Happy ending or moral tale? Once upon a branding design project
It’s been quite a week – wrapping up one logo project, just beginning the identity for something else. It’s enjoyable work but by far the most labour-intensive that we do. When either a marketing lead or entrepreneur hire a designer, they usually expect creativity. We’re happy to oblige – it’s just that the end result of a branding design project tends not to be what they expected. Because how could it ever be? We just aim high and hope the result is a pleasing one.
To get to that point, my team and I sit around plotting, moodboarding, competing, collaborating, throwing crazy thoughts around. Then comes scribbling, doodling and ultimately ‘digitising’, for want of a better word. Once this maelstrom of hubris has been harnessed and edited, the arguing begins of which logos are the best.
Do we show three, four or five? Is it better to show a batch of sketches?
In reality, these days we like to show primary ideas and then usually a sub-variant or two where we couldn’t decide a preference as these can show flexibility and catch the imagination of a client. The ideas tend to be monochrome to begin with, lest one shade or tone prove off-putting on a fantastic idea. Colour can follow. We just want to show all this… fabulous stuff we’ve cooked up.
A presentation of one or sort or another happens
Sometimes we share our work in person (the ideal, I would say), sometimes if that’s not logistically possible we package it up and post a presentation deck into the ether. I sometimes think this is a good thing. Free from the design rationale I prepare, this means the logos are seen without explanation, just like everyone else would, out in the real world. Either way, the first phase of work is completed.
A deep tension then descends between designer – will they like it? – and client – what on earth have they come up with?
The story that follows can vary between one authored by Enid Blyton (an enjoyable adventure with a happy ending), Gabriel García Márquez (extraordinary and unimaginable twists and turns with an unexpected conclusion) or Stephen King (a terrifying bloodbath). We generally try and avoid that last one.
There are countless examples of these presentations sitting on my server. I find the collection of all those abandoned concepts from long-ago branding design projects depressing to contemplate – it’s like an orphanage. We agonise over these ideas, whittle them down and just one is chosen. The others sit quietly in the dark, forever ignored.
However, all is not lost: occasionally they find a home. This past week a financial services client needed a secondary (but unrelated) logo to their primary brand to give a new fund an identity. My colleague Sak recalled one of the logos we had prepared for them in a presentation more than a year ago. In fact we were thrilled with the (almost unchanged from the original design) main brand. But… that other concept had a lot of love put into it. We always liked the idea – might that work? It turns out, it did. ‘The best idea ever’, the client said.
But back to our main story….
Invariably faced with all the hard work in a first design presentation, the excited client is spoiled for choice – a happy conclusion. Cue: a brainstorm. An impulsive decision is made. But I try not to get too carried away, to sit patiently, keeping my reactions to myself. Rarely is this the actual ending. The selection is slept on – or spends a weekend in the country with all manner of opinionated friends or family members. As a result, in almost every case, something else ends up ‘winning’. It’s good news though: we never show anything we don’t love, so as long as the client is pleased, a win is a win.
However things don’t always work out quite that neatly: now and again a client is faced with an impasse. Riven with indecision between two ideas, they panic and suggest the dreaded Design Magimix. Couldn’t we blend them? I confess, this is not my favourite. That said, this can be made to work. For instance, a mix of typography from one route with the logo of another actually is feasible. It’s the proposal of merging two symbols that ends up with a ‘Frankenstein’ result.
Like Boris Karloff, it’s rarely pretty.
Interestingly, I find that the most successful design projects tend to be ones that are, to coin a phrase of mine, reactive. This is where a client riffs off an idea we have had and makes the most fantastic suggestion, thus adding an element of their personality we might never have dreamed up. It’s like Mary Poppins descended and added a spoonful of sugar. With this inspired thought thus incorporated, the design becomes something magical – a collaboration. Even better, the client feels invested, excited and sees themselves and their business in the fledgling brand.
There are many paths to heaven
For all I am used to the familiar tropes of brand design, every process has its subtle difference. The key thing is that we get there, that the client feels we’ve understood the brief and captured the essence of their business.
That really is a happy ending.
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