Jin was Tao’s best friend in his childhood. Enrolment at different universities separated them in two cities, one on the north side of Yangtze River, the other one on the south. They were not far from each other in terms of distance, but the contact between them was almost lost.
In 2010, Tao and Yoko went to Wuhan where Jin was pursuing his bachelor degree in law. That was the first time Yoko met Jin, being surprised a bit by his curvy long hair dyed in golden colour.
Jin kindly guided us to see the campus of Wuhan university, Donghu lake, and offered us a pleasant dinner in a restaurant that we had never dared to go on our own. We talked a lot, mainly about future, self-development, how to be successful, so on and so forth.
“What an ambitious man! I can’t believe we are at the same age.”
Yoko said to Tao after that day.
“He has always been like this since primary school.” Tao replied, “Jin is like that, ambitious and strategic. He used to sell small stuffs to our classmates and made a small fortune.”
Summer 2015, after working in an Internet company as a law consultant for several years, Jin decided to start his own business with Jasse who persuaded him to quit the old company. They agreed to do a crowd funding platform.
Early in the naming phase, Jin wisely contacted Tao to tell the news. Jin had thought to involve us to be their design consultants when they get the series A financing.
“Tao, we know someone introduced by our relatives that can give us an initial design for free. I know they are not as good as you, but you know, to do a start-up, saving money is a rule. Once we got the investment, we…”
“What’s the name of your platform?” Tao interrupted.
“Well, we got some, none of them is good though. Still thinking.”
“Let’s think together. Walk us through your whole idea.”
We were on board.
huǒ bàn 火伴
There were two things that Jin mentioned most often: One, win-win economy making both project founder and core customer beneficiaries: project founder could find their first group of core customers while customers could get good stuffs and fan-like satisfaction of seeing their appreciated people succeed with their support; Two, the process of realising an idea is like using kindling to build a fire.
Kindling, fire, and people brought together by a common goal, do they provoke something in your mind? A campfire dance? A fondue meal in the Alps? Patagonian Asado? We thought about ten warriors cooking together. In ancient China, every ten warriors share one fire to prepare meals collectively, they call each other huǒ bàn (火伴), meaning comrade in English. If you translate literally, it is fire(huǒ)-mate(bàn). We knew huǒ bàn (火伴) from an ancient poem of Mulan (Ode of Mulan, Anonymous c.5 A.D., Yueh-fu.), a classic piece that every middle school kid should learn and recite.
She goes out the door and sees her comrades. Her comrades are all amazed and perplexed. (The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady: Interpretations of Chinese Poetry By Han H. Frankel, Yale University Press, 1976)
As time passed by, huǒ bàn (火伴) evolved into huǒ bàn (伙伴). The first character was changed slightly while its pronunciation has been kept the same. The meaning got generalised, from comrade to all kinds of mate. It is therefore not hard to imagine how frequently people use it in daily basis.
The fact is that we found a word fitting perfectly in the nature of our platform, having its modern descendant looking so close to it. Everyone can get the image easily by hearing ‘a crowdfunding platform named huǒ bàn’. Bad students may feel surprised on the missing part. People who studied seriously could see more layers within. By either way, huǒ bàn (火伴) gains its identity.
We knew we got our naming task done.
Characters as logo
We quickly decided that the logo should be the characters of the name, not only because of our deep satisfaction of it, but also due to the very fact that Chinese people are generally sensitive to characters, especially simple characters delivering a simple meaning like huǒ bàn. Then the question is how to write them down. A good font? We write one? Jin write one? It took us quite a while.
From seed to dot and line
From Jin, we knew that initial/core customers, in Chinese internet industry, are described vividly as Seed Customers (种子用户). Putting ideas/identity into new customers’ mind is just like sowing seeds in the field.
We collected a bunch of images of different seeds through google, and made them all silhouettes to see if we could use them to compose the two characters. After a quick test, it’s proved to be a failure: Discovering a cashew right besides a peanut doesn’t help people remember it.
It was summer time, we even made the characters by some real watermelon seeds. Interestingly, they looked better than the silhouette one, maybe because the difference between two watermelon seeds is much less than that among different seeds. However, we still couldn’t answer the question like why go with watermelon seed, or why seeds in general.
