Mackey Saturday On Designing Great Brands And Why Skateboard Logos Kick Ass
by Rudy Sanchez on 09/22/2023 | 7 Minute Read
If you’re one of over 990 million people who use Instagram daily, you know Mackey Saturday
Or at least you're familiar with his Instagram logo design. In place for over a decade, it’s a prime example of a logo that endures and becomes so ubiquitous that it becomes a part of our world, whether we realize it or not.
Mackey’s logo for a then-small photo-sharing app wasn’t a fluke, of course. At the helm of Saturday Design, Mackey works with a team of talented folks, creating branding with the same spirit and ethos on design that inspired some of his better-known logos like Oculus or Silk. But design wasn’t always a career consideration for Mackey. It would be a few years in the field for Saturday to take his professional direction into brand design.
As an art student, Saturday understood the power of communicating identity. While he started a studio with a friend and did a lot of web design work, he quickly realized that designing websites wasn’t for him and wanted to focus on branding. After about eight years of working independently, focusing on brand design, Saturday joined Chermayeff Geismar and Haviv in 2016 before eventually setting up his own shop.
Clients for Saturday Design include Gopuff, Affirm, and Birdies. Even among such disparate brands, the visual identities—but especially the logos—balance creativity without trying to be too clever. But they also have a deeply intentional timeliness to the work. Gopuff’s logo, a service that delivers an assortment of food, beverages, and other convenience items, usually in under thirty minutes, for example, is a wordmark where the character forms themselves express a rapidness, like in the way the ends of the “f” point in opposite directions, and the “go” stands alone as a recognizable logo while still conveying speed and action.
Affirm, a financial service company founded in 2012, has a logo that makes the brand that makes it feel older, like its competitors in the consumer credit space. But the logo isn’t stuffy or traditional; instead, there’s an approachability to the concept of its primary service, buy-now-pay-later credit, which comes superbly communicated through the round arch across part of “Affirm” but extending to the end and the bottom as if effortlessly jumping over an obstacle to the end.
Birdies is a brand of women’s shoes designed to be comfortable and stylish. The icon both looks like a bird’s tail and shoe vamps. The brand mark compliments the playful icon with classic and premier typography.
Saturday has had an eye for logo design even as a kid, even if he didn’t know it. As many children do, Mackey played soccer in his youth, and the first effective logo that stands out in his mind belonged to Umbro, an English sports equipment and accessory manufacturer. Umbro has used a rhombus shape since its inception and some form of the double diamond logo since 1974.
“I played soccer as a kid, and I remember the Umbro logo, those double diamonds, being on my jersey and shorts,” Mackey begins. “I didn't understand the logo and what it meant at the time, and great logos don't have to be understood necessarily, but they need to be recognized and be appropriate. You want them to be iconic and could always see the Umbro logo. That's probably part of why it engrained itself into my mind. It was a validation or certification that you had the right thing at that time if it had the Umbro logo.”
He may have kicked around the ball on the soccer pitch as a youngster, but Mackey also developed a fondness for another sport that he would continue to have a passion for long into adulthood: skating. Skateboarding shoe brand Airwalk’s logo is another example that Saturday was impressed by years and years before he would ever design a logo himself.
“I remember Airwalks were the first pair of brand name shoes I was ever able to get,” Saturday says. “I was so proud, and to have that ‘A’ in the circle on the tongue of the shoe meant a lot to me in terms of what it symbolized. I never thought about why. Why any of these things were what they were, which is a funny thing. I really thought more about whether they were recognizable.”
For Mackey, recognizability has always been paramount when evaluating a logo’s effectiveness. Is it something he can visualize after briefly closing his eyes? Can he redraw it from memory? In Saturday's eyes, a sign of a meaningful mark is how quickly you can associate the brand with its logo.
Being in the skate and surf communities exposed Mackey to countless brand logos, all vying for attention in a boisterous and crowded space. Some of his thoughts on logo design stem from seeing compelling brand logos in their native environment. Skate brand logos must exist on apparel, skateboard decks, and packaging, and they have to be effective on stickers that get plastered on everything, whether it's a laptop or a utility pole. The logos will also compete for attention amongst each other at places like skate parks and shops.
“Skateboard brands are really strong,” Saturday says. “They get put on everything. And then the first thing you do to a skateboard is ruin it. Riding and doing tricks, you scratch up the graphics, and the logos will still be recognized through all of this mess and in these really busy visual scenarios. That's a pretty cool thing.”
“There are two really iconic skate logos that stick out to me, and they're very different," he adds. "There’s Zero Skateboards, which is this skull logo. So it's very kind of iconic, in that way. And then Element’s logo has this tree in the circle with the dotted lines in this beautiful scenery. So, one is quite organic, and the other is quite technical. But both are bold, very iconic, and able to live everywhere and be recognized. Those are my favorites. The most recognizable one is probably Spitfire. Everybody knows that logo that doesn't even skate.”
Being recognizable is far more important than being clever regarding logo design. According to Saturday, sometimes logo designs are overthought when real success can be seen in the relationship between it and the consumer.
“We over-index on all of these things like meaning or all this magic that needs to be in there,” Mackey explains. “Everybody starts thinking, ‘Oh, I want to make the FedEx logo with a hidden arrow.’ None of your friends are carving the FedEx logo on wood in shop and being psyched, right? We want to make logos that are a part of life and are loved, even if we don’t know what they mean or the thought behind them. We don't have to know what the Volcom stone means to love it.”
Of course, what a brand logo means may ultimately not be up to the owner or the designers—it's up to the customer.
“I do think most of the time we, the consumers, put the meaning onto logos,” Saturday says. “It's our experiences with the brands. It's our understanding and interpretation of them that we use to fill these things with all kinds of meaning. Rarely does what’s explained in a creative presentation come out to the consumer.”
According to Saturday, great branding and logos aren’t about dense creative briefs citing planetary orbits or using negative space to hide an Easter egg in plain sight. Instead, it's something that's instantly recognizable and memorable—a piece of timeless design that can immediately affix itself to our world. Consumers get excited about great logos and ultimately have the last word on their meaning, despite what a brief might say.