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!

Crowdsourcing fails the client because those designers willing to gamble on putting in hours of work in the slim hope that they win a contest against hundreds or perhaps even thousands of competitors, for a modest or usually insulting ‘prize’, are people who—putting it bluntly—don’t really care about doing a decent job, and why should they? After all,  it’s unlikely they’ll even get paid. Unless of course, they happen to be insane, in which case their heart may be in the right place but their head really isn’t. So, they’re either insane, don’t give a damn, or they live in rural India, operate in a vastly different economy and likely have zero genuine insight into your market, or even the wider culture in which your market lives. In fact, my in-depth scientific research concludes that the closest they’ve come to your business and audience is a Hollywood movie. A Tom Hanks Hollywood movie from the 1980s. I’m not sure I’d want to consider watching a 1980s Tom Hanks movie as market research, but there they are—the cold, hard facts. Of course, they’re not all from India, and no doubt there’s some talented designers in India, but lets face facts, most designers on crowdsourcing sites haven’t got a clue, bless their cotton socks. Assuming they can actually afford cotton socks considering they’re doing all this work for free.

Crowdsourcing fails the designer because they’re rarely ever going to get paid and they can’t even plan a project properly because they’re working for the slender chance that someone will choose their logo or whatever it is from a slop bucket full of others. All they can do is think “Bish-bash-bosh, gotta bang out a logo in an hour”. And that is what you get. You get a take-away logo that is boshed out in an hour, by a student, in India, who has no socks.

Let’s get scientific, here’s how crowdsourcing ACTUALLY works, this is what you are getting involved in should you choose to:

  • Client has a problem and decides they need to do something about it, but they likely have little or no experience in marketing or design or whatever it is they are asking for
  • Client does their best to make a brief, so they ask for ‘a logo’ or ‘a brochure’ or whatever it is they have decided they need
  • Client decides their brand identity is worth an entire $300. Sweet, I can already see these guys mean business and are well invested in their important project!
  • Thousands of random people, hobbyists, juveniles, moonlighters, chimpanzees with typewriters, people from the far corners of the planet and even jailed serial killers go ahead and produce logos, with literally zero dialogue with the client. Zero opportunity to gain insight or to provide a unique third party perspective based on talks with the client, and zero collaboration or iteration to ensure the clients needs are met
  • Client now has to choose from thousands of options, with no explanation or rationale offered. They have to make a choice based solely on their own taste rather than the expertise and experience of bona fide industry professionals
  • Client walks away with a logo with no guidance or clue on how it should be used, no strategy as to their brand message, nothing. Just a logo that could have been plucked from clip art or a stock image site for all they know, but hey, it’s only copyright infringement, who cares?!

Here’s an example of a professional creative process:

  • Client has a problem, so chooses someone to work with based on their ability, experience and budget.
  • Client explains the problem to their chosen partner, they discuss the clients business in depth, asking questions, gaining genuine insight and understanding.
  • Designer assesses the problem and puts forward what they deem the best solution based upon their knowledge, experience, and expertise. The client should offer transparency as to their budget, the designer can then work out the best solution based on that budget. Afterall, you don’t just walk into a tailors and say “How much is a suit?”
  • Assuming client agrees with proposed solution, the designer can then begin the creative work.
  • As they have produced a quote based on knowledge and experience, they know they can work effectively to provide a quality end result.
  • Client approves creative, perhaps after some iteration.
  • Product is launched, success, everybody is happy!

So, there’s an example of how you can achieve a successful project. The former shows how you will more than likely fail thanks to crowdsourcing, and why you are an idiot if you choose to work on crowdsourcing projects, and an even bigger idiot if you think it will benefit your business.

The only people who benefit from crowdsourcing, are the parasites that run the crowdsourcing sites and cream heavy percentages from every project.

End rant!

Art in the Streets is currently on show at the MOCA in LA, it’s the first time a major US museum has documented the history and phenomenal rise of graffiti and street art. I checked it out over the weekend.

I have to say this show was pretty incredible. The sheer depth and breadth of work was astounding, from the black books of early pioneers such as Duro (CIA) and Tracy168, rarely seen folio’s of Henry Chalfant’s documentation of the NYC train bombing scene in the 1970’s right through to more mainstream ‘street art’ giants like Banksy and Shep Fairey.

Highlights: An entire room dedicated to the neon madness of Ramellzee, complete with his own soundtrack, early canvasses from Futura 2000, Keith Haring and Phase 2, a smaller but impressive recreation of the Street Market exhibition by Barry McGee, Espo and Reas, a somewhat strange inclusion of works by Craig Stecyk III, an early documenter and pioneer of the skate culture and associated art scene in LA during the 70s and 80s and an amazing airbrushed Chicano ice cream van. There was also a large installation by Os Gemeos, a duo I’ve never really paid much attention to but I did quite like. Dubious elements: A big corner devoted to Earsnot/IRAK, an entire room for a pretty weak installation by hipster paper-slicer Swoon, the inclusion of Neckface, oh, and no Bäst pieces. I was also impressed to see a newspaper dispenser heavily stickered by COST, sadly no Revs, though he was credited.

Anyway, here’s some pictures:

Monday saw David Cameron launch StartUp Britain, a private sector initiative designed to stimulate entrepreneurship in the UK. With the support of 62 organizations including Microsoft, Google and eBay, StartUp Britain will pledge discounted services including broadband internet, computer training, free advertising, consulting, mentorship and even discounted rent to startups.

Sounds all good right? Well sure, unless of course you’re a design company —right there on the home page, ‘Create a logo’— click that and the best advice they can offer when branding your new venture is to send you to a US based company dedicated to providing crowd-sourced logos for under $300. How could anyone in their right mind place a picture of Sir Richard Branson, CEO of one of the worlds most powerful brands, with his thumbs up on the homepage and directly underneath recommend having a logo designed by literally anyone for $295 and expect to be taken seriously? I won’t even get into the fact that it drives business outside the UK when many design companies are struggling to keep their heads above water.

Thankfully, the link has now been directed toward the DBA.

As I write this it seems that complaints must have been filed and the link now leads to the Design Business Association where users can find a UK design company to fit their needs. Sadly, it seems the DBA itself even recommends businesses ask several design agencies to pitch for their work. That’s right, the DBA condones free pitching.

Is there a conspiracy to undermine the industry? Is anyone on our side?