Cycling, design, and missing vowels: the men behind the C V N D S H logo

The blissful irony of the design brief for Mark Cavendish’s new logo landing on the desk of two cyclists living and working in the same town as his mother is not lost on its creators, Sam Hodgson and Tom Cutting.

That a former Tour de France maillot vert should place his personal brand in the hands of designers who spend their weekends piecing together the parcours for next year’s Yorkshire Grand Depart on their regular rides through the beautiful countryside that surrounds their office in Harrogate is, however, pure coincidence.

Satisfied customer: Mark Cavendish with the logo designed by Sam Hodgson and Tom Cutting

That’s not to say the men responsible for the new visual identity of arguably the peloton’s best-known surname aren’t thrilled. They’ve had their own turn in the spotlight since the unveiling of the logo and and a controversial tag-line for its launch, and while the response to their creation hasn’t been universally positive, the client – a rider known to his public variously  as Cav, the Manx Missile, the Fastest Man on Two Wheels, and now C V N D S H – is pleased.

“He was really happy with how everything had gone down,” says Hodgson, “so it’s been a success from our point of view, for sure.”

The duo met Cavendish for the first time at the logo’s launch in London’s Covent Garden on Monday. Their description of him variously as “quiet”, “focused” and “a man of few words” may surprise those whose only prior experience of the Manx Missile is when a microphone is thrust in his face seconds after contesting a bunch sprint with 200 other riders.

The design brief, was, well, brief. “Fast, green, and modern,” is Hodgson’s summary.

Anyone who has met Cavendish when his adrenalin levels are normal, however, will recognise the characterisation as a thoughtful character who weighs his words carefully.

Hodgson and Cutting are creative directors at The Lift Agency, a sports marketing company whose client list includes Arsenal football club and Audio Technica. Lift had discussed various projects with Cavendish’s representatives and were invited to pitch ideas for a logo that would stamp his identity on the products of his commercial partners, including some of the biggest brands in cycling.

The design brief, was, well, brief. “Fast, green, and modern,” is Hodgson’s summary. The pair set to work quickly, turning around the project in little more than three months after pitching six ideas to Cavendish and his management team.

Sam Hodgson and Tom Cutting of The Lift Agency – cyclists and designers of the C V N D S H logo

The Manxman described himself at the logo’s London launch as “a pain the arse to work with,” but that is not the impression formed by Hodgson and Cutting, who describe a client quick to join an email conversation to shape the final design. He presented an early challenge, however, by refusing the moniker, ‘Cav’, removing a household name from the options at a stroke, and leaving the pair with the significant stumbling block of conveying speed from a word with nine characters.

“He was really keen to keep his full name in it, which posed a challenge for us straight away, if you’re trying to make something feel fast and it’s got that many characters,” says Hodgson. “I pushed back and that’s where the removal of the vowels came from.”

We saw how much we could remove from the name while it still remained functional and legible. There’s a nice reference to the bike in that as well

Cutting admits to being shocked by Cavendish’s selection of the “brave” option, but believes emphatically that it was the right choice. “We think it’s a really good thing, he says. “It’s hard for someone to really own a brand, but this is very specific to him. No-one else has really done it before – taken the vowels out – and hopefully it will stand out.”

Shortening the name had a practical as well as stylistic consideration and Hodgson, a self-confessed minimalist and owner of a Feather Cycles fixed wheel bike, draws a parallel with the designers of Cavendish’s race machinery, reducing weight to proscribed minimum levels. “You obviously have to be stylistic to a point as a designer, but I always try and make logical changes,” he says. “We saw how much we could remove from the name while it still remained functional and legible. There’s a nice reference to the bike in that as well.”

The new logo on the fork of Mark Cavendish’s limited edition Specialized Venge

The logo’s application was another “huge consideration”. Cavendish has some big league sponsors with established brand identities of their own. Lift’s design had to ‘work’ alongside those of Specialized and Oakley, to name just two.

The logo hasn’t won universal approval, but Hodgson says he is thick-skinned. The FST AS FCK tag line conceived solely for the launch event attracted the greatest criticism, even though it isn’t part of the logo. “We were asked to sum up for the event why or how the brand was refined to what it is,” Hodgson explains. “It was just a playful way of saying we did ‘this’ to the word Cavendish because he is ‘this’. I know that’s taken something of a beating on line, but Cavendish as a character is brave. He’ll say what he thinks and I know that he really liked that.”

We thought the idea of an arrow cutting through the logo was Cavendish cutting through the pack, flying out of the peloton

The green flash that cuts through the C V N D S H lettering of the logo has attracted less comment, but is far more significant. The detail resulted from watching Cavendish at work in the final 250 metres of a sprint. An image was needed to capture the Manxman’s distinctive sprinting style, but the pair wanted to use something less obvious than a silhouette of the rider. “We thought the idea of an arrow cutting through the logo was him cutting through the pack, flying out of the peloton,” says Cutting. “It felt right for him.”

The C V N D S H project isn’t the first cycling campaign the pair have worked on. Frame builder, Ricky Feather, an old friend of Hodgson’s from the cycling community in Leeds, received his input on graphics and on the Feather Cycles head badge.

Frame builder, Ricky Feather, is a friend and client of Hodgson and Cutting

Cutting, who has worked with Singular Cycles, coordinated a joint project between Feather and John Smedley, the premium, Derbyshire-based knitwear brand. Feather produced a stunning track frame, unpainted except for the Union Jack head tube. “I managed to convince them to build a one-off bike with Ricky,” says Cutting. “We had it in their shop window in Brook Street. All my budget went on making this one bike.”

The Yorkshire connection is integral to the pair’s work with Feather, but the Cavendish job was purely coincidental, scrapping RCUK’s theory that Cavendish had passed The Lift Agency’s office and commissioned them out of loyalty to his mother’s home town. “It was a complete coincidence,” says Cutting. “He’s not been to our office. We didn’t find out that his mum was from Harrogate until we got into the process. We thought, ‘Oh, that’s going to work in our favour. We’ll bribe her with some Betty’s tea cakes!’”

Harrogate’s connection with the world’s best cyclists will be strengthened further next July when 200 of them descend on the town for the climax of the opening stage of the  2014 Tour de France. Hodgson and Cutting have devoted some of their recent rides to piecing together the parcours from the basic details published by race organisers, the ASO.

Understandably, given the particular talents of their high-profile client, the finish area has commanded their greatest attention. Cutting warns that the road on which the sprint will be contested isn’t entirely flat. “It dips down into a little valley and then straight up again for 50 metres and then it’s the end, right in the middle of town,” says Cutting. “I think that will be quite interesting.”

And will their client deliver on such an undulating finale? “For a pro cyclist, I’m sure it’s fine,” he adds. “Hopefully, he’ll just fly up.”

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