A visual surprise

This week I was meeting with a new client who is commissioning an update to their logo. These are the sorts of projects I approach with kid gloves and a library-manner (all gentle footsteps and under-breath whispering) because I know they can go very well… or they can be a surprise.

And in today’s business world a ‘surprise’ never, ever implies it’s good one.

In fact, the dictionary needs to be altered to include a phenomena I have termed ‘corporate surprise’ which means: ‘that’s not what I was expecting… and chances are, my boss won’t like it’. In short: disaster.

In the past I’ve likened a brand icon and logo design proposal to a plastic surgeon’s work – you’re paying for it, but when you wake up, you’ve no idea what the end result will actually look like. “It’s not what I expected” is a favourite line when people see a logo… but how could it possibly be?

But I’m taking a stand and want to argue for the notion of the unexpected – and to say that we can even add the word ‘welcome’ in front of the surprise. I believe it’s possible for clients to be excited by a project which is on-brief, but left-field.

• • •

This week I picked up Alan Fletcher’s ‘Picturing and Poeting‘, a lovely book full of the author’s characteristic quirkiness and pulse-quickening inspiration. It’s not the sort of book you read in a linear way: rather it’s lovely to open and find something wonderful to discover.

At random today, the book flicked to a page about surprises. Alan writes;

Writing in a taxi driving jerkily up a frenetically busy street. Writing while walking quickly, writing walking barefoot, under a hot midday sun on a gravel path. Writing while walking backwards up a street in the drizzle with eyes closed.

So what’s the point? I’ve no idea. But I find the results are often an entertaining visual surprise. And one doesn’t encounter those too frequently.

The page is matched with a note on lined paper written in his left hand… something I’ve recreated above.

• • •

I think this is wonderful, and it made me immediately think go this new corporate identity project.

I’ve come to the view these days that the ‘grand reveal’, the big ‘ta-daaaah’ moment, where you draw back the red curtain and let the client see the work you’ve been labouring on is something that’s possibly had it’s day. Clients like being involved, especially when it’s their business, and designing corporate identity for startup businesses is something we’ve often worked in. The idea of seeing the sketches, our early workings and offering their views early on means that they’ve helped form the idea. They’re invested. No nasty surprises, only good teamwork – we hope.

This more collaborative approach is all well and good, and solves the problem of the ‘corporate surprise’, but I think there’s still space for something else. Ultimately if the client could design the logo, why would they have employed a designer in the first place? Our taste matters. Our new ideas matter.

So with this in mind, I’ve come to the view that we should always throw in an extra idea. We should design what’s been agreed of course: that’s our job. But there’s always space for a wild card. Something to let us off the leash.

I’m reminded of a project we did a few years ago for Icon Architects. They’d long had a logo which had been created in house, of a square with a red spot above the letter ‘i’. Warren and Mark at Icon had asked us to freshen this up, give it a new look, which we duly did. But I remember saying to my colleague Oli one afternoon when we’d stared and stared at this… ‘ignore the brief… do whatever you want to… something totally different’.

And lo and behold… that was the winner. Very welcome, but a visual surprise.