Once upon a time, so the old story goes, a lone traveler came upon three men working together among a pile of stones. Curious, he interrupted their work: “What are you doing?,” he asked the first man. Without looking up the first man replied, “I’m cutting stones.” Now the traveler, confused, looked to the second, who nodded toward the stones and told him, “Ah, I’m making a wall.” Still unsated, the traveler turned to the third man, who replied, arm to the heavens, “But can’t you see? We’re building a cathedral.”
The name Happy Cog is not without its challenges. How do you define the word ‘happy?’ It evokes a feeling most people will describe through one of innumerable other feelings: joy, pleasure, delight, so on. How it’s visualized tends to be more narrow. Case in point: how do you draw ‘happy’? For most the mind immediately goes to a smiley face. But the problem of a universal symbol like this, for all its instant, communicative power, is a fundamental lack of individuality. It can’t be owned. Nor does it say anything about who we – Happy Cog – are, it only provides a useful, universal shorthand to faintly convey a range of emotion.
Which leads us to the heart of the issue: What kind of ‘happy’ are we, really?
To start, Google gives us:
- feeling or showing pleasure or contentment;
- fortunate and convenient;
- having a sense of confidence in or satisfaction with (a person, arrangement, or situation);
- satisfied with the quality or standard of.
There’s something to the last definition. We’ve explored the logo-as-a-seal before, in a couple of implementations. Every pixel, every line of code, every spreadsheet, every proposal, is custom. It’s a love of the work and its details which recommend us, and the visual character of our own brand should evince this sense of tenderness. For tradespeople, declaring their personal relationship with a product signifies a pride approaching something almost familial: the heart and the hand are intimately connected. Work is love.
‘Cog’ has the same challenge of near universality. (A brief point of clarification: a cog is a tooth, the wheel is a gear.) Microsoft introduced the gear to interface vocabulary as a ‘settings’ icon in Windows ’95, and twenty-two years on there’s scarcely an app that doesn’t use it. But it also means in a web context it’s been stripped of any new meaning. Broader still, there’s the problem of what a gear ‘means’ industry to industry (it can even signify the very concept of industry). On the one hand this speaks to the economy and efficiency of the symbol, but on the other its multiplicity of meanings won’t allow it to carry a coherent message across contexts.
So if not a cog, then what? Where do we go from here?
Our past can be instructive. The 2004 mark is a good example. It has few distinguishing characteristics. Yet in spite of its humble design it evokes, for anyone who practiced web design during this period, an idea bigger than our studio: a value system, a community, a movement, a moral standard of design.
This is a crucial point, in the larger community-sense but also a hyper-local one. We’re a small company. None of us work in isolation. Everything is dependent upon everything else – and everyone is dependent upon everyone else.
We are all, regardless of role, building a cathedral.