The easiest way to explain what a design is to a non-designer is that it is a series of decisions. From the broad (“what is this thing?”) to the minute (“should this be one pixel closer?”), every decision shapes the final product. The difference between good and great design often lies in the strength of and commitment to those decisions.
Branding follows the same principle. When a logo doesn’t have a strong rationale, if the corporate colours are chosen because it’s the colour of someone’s bedroom, that’s when branding fails.
Developing a brand is difficult, and is stressful for the client – after all, it’s their company, their name and their reputation that they’ve left in our hands. It’s no wonder that they want to see 20 concepts and dozens of revisions until it couldn’t possibly be any more perfect. Except that’s not what makes a brand great.
The strength of a brand is dictated by the ideas behind it. If those ideas aren’t strong and the intent clear, the brand will be muddy. Those choices need to be reflected in the logo, certainly, but the reality is that is most cases, the logos we hold up as iconic were not that way until they were imbued with the essence of the brand behind it. Coke, Nike, McDonald’s are strong brands because of a lifetime of meaning. It’s the series of choices that make the brand – the logo is merely a vessel.
So how do we create a great brand? It starts with the understanding of what we’re trying to communicate. Like an actor needs to understand a script in order to perform it, a brand needs to be understood by all those involved in its creation in order to effectively communicate. Those choices need to be evident in the design, and the design itself needs to be clear and focused.
Actors matter less than performances, and logos matter less than brands. In both cases, it’s the input that makes the output great.
Ryan Anderson is the Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army, an Ottawa-based creative agency.