Michael Penda came from a marketing and media background, he’s now a graphic designer specialising in brand identity and illustration design, who has worked with a variety of clients from coffee shops to SaaS platforms and musicians.
Michael is formally from Boston, where he ran Penda Design full-time, and has now moved to Wichita, KS. to work for Gardner Design as a senior graphic designer.
The Logo Creative – What was the turning point in your life when you decided to become a designer and how did you proceed?
Michael Penda – I’m self-taught in design, and went full-time freelance in September 2019. I had always been a creative thinker and drawer growing up, but didn’t really plan on making a career in design until a year or two ago. I went to college for marketing and had started making posters and “logos”, which grew into a small side hustle when I worked in media & advertising for about 5 years after school. I taught myself design in my free time and eventually built up enough skill and a solid client base to allow me to try working for myself.
The Logo Creative – What does your day consist of?
Michael Penda – On a typical day I’ll wake up (I’ve found that’s a great way to start most days), go for a run or a bike ride, have a quick breakfast and catch up my newsfeeds and blogs with some coffee before answering emails and getting into design for the day. I really cherish that “warmup” time in the morning to get myself in a good headspace before starting work. After that, I’m off to the races and typically try to wrap up before dinner every day so I’m not burning the midnight oil. Sometimes I have to put in some late hours in order to meet deadlines, but I’m cautious to avoid burnout. I also try to make room for some personal projects each day, even if just for a few minutes.
The Logo Creative – Are you a morning person or night owl and is there a reason why?
Michael Penda – I’m definitely more of a morning person. Not a 4am-rise-and-shine psycho, but I like exercising in the morning to get it over with and give my day an energetic start. My productivity and creativity wanes significantly the later I stay up. I’m an old man trapped in a young man’s body.
The Logo Creative – What was the first logo you ever designed?
Michael Penda – My first “logo” was a horrible splice of clipart and text that I made for a college open mic series. I hope I’ve improved since then. I honestly don’t even have the file anymore, this logo will die when I finally run out of these stupid notepads that I’ve been hauling from apartment to apartment over the last 10 years.
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite logo you have designed?
Michael Penda – Funny enough, this logo wasn’t for a real client but was part of a personal branding exercise I did. I just love how much depth it has using almost exclusively semicircles.
The Logo Creative – What’s the best logo you’ve designed that the clients DIDN’T go for?
Michael Penda – I loved this mark – it was for a hedge fund client who wanted to convey a “nest egg” and an established global feel. I took cues from mid-century trademarks and managed to fit in a nice negative space element, but unfortunately this poor little birdie got the axe.
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite logo of all time?
Michael Penda – Oof, that’s hard but I got to go with the Republic Services logo by Landor. That mark is just killer.
The Logo Creative – Can you describe or give us an overview of your logo design process?
Michael Penda – I like to start by getting to know the client – not only their needs and wants when it comes to design, but the things they’re passionate about, where they see their business going, what keeps them up at night, and what they think a logo would do for them. We then agreed upon a creative brief and I start gathering research and inspiration, and I share that foundational work with them as a gut-check early in the process to make sure we’re aligned before I start developing concepts. I usually sketch VERY roughly, just to get the ideas down, and then vector out 2-4 concepts depending on the project. After we choose a direction(s) I’ll tweak some more and build out color palettes, type, and visual language to complete the brand.
The Logo Creative – What brands do you most admire and how do they influence your creative thinking?
Michael Penda – In terms of design shops, I’ve long been a fan of Koto, For The People, CODO and Matchstic. Consistently smart and unique work all around. I also love the funky retro aesthetics of Hoodzpah (Amy & Jen Hood) and Office Hours. For “brands”, I’ve always gravitated towards outdoor companies like Sendero Provisions and Howler Bros. that have really cool color palettes and work with a wide range of really talented designers for seasonal collections.
The Logo Creative – What do you consider your most successful design project, and why?
Michael Penda – Probably my most recent project done for HWY40 Ski Delivery based in Park City, Utah. I worked with a local agency there, Moniker Branding, and together we developed an awesome identity and web/social assets that have already helped move the needle in their sales. It was a really smooth process and the client was great to work with. I’m quite proud of this one.
The Logo Creative – How long does it take to complete the average logo design project from start to finish?
Michael Penda – It varies a lot, but assuming an unimpeded process with timely feedback, an average project takes between 1 and 2 months.
The Logo Creative – What are your recommended design books to read?
Michael Penda – “Work for Money, Design for Love” by David Airey. A very candid and useful guide to running a successful freelance design business.
“Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design” by Theo Inglis. A fascinating history of graphic design in the 50’s and 60’s that covers everything from album art to book jackets and their impact on culture at large.
“Logo Modernism” by Jens Muller & Julius Wiedemann. It’s not so much a “readable” book, but it’s the ultimate catalog of logos and trademarks from the 20th century.
The “LogoLounge” series by Bill Gardner & Emily Potts. Another logo inspiration goldmine, featuring contemporary designers and case studies.
The Logo Creative – Which software do you use frequently and is there any you would recommend to designers?
Michael Penda – I work about 90% in Adobe Illustrator, followed by Photoshop and InDesign and a little bit of Figma as well. I absolutely swear by Illustrator, it’s an incredible tool for building vector graphics, manipulating type, and creating layouts and presentations.
For beginner designers who might be hesitant to commit to the pricey Adobe Suite, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with Inkscape and Gimp, which are open-source free alternatives to AI and PS, respectively.
