designing a brand

08/06/2010

hand print - brandingDeveloping an all-new company identity – or brand image – in a competitive marketplace can be a very daunting task. What really constitutes a good versus a bad logo design or brand image?  Well, it really depends on your product or service, how you deliver on your promises, and the relationship you as a business owner develop with your clients or target demographic.  Yeah, I know that’s not what you meant.  You want to know what’s the best logo design out there, what company can I mention that really hit the nail on the head?  Well, I’m sorry to tell you that the answer is just not that simple.

A true brand is developed through several key factors in a client-to-business or business-to-client environment.  The success of a brand or logo design will ultimately depend on how you identify your business strategy, your marketplace competition and your goals for your new identity – to name a few.  Every business has it’s own persona – it’s own approach to doing business, and this needs to be inherently translated through your branding efforts to help bolster your business philosophy and marketplace approach.

The first area of focus as a brand is being developed should be defining your business persona.  Understanding who you and your business are vital to the success of a brand.  What three characteristics would you use to describe how you go about doing business?  How would you define your business strategy with regards to service, sales and support?  How do you think your customer base might define you as a business entity? These must first be defined in detail before a brand can be developed around you.  Doing some basic market research and soliciting participation from past customers can help you determine the answers to your questions without a great deal of effort.

The second aspect to define is how you and your business are different from the competition in your marketplace.  Have you developed a product or service that is like none-other?  Have you identified your business attributes that make your business more appealing to a client base that cross-shops other brands and businesses?  If not, I suggest you do so.  Again, with minimal effort (and some introspectiveness) these key elements can be determined.  If not, then there may be some opportunities to rethink your business approach to gain attention from those you wish to attract by adding features that you now know your competition simply doesn’t offer.

The third key element to developing a strong brand is to know your target demographics.  Identifying their spending trends, their ‘hunting’ triggers, how they shop, their age ranges and socio-economic stature can be crucial information to factor into your visual brand.  Without knowing who you’re targeting, the visual identity you design/have designed will never appeal to their spending triggers.  Define your target, aim, then shoot.

The final aspect to consider while developing a new brand identity is what sort of impact – or impression – do you wish to instill on prospective clients when it comes to the visual identity package you seek to have designed?  What emotions, key drivers or instinctual “triggers” to you want your identity to conjure up? Whether we choose to admit it or not, we all experience intrinsic emotional reactions to visual stimuli on a daily basis. Some of it occurs on a cognitive level, but most on a sub-conscious one.  So, on a daily basis, we react to brands without even recognizing it. Colors, shapes, imagery and unrelated personal associations can have an immediate impact on how we perceive a brand and whether or not we may eventually do business with said brand.  Being aware of all these elemental and influential factors will also be of paramount importance as you design your identity.

Although these are not the only determining factors in developing a strong brand within your marketplace, they are certainly key determinants to the over-all success of  brand development – not to mention how your clients will associate your brand with your product or service.

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googel, yahoo, bingIn the myriad of unlimited resources and self-proclaimed experts in SEO available via the web, in print and more, one can certainly see the world around them begin to spin. “Experts” in this field riddle us with BP’s ranging from phrases like ‘keyword optimization’ and ‘reciprocal linking’ to the extent that their recommendations often get lost in translation to the average website owner.

In an effort to render some clarity to the dilemma of setting up your website for optimal exposure, we’ve made an honest attempt to clarify which practices might be best to focus your attention on as you head down this rocky road of discovery. As a disclaimer, we need to be clear that these are not the only practices worthy of attention, but are the building blocks to better search engine performance. So, with that said, here we go.

Site naming –
When building a website, a crucial way for search engines to identify what your site is all about is to be sure you choose a site description (the text that appears as a blue hyperlink in an browsers search results page) that not only incorporates your site/business name, but also a few select keywords to describe you product or service. We also see great merit in adding your city or state as the name, keywords, and locations are the first lines of text that a searchbot will hit on in a viewer’s organic search results. Don’t try to conquer all locations or words, just pick ones that acutely describe your site. If you spread yourself too thin, you’ll dilute your visibility. Don’t forget the short descriptive text that shows up under you site link in browsers as this plays an important role in page ranking as well.  This can be done via the CSS or in your settings in a WordPress site.

Page naming –
The same rules apply to each of your site’s pages. Think critically of the content on your page and use site-specific words to tell the searchbot what kind of content resides there. This can be done easily in Wordpress sites via the SEO booster plug-in – so get it if you don’t already have it! If you’re dealing with an HTML/Flash/other site, these names can be assigned via the metatag descriptions or added directly into your CSS.

Keywords –
Keywords drive traffic, simply put! Be selective and specific to your website’s content in the words you chose. Keywords are a crucial element to your website’s visibility and ultimately helps to drive hits to your content. If you want to get creative, go to one of your primary competitors sites and right-click on their homepage and select “source”. By doing this, you can look at the content and keywords they may have incorporated into their site and this can help you differentiate your words from theirs or, you can borrow some of their ideas. It really depends on each particular situation.

Use Google Analytics –
There is such a wealth of knowledge and insight you can discover about your website, your visitors, your page performance and the keywords that web searchers use to find you (and which keywords you might not be utilizing). Don’t miss out on this valuable insight – it’s free!

