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Toeing the Line: The right logo at the right moment

September 28, 2013|By Ray Richmond

Climb with us into a time machine back — well, not all that far really, just to late summer 2012. CBS Television Distribution had just announced that Arsenio Hall would be returning to late-night television a year hence after a nearly two-decade hiatus.

The no-longer-young Arsenio was to be repackaged with a new syndicated talk show for a new generation, and CBSTD was reaching out to brand Hall in a way that wouldn't paint him as an irrelevant relic struggling to reconnect.

It was the kind of challenge that Alex Swart relishes.

Swart is a graphics and design wizard who runs the Glendale mom-and-pop shop Swart Advertising with his wife, Ellen Considine. He's the go-to guy for sharp, imaginative, eye-popping visuals in everything from commemorative Oscar posters to news and entertainment marketing campaigns.

So when he was approached by the Arsenio Hall people to craft a logo for the forthcoming show, Swart had no hesitation.

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Well, maybe a little.

"I'd had some familiarity with Arsenio as a person, but I was admittedly relying a little bit on memory," Swart recalled. "I remembered his show as being hip, cool, unexpected, the best party on television."

But how to convey that in a print logo in a medium where it's difficult to effectively express action? It was especially vexing considering that Swart was really given no marching orders. He pretty much had to guess what the tone of the show might be like, since the producers themselves didn't yet know.

It was a little bit like trying to bake peanut butter cookies for people who may or may not be allergic to peanuts. Moreover, Swart was flying blind in a shootout with a pair of competing design agencies whose output would be directly measured against his.

"My thought was to craft a theme that instilled a feeling of excitement and dramatic anticipation," Swart recalls, "to show the moment just before the action happens. It's that instant before the lips meet — or in this case, before the lights come up."

He knew that it would obviously be disastrous for the logo to illustrate a guy freeze-framed in 1994, the last time television viewers laid eyes on Hall's visage nightly. But it probably wouldn't be a good idea if he reminded you of your aging uncle, either.

Swart wound up submitting eight different logo concepts, one of which was his personal favorite all along.

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