The Redesign of the Twitter bird

 

An interview with designer and illustrator, Phil Pascuzzo

by Karen Horton/November 08, 2010

 
You might already know Philip E. Pascuzzo as an exceptionally talented illustrator and book cover designer working under the studio name, Pepco. Last year, Phil worked on the redesign of the iconic Twitter bird with Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone, which has since started to take on a life of its own. Along with the stylized Twitter bird silhouette you may see on your favorite mobile device, Phil has contributed his illustrative talents to numerous branding materials related to the Twitter brand.

greetings-from-twitter-postcard

What was the first thing that crossed your mind when you were asked to redesign the Twitter bird icon?
 
To be honest, the first thing I thought was, “What exactly does Twitter do?” I had an idea of what it was used for and was very aware of its growing cultural value. Of course I was quite behind the times and never used the internet for social networking at that point. This confusion was mixed with excitement because I had worked with Twitter’s co-founder, Biz Stone, before and knew it was going to be a fun and creative project.

odeo-and-blogger-tshirt-designs
t-shirt designs for Blogger and Odeo

pascuzzo-napkin-drawings
napkin drawings

How did you initially land the project? Did it start with a t-shirt design for Odeo?

I met Biz at my first design job in NYC, working in the Art Department of St Martin’s Press. My area of the large bullpen was littered with my doodles that I would make throughout the day, mostly on scraps of napkins and Post-it notes. Biz was a junior designer like me and really liked the illustration and design I was doing at the time. After a year, he moved to San Francisco to work with Blogger and kept me in mind for any illustrations he needed. After his time with Blogger, Biz started Odeo and gave me a shot at designing the mark. This sequence of events is a great example of why it is important to create and maintain good client/designer relationships.

twitter_bird_logo_by_biz-stone
earlier Twitter bird icon designed by Biz Stone

As a designer and an illustrator how did you handle the process when starting the assignment to refresh the Twitter mark?

Biz had sent over the bird mark that he designed, which Twitter was using at the time. I think he said something to the effect of “can you redesign this logo and add some Phil-style.”  Being a Twitter newbie, I did some research and asked friends that used this communication tool so that I had a better idea of what the product was. Giving the mark more life and vibrance really made sense at this point. Like most projects, I began by doodling in my lined notebook and quickly came up with something I liked. From there I worked in Illustrator to execute the mark in a polished way.

twitter-bird-sketches
twitter-bird-variations


What were the biggest challenges of redesigning an icon for an already established brand such as Twitter?


When I first became involved, Twitter had already used two different marks for their identity. The type portion of their logo has remained the same but it seemed like it was a brand that wasn't married to a mark yet. I really wanted to make a logo that would be more “human” so that people would feel a greater connection to it.

twitter-bird-before-and-after-icon

twitter-bird-illustration-logo

twitter-bird-silhouette

In an article back in 2009,
a Wired magazine article referred to the original Twitter bird as being crowdsourced from iStockPhoto. Although I don’t agree that purchasing a piece of royalty-free art through a stock image vendor is the same as crowdsourcing, it was a little surprising that a brand name like Twitter did not invest more money and time into the visual look of their brand. How did knowing the history behind the original bird affect your design process and Twitter's decision for a redesign?

I believe that I became involved with this redesign as a direct result of articles like this one. It seemed that Biz and company really wanted to brand Twitter with something unique and idiosyncratic. I was pretty unaware of the bird’s background, but I think that was advantageous to the process.

The artist behind the iStockPhoto bird, Simon Oxley was quoted as saying he felt the Twitter bird was a “decorative element” not an official logo. Do you also share this view about the bird?


I don’t feel it was ever just a decorative element. On its own, the mark has come to represent Twitter, with or without the word “Twitter” next to it. At this stage the bird is in its most iconic form. Perhaps at first it was thought of as just a decorative element, but now that little blue bird has enormous cultural value.

twitter-party-design

twitter-wine-label-design
wine label designs for Twitter’s Fledgling Initiative

twitter-tote-bags

twitter-ceo-business-card-design

Do you think of yourself as a designer or an illustrator first?


When I was a child my doodles always included some typography or bubble letters. I remember wanting to have dummy text to put next to cartoons that I drew. When I was exposed to Graphic Design (at the time called Commercial Art) in High School it all made sense. So the short answer is that I don’t really put one before the other.

indian-twitter-launch-illustration
illustration for Indian Twitter launch
italian-twitter-launch
illustration for Italian Twitter launch

Unlike many other brands, the new Twitter bird comes in numerous variants and doesn’t seem to always adhere to a strict style guide. There’s a sense of fun and personality. How much of this was own your creativity and sense of humor?

This is a result of working with a great client, being able to use a sense of humor and have fun. Play and experimentation are important tools for creativity. Working with a client that lets you be “you” is a real gift. At this stage the bird mark will primarily be used as an iconic silhouette, so I don’t think the different variations will be around that much longer.

twitter-employee-handbook-cover

candide_chris_ware_mech

home-tweet-home-pillow-design

witter-laptop-skin-designs

From humorous Twitter branded t-shirt designs, to an Employee handbook, to a pillowcase, to MacBook skins, your hand has touched numerous cross branded items, often with the bird interacting in newly illustrated environments. Are most of these your own ideas or did you receive clear briefs along with tag lines? Have you counted how many different Twitter birds you’ve drawn throughout the way?

