Define then Design

Jun 16, 2017

You're planning a vacation and want to buy your ticket? Multiple airlines take you to your destination, same dates, same times, same plane. Which one do you choose?

Answer that and you start realizing the power of branding.

In this case, the brand is not the price, the quality, the aircraft or the time it takes to get you there. "It's the environment, the seating and the way you are treated"*.

Before you set out to design a visual identity for a brand, there are a few steps you should take to differentiate it and make it authentic.

Spoiler alert, a lot of thinking is involved!

Step 1, Investigate

You should do this if it's a new identity you are creating or a revamp for an existing brand.

Our brain has the tendency to jump to a solution in a short time. It's how we’re built and it helps us function properly when faced with multiple interruptions. Therefore, it's important to make extra efforts to understand all aspects of a brand. Understand why the business was made and what need is it supposed to fulfill. Then investigate how it’s setting out to accomplish that. The origins can be very forth-telling and helpful for the next step.

Step 2, Define the brand

The next step is to use the intelligence obtained from the investigation to define the brand. Sometimes, it's the research that brings the insight needed, insight that you would have never reached by sitting in front of your drawing board or Illustrator software.

It’s important to note that the agency will never understand a brand more than its owner or founder. The agency's role is to guide the client by asking the right questions in order to help define the brand.

Use simple questions to figure out the client’s business and what it stands for. There is no need to use difficult marketing jargon (as is the tendency with most agencies). Keep it simple: what difference does it make if it’s the brand 'essence' or the 'brand DNA'? What matters is if it accurately describes what the brand is all about! Ask simple questions to get simple answers.

Now you design.

"We say we want information, but we don't experience the world through information. We experience the world through stories."* And that's why a brand is about storytelling.

To design a brand is to tell a story well. And to tell a story you should focus on true values.

Who you are is your backbone. So, if you have a very clear identity, you don't need to tackle the design process from scratch each time. You get inspired from your brand’s personality, style or manifesto. Your brand matures by adding one layer at a time instead of building it from scratch every time.

In brief, an extra effort at the beginning can save you a lot on the long run. If you take the time to define your brand, you make sure it’s authentic. And accordingly, you make sure you’ve simplified all design and communications tasks in the future.

*This article is inspired from Michael Johnson's talk at TYPO 17 and Debbie Millman's "Brand Thinking And Other Noble Pursuits" book.