A weekly blog about the thinking behind brand identity design.
September 25, 2021

Go find the answer.

Great if you’re looking for a new presentation software or a better way to file taxes. Terrible if you’re looking for innovation.

It’s terrible because when we go looking for answers, we can only find solutions that solve other people’s problems. Solutions that don’t account for our unique set of circumstances.

Instead of answers, we should be looking to ask the right questions. Because when we ask the right questions, we gain the ability to figure out what hasn’t been figured out and see what hasn’t been seen.

Questions lead to answers which lead to more questions. It’s a mindset that has you questioning everything and refusing to take things at face value.

In other words, it’s thinking like a scientist.

It's an approach that finds solutions to the problems we’re trying to solve and reveals problems we didn’t even know existed.

Looking for answers is counterintuitive to this approach. It's taking what we see at face value and refusing to ask any more questions that could lead to further insight.

However, when we look to ask for the right questions, we’re seeking that insight out. Pushing past what’s known and venturing towards the unknown.

And it’s in the unknown where innovation lies.

September 18, 2021

We’ve become accustomed to taking the path of least resistance. Need groceries or dinner. Order it on your phone. Need to stave off boredom? Scroll through social media. Everything can be done with just a tap or a click.

And design is no different. Want a website, logo, or brand? There’s an app for that. Often with dozens of designs to choose from. Once you find the one you like, download the template and you’re done.

It’s quick, safe, and efficient, saving time and money. And the result often looks pretty good.

But here’s the thing. In today’s economy, design has become a competitive advantage. If we want to stand out, attract more people, and have higher engagement, we need design. Not the templated kind, but the kind that’s developed through research and understanding a brand’s narrative.

When we use templates, standing out, attracting more people, and increasing engagement all become exponentially harder. How do we show people what makes us unique when what’s unique looks exactly like everybody else?

Instead of taking the path of least resistance, we should ask ourselves what would be gained by taking the path less travelled. Sure, we may not see an immediate short-term gain, but we’re not after that. We’re after long-term growth. And long-term growth will always outweigh short-term any gain.

In today’s world of instant access, sometimes the quickest way to stand out is to do things that take a little bit longer.

September 11, 2021

Consistency helps build awareness and grow a brand.

It sets people’s expectations as they come to associate a colour, product, narrative, or piece of marketing with a brand.

However, complacency is often confused for consistency, causing a brand to grow rigid and unchanging. Leading it to be forgotten and replaced by one that introduces innovation into the market.

It’s a cycle that is continually repeating itself.

Blockbuster’s DVD rentals were replaced by Netflix’s on-demand video streaming service.
Polaroid’s instant film cameras were forgotten when Fujifilm introduced the world’s first digital camera.
And Blackberry’s smartphone fell out of favour with the introduction of Apple’s iPhone.

The common thread?

The complacent brands were all innovators. Blockbuster, Polaroid, and Blackberry all created and popularized markets that didn’t exist before their arrival.

But the innovation that put them on top couldn’t keep them there. For that, they needed consistency that signalled to customers that their brand was the right choice.

And this worked for a while.

But as the years passed, their consistency slowly transformed into complacency, turning a blind eye to competition under the belief that people would continue to want more of the same. In other words, they thought what put them on top would keep them on top.

Yet to stay on top, you need consistent innovation. We only want more of the same until something better comes along. It's the reason why we watch Netflix instead of going to Blockbuster. Prefer a digital camera over a Polaroid instant film camera. And have an Apple iPhone instead of a Blackberry.

The challenge these brands faced?

It wasn’t figuring out how to innovate. It was realizing innovation was still an option.

Brand consistency doesn’t mean brand complacency. In a world that’s constantly changing, the consistent brand is the one that changes with it.

September 4, 2021

Well, let’s first ask, what is a designer?

A designer solves problems within a set of constraints. Those constraints often being the audience for whom the solution is intended.

In his book, Design Is a Job, Mike Monteiro put it best:

If you’re solving the problem of creating a chair that doesn’t hurt your ass if you sit in it for eight hours, you’re a furniture designer. If you’re sixteen and holding an empty toilet paper roll in one hand and a piece of aluminum foil in the other, you’re an industrial designer.

So, what is a brand identity designer?

A brand identity designer is someone who looks at the big picture. Looking at how a company’s values align with customer values and how the manifestation of those values influence a customer’s perception of the company's brand. Because a brand is rooted in the perception of its customers. Influenced by the marketing, products, services, and word of mouth the company receives.

It’s the brand identity designers’ job to bring into alignment those perceptions with what the brand represents. Aligning the brand’s values with customer values.

That doesn’t mean tricking people into liking a brand. Rather, it means getting the brand in front of the right people. The people the brand stands to help the most.

Through research, a brand identity designer will uncover a brand's unique narrative and create strategic visuals that help it stand out and together with the audience it serves. Visuals that often include a logo, colour palette, typography, imagery and look and feel.

The benefits?

By bringing those visual elements together, it helps convey the brand's narrative in a compelling way. Drawing in the people the brand stands to help the most, while the people helped draw in others with their enthusiasm for the brand.

August 28, 2021

Poor customer service has become the norm as brands adopt technology to increase efficiency and productivity. Choosing to replace people with software in favour of cheaper operating costs, dehumanizes once human interactions.

