The NCC Logo Story

We are very proud to present the new look for North Central Cyclery.

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It has been a long and wonderful journey to establish this new look and feel.

There are two stories below. A Long Version, which details the whole process in narrative form, and the Short Version, which just elaborates on the symbolism embedded in the logo. We invite you to read the Long Version to get the full experience, but we understand if the Short Version is enough for you.

Here we go!

The Long Version. 

“I think about my grandfather’s wallpaper…”

My friend Jason and I are sitting in a hotel side lobby in Ogden, Utah, and we’re talking about enduring, iconic design; the kind of look and feel that can exist outside of time and be relevant today, tomorrow, and forever. This is plenty minutes into the conversation. This friend, Jason, is a branding guru extraordinaire, and I work in a bike shop in the middle of nowhere. I was working to rebrand our little outfit for the upcoming ten-year anniversary of our existence, and I was interested in doing it right. It’s a tall order for any organization, and for a small independent bike shop, it’s akin to toeing up to Ventoux. I have no idea what I’m doing, really, but he does, and when he mentions wallpaper, my head explodes.

I have been a distant fan of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement for years, ever since a different brilliant friend clued me into the philosophy behind the movement. Morris’ disgust of post industrial society’s cheap mass-produced home furnishings and awful working conditions drove him to create a firm of talented craftsmen devoted to making excellent products using proven, skillful methods in safe and sustainable environments. The idea of breathable air and good lighting, fair wages and livable conditions were rare in the day. Morris was an outspoken socialist (to a fault, history might say), who ardently believed this model could be applied to all of society to bring about a utopia. His fiction didn’t mince words about his beliefs. He believed a good craft was worth a good paycheck, which demanded a proper invoice, which, ironically, isolated his customer base to the upper crust of society. His firm would set a new standard for quality in textiles, wallpaper, furniture, architecture, bookbinding, and decorative glass. When Jason said “wallpaper”, my mind was filled with images and ideas that resonated deeply with me.

Ten years ago, North Central Cyclery began as a business opportunity. We saw great potential in the underserved cycling community in DeKalb. We didn’t know who we were, so finding a logo was a superficial, practical process. We worked with a firm to come up with a logo we could work with. The name was intended to be a regional reference, as opposed to keeping the existing name of “DeKalb Cyclery.” We went through years of identity formation that was influenced by our brands, our employees, our tastes, and trends. A number of years ago, something started to cement itself around the center of what we were doing. Our culture had always been built on people – providing a good working environment to help our employees find success and meaning in and around their work in the bike shop. That culture had allowed us to hire and maintain great people, and we came to be known for authentic service and good communication. We incubated a cycling culture around the shop that maintained a value on relationships before sales, community over elitism, and fun as opposed to victory. Along the way, we found a few brands that resonated very well with us and many brands that didn’t. And as we grew with our congruent brands, we realized the people coming for those brands were also people we legitimately enjoyed. We took pride in the products we sold, and we thought through our selection with our customer’s best interest in mind. We loved the process of making something as unique as the person it was going to, and we knew we had to do it in a profitable way to sustain the great people we had behind the counter. And so, the relational, people-centric culture we started with started to build and grow. We were coming to know who we were. And that’s where our new brand began… with the wallpaper.

Just as Morris came out of the industrial era of cheap home goods, we feel NCC stands apart from the greater bike industry, which seems to be pushing whatever widget can be sold for the lowest price possible. The Arts & Crafts Movement placed a high value on the craft, the well-made product, and we do the same in our corner of the world. I have always placed a high value on making things by hand. I have a background in bookbinding and have had the opportunity to lend some of those skills in unique ways to the bike shop. The general reaction to a handmade promotional item in our industry is awe. Seeing it over and over again made me want to incorporate handmade promotional items more in the future. And so we will.

Morris saw great value in the craftsman, and we find great value in our creative, intelligent, and kind staff. Our greatest pleasure is seeing our people succeed in their stages of life. It’s our first priority. The second is the health and vitality of the community around us.

