About two-thirds of the Cronan Group's business comes from naming assignments. And in most of those assignments, the client comes to Michael Patrick Cronan and his team already in possession of the solutions for which they are searching.
Almost every time, the clients provide the answers. They just don't know that they know them, Cronan explains.
When the developers of TiVo came to the Cronan Group with a revolutionary product in need of a like-minded name the moniker Teleworld was being used as a placeholder company name at the time they knew they had something very different. The question was, how could they let consumers know that, although this was a television-related product, it was as unlike regular TV as radio is to the internet.
Teleworld now TiVo is a way of assembling just the television programming one wants to see, setting it up in order one wants to view it, and then watching it whenever desired. A large, smart storage disk is key to the system.
But the real essence is not the hardware, but the software. It can go out and find out what you as a viewer like, says Cronan. For example, one of my kids was having a tough time with French Revolutionary history at school. My wife Karin [Hibma] went through TiVo to find shows about it and had him watch two shows per night until he had a better understanding of the subject.
Mike Ramsay, the CEO of the company, brought Cronan in early and set the bar high. I had worked with Mike on other large projects, the designer says. He has a way of tossing a big challenge to you in a low key way. When they gave me the corporate presentation, and my jaw was hanging open with the potential of the technology, Mike grinned and asked if I was up for helping them out a bit.
The idea was not so much revolutionary but evolutionary, Cronan adds. When I realized that this technology would change the behavior of families, I was able to get the essence of the idea.
This breakthrough allowed Cronan and his staff to move boldly forward with the naming process. Usually, they generate between 800 and 1,500 possible names, then narrow that list down to about 100 and present these to the client. The final 100 names circled around concepts such as capturing what you want, when you want it, the way television was meant to be, and TV your way.
The name TiVo came about when Cronan started thinking about the band Devo and how its music was a de-evolution of pop culture. TiVo sounded the same, of course, but the letters I and O could also signify in and out, which was nicely representative of what users can do when they use the device: input their wishes and output the results. The letters T and V would allow consumers to still grasp the idea of what this was.
TiVo was probably the eighth or ninth name we presented to them. People in the meetings liked it, but it really wasn't a contender, Cronan says. He adds, however, that most clients don't recognize the right name the first time they see it. Sometimes, patience on the part of the designer is necessary.
Eventually, TiVo emerged on top. Now, Cronan could begin working on the product's mark. There are two mnemonic devices that he consciously relies on: color and shape: These are what people will remember. So he began by considering what would be a very discernable shape for consumers. What would be better than the shape of a TV with rabbit-ear antennae. Even children who have no history with low-technology like antenna intrinsically understand this shape.
I had been thinking about an image I'd seen of a Christian fish that had been subverted by the placement of Darwinistic feet below it. I thought, Let's put some legs on it, it goes out and finds things for you. It actually is television with legs, he says.
He created what he calls a very simple and bone-headed sketch,
but knew it wasn't quite there yet. That's when he began talking with
the design firm Pittard Sullivan about the nature of the character.
At first, what they came up with really freaked me out: We needed something that gave it a chance to be animated, Cronan recalls. So then his static character, with his toes stiffly pointed to the right and his antenna sticking straight up, became much more friendly, pointing his toes and antenna outward in a more jaunty demeanor.
The character, with his new personality, is like a friendly imp or spirit. Cronan says it reminds him of a happy genie in a bottle.
Typically, technical [product] people want their identity to look slick. But the largest population of people using TiVo consists of young people and families, so the idiom of the cartoon character indicates that he is friendly and not complicated, the designer says. On screen, the TiVo character moves all the time, tipping his head, moving his feet, and smiling all the while, as though he is patiently waiting for the user to make a choice.
Cronan predicts that the character will continue to evolve and grow. In this way, he compares TiVo to Mickey Mouse: No matter what era of Mickey a consumer might see, he or she still knows the character by his basic shape. One thing that will definitely not happen: The main character will not be watered down by the addition of other little characters.
One important lesson Cronan took from the TiVo project was gaining a better understanding of what sort of client/designer relationship is most effective for his team. The meetings with TiVo developers were always fun and jovial, he reports: As any designer knows, such gatherings can be frustrating and tense. Our relationships with other clients have been affected, Cronan says. Before we really get to work, we want to get the client smiling and laughing.