As one would assume, the Twitter team is a very clever and creative bunch. Very often projects are presented with a clear brief in which I execute their ideas along with my own. The process is always different though, and the ideas can present themselves more organically after a couple of rounds of comps. Sometimes I ask my girlfriend what she thinks of a particular project and generate ideas that way. It helps living with a person who is glued to her Twitter feed.


twitter-water-bottles
I have never counted the many birds I have drawn but they do show up in my dreams, just like those nights after a long day of Tetris. It was wonderful seeing so many of them animated on a Sprint commercial recently.



Did you have any involvement in the design and usage of the Twitter bird on Twitter mobile applications?


Unfortunately I did not have any involvement. I found out after an excited friend showed me. I did work on the button and splash page for the iTunes/iPhone app though. At this point my mark is so ubiquitous that I see it applied in so many ways that I had no part of creating.

twitter-itunes-app-site-art

twitter-usb-card-design

Seeing how there is seemingly no way to manage all the online usage for a brand like Twitter, how does a freelancer put a price tag on work that carries a life on its own?

That has been the most difficult part for me during this whole process. At this stage the value of the mark has exceeded by far any price I could have been paid initially. This also works to my advantage since the high visibility of of my work will hopefully lead to more clients down the road. Ideally I would love to work arm and arm with a more business savvy creative person or team in the future so that I can just concentrate on my work.

twitter-for-president-shirt-buttons

How did your prior experience as a successful book cover designer help?

Being able to design book covers for a living is a joy that I am so grateful for. Working in publishing for 10 years has helped me make design that people can respond to emotionally. I feel that this has carried over to my other work as well.

What was your favorite book cover design you worked on (if you have one)?

It has been a wonderful experience working with the creative team that created the Tom Wolfe reprints. I read The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test the summer before being offered the project. It is a strong piece of our counter-cultural history that really moved me; so getting the job was a real treat. Most of the time an author doesn't have has much say in the design as Tom Wolfe did. He happens to be a very talented visual artist as well which helped in the design process.

wolfe-electric-kool-aid-acid-test-book-cover
cover design is a collaboration between Henry Sene Yee, Phil Pascuzzo, and Laura Hanifin

What are your favorite kinds of projects to work on and why?

It’s hard to say. Most of the time I feel that I treat every project the same, in that a book can be looked at as a mini-poster and the same for music packaging. The exciting part of music packaging is the challenge of creating a flow and rhythm to the piece as a whole. I often wish that I could design the interiors of books that I design to achieve this same result. I think because of this I would really like to try to illustrate a graphic novel or children’s book.

brent-gorton-cd-packaging
Brent Gorton CD packaging

Aside from your hand-lettering, what percentage of your work is still done off the computer screen?

A very large percentage of my work is executed on the computer these days. So much so that I have worn a spot out in my Wacom tablet. I still sketch and scan hand-done illustrations, but I usually use Photoshop or Illustrator to create the final product. I try and doodle and draw off the computer every day though. Drawing is a very important skill that I feel every designer should develop.

phil-in-office-with-dog-billy

What inspired the name of your studio, Pepco?

I wanted to just use my initials for my studio since it was easy to remember. My last name is long with many consonants and often gets butchered. Any name using just “Pep” had already been taken by the time I wanted to buy the domain name, so I went with Pepco. I suppose the “co” are the two Chihuahuas that keep me company during the day. They’re not very good workers, though.

Do you have any advice for those thinking of making the leap to open their own shop or studio?

I would suggest working for a strong art department or studio first to learn the ins-and-outs before making the leap. I feel that working for St. Martin’s Press and then the branding firm Oberlander Group really served as my grad school. Working from home after has been immensely rewarding, but would have been difficult or impossible without my past design experiences.

Do you miss working in-house in New York City or are you much happier living upstate with more space, trees, pets, etc.?

I miss the easily accessible cultural experiences that New York City has to offer. Now instead of walking to a gallery in Chelsea on my lunch break, I walk my dogs in the park or go for long bike rides. The open space and easier living in general makes upstate more attractive for me. It isn’t for everybody though. It depends on what moves you, and luckily I can be just as inspired by a piece of local graffiti as I can by a work of contemporary art.

Are there any designers or illustrators that have influenced your own style?

My number one influence would have to be Paul Rand. He did it all and with such simplicity and beauty. The fact that many of his designs are still used today proves what a timeless and important designer he was. A designer working today that has been very influential on me is Henry Sene Yee. He has helped me to be a more conceptual designer that creates pieces that create emotional reactions in people, as opposed to just looking nice on a shelf.

 
 

photos from Phil Pascuzzo’s studio
office-books-on-shelf-ampersand

office-books-stacked-with-poster

phil-pascuzzo-painting


small sampling of book cover designs
:
depression-funnies-picador-book-cover

mario-vargas-llosa-death-in-the-andes-book-cover

ayn-rand-american-righ-book-jacket

toure-never-drank-the-kool-aid-book-cover

buckminster-fuller-book-cover

the-messiah-of-morris-avenue-book-cover


music/ gig posters
:

august-at-better-than-toast-music-poster

sgt-dunbar-the-hobo-banned-music-poster

we-are-jeneric-music-poster


music cd album covers / packaging
:

boris-blacher-romeo-and-juliet-cd

brent-gorton-cd-package-front

food-for-witches-scientific-maps


 

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