Monday, July 2, 2007

Those who cannot do, teach

Occassionally I make the mistake of looking at the local design discussion forums and even though I know it's wrong I can't help clicking on the latest brand critique post.

The wisdom imparted by most the keyboard geniuses is always enlightening.
- 'Ugly ugly ugly'
- 'I could do better'
- 'It's so 90's / 80s / last year'
- 'Classic design by committee'

Yep. If you're responsible for posting this type of dribble, you've more than likely identified yourself as a person with minimal understanding of brand process. A person who thinks that given twelve months on a project, you could have come up with a better brandmark, blissfully unaware the scope probably included competitive frame analysises, existing brand audits, mood boards, personality pieces, strategic positioning, brand architecture, multiple creative directions, refinement, testing, meetings, more meetings, more refinements, applications, implementation, a late night or ten and a few beers with pizza just to name a few phases. I suspect the closest many of these people have come to a large scale branding project is throwing eggs at Ken Cato's studio from the passenger window of their car whilst yelling 'Designosaur!' and thinking how witty you are.

The majority of posts seem to be whinging about design concepts, whinging about the clients, whinging about other designers and whinging why London didn't award them the chance to design the Olympics logo because they have a kick-ass folio. Does anything actually think for one moment these projects are as simple as sketching a logo lounge worthy mark and showing it to the CEO? (unless you can spin it in Flash, then it's a shoe-in!)

I'm first to encourage constructive criticism. Just take the time to understand what you're critiquing before you start firing aesthetic judgements at everything that doesn't resonate with your personal preferences. More often than not, it's the same people posting this stuff who then wonder why the profession struggles to gain respect when we attack each other from the inside out. It's the snake eating it's own tail. Until we start to address this disturbing trend we'll continue to be labelled as expendable mac monkeys who do logo design as our day job in between waiting for our indie band to get signed or have our grafitti artist career take off.

- 'Why don't clients respect me? I hate them'

Oh, here's a hint. Clients are running a business that in most instances makes a hell of a lot of money. More money than the average design studio. I'm guessing they're smart people who just happen to not interact daily with design theory. Listen to them, understand their business and stop trying to teach them about typefaces. That's not why they hired you. They hired an expert who is (hopefully) going to understand their business strategy and create a brand that makes it visible. They did not hire a stylist who throws a tantrum when they don't understand that vista is cooler than gill.

Yes, some will ask you to use Arial.
Yes, some will ask you to evolve the existing logo by 10%.
Yes, some will ask you to show them the logo 'in corporate blue'.
Yes, all of them will ask you to 'make the logo bigger'.

Knowing that those questions are coming (and will continue to come throughout your career) you better find a way to justify why it looks better in 100% cyan.

Advice? Ok ok. Just for an example, you could try relating the design decisions back to the brand personality. Show the client how typeface x embodies the brand values. Maybe you can pull out the competitive frame analysis board you had prepared and illustrate to them the market space they can own by differentiating themselves. Showing them that it is already flooded with competitor's blue logos and that their colour choice will dilute or strengthen their market position is a compelling argument.

It also works better than 'Because it looks good.' (We are not here to put lipstick on a gorilla, even if that shade of frosty pearl really brings out ol' silverback's eyes)

Hopefully we're creating a real brand that a business can align to both internally and externally. A brand that stands for something that customers identify with and that adds value across all consumer touchpoints. Remember, a brandmark is just an entrypoint into the brand and sure, it's the most important one but still one part of a bigger picture. It's an empty vessel (no matter how pretty) that needs to be filled with meaning. So I have to ask does anyone have something vaguely constructive or god forbid, positive to say? Can we move the arguments away from purely aesthetic criticism and discuss whether the brand is distinctive and sustainable. I suppose this is my impassioned plea to lift the profession's disapproving gaze on everything that is put under it's nose and one step forward towards industry respect. And if you're so intelligent with your brand advice, please, share your knowledge by posting something that resembles coherence on BrandChannel or some place with a little credibility. Maybe I should do that myself (otherwise I'm doing exactly the same - do as I say, not as I do).

What's that you say? I can't write more than sarcastic commentary? Damn straight. That's why I started a blog.

Design forever!

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