How One Designer is Using Chicago to Grow His Brand

Steve Shanabruch has a day job. Someday he'd like to do something different, so, unlike most people who gripe about their jobs, he's being proactive. 

Since November, the Beverly-born designer has been posting three times per week original logos he's designed for a different Chicago neighborhood on his blog appropriately dubbed The Chicago Neighborhoods.

It's one of those nifty Internet projects that keeps people coming back to see what's new and whether he's added their 'hood yet. (If he hasn't yet, he will by year's end.)

I gave Shanabruch a call to find how the project has been going and how he hopes this will be a stepping stone towards becoming a full-time freelance designer and also how the project might be embraced by different neighborhoods.

How did the idea for this project come about?

Steve Shanabruch: Last year at some point I saw, there was a designer, I don't know where she lives, but she posts a logo of a lake for Minnesota. There's 10,000, you know. Whole lot of logos to be made. I saw that and was like, "That's really cool." But there's no info about the lakes. There's just a logo. Usually just the name and a picture of a bear or something. Typography or something. I thought I could do that for Chicago, add a little bit of history and at the same time learn about the city that I live in. My knowledge of Chicago has been the areas that I've lived and the areas around me. So, it's given me a good opportunity to learn and it's also a huge creative outlet for me. That's probably the main reason I started it. The work I do at my actual day job isn't that creative, so…

Other than creative fulfillment, is there anything else you're hoping to get out of it?

Steve Shanabruch: My ultimate goal, careerwise, is just to be a freelance designer. I'm hoping to gain some exposure from it. I've gotten some exposure but no jobs or anything have come out of it, freelance jobs, unfortunately. But then also, maybe, I get a lot of questions about merchandising, T-shirts, postcards, and all that stuff. That would be a cool thing, a little side business going on there. It'd also be cool if they were adopted by a community organization or a chamber of commerce. It would be cool to have my work out there in the city where people can see it.

What benefits have you seen from it so far?

Steve Shanabruch: I don't know many benefits that I've gotten, actually. A lot of people, most of the comments I've received are pretty positive. There are a few here and there who didn't like the work, but, whatever.

That's the Internet.

Steve Shanabruch: That's the Internet, but, on the "about me" section on the website I wrote how this is subjective. My view's not going to be the same as yours. It's design. [Laughs.]

Well, and there's a lot more to draw inspiration from than, say, lakes. So you're entitled.

Steve Shanabruch: Exactly. For some neighborhoods that I know, like, Beverly I knew, I didn't need to do any research for that one. I typically start by doing research online, or I asked you, like, "What do you suggest for Printer's Row?" I ask someone who lives there. "What do you think your neighborhood? What signifies your hood?" Now I'm so into all the neighborhoods.

Other than merchandising, what do you see as how this will help grow your brand as a designer?

Steve Shanabruch: As the project evolves I'm becoming a better and better designer, at least to my eyes. I'm designing now everyday, not all of my waking hours because I have a wife and kind of a life, so, I have to step away from the computer at times. It's helping me evolve a whole lot as a designer and helping me come up with design styles of my own.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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