It has been a source of frequent frustration here at Stokefire. Our job is to develop compelling identities and brand strategies, but we’re forced to develop these while hamstrung. We (almost literally) have our hands tied behind our backs since we don’t actively manage design. We provide guidance and advice, but except on rare occasions our clients retain designers from other firms. This is mostly our fault since we don’t actively sell design.
Let me clarify – I’m not wishing that we got more design clients. I’m wishing that the designers we encounter in the wild were better able to understand what goes into creating a powerful identity. I can point to hundreds (or thousands) of designers who can create aesthetically pleasing logos, can write up a comprehensive style guide, and can make Adobe Illustrator sing Ode To Joy. The science of what makes something pleasing to the eye may be a bit soft, but there’s plenty of talent out there that can get the job done.
What I’m wishing for is that graphic design be held to the same standards that brand strategy is held to. Graphic design is truly a part of brand strategy and should be treated as such. Rather than asking if a client likes the way a design looks, or focusing on the inner harmony of a piece (making sure the shapes and/or colors work together) there should be a higher purpose. The design should help to tell the brand story.
The colors need to do more than look good on the page. The logo needs to do more than just act as a restatement of the name. The font choice should be made for reasons other than readability and novelty.
Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up.
The sad truth is that most designers are just using their skills to paraphrase. If there’s a company that operates in the recycling or renewable energy space a designer will provide lovely logo options in hues of green, brown, and yellow. It is highly likely that we’ll see leaves, trees, roots, or the sun coming over a hill.
I can just picture a potential consumer saying “Oh! I get it now” after seeing a renewable energy store’s logo of a tree with a plug in it. Invariably the thing will be green, of course.
I did a one minute search on renewable logos and here’s a small portion of what I found:
How do these add to the story? How do these help anything at all? The fact that there’s a company selling a default logo for this thing should indicate that it is entirely unsuitable for actual use, shouldn’t it? The sun coming over the hills has jumped the shark.
Or is it… “The shark has jumped over the sun coming over the hills…”?
Our clients deserve more than something that they like – they deserve something that works. Part of our responsibility as people who work in the branding industry is to help our clients understand what branding is supposed to do. It is supposed to set us apart from alternatives and perhaps even make our own offering more compelling.
Show me a designer who can do that and I’ll show you a designer who:
- Doesn’t draw logos with suns rising over hills
- I want to work with.
I think the problem may be with the fact that graphic design is rooted in artistic principles. There’s so much attention paid to the aesthetics that designers may feel their art shouldn’t have to be measured by anything else.
Perhaps they’re right. But I’m getting quite tired of responses that reference visual balance and saturation values when trying to tell the story of the designs they propose. It’s great that they work aesthetically. I just need to know how they help the client establish a real and meaningful relationship with their audience. If saturation can’t get me there then I don’t want to know about it. (And though saturation may be fascinating to a designer it ain’t going to be enough to carry a narrative that sells anything other than paint.)
So, Designers… are you with me?
How can we create graphic design processes that do more than look good on the page? Perhaps someone can take it up with the AIGA?