Brand strategist and graphic designer Shannon LaBare knows that a good logo will entice us to look. But a timeless logo? It will inspire repeat viewings: first with the eye, then with the mind and, if it is truly successful, the heart.
It’s all about mood and feel, said the Cal State Bakersfield alumna, who designed the official suite of logos for the university’s yearlong 50th anniversary celebration. She still remembers the elation she felt at CSUB’s invitation to submit her designs.
“They want me to help at a pivotal moment in the story of the university I went to? When you have a client you identify with, it’s an added pressure but an exciting thing,” said LaBare, 33, owner and founder of Purveyor Branding Co. in Bakersfield.
“You can’t help but think: Look how far I’ve come. When you get that validation, that’s pretty dang sweet.”
LaBare met with members of CSUB’s 50th Anniversary Committee in January of this year and was presented with a sheaf of logos used over the course of the university’s history. Most featured the university’s blue and gold colors along with varying versions of Rowdy, the Roadrunners’ mascot, used primarily in Athletics marketing. But there was one iteration of Rowdy — a primitive drawing from the university’s earliest days — that captured LaBare’s imagination.
“That vintage Rowdy — I immediately fell in love with it. I saw something from the past, pizzazzed it up a bit and created something brand-new that has a reference to the past.”
The main direction she received from the university came from President Lynnette Zelezny, LaBare said.
“She said, ‘I want a megaphone shouting from the rooftops that we’ve been around for 50 years!’”
The committee also directed LaBare to evoke a vintage feel but to be futuristic; to stay true to the design aesthetic the university has established since its first day in 1970 but to add drama and impact. In other words, a contradictory set of marching orders, at least to those not versed in meeting sometimes conflicting priorities.
LaBare started the process, as she starts all projects, by creating a mood board. What did the university wish to communicate internally and to the community? Could an arresting logo be used to advance strategic goals? How will it fit in with the rest of CSUB’s branding?
“The way I approach every project is to ask, ‘Why this, why now? Who’s going to look at it? Why is this important and impactful to an organization? And then I try to pull out feelings.”
LaBare knew she wanted to use a more refined Rowdy — in fact, she took to calling the 50th mascot “Rhonda.”
She commissioned the illustration of the mascot’s new look to local illustrator Dorian Avila, who created an intricately detailed roadrunner that references the natural beauty and native species of southwest Bakersfield.
“How do we reinvigorate the roadrunner with a more modern touch and not be so athletic-based? We wanted to bring in a new roadrunner that is moving forward, with ’Runners clearly on the rise.”
After LaBare presented the primary and ancillary designs to the president and committee, the logos underwent some minor revisions before their final approval and ultimate unveiling in July.
“I’m so proud of our logos,” said President Zelezny. “Shannon was able to honor our past but clearly convey a feel of forward momentum. Plus, the logo just makes me smile.”
‘Art and music were my escape’
Born Shannon Brown into an artistic family in Corona, Calif., LaBare was forced to make a choice early on: soccer or art.
“I realized I couldn’t get a scholarship in soccer because I wasn’t that great, so I decided to lean into the art space. Art and music were my escape.”
LaBare blended the two, creating flyers for bands and landing an internship with a small record label and position at a concert promotion company, both in Orange County. At Seattle Pacific University, she planned on majoring in graphic design but decided to come home to California after the first year, attending community college. She also met her future husband, Scott LaBare, and faced a decision: Corona or Bakersfield?
“I needed to finish college and started applying to Cal States but no one wanted me, even though I was the valedictorian in high school. One idea was, I have this boyfriend I really like a lot. Maybe I should apply to Bakersfield. I didn’t tell him.
“I didn’t hear for a while, so I called the number. Bakersfield answered the phone. They said, ‘Come on up. We have space for you.’ That welcoming spirit was there from the very beginning.”
With the help of academic adviser Karen Ziegler, LaBare fast-tracked her education, earning a bachelor’s in small business management in 2010.
Degree in hand, LaBare went to Bolthouse Farms, where she took a position as an administrative assistant.
“I kind of disliked it because I’m not an administrative person at all. The trailer next door was the creative trailer, and I weaseled my way into a position there since I could design, as marketing coordinator, graphic designer and then to lead project manager. It was a crazy, wild, wild ride. I joke that I got my MBA at Bolthouse.”
But after seven years, and while raising a toddler, LaBare took a hard look at where she wanted to be.
She knew that she wanted to follow her own path, as terrifying as that seemed at the time.
“In 2017, I started putting myself out there. I was contacting friends of friends, who do I know? Does anyone need marketing?”
Making Bakersfield ‘a better place to live’
A fortuitous meeting with Austin and Anna Smith, a married couple with similar ideas about nurturing civic pride and exploring the potential of downtown Bakersfield, opened a new avenue of creativity and purpose for LaBare. The Smiths, through their company, Sage Equities, are developers of the 17th Place Townhomes and other projects. With LaBare and several like-minded young professionals, the Smiths launched a marketing initiative that has several components, including the website Be in Bakersfield, Second Saturday and the nonprofit umbrella to the entire endeavor, The Hub of Bakersfield, which seeks to help existing businesses promote themselves and attract newcomers to the city. But the real goal of The Hub and the 30-somethings behind it, is more ambitious: to “brand” Bakersfield, a city that has long defied easy descriptions.
“We’ve all lived in other places, whether we’re from here or not,” LaBare said. “We’re taking those experiences and realizing we might not have some of them yet, but they’re not that far away. We can have festivals, we can close down streets, paint a crosswalk and progress, making it a better place to live.”
Anna Smith said LaBare’s talent and initiative make her uniquely qualified to help lead the effort.
“Shannon is the branding genius behind The Hub of Bakersfield,” Smith said. “It cannot be overstated how crucial her work has been to this effort. For The Hub, Shannon’s team created the website, manages the social media accounts, plans events and much more.
“She is deeply loyal and one of the hardest workers I know. She is responsive and cares so much about this city. She has an optimistic and visionary outlook for this place. Unlike others that simply see the problems, Shannon enacts change.”
And while LaBare works with her fellow visionaries in The Hub, she juggles being a mom to 5-year-old son Ira while she builds her business with the help of her husband, who is an assistant golf pro at Stockdale Country Club.
“I joke that I envision the bustling floor of ‘Mad Men’ without all the demeaning behavior,” said LaBare of the television drama set in the high-stakes and boozy world of 1960s New York advertising. “I want pods of teams ready and available to work on every brand that comes through our door. I want to run the ship. I’m really excited for the future.”