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite style of logo design? And why?
Michael Penda – As evidenced by my work, I’m a big fan of a “geo-reductionist” style where otherwise complex forms are simplified down to their most basic, yet recognizable, shapes. It’s a fun challenge to work in this style and it’s one that is relatively timeless.
The Logo Creative – What is your daily inspiration when you design?
Michael Penda – Each project is totally different, so my inspiration sources vary greatly, but I often find myself referencing the Library of Congress database, books like ‘Junk Type’ by Bill Rose, photos on the internet, and logo inspiration sites like LogoLounge and Dribbble (to make sure a concept hasn’t been done already).
The Logo Creative – When you’re not designing do you have a favorite free time activity you like to do?
Michael Penda – I don’t do well with boredom, so I’m always keeping busy – playing guitar, reading, doing crossword puzzles, watching The Office over and over again.
The Logo Creative – What was the biggest challenge you ever faced on a project?
Michael Penda – The worst project experience was one earlier on in my career where I hadn’t fully grasped the importance of a mutually agreed-upon creative brief. The client and I got off to a great start with a phone call and I built out some awesome concepts, but they ended up hating them all and even after 3 more rounds of revisions we were still way off the mark.
I was pulling my hair out just trying to make something stick, and we ended up with this ugly Frankenstein of a logo that I was very unhappy with. If we had that guiding light on a creative brief I would have been able to approach the project more strategically and have the client on board with everything I was doing from the get-go. Lesson learned.
The Logo Creative – In your opinion what’s the best and worst part of your job as a designer?
Michael Penda – The best part is the reward of seeing something I created come to fruition in a physical form – building signage, branded apparel, even stickers and pins. It will never not be exciting to see my work exist outside the computer.
The worst part is how design (which is inherently objective – it either works or it doesn’t) can be seen as subjective in the eyes of the client. Sometimes you can have a killer concept but the client is in a bad mood that day, or they hate the color yellow, or they just don’t “get” the conceptual thinking behind a given logo. All of this is just part of human nature, but it can be difficult to grapple with when you’re trying to make a case as to why your solution fits the client’s NEEDS, not their wants.
The Logo Creative – Who is the most inspiring person to you and why?
Michael Penda – Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. An incredible talent with unbridled creativity when it comes to pushing the boundaries of music, and who also devotes a lot of his time and energy to helping people and the environment.
The Logo Creative – Who is your favourite graphic designer and why?
Michael Penda –My favorite “famous” designers would probably be Alvin Lustig and Stefan Kanchev. The former was a mid-century pioneer of book cover design, and the latter was a Bulgarian logo & trademark designer. I love how they both have really simple, geometric approaches but manage to convey so much excitement and depth.
The Logo Creative – What’s your favourite design quote or quote in general, and do you have a mantra or saying you live by?
Michael Penda – While not a design quote, there is a Latin proverb I love: “If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.” It’s a beautifully succinct encouragement to take the wins where you can get them but also be industrious and proactive when you need to get things done.
The Logo Creative – In less than 10 words what is graphic design?
Michael Penda – Not art.
The Logo Creative – What steps did you take to start your graphic design business? Did you have to make any sacrifices on your journey?
Michael Penda – It was a bit of a leap of faith to quit my non-design job and start off on my own, but I made sure I had 1) clients lined up and 2) a savings cushion. It was a tough and slow start, but that was to be expected – once I had steady work coming in and perfected my process, it was a lot easier to manage.
I certainly made sacrifices in my social life and travel budget for a while there, but once I was more comfortable financially I got those back…. just in time for COVID to shut everything down.
The Logo Creative – Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you would have changed early on in your career?
Michael Penda – I wouldn’t say I have many “regrets” per se, but before I went full-time freelance I did wish I had spent a month or two NOT designing and instead taking as many tutorials as I could and really learning the ins and outs of design fundamentals.
I often find that I’m trying to learn new things on the fly instead of being able to reference a mental bank of foundational knowledge. Granted, learning on the fly is part of the fun, but having that base is an important time-saver when it comes to analysing client problems and coming up with solutions that are both creative and functional.
The Logo Creative – If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Michael Penda – Don’t sweat the petty stuff, and don’t pet the sweaty stuff. Keep your eye on the prize, don’t waste your time with the trivial things, and do more to push outside your comfort zone and grow. Also, don’t pet sweaty things, cus gross.
The Logo Creative – What’s the most important piece of advice you have received as a designer that’s helped you?
Michael Penda – Just like Michael Scott said to Dwight, “don’t be an idiot.” Changed my life. Also, Jon Stapp of AtomicVibe imparted to me the notion of being a ‘design chameleon’, which means that it’s fine to have a go-to style, but as a designer you should be skilled and flexible enough that you can adjust your approach to tackle any project that comes your way and find THE appropriate solution.
The Logo Creative – What would be your advice for new Logo and Graphic Designers?
Michael Penda – In addition to building your portfolio, dedicate a large amount of your time and effort to networking with fellow creatives and learning from other people in the industry.
Many of my projects have come to me via the people I’ve met and had meaningful conversations with, as opposed to those I’ve “cold-called”. This isn’t the kind of thing that happens overnight, but be sure to take the time to get to know people and have genuine conversations with them.
There are millions of people out there who are smarter and better designers than you are, but instead of seeing that as a deterrent, look at it as an opportunity to learn from the best so you can get there one day as well.
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