July, 2011 Monthly archive

Branding has come a long way since the heady heyday of the logo in the 1980’s. Back then, the logo was king. We loved logos. We wanted logos on our t-shirts and the bigger the better, stickers were fashionable and we’d happily stick our favourite brands on anything we could. Status was everything and the logo was intrinsically linked. But then, in the 1990’s, the climate changed.

The bubble had burst and priorities changed as well as the fashions. The 90’s saw a period of depression and the yuppie ideologies of the 80’s were frowned upon and looked back on with ridicule. Environmental and social issues were becoming increasingly important and the groundswell of anti-corporate feeling had taken root. Brands needed to change their tact as well as their image. BP rebranded in 2000, portraying themselves as pro-green, (perhaps laughably so considering the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico). In 2005, Unilever took on a softer, environmentally sympathetic and humanist identity, despite obviously being a corporate monolith. More recently, in 2008, shopping giant Walmart did away with their somewhat military star and dominating bold caps in favour of a gentler, more optimistic and far less overpowering sun device with delicate typography. Politicians too, changed their tact and image completely, often to a degree that seems cynical if not a plain fallacy.

Thankfully, through time and necessity, large corporations have had to change. We, the people, now demand social and environmental responsibility. The more progressive corporations themselves have realised that sustainability is a key concern and that it is in their best interests to act responsibly. The internet has changed everything, with social networking now very much mainstream, the people are in touch with their brands. We have a voice, and businesses are naîve not to take advantage. Brands have become more fluid, the need for adaptability is paramount and the need to express the values and personality of a brand, as coherently and consistently as possible and through as many mediums as possible, is essential. Tone of voice and messaging are more important than ever.

Jason Little, Creative Director at Landor Paris, recently wrote that ‘The logo isn’t dead, it’s just irrelevant’ (article linked below), but it this really true? I don’t believe so. While the logo may not be as prime of an influence as it once was, we’d be foolish to neglect it and deem it ‘irrelevant’. It is still often the most visible element of a brands visual communication. Landor made its name in corporate identity, are we to believe they are turning down identity work now in favour of managing Twitter accounts? The fact that brands are now more in touch with their consumers than ever is a good thing of course, but it’s not the be all and end all. Take Apple as an example; Renowned as the most successful, valuable brand on the planet, and as a company that is the very epitome of design thinking, Apple do not utilise any consumer focus grouping or user testing whatsoever. They believe that that is their job and their responsibility, their speciality and that they are in the best position to do it. Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. A quote Steve Jobs no doubt knows well. Are Apple about to disband their iconic logo? I don’t think so. They use it as proudly as ever and its form remains virtually untouched since its inception in 1976.

I believe that the logo is certainly not irrelevant, it simply has to sit well amongst a whole new toolset. A successful rebrand is no longer simply a new logo, colour palette and rigid set of guidelines. A brand needs a strategy, and this strategy needs to be implemented to the core of the company’s operating code, both internally and externally. The way it thinks, the way it works and the way it communicates itself need to come from one place. That is the essence of branding. To consider what was at one time the core visible element of an organisation as now being ‘irrelevant’ is far too reactionary and polarised. What we need to be doing is thinking holistically—our aim should be to bring convergence and mastery of the toolset, we should not be thinking divergently and that it is somehow wise to leave core elements such as the logo, in the dust. If anything, the logo will have a resurgence. As we become comfortable with our new tools and they become second nature, our energies can be refocused. We can return cyclically to our existing skills with renewed enthusiasm and a new perspective. Long bored of the whimsical trends and techniques of recent years, the transparencies, the overlay effects and the hideous web 2.0 trend, designers are returning to the core ideas behind the identity. The logo will be born again, and it will have a lot of toys to play with.

You can read Jason Little’s article, which certainly has many valid points here. Just not the one about the logo being irrelevant.

There’s a lot of talk about process and research and strategy in design these days, but does the need to be business-like impede upon creativity? Could we be emulating traditional business practices and introducing levels of specialization and pseudo-science at the cost of allowing for talent and sparks of originality?

The design industry has increasingly—by necessity—needed to act and use methods more akin to the business world. This has helped us gain acceptance and credibility. But we’re at risk of selling ourselves short on what should be the core of what we do; our talent, our eye, our good taste and our natural creativity. Business requires and strives for the tangible and the measurable, but design and certainly the process of design is often intangible and immeasurable. Business people can be risk-averse and uncomfortable at treading into waters that may feel ‘unknown’ to them and buying design can often feel like those unknown waters. It can also be fascinating  as we have something they need and we work in different ways, seeing their projects come to life can and should be an inspiring and empowering journey for our clients. We should take advantage of that rather than talking back at them in exactly their language, it’s as if we have become somewhat insecure about our lack of spreadsheets or the fact we use pencils as well as computers.

Let’s be honest, if you’ve worked as a creative you have no doubt figured out a perhaps idiosyncratic method of working, sure it can fit within the usual process diagram we’re all too used to seeing, but all the same, inside of that there are things you do that you’ve worked out for yourself. Perhaps you need to read and ingest a brief before taking a long walk to let ideas gestate, perhaps you write down an incessant stream of words into a layout pad and pour over what came out afterwards. Perhaps your ideas come from the library of Russian literature you’ve read or the collection of films you’ve watched. It could be anything, but what it is often not, is a tangible, measurable, guaranteed ‘process’.

We can use research and analysis to assist our creativity, it helps keep us from veering too far ‘out there’ and it informs us of the needs of the client and ultimately the end user. We should of course think strategically about what it is we are producing and the best way to gain the results we want, but let’s not get too caught up in the venn diagrams and brand matrixes. These are mere tools which can help us work and help us communicate what we’ve been doing and why during presentations, but the real value, the real thing clients should be investing in us for is our aforementioned talent, eye, taste, intuition and experience.

Don’t become enslaved by the research, we need not emulate the business world until we become the very suits that need our creativity and lateral thinking. The best ideas come from thinking ‘out there’ and sparks of creative genius. We can reign them in later if need be, but one thing is certain: If we begin to think, talk and act like the business man, we become the business man and we will have nothing to offer that they can’t think of themselves.

Stay creative!