A logo with a life of its own

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Theories abound over what makes a logo work. Design scholars and students spend hours unpacking the genius behind Nike’s swoosh, or the bite from Apple’s namesake. But good design doesn’t follow a recipe and sometimes clear, easy-to-read and memorable logos defy explanation. Design can be a happy accident. Sometimes it’s a matter of working with what you have at hand.

‘There really isn’t much too it,’ says designer Stuart Crumpler of the logo he lent to his eponymous messenger bags. ‘It’s just a bit of a scribble.’ Maybe so, but it’s a scribble that has become part of the urban Australian landscape, a simple line drawing of a stick man with crazy hair that is curiously hard to forget. Today the Melbourne-based company does a multi-million dollar business both retailing and wholesaling the bags around the world.

Crumpler, 33, still seems surprised by the power the line drawing has, particularly because it started out life as a doodle while he was studying sculpture at university. The way he tells it, the drawing just sort of hung around. After graduation, he worked as a bike messenger in Melbourne and made furniture on the side. When he couldn’t find a messenger bag that he liked, Crumpler designed his own. They were practical and attractive ‘ his then employers David Roper and William Miller put in an order for their bike courier company, Minute Man. Interest grew and as the calls came in from both messengers and non-messengers alike, the three men decided to go into business together in 1999. Crumpler had been branding his furniture with the pop-oriented doodle so when they went looking for a logo, they didn’t have to search far.

‘I just really liked it and it was my thing so I stamped it on the furniture I sold,’ he says. ‘When we started the [bag] business it was sort of the obvious choice for the logo.’

A logo needs to readable at a glance and while there is no obvious reason why the eccentric figure would sell a bag, the manner in which the trio unleashed the logo onto the world went a long way to securing the stature it holds today. They wanted other bike messengers to know about the bags so they put their logo where their target market would see it; they stenciled the logo onto bike paths around the city. It was a marketing campaign cut from the same cloth as the bags; resourceful, street savvy and in the DIY spirit.

‘It was just a bit of fun, says Crumpler, ever self-effacing. ‘There wasn’t so many people doing stenciling then and we did it on bike paths because we were bike messengers. The first place we started selling them was to bike shops, to get the logo out there. We never sprayed anything more than the logo, so people would see it everywhere but have no idea what it was. That worked really well because when they’d see it on the product in the window of a shop they’d go straight in for a geezer.’

A few thousand bags later and an international brand was born.

You can see the development of the Crumpler logo in the new exhibition In your face: contemporary graphic design, 5 August-5 November at the Powerhouse Museum for Sydney Design 06.

Download a copy of the 2005 Crumpler catalogue
Sydney Design 06
Crumpler Bags
Logo Design