The Clients guide to corporate branding design: Part 1

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This article will help guide you through a ‘Best Practices’ based on some of my experiences over the last 20 years. To paraphrase Aiga Design “…The fundamental premise is that anything worth doing is worth doing well, but if it is to be done well, it must first be valued…” is never more true to graphic design in this day and age. Good design is not cheap. If you are reading and disagree then your money would be better placed on something else if you do not place a high value on design.

What will be addressed:

1. The Challenges

2. What is good design?

3. Finding the right design agency/designer

4. Tips on writing a design brief

The challenges

We live in a time where we are besieged with marketing messages – online banners, spam emails, mobile text alerts, outdoor advertising – we are bombarded when we walk, when we drive, when we fly, and competing for customers is not limited to the internet.

There are 2  challenges that need to be addressed:

1. Attracting customers.

2. Maintaining customers loyalty.

These days everyone can be a creator and consumer and being exposed to so much advertising styles has made everyone more savvy when it comes to filtering the information, but with so much to consume we have the attention of a goldfish. Communicating to people and markets is becoming the primary form of differentiation today. Communication has never been more important to businesses, and companies that value design often lead the pack.

Keeping those customers interested requires constant conversation and interaction. Generating the right content that will be of interest to your customers is what can build a dialogue with them. This requires a certain amount of listening, and acknowledging a good ideas from your customers. However, it is important not to let yourself be bullied. This happened to Gap a few years back when they refreshed their identity. They had good reasons for doing so that the customers did not know of. Instead of explaining the logo change and sticking to their decision, they caved in and wasted time, money and research and brand confidence. Steve Jobs mad a very important point when he said ‘… people do not know what they want until we give it to them’. Good design will help you judge how much to be led by consumers needs. It will be possible to engage customers that are critical to design changes if you have good design, because it will like support the following function: logical, performance driven, clever/witty, pleasing to the eye, environmentally friendly, creates long term profit, creates confidence in the brand, helps the business save money…

What is good design?

Good design is often confused with what looks good – trends, style. But good design and the birth of graphic design came from the necessity to  communicate and engage audiences quickly with bold, clever, graphic visuals – in that way design served a purpose and provided a function – identify with the brand and sell a product or service. Strong graphic ideas give design the ability to influence audiences.

Good design is not just a great logo, this is one percent of how a company will communicate to its customers. It needs to be supported by great communications – from how the telephone is answered to branding; packaging; online design, interactive multimedia, environment graphics, video production, advertising, print materials. This is the visual identity of the brand. Audiences have more exposure to the visual identity where often the logo play a very small role.

Finding the right design agency

The first meeting will determine if you like the design firm and its team. Below are some questions to help you find the designers that are a good fit for your needs. Being thorough at this stage will help build peace-of-mind and a better chance at great results.

12 questions to help the selection process

1. What kind of design experience does the design team have?

2. What kind of results have they achieved with their work?

3. How do they position themselves in the market?

4. How does their design process work?

5. Who are their clients?

6. Can they tell you about them? How much do they know? Do they talk passionately about them?

7. What kind of relationship do they have with their suppliers/partners – photographers, printers, copywriters?

8. Do they have the manpower to do what you need?

9. Do the design team understand your business?

10. Who will work on the project?

11. Do you like them and the people you’ve met?

12. Can they provide references?

Don’t just settle for the answers in the meeting, clarify them against some references and not just the references provided, check out their social media accounts like, twitter and Facebook. Also look at what is being written on their blogs, this can tell you a lot about designers. Are they passionate, and how interested are they in their business?

Is this really necessary? ‘People with experience as clients or as designers will tell you if you really do your homework with the selection process, the chances are excellent that what follows will bring about the hoped for results.’ – AIGA

The wrong way to start this selection process is by opening up an unpaid pitch process, whereby design agencies are selected and asked to work for free (based on an initial brief) to demonstrate their abilities. No designer or design agency is happy about this prospect. Nobody wants to work for free, particularly if design agencies have a good reputation and portfolio of work to show their abilities. Design agencies have to invest time and money in to a pitch and the potential loss of not winning the pitch is crippling to smaller agencies. More so if they are forced to pitch on more than one job. How long would it take before a small agency goes bankrupt? If this process is applied to many projects over time, then there will be a awful lot of brand agencies loosing a lot of money, it is only a matter of time before a negative reputation is built in the market place. There are two schools of thought on this approach – some designers are outrightly opposed to pitching for work. Period. Others are openminded about the prospect, provided they are compensated fairly for their work (i.e. according to the market value). Please visit AIGA for more information on pitching, design competitions and spec work.

Providing a Design Brief

Design brief vary dramatically from project to project. They depend on scope of work, requirements and the challenge at hand. However, here are some general guides on points to include in a design brief:

– Provide a brief explanation of the business

– Provide a clear description of aims and objectives.

– Relate the objectives to the company positioning

– Define who are the audiences

– Provide budget and time frames

– Explain the approval process

– Be clear about the project requirements

The more information that is included, the better the outcome for both the client and the design agency.

Look out for the part 2 which will cover the designers responsibilities, a designers work ethic and moral responsibility to other designers, fees, authorship and client responsibilities.

26 Classic Design Books

I’ve always been inspired by design books and used to buy 2 or 3 books a week when living in London. Design books have helped me form my own opinions and likely different to everyone else’s. One opinion or definition of graphic design which struck a cord with me is from the AMerican designer and writer Jessica Helfand: ‘Graphic design is a visual language uniting harmony and balance, colour and light, scale and tension, form and content. But it is also an idiomatic language, a language of cues and puns and symbols and allusions, of cultural references and perceptual inferences that challenge both the intellect and the eye’ – Quoted by Virginia Postrel in The Substance of Style, New York, Harper Collins, 2003.

The following 26 books are for both designers and clients wanting to discover more about graphic design and branding from the greats.

TM: The Untold Stories Behind 29 Classic Logos, Mark Sinclair

A smile in the mind, Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart

– The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher

Life Style, Bruce Mau

Marks of Excellence: The History and Taxonomy of Trademarks, Per Mollerup

– Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, John Kao

– Turning Pages: Editorial Design and Print Media, Gestalton

– Logo Lounge, Bill Gardner

– Logo, Michael Evamy

– Symbol , Angus Hyland & Steven Bateman

– How to be a graphic designer without loosing your soul, Adrian Shaughnessy

– Whatever you think think the opposite, Paul Arden

– Sagmeister, Peter Hall & Stefan Sagmeister

– Looking Closer: Classical Writings on Graphic Design, ed. Michael Bierut

– Thoughts on Design, Paul Rand

– Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover, Kevin Reagan & Steven Heller

Six Thinking Hats, Edward de Bono

Herb Lubalin: American Graphic Designer, Adrian Shaughnessy

– Grid Systems in Graphic Design, Josef Müller-Brockmann

– How to Run a Successful Multi-disciplinary Design Company, Marcello Minale

– Graphis Design Annual 2015,

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, David Airey

– Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, John Kao

– Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, Jennifer Bass & Pat Kirkham

Design as Art, Bruno Munari

The language of things, Deyan Sudjic

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