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Meet Bill Gardner, Wichita's 'wizard' of logos and branding

Bill Gardner
Daniel Caudill
Bill Gardner is a lifelong Wichitan and founder of Gardner Design. The company has provided work for major brands like Facebook and the NFL, as well as local organizations, like Wichita State and the Sedgwick County Zoo.

Bill Gardner, a lifelong Wichitan and founder of Gardner Design, has worked with brands like the NFL and Facebook. His latest project is helping Wichita North High School rebrand.

Diamond Bar.JPG
Daniel Caudill
Gardner’s father placed a metal placard like this one on each house he sold. The logo is inspired by a brand Gardner’s grandfather used to mark cattle and played a role in Gardner’s fascination with logos and branding.

Long before Bill Gardner and Gardner Design helped create logos for Fortune 500 companies, his family was already well-versed in branding.

At the family ranch in Liberal, Gardner’s grandpa would use a literal brand to mark the cattle.

“It's a diamond shape with a bar on the bottom of it. And that was the shape that they would brand in the cattle,” he said.

And as the family business changed from the range to real estate, the branding remained. His father placed metal diamond placards on the homes he sold, and his grandpa even proudly displayed one on each Cadillac he drove.

Gardner keeps a copy of the brand in his office to this day. As he holds it, he reflects on its role in where he is now.

“I can recall pulling out colored pencils as a child and kind of redrawing the diamond bar and kind of going, I think I'd make it squatter, or I'd make it wider, or this a little bit fatter,” he said. “So I was fascinated with brands from a really early stage.”

Gardner cadillac
Bill Gardner
Bill Gardner’s grandpa, Leroy Gardner, proudly displayed the diamond bar logo on each Cadillac he drove. Here, Leroy is pictured with Virginia Gardner, Bill’s aunt.

Gardner launched his design firm in 1983. The building rests on the corner of Douglas and Hillside, in the same College Hill neighborhood where Gardner grew up.

It’s also where he discovered a lifelong love for magic, working at the nearby Stevens Magic Emporium before eventually becoming a performing magician.

“When I am touring around the world and talking about identity design, people ask me if I'm always from Wichita, and I say, 'Yeah, I've got about this three-block area that I'm from,”' he said with a laugh.

But while Gardner has stayed close to his roots, his legacy and impact are felt far beyond Wichita.

Gardner has worked with major brands like the NFL and Kroger. And he’s seen as an expert in the field, providing lessons and consulting with designers in every corner of the world.

His company’s work can be found locally, too. Like at the Sedgwick County Zoo, the Kansas Cosmosphere and even Wichita State University.

Gardner, a WSU grad himself, led the school’s rebrand in 2013.

“How do we develop something that can work for both academics as well as athletics in some degrees?” he said. “How do we create something that speaks to the region, as opposed to the other WSU, Washington State University or Wright State, or Wayne State?”

Gardner Design’s latest project is helping North High rebrand after it recently changed its mascot to the RedHawks. Gardner is providing the work at no charge to the school, which is his alma mater.

Gardner said he wants to create branding that will stay true to the identity of North and appeal to everyone with a stake in the school.

“We're being incredibly authentic to what North is about, so that we have an appeal to those people that went there, you know, years and years ago, and those that will go there years and years from now.”

‘Absolutely a wizard’ 

Wall of brands.JPG
Daniel Caudill
Dozens of logos created by Gardner Design are on display at the company’s office building.

Gardner may no longer be a magician by trade, but there’s still a certain element of performance to his personality.

His demeanor is warm and inviting, drawing you in and holding your attention when he speaks. Lose your focus, and you might miss something important.

Luis Rodriguez is president of KeyCentrix, a local company that makes software for independent pharmacies. He said Gardner’s friendly personality, along with his expertise, made him an easy choice to lead the company’s rebrand in 2018.

“If you meet Bill [Gardner] for the first time, his reputation might make you think it's all an act. You know, like a juggling show of entertainment,” Rodriguez said. “But underneath all that is a very sharp mind that's drilling down to the core.”

A key piece of Gardner’s work is learning about each client’s goals and how to best communicate them through logos and branding.

At KeyCentrix, Rodriguez said he helped create branding that reflected competence, but also fun.

“He's so good at pulling out, you know, what's in your DNA, and creating imagery for it,” Rodriguez said.

“He's just absolutely a wizard. That's the best word for him – a wizard.”

Bill Gardner (2).JPG
Daniel Caudill
Gardner jokes that he has lived in the same three blocks most of his life. His office is at Douglas and Hillside, in the same College Hill neighborhood he grew up in.

Daniel Caudill is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. He was a reporter, photographer and digital content manager for The Derby Informer and an editor and reporter for The Sunflower. In the spring of 2020, Daniel helped cover the legislative session in Topeka as an intern for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @CaudillKMUW.