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7 Years in the Making: Behind the Coursework Rebrand

Posted by Justin Rodriguez on

A brand is a living and breathing entity. It’s a constant work in progress that can evolve from time to time. That was the case for my brand Coursework which has changed quite a bit since I started it 7 years ago. For those of you who have been with me since the beginning, you may recall updates to the brand name and spelling. It’s been a journey to get to where I am today, but it was worth it to make Coursework more laser-focused than ever. I’m writing this piece to give a look into the evolution of the brand and why it is the way it is today.

 

PHASE 1: A FALSE START

Before it was Coursework, it was initially called The Elective when I started the brand back in 2013. The name represented doing something for fun out of one’s own personal interest just like elective courses in school. That name didn’t last long because shortly after registering the name I discovered a skate company named Elective Brand. They were already active and selling products in a similar arena, so I decided to change names.

I stuck with a school-related name because it was sort of a nod to my background as a graphic designer. I wanted the name to represent doing work you’re passionate about. After much thought I came up with the name Coursework and felt it was the perfect name to embody that concept. Coursework is the work that is necessary to do for whatever it is you’re trying to learn. So this concept not only applies to my interests, but it is broad enough to relate to anyone doing anything.

 

PHASE 2: STAYING ON COURSE

In its second phase, the brand was called Coursewrk Supply Co. At the time I didn’t think I could legally register and own such a common name as “Coursework” so I decided to spell it differently without the second “o” and I added “Supply Co.” to make it more unique. 

 

During the Courswrk Supply Co. years, my logo was an emblem of a ship with a bold nautical-like typeface. Why a nautical theme with a ship logo? Well, when the brand was still called The Elective, my first t-shirt I made had the phrase “Stay on Course” with a ship riding waves. That shirt resonated well and I thought the ship and message could be an interesting visual metaphor for the brand.

 

"MY OWN LOGO DIDN’T FIT WITHIN THE DESIGN PRINCIPLES I BELIEVE IN SO IT WAS TIME FOR A CHANGE."

I was happy with the logo for a while, but I would often get questions from people who didn’t understand why the logo was a ship. I realized that not many people could get the reference if I hadn’t explained it to them and this issue started to get to me. I believe a great logo from a conceptual and visual standpoint should be understood quickly if not instantly. It should be simple and make sense with how it looks and feels. My logo of a ship and wordmark—which was a typeface often used for coffee and beer brands—no longer felt on brand for a streetwear company. I also realized that misspelling the name put me at a disadvantage of being discoverable online. These issues were becoming problematic. My own logo didn't fit within the design principles I believe in so it was time for a change.

 

To work around these issues, I changed the consumer facing name and spelling to “Coursework”, and the full legal name to “Coursework Creative LLC” which is what it is today. Now that the name issue was sorted out, it was time to update the logo.

 

PHASE 3: CLARITY

Interestingly, at this time of needing to rebrand I actually got accepted to an online program called Streetwear: Mastered. Streetwear: Mastered was an online program that was curated by Virgil Abloh and taught by leaders in the streetwear industry like Kyle Ng of the brand Braindead and Mike Cherman of Chinatown Market and ICNY to name a few. Taking the program helped refine my vision and better understand who I wanted my target audience to be. My brand was always about doing work you loved, but who was I talking to? I wanted to talk to likeminded individuals and those from all spectrums of creative culture from art, design, music, dance, fashion, cooking, writing, film, etc.

 

The acceptance email for Streetwear: Mastered

 

A moodboard created during the program I used to help define my audience

So what kind of logo and icon could symbolize creative culture? The answer was obvious to me—a pencil. Every idea can start with a pencil and paper whether you’re an artist drawing a sketch, a musician writing a song, or a chef writing a recipe. One of my favorite logos is the Fedex logo where there is actually an arrow shape created by the negative space between the “E” and the “X” of the logo. I always thought this was a genius concept to represent their business and I was inspired to do something similar. My design solution was to create a pencil point within the inner area of the “C” in my logo. At this point, I felt that my logo was complete, but it wasn't just yet. The way I got to the final logo was a pretty surreal moment.

