feels good to have contributed something to an open source project even if it wasn't code. The Atom Publishing Protocol design effort was a noble one (Tim spoke about the original motivations and social machinations behind it very eloquently in Atom as a Case Study at last year's ETech) and I'm proud to have contributed my little piece, however peripheral.

As Steve Yegge pointed out at this year's OSCON, Open Source Software tends to suffer from a tin ear when it comes to marketing and the aesthetics of self-presentation. I've tried to give my own nascent OSS projects a bit of flair by spending some time on a nice logo for my Thumbnail rubygem and video demos for RAD. So, if you're an open source project leader, don't forget to reach out to designers to make your projects more than merely presentable, or, if you're a designer, don't be shy about offering your expertise to the OSS projects you come across that need a little visual love.

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