Design ugly like Patoo

Design ugly like Patoo
Designers strive hard to produce good looking work. It can be crushing to hear that your design is ugly, but what we do is very subjective. What do you do though when you are asked to design an attractive logo with one of the ugliest birds known to man? What we will learn today is that hearing how ugly your work is, can help you improve your design. We are going to examine how a design went


The process in any design is key to its success. You must gather your requirements from your client, the idea, the limitations, the colour scheme., everything you can know about the clients vision. Even the vision he or she set out for their business, the message they want to send; then comes the hard part, Research. After the research comes the fun part then right? Eeh! Sorta. You have to come up with a concept design, get feedback, go through iterations, then comes acceptance…at some point, then you can finally refine and get to completion. Sounds tedious but straight forward right? Well, let’s examine the premise of this design. A coffee shop wants a logo for their business Patoo Coffee House. A Patoo is a type of owl. Owls are synonymous with being nocturnal, bright eyes and awake in the dead of the night. It makes perfect sense to pair an owl with Coffee, what can possibly go wrong. Well, this is what a Patoo looks like.

Potoo Ugly Inpiration

So picture this Jim Hansen looking creation that perhaps belongs on the evil side of the movie “Dark Crystal” being your starting point. I don’t know about you, but I would not be drinking coffee near anything looking like that. If it evokes that same emotion from you, then a logo with a creature looking like this wouldn’t attract many customers.

As much as we would love to turn down this job, sometimes the beauty of being a designer is that you get to create solutions for the impossible. Well that’s what a designer only known as “Bing” at this point achieved. He brought his initial design about and showed a bunch of downright dirty, nit picking, design creatives from the Jamaica Design Association and asked them to critique it.

Now if you know anything about the JDA, and its evil clan of Mac wielding miscreants, then you will know, it’s not easy to walk in and ask for critique. They pull no punches, or stabs, or gun shots when asked to critique. In fact, it’s less painful to cut your wrist and stick it in shark tank.
The young man however, undaunted by the bruises to be inflicted upon him, proceeded any way. His post went on to result in 181 comments.

“looks kinda creepy , the bean is been lost , i like the eyes and the form of the bird , name kinda seem redundant , stick with Potoo coffee house”
“i agree with Kadir. Bird gave me a scare… Feel like the coffee gonna turn me into a zombie”
“Too much details”

Not so harsh yet I admit. He was lucky that his first sharks were babies, but you can see certain themes coming out in the advice given. Key words, “creepy”, “Scare”, “name redundant” “The bean is lost” “Too much detail”.
We pointed out earlier that the appeal of the logo was not there. No one would feel comfortable drinking coffee in the midst of such a creature. The name as you can tell was redundant, using the word coffee. It was obvious the designer was trying to strike balance but just in the wrong way. The bean is lost. Now did any of you see a bean to begin with? I honestly thought the bird had its mouth open. This ties directly into “Too much details”. The acronym KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is popular for a reason. When things are too detailed you run the risk of getting your audience lost in the details. That’s exactly what happened.

After those suggestions the designer posted this. No it’s not the ugliness blurring the picture. The picture was just blurry.


As you can tell, he followed the advice. He remove the redundant wording, he reduced the details and got rid of the bean no one was paying attention to.
Then the iterative confusion started.

“Work in some feather elements”
“The beak still looks ‘soul sucking’ maybe colour? I know some people look a hot mess before coffee, but the bird don’t need to look so :)”

One designer even went as far as to contribute a design in the mix.


But it ended up looking more like a chicken or a crow and strayed farther away from relating to coffee. In fact, it looks like a super hero chicken’s insignia.
Make it “cartoony” someone else said. Not a bad idea because cartoons are generally friendly and we want it to feel friendly not scary. Coffee is supposed to give you a positive boost in the morning, not make you look like you woke up high on A.C.I.D. Then came other contributions which were just as creepy.


This looked like a dead ghostly bird, but it did give you the vibe of staring down a cup of Frapuccino with the cream artistically shaped out, but still, just not hitting it. How am I supposed to get coffee from this. How will I see this sign on the road and know “Hey we could stop here for coffee”. Maybe if I wanted to go dead bird watching this logo would have caught my eye.