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I left that conversation in Utah with a philosophical and aesthetic cornerstone for our new branding. I spent weeks going through books and articles following the arc of that design school into America and into different branches stateside. One of the early ideas we knew would play into the greater scheme was the Barn Quilt Project. That was the fruit of a branch of the American Arts & Crafts movement that took root with the Mennonite and Scandinavian cultures that populated the expansion of the states into what we now call the Midwest. We designed that project as a litmus test to see if we were headed in the right direction. We were happy to see the public reception was so favorable. It resonated with the young and the old, men and women, cyclists and non-cyclists. The Barn Quilt was a success and will remain as an element in our overall branding to represent those long rides in the country. We listened to the positive reactions to the Barn Quilt and kept working in that aesthetic vein to establish our new logo.

Geographically, there are few more recognizable figures of the American Arts & Crafts movement than Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s Mission and Prairie Styles are deeply rooted in the movement and hold true to the value on the craft, the process, and the longevity of design. When we started looking into Prairie Style window patterns, we knew we had found something we could work with. The style was laden with geographical meaning.

So we started sketching.

We knew there were a few elements we wanted to include – horizon, hope, direction, and, if we had to, bikes. And different points along the way, I had to be reminded it was ok that it didn’t have a bike in it. And while it does actually have a couple bike references, they are not obvious.

The bottom pane came first. The crop rows and flat horizon is a contextual necessity. It also infers a radial spoke pattern and the wood floor pattern in the shop.

The logotype we chose was a lesser-known cousin in the font family we’ve been using for years that evoked some of the Prairie style we were looking for.

The top pane was a bit more challenging. We played with different horizon ideas, arrow patterns, barn shapes, and rays. In the end, we are very happy with it.

The most noticeable shape is the three arrows/chevrons pointing “Onward and Upward” (North and Central), which resemble the sharrows you might see on the road. That same pattern also looks like a row of homes, which is meant to portray community. The central shape is that of a front fender over a tire. The whole logo has a directional, ascending movement that ultimately points to the top border, an eternal horizon, which represents everything else we like to talk about over a good cup of coffee after a long ride.

It’s all there if you look at it.

No matter where your eye lands first, we hope it makes you look up. We hope the same is true any time you come in our store. We hope you find your experience to be uplifting.

Now that we know who we are at NCC, we know how to “dress ourselves” with an aesthetic that communicates our culture and intent.

As we celebrate our tenth anniversary, we would say we feel as excited about the potential that lies ahead just as much, if not more, than we did ten years ago. We’re proud to continue to serve and grow the cycling community in northern Illinois, and we’re glad to have you here with us.

Thank you,

Tobie & the NCC Crew

 

 

The Short Version NCC 2014 FINAL

Geographically, there are few more recognizable figures of the American Arts & Crafts movement than Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s Mission and Prairie Styles are deeply rooted in the movement and hold true to the value on the craft, the process, and the longevity of design. When we started looking into Prairie Style window patterns, we knew we had found something we could work with. The style was laden with geographical meaning.

So we started sketching.

We knew there were a few elements we wanted to include – horizon, hope, direction, and, if we had to, bikes. And different points along the way, I had to be reminded it was ok that it didn’t have a bike in it. And while it does actually have a couple bike references, they are not obvious.

The bottom pane came first. The crop rows and flat horizon is a contextual necessity. It is also a radial spoke pattern and a similar pattern to the wood floor in the shop.

The logotype we chose was a lesser-known cousin in the font family we’ve been using for years that evoked some of the Prairie style we were looking for.

The top pane is a bit more complex.We played with different horizon ideas, arrow patterns, barn shapes, and rays. In the end, we are very happy with it. The most noticeable shape is the three arrows/chevrons pointing “Onward and Upward” (North and Central), which resemble the sharrows you might see on the road or in a bike lane. That same pattern also looks like a row of homes, which is meant to depict community. The central columnar shape is that of a front fender over a tire viewed from above. The whole logo has a directional, ascending movement that ultimately points to the top border, an eternal horizon, which represents everything else we like to talk about over a good cup of coffee after a long ride.

It’s all there if you look at it.

Thank you,

Tobie & the NCC Crew