Sunday, April 18, 2010

What they don’t teach you about identity design in design schools…

One of the most often repeated refrains on design blogs, in the critique of a new logo, is “Any design student could do a better job.” This ubiquitous comment is especially amusing to me because, well, it’s mostly true.

If you judge virtually every new logo designed today by classical design school standards, the kids in school are doing a better job. This is because of the way logo and identity design are taught in so many schools, and what that exercise is meant to accomplish.

In design school, identity design is all about the form of the logo. A student will be given the problem: “design a logo for such and such organization,” and then the student may spend the better part of the next six months refining the form of a mark (or a wordmark), and then they sometimes transfer that word mark to a piece of stationery, or a shopping bag, or some other item (often a truck, and regardless of what school they attend, they all seem to magically use the same generic truck drawing.) And after six months of criticism and refinement, a good student will usually produce a formalistically beautiful logo. There may be some discussion in class about the appropriateness of the logo for the business. But the main goal will be to make the logo recognizable, with strong aesthetic attributes that will enable the logo to “stand alone.”

The design school exercise is indeed a good way to develop craft skills, and hopefully when the student becomes a professional he/she will learn to get fast at it, and achieve that work in the course of a week as opposed to six months. And there, any similarity between real identity design and a design school exercise ends.

Identity design, for any organization containing more than three people, is the act of diplomatically negotiating personal egos, tastes, and aspirations of various invested individuals against their business needs, their pre-formed expectations, and the constraints of the market place. Making something formalistically beautiful, while desirable, is a more private part of the process, something that the designer needs to achieve incidentally, not something that can appear to be an overt motivating cause. (This is because form is subjective, and not an easily argued position when a designer is trying to get their client to feel comfortable assuming a new identity.)

When organizations are larger, their identities often need to be designed as systems (kits of parts) that allow for complicated organizational subsets to exist and therefore give organizations and corporations the ability to partially personalize departments or sub-brands. Systems often demand that logos become more neutral so they can more effectively accommodate all necessary secondary information. A complicated logo design, one that might “stand alone” in a design class may simply look too busy in this real-world kind of context.

Often the identity of an organization that has many subsets can best be brought to life by the use of its supportive materials within the systems (promotion pieces, packaging, websites, signs, merchandising materials). This is an especially effective methodology because it can allow for a logo or identity system to gain resonance and recognition over time in connection to materials that are capable of being far more expressive than logos. For example the Nike logo, which has evolved over time into its current form, became a powerful symbol to the masses because of its effective use in advertising campaigns. The “cool” of the logo happened in connection to some brilliant campaigns by Wieden & Kennedy, and the effective positioning of the mark on merchandising materials. As pure form, if the “swoosh” appeared alone in a design school critique (or on a design blog) it would most likely have been dismissed as too thin, weak, and pointy, looking like a checkmark and not really conveying motion.

Logos become iconic over time, through their use and in combination with an overall perception of a brand. They shouldn’t be judged purely as form and out of context, as they are on design blogs, because it takes a period of time for a logo to establish itself in the marketplace, just as it takes a magazine a year or so to establish its personality.

Another thing they don’t teach you in design school is what you get paid for. Right alongside the blog complaint that “any design student could do a better job” is the comment that the designer at hand got “hundreds of thousands of dollars to design that logo that could have been better designed by a design student.”

I never knew a designer that got hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a logo. Mostly, designers get paid to negotiate the difficult terrain of individual egos, expectations, tastes, and aspirations of various individuals in an organization or corporation, against business needs, and constraints of the marketplace. This is a process that can take a year or more.
Getting a large, diverse group of people to agree on a single new methodology for all of their corporate communications means the designer has to be a strategist, psychiatrist, diplomat, showman, and even a Svengali. The complicated process is worth money. That’s what clients pay for. The process, usually a series of endless presentations and refinements, persuasions and proofs, results, hopefully, in an accepted identity design.
Some branding firms employ strategists and account executives to manage the process. I’m in favor of designers doubling as strategists, or at least working extensively with them. I think the designer needs to be involved every stage of the complicated negotiation between the clients, their expectations, tastes, aspirations, marketplace concerns etc. The designer needs to be ever present because, inevitably, at some side meeting, something will be suggested that will totally destroy the form of the logo. Something can be suggested innocently, with the best of intentions, that will scuttle all plans, compromise all standards, and destroy the integrity of the design. The only person who can know this and stop this is the designer. And the reason that the designer knows it is… well, they learned it in design school.

Your Brand Wasn't Built in a Day!

Brands, like companies, are ground-up projects. They begin as remarkable ideas, build strong foundations, and grow, guided by a promise to consumers and a commitment to fulfill this promise. Brands are somewhat human in nature: They're nurtured, fed, led, and directed. Some deliver on their promise, are sought by consumers, become household names, and extend their offerings into other goods and services.

Branding, we're told, is a process. Although some brands seem to be overnight-success stories, that's far from reality. In truth, they struggled for years, first to become known and then to achieve household-name status. Unnoticed, they grew steadily over time. They appear to be instant brands, but only because we weren't aware of them.

