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The Open Brand Project is a collaborative effort to evolve our corporate logo and brand system. A cross-functional team of in-house designers collaborating with Pentagram, a well-known international design consultancy, are working together to simplify and modernize our logo.
Jenna Slawson, the Red Hat Brand team art director, talks about working with design legend Paula Scher, Shadowman and the challenges of refreshing a beloved logo.
Jenna Slawson started her career at Red Hat as a production designer who often worked on projects requiring resizing of the company’s old Shadowman logo. Five years later, she is an art director who is helping to update the renowned mark.
Jenna is part of a group of 12 Red Hatters working with Pentagram’s Paula Scher, one of the nation’s most accomplished graphic designers, on the Red Hat Corporate logo redesign.
"I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into the process," said Jenna, who works on the visual component of Red Hat brand activations, like Red Hat CO.LAB, local art sponsorships, and diversity and inclusion initiatives. "It’s not every day that any designer gets to work on a logo redesign for a company the size of Red Hat. For me, this was a new and very big opportunity. Collaboratively working with 11 other designers from different disciplines was refreshing, and putting work in front of Paula Scher, someone that we all look up to, was pretty intimidating."
Learning from a legend
Jenna is also responsible for a lot of what you see in Red Hat’s Cool Stuff Store and sees the challenges of using Red Hat’s logo to work in screen printing, embroidery and etching, as well as at small scale. She was excited by the chance to work with the award-winning Scher.
"I’m nerding out," Jenna said. "It’s amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I mean, we studied her work in college. She was in our books and on our tests."
In talking with Kris Bowen, Red Hat’s director of Brand Strategy and Management, and a former NC State basketball player, Jenna shared an analogy.
"Paula Scher is like Michael Jordan," Jenna said. "If you could start your own basketball camp with Michael Jordan or with a team of people, some of whom are very talented, but they aren’t Michael Jordan, which would you choose?"
The basketball camp analogy was apt because Scher did more teaching and coaching than designing. The group of Red Hat designers from teams across the company worked to refresh the Shadowman logo, which had been last updated in 2000. The open process involved participation and feedback from the Red Hat community, an unconventional way to approach this type of project.
"More hats, fewer meetings."
The first part of any creative project is taking a look at where you are and where you need to be. Scher brought significant experience with brands to the team and helped the group challenge its assumptions about the Red Hat brand.
"We looked at our current logo and put things into buckets," Jenna said. "What would it look like if we alter what we have now, or what would it look like if we had something completely different, or something somewhere in between? Then we started drawing hats."
Of course, the goal wasn’t just any hat; it had to be a hat that could represent Red Hat for years. Careful thought went into the hats each designer contributed, and for Jenna that thought centered around how to make sure that Red Hat’s brand is as diverse and inclusive as its culture.
"We’ve had feedback that Shadowman is … white, he’s a man, he’s in the shadows and he seems sneaky," Jenna said. "He doesn’t represent everyone here at Red Hat, or many of our customers and partners. And him being hidden and in the shadows does not represent open source or our products. So with my logo explorations, I wanted to take the mark down to the bare minimum of what is needed and to also eliminate any room for misconceptions.
"So I did a lot with circles, lines and curved lines. They were almost like icons. [Scher] liked those because they were more minimalistic. The more minimalistic, the more recognizable it is to more people globally. For example, icons are used on signage globally so that no matter what language someone speaks, we can all more easily navigate and experience a country."
That minimalism and economy caught Scher’s eye—it was a promising direction that needed to be explored further. Having her work recognized this way was an important career moment for Jenna, and it reminded her of what she loved about design school.
"This has been fun and a little reminiscent of college … Paula Scher being our awesome professor and our class of 12 learning, and we’ve been physically putting work up in front of everyone," Jenna said. "I don’t know the last time I physically pinned something up on a wall and received a critique on it."
At Red Hat, passionate feedback and debate are to be expected with any project. Even with the confidence and energy that Scher gave to the design team, it's easy to be anxious about sharing work with a wide audience.
"Maybe I am a little worried about what other Red Hatters will think about it at the end of this process," Jenna said. "And I know that there is a level of passion that exists here with this logo that no other company has. The best possible outcome would be something that all associates globally feel excited about, accept and are passionate about, and that they will adopt it quickly. Fingers crossed."