 

Inspiration from the FedEx logo's hidden arrow

An early version of the new Coursework logo with a modified C
implying a pencil shape 

PHASE 4: A GOLDEN MOMENT 

Sometimes things happen and I can’t help but think they happen for a reason. In my case, my final logo was influenced by the person who inspired me to start my brand in the very first place—Benny Gold. Benny Gold is a designer and founder of his own namesake brand that he ran for 15 years becoming a huge influence and icon to the streetwear world.

 

In November 2018, I was visiting family in San Francisco and I knew that Benny held “Office Hours” at his shop where he would speak with aspiring streetwear designers about their brands and offer advice. I was curious if he would be doing office hours while I was visiting, so I checked his Instagram for information. At that very moment I came across his post saying that he was holding office hours the next day! Talk about timing. I called off of work from my remote day job and I went in the following day.

A look inside Benny Gold's Shop on Valencia St. in San Francisco
I walk into the shop and standing there was one of my heroes folding a box of newly shipped Benny Gold Camo Fog socks. I’ve been to his shop a couple of times before, but he was never there. I was pretty nervous but tried keeping my cool when I introduced myself and let him know I was there for his office hours. It was in the middle of the day and maybe because it was a weekday there were no other customers there. I was expecting to see a line of other designers like myself crowding around Benny asking for advice, but it was just me. I got to chat with him one-on-one with his undivided attention.

  

I gave him the spiel about my brand and where I had arrived with my logo. Before I even brought up that there was a pencil shape within the C of my logo, Benny said he was thinking of the same concept which really validated things for me. However, he thought that the pencil needed to be more obvious and that it was too subtle.

 

I sat next time him in awe as he asked to see my laptop so he could play around with my logo in Adobe Illustrator. It was amazing to see him work and how quickly he explored designs. You could really see in that moment the years of experience and talent that he possessed and why he is such a prolific designer. After playing around for a bit, we knew the direction the logo needed to go, but we weren’t going to get there in this moment of time. I left the shop feeling in disbelief of what just happened, and I was empowered and inspired to figure this logo out. Little did I know that my visit there would be the last because Benny decided to retire his brand and close shop just a two months later. I'm super thankful to have had that moment.

 

 

I worked tirelessly on figuring out how to refine the pencil within my logo and eventually I got it. To create a more obvious pencil all it took was to add two lines within the C to add more detail. It was simple solution and that’s what I love about it. Usually the simplest solutions can be the hardest to figure out.

 

It was from these sketches that I knew I figured it out.

 

Another thing I love about my logo is how I made it a flexible system. It’s responsive, similar to how a website fits different formats for different sized screens. With my experience as a web designer, it only made sense to apply that kind of thinking to my branding system. At full scale, the logo is the complete wordmark. However, when scaled down for smaller formats, we can lose the details of the pencil within the C. The logo can also transform into a symbol in which there are two forms. The primary symbol is the C by itself. The secondary symbol is the pencil icon. This pencil icon is reserved for small areas of branding like the tag in the back of a cap.

  

The new logo system is responsive with different scale formats. The line details within the C create a more prominent pencil symbol which can be used on its own.

 

Primary symbol application in a stylized Varsity C design

Secondary pencil symbol application on the backside label of the cap

 

PHASE 5: THE PRESENT

It takes years for an artist to become an overnight success. I don’t mean to say that my brand is an overnight success, but people can see something that may appear new to their eyes and not know how much work it took to get there. For those who read this post, when you look at the Coursework logo I hope you see not just a design, but years and years of time, hard work, money, passion and a story. Owning and running a brand is a labor of love and you have to be dedicated to it even when it takes years to figure it out. I love what I do and I love what I've created. I'm excited to be where I am today with Coursework and I look forward to whatever may come next.

 

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