Designer Mike Nicholls shares early concepts of his design for The Oaklandside.
Designer Mike Nicholls shares early concepts of his design for The Oaklandside. Credit: Mike Nicholls

When the folks at The Oaklandside reached out to me to work on the brand identity for their new Oakland-based newsroom, they had already done tons of research, speaking with—and most importantly, listening to—Oakland community members. 

It was extremely helpful to me as a designer to see the results of those surveys and conversations. I noticed that a few words kept showing up: Diversity, Community, History, Culture, Love, and Resilience. On a personal level, those are my values, too, and they further reminded me of why I so appreciate this city. 

Mike at work in his studio—sketching by hand, of course. Courtesy: Mike Nicholls

Based on the community feedback and reading about The Oaklandside’s founding values, I started thinking about how I can use this logo to showcase the history, culture, and community of Oakland. I’ve lived in Oakland going on 12 years, so I was pretty familiar with the landscape and go-to landmarks of this great city. But that didn’t stop me from gathering visual cues and inspiration that represent the legacy and history from Oakland, going all the way back to 1852. 

My visual research was segmented into four components: Oakland history, vintage signage, building landmarks, and the new pride of Oakland. What kept popping up for me was the beautiful Art Deco-styled architecture and marquee signage of places like The Paramount, The Fox Theater, Jack London Square, Grand Lake Theater, and the old Parkway, and the clean but characteristic typography within these signs.

Some of the visual inspiration behind Mike’s design.

My process of designing logos always starts with a pencil on paper, not with a computer program. I believe strongly that hands create logos, not pixels. I believe doodling and sketching are the designer’s most powerful tools.

In presenting the first round of concepts to the team at The Oaklandside, I showed them pencil sketches and of course my inspiration boards. What jumped out for all of us was the marquee signage and lettering concept. So yet again I went back to the drawing board, literally, and refined some of the concepts with tighter pencil renderings.

Once we were happy with the mark, I moved on to the fun part: color. Once again, I went back to the Oakland landscape to see what colors appear in our community. The color palette we settled on is inspired by buildings of Oakland, the vivid neon flashes of its vintage signage, and the blues and greens of Lake Merritt. You can find flourishes of all of these colors across the website. For the main logo at the top of the homepage, we decided to go with the stripped-down, cleaner wordmark. 

At the bottom of the site, and at The Oaklandside’s social media platforms and its newsletter, you can see the jazzy “marquee” version of the logo, with the full vintage-signage effect.

All in all, the process of making The Oaklandside logo was about embracing the history, legacy, and community of Oakland, coming up with a mark that embeds the values of this newsroom to “inspire and celebrate what’s great about Oakland.”

Mike Nicholls is a creative director, brand strategist, publisher, visual designer, and illustrator. He translates ideas into visionary creative solutions, utilizing over 20 years of design experience and natural talent. As Umber Magazine’s founder and creative director, he visually designs and illustrates the perspectives of each release’s contributors, from curation of content to final magazine design. He also enjoys flicking dust balls off of his turntable needles.