The Story of the Boundary Logo: Symbolizes network performance
By Steve Boak on 01 18 2013
As I write this, the Boundary logo is almost two years old. We continue to get a lot of great feedback about it, as well as a lot of questions. I thought I’d address some of the more common questions here:
What Does the Logo Mean?
The Boundary logo is an expression of a single concept: signal processing. The logotype is based on a sine wave, and the way the word boundary “emerges” from the wave, to me, symbolizes the product’s goal of separating signal from noise to gain insight into network performance. In discovering how beautifully the word “boundary” maps to a sine wave I had a huge stroke of luck, though, and found it entirely by accident…
So How DID You Come Up With It?
Try this with any word you can think of: draw a sine wave on a piece of paper and then try to make the word fit to it. Lots of letters – almost half the letters in the english alphabet, actually – simply won’t map to a sine wave without looking horrendous. And even if you can get the letters to map, they need to work in sequence. Now look at the word “boundary”. The letters themselves have a sinusoidal symmetry to them – the adjacent U and N, the B and D being exactly 4 characters apart (creating some horizontal symmetry in the word as well as vertical)…it’s pretty amazing. I never would have found it had I been looking for it, but thankfully I wasn’t…
We had just changed the name of the company from FastIP (a word, incidentally, that would never map to a sine wave) to Boundary (the name Boundary comes from the boundary layer at the edge of turbulent flow in fluid dynamics), and we had a logo ready to go based on the cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album. The logo was…fine. I had done a few iterations on it and it was (to me at least) clean and simple, but I wasn’t that psyched about it. For a logo (and brand) to be noticed it has to have something memorable about it, so I asked for a bit more time to go back to the drawing board.
The one thing nearly all of my sketches had in common was the use of a wave: other than that I was grasping at straws. When I made the sketch at the top-left, I remember thinking that I got all the way to the R with a continuous line and that alone was pretty cool. I got excited enough about it to show it around, but the feedback I got was almost entirely negative, including that it looked like “a barbed-wire tattoo”. I figured the idea was still too raw for mass consumption, though, and kept going. Normally at this phase I’d be trying to progress a few different ideas, but this was actually the only one I ran with. Nothing else seemed to have much potential, and making this word emerge from a wave was challenging enough to be interesting.
The first digital illustration I did wasn’t very promising. It did have the sine wave, though, and that was about all that was keeping me going on this track – fighting for a way to make this concept work.
When I got close to the final version, I asked everyone what they thought. There were only 6 of us at the time, and I was the only designer, so no one had much to say. One of the guys said he thought it was really clever — that made me proud. We all sat down and went back to work, and the logo was up on the site later that day.
What Happened After You Released It?
Nothing happened for months after the logo launched – since Boundary’s product was still in beta everything we did was getting very limited exposure. I don’t remember any specific mentions of logo before Helen Walters asked to write about it on her personal blog over 6 months later, not long before our product launched publicly.
Since then, Boundary has started to build a brand and a reputation for itself – our product and technology are improving steadily, and we’re reaching new customers every day. It’s our customers who have had the most to say about the logo, and what this says to me is that the brand is gaining strength and traction. I’m not sure the Nike logo or the Apple logo would carry much meaning without the powerful brands behind them – it’s the brand that carries the logo and not the other way around.
The surprise to me was discovering the life that the logo has taken on without my knowledge. It’s been posted by anonymous 3rd-parties to design sites (with correct attribution), given awards, talked about on Reddit, added to inspiration lists, and gotten lots of pins. I was only made aware of any of these things after the fact – thankfully our marketing team keeps better tabs on this than I do.
What Would You Change About it?
A couple of things still bug me about the Boundary logo. First is the execution of the “RY”. It kind of looks like a q, and for non-native English speakers I’ve heard it’s pretty hard to make out. I also think the execution could be a little more polished. Typefaces (aka fonts, like Helvetica) have a lot of subtle curvature and nuance that makes them both more beautiful and easier to read. Though I like the purity and geometry of the Boundary logo (the only elements it contains are the sine wave and a few of circular arcs and straight lines), I think it could have a bit more nuance and sophistication.
What Have You Learned, and What Would You Say to Others Trying to Create a Logo and Brand?
The idea behind the Boundary logo didn’t change much once the initial sketching was done, and 90% of the time and energy that went into it was experimenting and refining one idea. The entire process, from first sketch to final design, took about a week. We didn’t do any testing of the logo outside the company, and after showing the early sketches around no one other than me saw the design until it was nearly done. Compared to nearly everything else I work on at Boundary the logo has been a big success, and you really don’t learn much from successes. I’m lucky it worked out, and lucky to have a strong and growing brand behind the logo that constantly brings new weight and attention to it.
I think designing a logo (and a brand) is all about empathy – understanding the company’s goals and its team. Your company will inevitably have lots of goals and the brand will have a lot of messages to convey, but a logo can only represent one idea. Distilling a team’s work, aspirations, and goals into one idea requires a level of intimacy that needs to be earned.
I created the logo only a few weeks after joining Boundary, and I was only the 5th employee. It was a small, talented, and committed team and I was trying hard to impress them, so I soaked up everything I could and worked hard to deliver something that would represent me and the rest of the team well.