Many of us who work in branding are mourning the death of Michael Cronan on January 1. Cronan, who lived and worked in Berkeley, was an artist, graphic designer, product developer, brand strategist, and teacher. With his wife and creative partner, Karin Hibma, he also created names for many companies and products, most notably TiVo and Kindle. He had been diagnosed with cancer five years ago.
I met Michael Cronan a couple of times over the years and was impressed by the breadth of his skills – he truly merited that overused term “Renaissance man” – and his generous, thoughtful manner. I wrote in 2008 about how Cronan named Kindle.
In 2009, Steve Rubenstein wrote a more detailed profile of Cronan for the San Francisco Chronicle, which I recommend to you. It opens with Cronan and Hibma noodling around with Scrabble tiles, looking for promising combinations. Dealing with clients, Cronan told Rubenstein, is “at least as tricky” as dealing with Scrabble tiles. “Very few clients have any idea what they’re asking for,” Cronan said. “They need a name and a logo and, to them, it’s like they need a loading dock or an actuarial table.”
But it’s so much more, as this passage from the article reveals:
The creation of TiVo is ancient history in the advertising racket, Cronan said, but the story bears repeating. Cronan and Hibma held a half dozen meetings in Silicon Valley with the manufacturer, hashing out possible names for the device. At the time, a competitor was marketing a similar gizmo, called Replay, and Cronan needed something better.
TiVo, Cronan knew, was the right thing to call the device, even though its manufacturer was more impressed with some other choices that Cronan was kicking around: Lasso and Bongo. Lasso was a contender, Cronan said, because the device lassos TV programs the way a cowboy lassos cattle. And Bongo was a possibility because the gizmo had two round things on top, like bongo drums. But both of those names, Cronan felt, were lousy. In all, Cronan recalled, the designers were considering no fewer than 800 names for the product.
None said television as well as TiVo did, Cronan argued. And with its capitalized V in the middle, it sounded revolutionary as all get-out. After Cronan, also an award-winning graphic designer, came up with the logo for the product - that smiling, walking television with the rabbit ears - Replay never knew what hit it.
For more about Cronan and Hibma’s approach to the naming process, read this Q&A on the Wordnik blog, published just over a month ago.
Michael Cronan’s life and work were an inspiration to all of us who build brands. His death is a huge loss.