Design Candy: Simple is Not Easy

By Rolando G. Murillo

I was first introduced to the designer Candy Chang a year, or so, ago. I saw her speak at an arts event sponsored by the City of San Antonio. Before then, I hadn’t heard her name, but I did know her work. At least, was vaguely aware of it.

According to Vincent T. Davis, a writer at the San Antonio Express-News, “In 2011, artist Candy Chang started the project in New Orleans to remember a loved one who had died. She painted the side of an abandoned house with chalkboard paint along with a grid and the sentence ‘Before I die I want to…’ Chang left pieces of chalk so passers-by could write their sentiments on the wall.”

Well, technically, I can’t give her complete credit for the BIG idea. Nor, is it a new idea. I mean, I knew it as the “Bucket List” long before I had heard of Candy Chang’s version of it. But, still, Chang deserves some well deserved credit.

What she did do was make the bucket list public. She offered regular people, out in the street, the opportunity to express a secret, or not-so-secret, wish or unrealized dream. Much like the milagro wall in a Catholic church, it gives people a place to post their hopes and prayers. Putting it on the wall makes the prayer, wish or dream real.

In today’s digital world, where anyone could tweet or post their wishes, hopes and secrets for the world to read, this physical wall gives a unique opportunity to anyone brave enough to reveal something very personal out in the public. It is as public as the impersonal internet can make it, but it also offers the personal feel of a community.

This is a community bucket list; when read in it’s entirety at any one time, it reveals the hopes and dreams of a neighborhood. It’s authored by strangers, but still these people, due to their proximity to the wall, are related to each other in some way and could impact each other’s lives (directly or indirectly).

As the wall or walls (now replicated a thousand-fold) get more popular, the community attributed to any one of these walls gets even larger. San Antonio had one of these walls, and as word spread about it, people from beyond the borders of its neighborhood would come to  write their revelations. It was San Antonio’s bucket list.

In her TED talk (linked below), Chang explains the impact the initial wall had on her community and the people that lived in it. And, I assume, that this simple idea has changed her life as well.

It is such a simple idea, but it wasn’t an easy idea. A process lead to it. It required a process to design it, and a process to birth it. Is it a beautifully designed wall? I don’t think so. It’s not great design, but it is a great idea.

Before I die I want to…
…have a simple idea that is as easy to execute, replicate and impacts lives as much as this idea has.

Before I Die I Want to… (video link)

“In her New Orleans neighborhood, artist and TED Fellow Candy Chang turned an abandoned house into a giant chalkboard asking a fill-in-the-blank question: “Before I die I want to ___.” Her neighbors’ answers — surprising, poignant, funny — became an unexpected mirror for the community. (What’s your answer?)” – TED Global


What’s a Brand? What’s a Logo?

by Rolando G. Murillo

I met with a start-up not too long ago. They wanted help to “create” a strong brand for their new company. During the meeting I asked, as I always do in the initial meetings, the basic questions. “What do you do, who do you do it for and why is it important to them?” I’m simplifying it, but you get the idea.

The two gentlemen looked at me a little bewildered as I probed. They paused and gave it all some thought. One of the partners gave me a brief explanation of the service they provided and how their target would benefit. I then asked them other questions about their promises to the consumer and how they plan on delivering. At that point, the other partner asked me if we were going to discuss the branding project at some point. Not sure of what he was getting at, I decided to listen. He began to relay his likes and dislikes about his competitors’ logos, type treatments, color schemes and photography.

It dawned on me at that point that I had skipped a huge step. I neglected to confirm whether they knew what a brand was. I am not pointing any blame toward my client as it is a very common misunderstanding. Branding and design professionals get so tied up with their own industry speak that we sometimes forget how the public perceives what we do.

So, after listening to their concerns about their logo, I clarified a little about the differences between a brand and a logo.

  1. A brand is a reputation built by making promises and delivering on them.
  2. A logo is a design that identifies and represents that reputation.

To them, it was an issue of semantics until I walked them through the differences in much more detail. That’s when their eyes widened in unison as they realized that a logo is not enough to build a brand.

The good thing is that this meeting opened up a conversation and an opportunity for this particular client. Once they understood that branding is not about the surface treatment, they realized that a good logo is much more memorable with a strong promise poised to support it.


Getting Design at a 5-finger Discount.

By Rolando G. Murillo

I guess there are times when some business owners have to ask themselves a simple question, “Do I want to use or buy stolen property for my business?”

If someone pulled up a big truck, open the back, and offered stolen office items or merchandise for sale, would you buy any of it? What if it was dirt cheap? What would be the harm in buying a stolen copier, computer, conference table or a desk? What would be the harm in stocking a shelf with product that fell off a truck? Will anyone ever notice or call the authorities?

There is an obvious risk in such behavior, but we know it is happening somewhere right now. Someone is saving a buck by buying stolen property. The risk is overshadowed by the short-term savings that may seem too good to pass up to some people. The question then becomes, “Does it really help or hurt his or her business?”

Now, what if the thieves that sell the stolen goods are caught by the authorities and reveal a list naming their customers? Will the business owners (buyers) face legal liabilities, fines or jail time? Will their businesses suffer?

