Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Super Monster

With gourmet Mexican food riding a wave to popularity, several chains are competing for the title of the best big burrito. Glancing at the Freeb!rds logo, one can directly sense the relaxed and fun atmosphere of the restaurant. The backwards “F” and “R”s are intended to show the company’s ideals of unique characteristics and quirks--they do not follow the crowd and go their own way. This unconventional reverse shows Freebird’s “approach to business and life in general,“ according to Laura Stanley, whom I contacted through the official website. The exclamation mark within the name seems to lack significance in terms of relevance, but the placement within heightens the personality of the logo. This holler is like an invitation to come to Freebirds instead of Chipotle, or the lower counterparts Taco Cabana and Taco Bell.
The sign itself does not convey any sense of food. The original “F” logo is actually of the Helvetica typeface, but later it was altered for “geometric balance” within the circle. There is an absence of serifs, and the entire logo is very structured, with the exception of the exclamation mark within (which seems to be in an alternate typeface). This rigid structure, with boxes within boxes (including the letters themselves which are essentially boxes as well), serves as an appropriate counterpart to the whimsical nature of the reversed letters and exclamation mark. They balance each other out, and form a very modern, clean, and edgy design. The decision to use a sans serif typeface is fitting, with regards to the fact that there is nothing “old-time” or “old-fashioned” about Freebirds and its burritos. The Helvetica-like font gives it the best modern vibe. The first line of text even reminds one of burritos--the typeface is large and plump and bold--full of life.
The exclamation mark distinctively rises above its neighboring letters in the logo. It is out of place, in a different axis, typeface, and personality than the other letters, and that is what gives the logo that extra “it” factor. I particularly fancy the reversed letters and exclamation marks--I extract this superhero vibe from the design as a whole. The mirrored R’s resemble capes--imagine that in a fire engine red color.
The Freebirds letters are created and tweaked in Futura Bold typeface. A similar typeface is Helvetica, which was created by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger in 1957. It is an internationally accepted typeface that has no boundaries in its usage across the globe. Helvetica is perfect for global correspondence in its clear presentation of information and lack of ornamentation. Other twin typefaces are Arial and Nimbus Sans. Arial (a Helvetica knock-off) was designed by Monotype Imaging in 1982. Helvetica and Arial share identical character widths, but have quickly distinguishably different a,e, r, and t’s. Nimbus Sans is designed by URW++ Design & Development Company in Germany, and this typeface is actually based off of Helvetica.

Futura Bold typeface

The first Freebirds opened in Santa Barbara, California in 1987, and the expansions in Texas were born in the 90’s. The Freebirds location that I photographed is located on Red River and 41st Street in the Hancock Center. It’s at the corner of one of the island plazas, in between Game Crazy and Marble Slab Creamery. The Freebirds logo is the most modern and sleek logo of all three stores. The Marble Slab Creamery sign contains a serif typeface within a concentric circular design, with an almost identical layout to the Starbucks logo (the ice cream cone replacing the mermaid siren, and the store name replacing “Starbucks Coffee“). Game Crazy, on the other hand, ranks in the middle of the three, with regards to the degree of modernity. The typeface is white and neon lime green set on a black background, with a touch of purple in the sign--all very video-game-appropriate. The type is jagged/squiggly, obviously directing the store’s target audience to the teenage lads. Each sign is appropriate to what the store offers, but Freeb!rds stands out of the crowd with its bold, contrasting, and modern logo.

The word “Freebirds” holds a strong alternate connotation--”Free Bird” is a 1974 song by the American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Also, shouting the phrase “Free bird!” has become a popular cultural cliché for audiences at any concert. It has come to be a request to play a certain song, depending on the musical artist performing.

To revamp the current Freebirds logo, I decided to discard the rigid structure and turned to a more playful, organic form. I used the typeface Cookies, which suits the store’s aura more. The plump, round form screams “FOOD!” a whole lot more than the quiet Futura Bold typeface. The text is encapsulated in a round pill form to mimic a burrito. The blobs around the perimeter play with the negative space, and also create a sense of “freeness”. The newly designed logo also lacks color, not only to keep a bit of the integrity of the original logo, but also because the movement itself creates its own color.

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