Placemat helps eaters to discover the dishes they love and enjoy them at the table of the chef who prepared them.

We’re building Placemat to unlock the revered recipes from people all over the world who want to share them with eaters who will enjoy them.

Placemat is the new, old way of eating at a table for one… billion.

The new, old way of eating at a table for one... billion.

You guessed it, a startup, my startup. I didn’t fail, I just found too many things that won’t work and that marketplaces are hard and resources intensive. If you want to know more, let's do espresso.

This is about how designing for your own startup may cause mistakes you would otherwise avoid. As a designer founder you will undertake the largest and hardest project of your career. At the same time you will have to deal with all kinds of new design issues specific to a founder. You will be closer to every piece of design than you have ever been before. And this is where I made my mistake.

Placemat Logo Before

No, that’s not the logo you clicked on. It’s the victim failing to step back. Although well thought out and liked by respected friends, it failed to pivot. Because even if you’re not building a mobile product these days, you’re still building a mobile product. So the logo must recognize the constraints of the square. Objectivity is hard when you’re so close.

App Icon Outline

Because I didn’t practice the very advice I teach, time was lost and I had to start over. Although not completely, three generic symbols scattered throughout early sketches lead to the design you clicked on.

Parts of the Placemat Logo

Combined much like ingredients when cooking, every symbol serves a purpose. The bowl is the vessel for sharing food, a deep basin to pass around the table. The noodles overflowing the bowl are symbolic of more than enough food for everyone. On top the stars, the secret ingredient rising above a solid base. Stars symbolize quality and achievement in cooking, a foundation in deciding what and where to eat. But the real achievement is their rotation and async arrangement symbolizing steam. Three ingredients serve as the identity for fresh food shared across generations.

Almost… This is still a concept that needs testing and refinement. At least it fits in a square. Does it have adaptability to scale from a favicon to a billboard if necessary? After the initial concept this is where I often spend the most time. This is but a small set of the considerations and challenges that may have caused the concept to fail. How many stars? How many points and what overall shape? How many noodles? How thick should they be? How much space is needed between them? Do they still look like noodles? Should they overlap and how? What proportion should they have to the other symbols? Do they still look like noodles? What proportion should the bowl have? What edge radius looks good small and big? Do they still look like noodles?

Placemat Logo Size Study

Redraw after redraw, a logo starts to emerge. Specific sizes are chosen for different mediums. Clear space and placement are established. Complementary symbols may be developed. Lock ups may be created. Text is selected. The creation of a style guide starts to take place.

Placemat Styleguide Clearspace

Color is the last decision made. If you like it in black, you’ll love it in color.

Placemat App Icon

But what about the noodles? I originally envisioned them as spaghetti because of my Italian heritage. But in showing the logo around, different opinions emerged. Everybody saw a different food because noodles exist in many different dishes and cultures. This created a very strong connection achieved between the brand and the user, and very powerful.

Good design is knowing when to start over. It would have been easy to create an app icon from the first letter, but this is wrong. I won’t list any offenders by name but we all learned the alphabet before kindergarten and know it only contains 26 letters. It’s too limiting to create a distinctive and memorable identity.

This is the experience of a designer founder. I’d love to show you the wireframes, mockups and prototypes, but I won’t. When the time is right, Placemat will rise again. Next time, not just mobile first, but mobile only. ∎