This is and it is selling stolen property.
There are dozens of stolen designs on this site, and they are being sold to unsuspecting business owners. Because of this, the owners of this site may be held accountable by the courts and laws that protect the logo designers, and the brands that own the lifted identities that are being “re-purposed”. I know of at least three reputable designers that have taken legal action against that site over this. And, at least one of my designs is also on this site, but I will leave it to my former employer to send the “cease and desist” notice.

Logo stolen by
A perfect example of why using online logo services is risky. This exact icon was first designed by Gardner Design for Kansas Humane Society. It appeared for sale on

Many of the stolen brand identities are worth thousands, if not millions, in business investment and brand equity. The brand owners will most likely seek reimbursement for infringement, legal fees, lost revenues and royalties. Some of the stolen designs are the sole property of a designer, so there are copyright issues there, as well.

What will that mean to the buyers of these stolen properties?
There is an obvious purchasing record, so I guess it’s up to whatever is legal in their state. If they were merely victims of fraud before, they may be knowing participants now because the word is out about What impact will that have on their business, their related marketing investments and their brand image? Will their reputation be affected? Will they learn from the situation or try another online logo service for their new identity, and risk repeating the offense?

As always, it is best for business owners to find and work with a reputable, talented, seasoned and professional designer. There’s a reason why these bargain bin logo sites have to steal logos to make any money (and is only one of many). Developing good logos, great logos, effective logos, original logos requires a process and a trained skill that cannot be matched with shortcuts or inexperienced designers. A business identity is a customized tool that is shaped specifically to the individual needs of a specific client, product or service.

Our advice for all business owners is to diligently research several design firms in your area, and visit or call their offices to confirm that they are legitimate professionals. If you go online to find your expert, then confirm that they are not crowd-sourced, or outsourcing their service. And, keep in mind that the first indication that someone could be selling stolen brand identities is the offer of the highest level of expertise and service for an unrealistically low price.

Also, we advise all business owners to view their own brand identity for what it is, a unique and valuable piece of company property. It’s an investment that requires serious consideration and it’s an important part of any business’ success. It needs to be protected, so register it via copyright or trademark as soon as possible, so if someone tries to steal it and resell it, you have a way to reclaim it.

As the owner of a design and branding firm, I obviously promote professional logo design to every business owner and am happy to provide it to anyone who values our services. Just as I do, most designers work with their clients on budgets to make it affordable and scale the process to perfectly fit the need or scope. Most business owners know that strong brand identities will not be done in 24 hours nor will they cost $79, so allow the designer a reasonable amount of time and a reasonable budget to work with.

The good news is that this is not an industry problem.
Reputable designers will never be like those online logo services for one simple reason. Reputable designers won’t ever lift or sell stolen property as they are the originators of the goods that others want to steal. And, as a result, business owners will always know that what is delivered is not only a powerful business tool, it is also theirs and theirs alone.

Working with a Design Ghost

by Rolando G. Murillo

A well known artist died in a bike accident a while back. It’ll be six years in November. His name was Chuck Ramirez. He was 48 years old.

I met Chuck when I landed my first design internship in 1996. He was my first creative director and, technically, my first design mentor. But, the most lasting lesson I took away from that experience wasn’t concerning design. It was about finding happiness in life.

Even though he gave it his all, as the head designer of food packaging at a grocery company, I believe he hated that job to the core. He didn’t find joy there, and I think he was miserable every day I saw him. Some time after I left, he left his comfy, although ill-fitted, position and pursued what made him happy. He soon made a big name for himself as a fine artist.

Being around that office for three months made me realize that I had to find a different path or I would end up being in the same miserable place in the near future. I made a decision, I packed up belongings and moved myself and my future wife to San Marcos to attend Southwest Texas State University. There I gained the education and understanding of design that my community college education could never have given me. That became the launch pad for my career.

I ran into Chuck a year before he died, and we caught up on where we’d been since we last saw each other. He was like a different person. He was smiling and friendly, and not at all the crazy, tantrum-prone boss I had some 14 years prior. He was happy and someone I would have liked to have known better. Now, all I can say is, “Thanks for the unintentional push in the right direction, I’m glad you found your happiness and Rest in Peace”.

Last year, I once again got to work with  him, at least indirectly. I worked on a signage and EGD project for H-E-B, the company we both worked at back in 1996. Their new downtown store was dedicated to him, and they put some of his artwork on permanent display in the store. Like it, or hate it, his art is a perfect reflection of who he was, and who he became.

I still visit the store at least three times a week. And, I wonder what he would think of the whole thing. I think he’d laugh at the idea.

Chuck Ramirez. Courtesy photo.

Things I hear while ‘on the job’

by Rolando G. Murillo

After about 20 years in this business, I think I’ve heard it all (as it relates to what I do). Since I’ve worked with clients from all walks of life and professions, I find it curious that I hear similar comments from so many different types of people. It’s as if there is some business book out there, like a travel companion, and it has all of these specific phrases listed under ‘how to communicate with a graphic designer’.

Recently, I decided to put some of the most memorable quotes in writing. Actually, as so many designers are doing now, I may put them on t-shirts. Since, these are actual client quotes, I decided to make them as I think they would design them, in Word or with their system font library. I’m not sure if anyone would wear them, but it helps exercise them from my head.

Designer quotes
Quotes designers hear everyday.

* quick note on the first quote in the image. Mija or Mi’ja <pronounced ‘miha’> is spanish short-hand for “my daughter”. It’s a term of endearment also used to refer to a niece, granddaughter, etc. It’s commonly used in central and south Texas.