As a result, we cut off all irrelevant biological details. We got dots and lines, neutral, flexible, and enough.
Dots and lines are simple elements while form an expressive visual system. You can use them to create any kind of graphic. huǒ bàn is only one option out of countless other ones. By using the picture shown below, we explained Jin what is VI (Visual Identity) system and how it works: Logo is not necessarily an independent graphic, but has many relatives coming from the same VI system; Not only logo reminds people the brand, but all the results deriving from the VI system do. Jin felt excited about the new direction that he had not known before.
As expected, we have been working on this idea for the longest time during the whole process. We quickly drew things on paper, found potential ones, and redrew them in computer. After being exhausted by moving 2px to the left, clockwise rotating 5 degrees, increasing line weight by 1px and so on, we pulled out pencil and paper to have a fresh try. However, in general, none of them touched us: when we made it fat, hoping it to be friendly, it resulted in being clumsy; or we made it thin, it fell apart instead of being elegant.
One day afternoon, tea time, we were loosely sketching on paper. “Don’t you think it looks like a face?” Tao showed Yoko the picture below.
Oh, finding face from everything is claudeverett’s special skill. We easily found two other faces after changing slightly some strokes.
Magically, texts gained some graphical nature all by their own. The three faces, different from one another, highly fit what the platform aiming at: people coming together for doing something great. What’s more, as you may know, humans are born to be good at recognising and memorising face-like image in general. You can do a quick test if you luckily don’t understand Chinese. Get yourself a piece of paper, try to draw the logo without looking at it. If you get it right, you should know it is the faces making you memorise it other than the knowledge of Chinese. Face power, you might call.
How about the little ’T’ below the third face? That’s not a face. Knowing that Jin would ask, we prepared an answer — That’s ‘a great idea’ that the three faces are working on.
However, it is this ‘great idea’ made us a surprising attack, later on.
One morning, Jin called us, saying “My girlfriend said it looks like Korean.” “Korean!?” We almost cried out. “That’s right. Some of my friends said the same thing.” Jasse added. “Ah…” We reluctantly closed our widely opened mouth and said, “Thanks for the info, we will look at it.”
Why we were so shocked? Partially because we had never expected it before, partially because it is such a bad news, though not as bad as looking like Japanese. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean have complicated feeling of each other. Some Chinese like Japan so much while some others wish the island sink. They could fight seriously if you put them together. For Korea, maybe a bit more subtle, Chinese would stand together with Korean to fight against their opinion of WWII of Japanese government, while mock each other on many other issues.
Anyway, we must do something. Firstly, we had a look on packages of Korean instant noodle and cosmetics, shop signs, TV posts, etc. We found their feedback is 100% true. Then, time to understand where does the alikeness come from, and distort it.
The reason is so simple: without any intention to do so, we used two vowels and one consonant of Korean. More dramatically, you can say that our logo is almost completely composed by Korean, except the dots.
If there’s no ‘the great idea T’, then are there only three faces? Yes, that T is the peace breaker. But why did we have that T? Can we remove it? It was there only for keeping the completeness of character ‘伴’. Since we have already extracted the essential part, the three faces, out of the original version, the completeness did not mean so much. Not to mean the trouble it brought. The series of Q&A claimed the death of ‘the great idea T’.
Adaptive VI system
Looking back occasionally to the failed ideas can be very helpful. In our case, by comparing the three-face with the previous proposals in dot and line, we noticed that from a certain point on, the VI system with adaptivity that inspired Jin a lot has been gradually fading away. Look at the picture shown below, what can you do with the three faces? Separate them, copy them, and drop them randomly or in some order. Anything else? Seems no.
For getting back the flexibility, the system, we disconnected the mustasche, the tongue and the lip, the nose and the mouth. By doing so, we got six lines, half a bit longer than the other half, and six dots. So basic, aren’t they? We made three shorter lines colourful, for gaining the logo good amount of passion and openness as well as erasing further Korean association if there is any.
VI system and logo were done at the same moment. Time to create a whole new world. We printed out the lines and dots, and played with them.
Well, this is more or less the whole process of the birth of this VI. We hope you can feel the resolution of Jin and his young company by looking at this VI ─ building up a friendly, open-minded, creative, cooperative, effective, and therefore the best crowd funding platform in China.