Branding, when done correctly, is designed to meet consumer needs;
it should be a continuous, ever-evolving system that is fairly rigid while remaining fluid to meet shifting consumer demand and market conditions.

Although time consuming, it's beneficial to grow brands; it allows
policies to be developed with brand guidelines, sets operational procedures within brand guidelines, and affords C-level managers the chance to react and respond to crises. Brands gain strength and resilience during the growth years. More importantly, they begin to gain consumer loyalty and trust.

(Via-beneath the brand)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How to prevent scope creep with your clients?

How do you prevent scope creep when
a client can not make up their minds or articulate what they really want?

Most corporate identity or branding initiatives have a great deal to do with change, both personal and professional. If this is a new brand, has the client forsaken a steady paycheck to launch their dream business? If this is a rebrand, is the new CEO on the hot-seat to revive the business and get results? Whether embarking on a rebrand, or developing a new brand altogether, chances are you have caught the client at a time when they are under a great deal of pressure stemming from change.
Part of your job as a designer is to serve as their steadfast guide through the entire process. Being sympathetic to the client’s position can really go along way here.

Jointly defining the scope of the project from the outset is critical. I like to discuss client’s needs and concerns at the first meeting. then follow up with another meeting and walk them through a previous project that was similar in scope.
It's really sad to find that most of the clients that i meet have had very limited, if any, interaction with a designer before. Simply showing and explaining the process to them can be a real eye opener, for both parties. This shows them what to expect.
Fill out a creative brief with the client. And not just some generic one you nicked off a web site. Make your own and tailor it to each project’s needs. Do this with the client. Design can be subjective and personal. The goal of the creative brief is to make sure that the project is meeting the objectives you both agreed upon, and not the needs and wants of the individuals who happen to be involved in the process. Use the brief as a measuring stick throughout the process.

Look for ways to involve your client in the design process. I’m not advocating having them stand over your shoulder while designing, but keyword generation exercises, mood boarding, even collaborative brainstorming help keep the client engaged in the process. When the client feels good about, and involved in, the process (and they should be!), They will be less apt to reject concepts that you developed in a vacuum. To paraphrase Bruce Mau, design the process in such a way so that it drives the outcome, and not so the outcome drives the process.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why branding is not sales!!

Ask any media sales rep and they will say that the hardest thing in marketing advertising is teaching clients that advertising and sales are not the same things; intertwined, but not the same. An advertiser who spends $100,000 on a campaign and who does not immediately see $300K walk back in the door thinks he has been shorted or that the advertising did not work. He may be right, but he is probably wrong. Advertising is not sales, pure and simple. Just like printing coupons is not advertising; it is sales.

So what is the difference? Advertising is the process of name recognition, of tucking something away in the back of the consumer’s memory. It may pay off right away, but more often than not it will pay weeks, months, years later and the business may never know when that dollar slipped across the counter is a direct result from an ad or not. Many times I have turned into a restaurant or store “on impulse” only later to hear an ad for that location on the radio. Being attuned to advertising, radio specifically, there is no doubt that the ad took me to the store, but it did not drive me there: the ad came later. There was a connection with the company’s sign, a recognition that the business was of interest to me, and my reaction was to turn in and spend some money. That reaction was to earlier advertising that I did not consciously remember at the time.

Maybe I had passed that place 100 times before I took action on the urge to stop in; who counts how many half-heard ads issue from the radio in traffic? The urge to go someplace “right now” is not a big part of advertising. Advertising is that subtle reminder that you have thought about going somewhere (you had not, the ads did) or that one brand of cold medicine is really better than another even if you have only tried the first brand. That’s advertising. Sales is when you run to the grocery story with a coupon.

It can be confusing, but generally “sales” is immediate gratification and advertising is a long-term relationship. And, yes, they can be jumbled up.

So what is branding? It is how the customer feels about your company. It is the image that the public has of the company.

There is an old adage that bad ads sell. To prove this, people point to the used car dealers and they bad ads they generate like cockroaches breeding. Granted, their sales promotions work, but the bad ads are only driving people onto the lots for bargains. When it comes to buying for other reasons than price, consumers go to the places with the better reputation. Why? Because the used car dealers have branded themselves as bargain basement retailers; they are not trustworthy. People will remember the company name (that’s advertising), they will go to the lot for a sale (that’s sales), and they will always feel a little slimy after (that’s branding). And “that ain’t no bull.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Domain Naming is Internet Branding

Do you know how hard it is these days to get your ideal domain name? Many say the best domains end with a dot-com or a dot-net, but for most companies, particularly the standard names without a hitch, other domain-name extensions might be needed, or domain names might be improvised by adding dashes or numbers to it.

With that said, is it hurting your potential target in saturating the market in cyberspace? Definitely. One thing you have to note is that when logging on the Web, people assume you have secured your domain name more than 10 years ago when the Internet was on the rise. If not, it only shows how ignorant your company was when technology was said to be a wise investment back then.

If this is the case, does it mean your parallel-domain-marketing penetration has been imperiled? Slightly, but not entirely. You can still turn to getting the best available domain name on the Web today; however, you may need to invest in other online marketing tools to build and re-direct your customers to your Web site. In short, you just made the task harder, but in the end, you can still make it happen.