Tue, 12 Dec 2017 14:15:35 GMT
It’s that time of year when we start to look back at what we’ve achieved and think about how we want to shape the coming year. As managing director of a design agency, one of my goals this year was to challenge the idea held by some people that design is simply about creating pretty pictures. For me, the strategic element of brand design has always been intrinsic to what we do, but I still meet clients who believe that, while a good design team is capable of interpreting strategy, they aren’t necessarily able to create it.
It’s true that creating a logo for a brand is very different to developing a strong brand identity; it requires a delicate balance of strategy and creativity to uncover what’s truly unique about a brand. What many clients don’t realise is that before they even think about hitting the drawing board, a good designer will immerse themselves in a client’s business and sector to try and define what the point of difference is. The best way to do this, however, is in partnership with the client as part of a strategic workshop, which drills down into the heart of what the brand essence is. Some clients are reluctant at first – they would rather give us a brief and send us off to do our thing – but if you can convince the right people to get the their heads together in a room, amazing things start to happen.
On a fundamental level, a strategic workshop helps you to hone in on what makes you different from your competitors. If there’s an interesting story to tell, you’re going to find it through that process, by really digging deep into what the essence of a brand, product or a person is. Of course, we would never go into a meeting and present a new brand identity without having a rationale behind it, but a brand workshop gives us so much more to work with rather than simply investigating the competition. When you’re face to face with somebody getting under the skin of a brand, their reaction to even a word or a sentence can give a depth of insight that takes you to a completely different place strategically. It’s so satisfying when you help a client to discover what it is they want to say. They may think they know their story but actually they may not, and when it comes out, it’s amazing; it’s almost cathartic. We’ve done it recently with a couple of clients who were very cynical about the process but as the workshop developed, they started to understand the value of it. It made all the difference to the result – we were able to produce an outstanding piece of work, rather than simply responding to what they thought we should be doing.
At the very least, a strategic workshop should allow you to answer the question: “So why should I come to you rather than anybody else? What makes you unique?” In most cases, it will reveal a whole host of fantastic material that allows us to highlight your point of difference. Sure, on a daily basis it doesn’t change the fact that we’re a bunch of designers behind a computer creating designs, but we can create the work with a much more strategic understanding and an appreciation of the client that really does change the quality of the output. Sometimes it even surprises me how well it works! We know that every design we create for these clients is spot on. We may do three or four options but we know that strategically, they are ticking all of the boxes. And then it’s down to the client to overlay the subjective desire for one solution over another.
There have also been occasions where we we’ve started a piece of design work and come to the realisation that we needed the strategic workshop to get it right. In many ways, the workshop confirmed some of the work we were doing, but it also threw out some routes as well, allowing us to focus on work that was 100 per cent right.
Once you’ve uncovered what’s unique about the brand, the client has the beginnings of a communication strategy that will drive the graphic design brief. The next step is getting the words absolutely right – crafting that sentence that summarises the brand and its proposition. The client then has the first tangible piece of collateral – something that, if they had just asked us to design a logo, they would never have had.
From that, we can develop a very powerful checklist of the values that we’re trying to communicate. It could be anything from the tone of voice in the text to the choices of colours, or the boldness of design. The process may have highlighted that the client is thinking one thing and presenting something else, but now we have the tools to pull those pieces together. Rather than just creating a brochure because that’s what they thought they needed, we can feel confident interrogating the brief to ensure that every piece of collateral is doing the job it should be doing.
As a designer, understanding the true essence of a brand – its ethos, values and unique selling points – is essential to defining its creative identity. Only then can we create a tangible programme outlining where the client is visually, and where they need to be. Whether we’re looking at a brochure, a website, a data sheet or the full brand identity, executing this strategic process allows us to ensure that all visual touch points sit well together and tell the right story for the brand.