When FedEx started building relationships with the people who would become their customer base, they answered the phone on the first ring, every time. Now you’ll hear a machine before you hear a real person. Listening for more than two minutes—up from 2 seconds—before being connected to a human operator.

Apple, the most valuable company in the world, once sought to make traditionally inhuman interactions more human by encouraging their geniuses to take as much time as they need to help customers. Now you’re likely to spend several minutes to an hour troubleshooting with a machine before being helped by a genius.  

The chase for technological efficiency has placed brands in favour of serving themselves instead of their customers. Treating customers as if they don’t have a choice without realizing they do.

It’s an approach that looks at short-term gains instead of long-term growth.

Growth that brands like Marriott refuse to miss out on. Bringing in $23 billion in yearly revenue with their human-centric approach. Choosing to see their customers and employees as people instead of inefficiencies to be ironed out.

Another company that took this approach spent two million dollars removing their voicemail system so calls could be answered by real people. Their plan paid for itself within 4 months. That’s an investment, not an expense. And for many, it’s an investment worth paying for.

August 21, 2021

We’re comfortable with what we know, yet uncomfortable with what we don’t know.

We see this with change. Whereas familiarity brings certainty, change brings unknowns.

It’s the reason we’re more likely to trust someone with a familiar name than a foreign one.

But when we wrap change in familiarity, we’re more likely to accept it.

Design lends itself well to this. You can take something unfamiliar and use design to wrap it in a familiar blanket that invites acceptance instead of suspicion.

It allows you to stand out but not apart from the audience you serve.

Brands like Clorox do this. Introducing new products, like fabric softeners, under their familiar brand name. The newness of the product bringing attention, the familiarity bringing adoption.

Change wrapped in familiarity makes innovative ideas more accessible because people know what to expect.

However, it’s in the unexpected that opportunities arise. Because it’s in the unexpected that customers find delight. Delight that what they’ve purchased has risen above their expectations.

It’s how tribes for brands form. Delighted customers attracting people with their magnetic enthusiasm for the product or service.

Their attraction makes the unfamiliar familiar, inviting widespread adoption.

A cycle that’s constantly repeating itself.

August 19, 2021

How can we use Brand to promote more sustainable practices?

Our current levels of climate action are “insufficient,” the recent UN climate report says. Stating the climate crisis is “unequivocally” caused by human activity.

As brand leaders, how can we help lead the way with sustainable communications and promote green practices?

We must consider the full life cycle of products and services, and commit to strategies, processes and materials that value social, cultural, economic and environmental responsibility.

Not an easy task, but it gives us a unique opportunity to introduce sustainable practices to clients, showing that we can all play a role in promoting greener design practices and help shape the world for a better and brighter future.

August 19, 2021

Brand values define a brand.  

They guide the visual and verbal language and act as a signpost to potential customers that signal what a brand is all about.

But values are often confused with beliefs. And this confusion can hold a company back when the world changes and knowledge evolves.

When a company has values, it has a set of guiding principles that allow it to remain open-minded and flexible to change. By comparison, companies whose identities are based on beliefs become ridged and slow to act.

That’s because companies based on beliefs are often left on the defensive. When beliefs become challenged, instead of flexibility moving forward, they’re left defending practices and systems they believe bring customers value.

A company whose identity is defined by its beliefs, ideas and ideologies remains unchanging as the world changes around it.

Blackberry was once the leader in mobile phones. At its peak, it owned over 50% of the US and 20% of the global smartphone market. However, after the advent of the iPhone, market share quickly plummeted. They held the belief that the features that made them a sensation in the past would continue to make them a sensation in the future.

When Blackberry’s beliefs were challenged, they defended them. Their attachment kept them from recognizing they were wrong.

When the focus is on value, being wrong means learning something new. It affords the flexibility to update beliefs based on new evidence and move forward accordingly, creating a better and brighter future.

August 19, 2021

Innovation doesn’t happen by looking for answers, it happens by asking the right questions.

Because the right questions often lead toward the best solutions.

They cause us to look at problems in different ways, search beyond what we know and look deeper than what’s on the surface.

And they often lead us to ask more questions. Which is useful when we want to know if we’re asking the right questions.

Because through asking the right questions, we’re able to gain new perspectives and find innovative solutions.

If we only ever looked for answers, we’d only ever find solutions we can already solve.

And that doesn’t really fit the definition of innovation, does it?

August 19, 2021

Motion graphics are great for increasing brand awareness. They capture attention, better convey brand values and compress information into a more digestible format.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an animation is worth a million.

For many brands, motion graphics are a great way to capture attention. While an image can be assessed quickly, a video encourages people to stay and watch, pulling them in as the message unfolds. In fact, videos were found to generate 59.3 percent more ad clicks than images.

They also have the added benefit of conveying brand values more effectively. Whereas static images leave many things open to interpretation, motion graphics leave much less ambiguity. By adding movement, we’re able to tell a more effective story. Something as simple as text being revealed on screen can help convey whether something is serious or playful, happy or sad, premium or accessible.

Motion graphics also enhance the way we digest information, making it easier to understand. For example, internal videos within an organization detailing the importance of a newly developed application to increase efficiency and profits, or external facing materials that help customers assemble their newly purchased product.

When used properly, motion graphics can enhance many areas of communication.

Now it’s just a question of how to use it in your next project.