The commentary went on and on for days with different designs being put forward. Even masks got thrown in the mix. As if the coffee belonged to some kind of bandit.

Concept 2 Concept1 Concept4 Concept5 Concept6

YEAH! What in the hell? It’s not bad, but again, too busy, too literal; a bandit owl sipping coffee at night to stay awake, how cliché.
Then came the game changing comment

“Personally I think sometimes logos don’t need to be a complicated idea. Less is more. I’d have gone with separate images in this case. It’s difficult enough, the average person doesn’t even know what a Potoo really looks like, let alone trying to combine it with a coffee pot. Ask yourself this: What do I want the logo to communicate to the viewer when they see it?”

That comment hit the essence of logo design. “Communicate”, “Less is more”. When we focus too hard on what we are trying to draw we lose sight of what we are trying to communicate. We lose sight of who we are communicating to. This portion of the comment says it all.

“The average person doesn’t even know what a Potoo really looks like, let alone trying to combine it with a coffee”.

That’s the whole point, what on earth are we looking at and what does it have to do with Coffee. Coffee is your main focus but you have chosen to highlight the bird that no one knows. That’s like designing a Michael Jackson poster and putting the Janitor on the poster. The owl is only an accent piece.

That one comment resulted in reflection that made the designer go into deep thought. He came back in with this.

Sketch 2

A very simple, elegant design. A cup shaped like an owl with owl features and look the bean is back and actually looks appropriate…well besides the fact that it also looks like the tell tale signs that Mr. Owl was cheating on Mrs. Owl, but I digress. This was not a unique design. If you search hard enough you will see similar, but the fact is the concept is much clearer now after several iterative and consultative sessions. Eventually the design went on to refine itself to its final look.

Final Patoo Logo

The bird even has a peak of hair that looks like steam coming out of the coffee mug. A perfect synergy of design elements fused into one coherent piece. I still don’t know what a Patoo is, but I can see a bird and I see coffee and I can inference that a Patoo is a bird and it all makes sense.
So the comments were not as harsh as I prepared you for, but I had to create a villain so you would continue watching the movie. This was perhaps one of the most constructive critiques I have seen in JDA and many persons left learning a lot about the process.
I will leave with this one person’s comment after the 181 comment rant.

“Wow, out of pure curiosity, I actually took the time to read through everything and follow through with every referenced link to come to this conclusion for myself. So Here’s how I’ve benefited from all this:”
“LOGO DESIGNING “going the extra mile to strike a balance between what is perceived and represented.”

1. Research & Questioning. Determining what your logo is to represent and making sure that statement stands strong.

2. Set fear aside. Get your pages worth of loose sketches in.

3. Elimination & Evaluation. Knowing what works and what doesnt. (This is where you seek critique)

4. More research! Just to ensure it’s originality. If not, repeat steps 1-3.

5. Finalizing & Visualizing. Cleaning up of the design and creating sample pieces.

6. Documentation & Protection. Nothing’s worse than having all that you just went through stolen.

If I’ve misinterpreted or missed any steps, please feel free to correct/add.

Throughout this entire thread, I visualized a long table within a small conference room filled by you all with Bing at it’s head presenting his pieces and findings for you all to pick apart and re-develop over a span of 16 days. It was very entertaining too reading all this.

Thank you all.”

Design ugly like Patoo

3 thoughts on “Design ugly like Patoo

  • 23rd June 2016 at 6:00 pm

    Good stuff. Fond memories of this and other designs.

  • 24th June 2016 at 12:20 pm

    This was a very insightful article. It makes the reader think about what pulls together a lot of elements in terms of graphic design and I particularly like the narrative tone of this article. Well written.

  • 29th August 2016 at 7:32 pm

    I love the initial design. The hand drawn detail comes across to me as artisanal and the slight creepiness comes across to me as quirky and hipster. If I were the client, I would have picked the first one. The final design is bland and generic to me. But it depends on the whatever the client is after … and great to have a community to workshop it with.


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