James Croft Asked Me To Give His Patheos Blog A New Look, And I Said Yes

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If you’ve spent time on the Patheos atheist channel, or hang with the same people I do, you might have read Temple of the Future, James Croft’s blog about humanism and ethics. I’ve known James for about as long as I’ve been in the blogosphere myself—we’ve spoken together and write about many of the same things, often disagreeing fiercely—and last autumn he hired me to give his blog a new look. I’ve been worn out over the last ten months, stretched thin between a day job and half a dozen other projects and creatively tired—all credit goes to James for showing me far more patience than I deserved—but this week I at last signed off on it.

The brief for the redesign was simple: bring the blog’s imagery up to date by making it ‘cleaner, more modern, less stuffy’, and focus on a millennial audience. On starting out as a blogger, James had given his site a visual identity based on humanist symbols—a Happy Human with a flaming heart, circled by a ring of fire. In other images, the emblem got set in stone and (in the case of the blog’s banner) carved out of wood. Come 2012, when Temple of the Future moved to Patheos, it got a new banner designed in-house. James told me he preferred the original, and I agree.

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Here’s where it gets more interesting. Over the three years I knew James before commissioned me, I always his logo—the best bit of either banner—was a mechanical cog. Perhaps it was the way the flames were shaped, or how the green-and-orange banner made the wood look coppery—but as I told him, I liked the concept. The work James does—see his Skepticon talk from 2012—is about building things, and cogs and gears make a good symbol for community activism. Religions, it strikes me, tend to employ geometric emblems—crosses, stars, eight-spoke wheels—and using an industrial object felt like a fun materialist spin on that.

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There’s one part of the old logo I didn’t like. The Happy Human is as stale a symbol for humanists as rainbows are for gay people and atoms are for atheists. (I certainly wasn’t going to do this.) Like the Starfleet logo and brutalist buildings, it has a nostalgic sixties appeal—but on its own terms, it’s not that great a piece of design. As the British Humanist Association have found, it’s impossible to place large-enough text over it, and anyone who’s tried to machine-embroider a humanist t-shirt knows the biggest impracticality of the design: its limbs are so much thinner than its torso that they vanish when things get too small. At first I wanted to update the thing, making a Happy Human out of cogs, but in the end it didn’t work. Not only were the teeth of the gear hard to line up properly—the whole thing still felt dated and derivative, when I wanted to modernise the blog’s look.

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Working out what to do with the gear shape took me an age, during which half a dozen bad attempts at wordmarks formed and then dissolved—in hindsight, it’s obvious just how creatively spent I was all this year until the last week or two. (Getting away from London, it turns out, works miracles.) By sheer accident, while playing with nuts-and-bolts shapes, I ended up moving a cog layer over a hexagon. What formed looked like the sun glimpsed through a church window, and felt like the first truly modern thing I’d come up with. Sometimes chaos is all it takes.

How do you turn a nut and cog into a blog banner? In silhouette, a cube looks like a hexagon—once I’d overlapped some translucent ones, I ended up with what looked like a stained glass window full of building blocks. This was the first time I had anything that harmonised all four of the motifs I wanted to apply: nuts and bolts, cogs and gears and bricks; LGBT rights; tech and modern communication, and religious architecture.

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Even at that point, I wasn’t quite satisfied. The lettering needed to be fatter, the small and large text more harmonious, the background less Colin-Baker-busy. Look carefully at the bottom right hand corner above, and you’ll notice the subtle shadow used the help the text show up is bleeding out onto the white edges—in the next version, this was fixed. After the update below passed the text, all that remained was to give the banner below whichever slogan James preferred in place of the stand-in new millennium line I’d used. What resulted was what you saw at the top of this post.

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Finally, there was the blog’s Facebook page. Initially i suggested combining the hexacog with the Temple of the Future wordmark, but although doing so turned out well, Facebook demanded a separate page image and cover. I ended up uncoupling the blog’s logo from its horizontal masthead, so the two could assume different functions.

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My favourite version, which James and I retained for business cards and the like, is still this one.

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Things are busy for me right now, so I’m not taking on many commissions for the next couple of months—but if you’re interested in hiring me as a designer, feel free to get in touch.

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James Croft Asked Me To Give His Patheos Blog A New Look, And I Said Yes
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