Don’t Focus on just Google –
Although Google is a primary weapon in creating visibility for your website, it’s not the only game in town. So don’t focus all your attention solely on it. Be sure to submit your site to other browsers! Yahoo, Bing and MSN are other big boys on the block. In fact, via your analytics you can discover some interesting things about your web visitors by learning which browsers they use. For example, if you are getting a lot of traffic from MSN or Bing, you may have an end-user who tends to rely on their default settings on their computers. This might indicate that your visitors may tend to not be very computer literate and/or are folks who jump on and off quickly – shopping for specifics and not willing to read through heavy copy. If this is the case, you can identify this and edit your content down, simplify how one navigates your site and make your pitch early. If you’re getting a lot of Firefox or Safari users coming to your site, then you might have a tougher sale on your hands and will need to build value in your product or service via your web copy as these folks tend to be more web savvy and more inclined to do thorough research before making a purchase or commitment online.

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Building blocks of designAfter having been in the creative business for some time now I’ve noticed specific patterns among the processes involved in developing designs for clients that might warrant further discussion. Let’s focus on the “management” aspect of design in order to identify potential problems that could arise between designers and their clients.

Clients come to us to help them put together designs for a wealth of projects from new brand identities to PowerPoint presentations. I have my share of the last minute calls from clients asking us to put together designs in haste, whether due to time constraints, last-minute ideas or procrastination. This is often the nature of such design needs. Clients are often asked last-minute to run a promotion, present to colleagues, or submit a project that they themselves were not given much time to plan or execute.

So, as we “creatives” know, these are often funneled our way much to our chagrin. We are driven by innovation, translating creativity, quality in creation, and a design process that ultimately helps us render a refined product to our clients. The catch here is when we are given either rushed content or timelines from our clients. Poor content and limited timelines inevitably render equally unimpressive designs. Having that “eye” for design, that innate ability to construct aesthetics in a pleasing yet functional manner is not something that tends to mesh well with a rushed timeline or underdeveloped content.

With this said, here are a few key elements to consider when seeking out the services of a graphic designer or team.

Forecasting-
If the project affords you some time to prepare, make solid use of that time. If you have a design team in mind, let them know the project is coming and share any insight as this will help the designer(s) prepare and begin conceptualizing ideas.

Content Development-
A beautifully designed project from a designer can be rendered inept if the copy/content isn’t fully structured, well edited, and finely tuned. Ever been at a sporting event such as a bike race or neighborhood ball game and seen that guy with the ridiculously expensive equipment and immediately feel a little intimidated when you look at yours in comparison? Then, when it’s his/her turn to perform, the skill level doesn’t quite match up to his equipment. The same conflict can arise on a project if both the design and content aren’t fully developed.

Participation-
In the past, I have experienced a few clients that only provide a rough idea of what they are looking to have designed. Novice designers get excited about this. What they don’t realize is that without clear specifics as to desired elements, forms, colors, placement and imagery the design will undoubtedly run into issues with respect to taste, style or layout differences between the designer and the client. So frank discussions and frequent communications are key here.

Design Time-
Plan ahead and allow for adequate development and editing time for both content and design. Remember, the less time allotted here for conceptualization and implementation, the more likely the design will lack the desired refinement.

Review-
Once the content and design have been combined into a proof, ample time should also be planned in to allow for editing the proof. Regardless of how much effort was put into either the design or the content, when merged together there will inevitably be aspects and elements needing editing or adjustments to placement. Designers build this stage into their design cost specifically due to the fact that a simple merge does not make a final product. There will always be further fine-tuning needed. Plan for it!

Review footnote – Please understand that in the editing process, a slight shift here or a new image there (depending on the platform one is working on) can be easily construed as a simple fix by a client. The designer knows otherwise. Some adjustments can be very labor intensive or time consuming regardless if they are visually minor or not. It is the designer’s responsibility to communicate inherent difficulties in the design process. Communicating these issues up front will allow for a better work-flow and better mutual understanding on both ends of the process.

Steve Muth
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Logo design is a uniquely finicky business, considering the entire process is based on the ever-present, double-edged sword of subjectivity. The common denominator for so many designers is the bridging of design principles to a clients needs without breaking down the trust. I have read blog after blog on this, ranging from utter frustration to sheer elations of the rare finding of an “ideal client.”  In most scenarios, there is often a gap (large or small) between the creative and the client in terms of direction and construction of a design.

So what’s the source of the problem and how do we as designers find the happy middle ground? How do we knock our clients socks off while still giving them something that reflects their initial ideas in a fresh, creative way?

Well, there’s no elusive or self-evident answer here. Many factors come into play right off the proverbial bat that begin to emerge from the first client consultation.

First, in todays “The World is Flat” age of technology that knows no boundaries, creatives often result to email, facebook, twitter and sometimes phone or Skype – even texting to communicate ideas and thoughts with their clients – and visa versa. The inherent problem with this as a sole approach to contact is that it does not allow for the designer to truly get a sense of the personality and identity of their client.  Without building a strong client profile, the design process will most likely discover significant gaps between the designer’s renderings and the client’s desired look.  As we all have witnessed, many of us take on a distinctly different personality (good or bad) in our email voices compared to our true personalities.  So, ultimately, nothing replaces quality face-to-face time with a client when possible.

Second, we need to look into whether the phrase the customer is always right is truly applicable to your business or not. Frankly, it’s a meaningless rule on its own.  If a client was always right, then they simply wouldn’t seek out your services now, would they?!  Many designers hop on the ego train and can’t adjust their vision to better suite their client’s desires.   Others will simply render anything the client throws at them.  Either way – you’re doomed to fail in your client’s eyes!  Ultimately, the best recipe for success is to listen to, and utilize the input from your client while providing creative insight and adjustments to eventually present your client with a design that wows.

Finally, the most common error in the design process is not taking the time to explain the mechanics behind designing logos, brochures or whatever it is your putting together for them.  The more time a designer invests in describing their process, their tools and their normal steps of operation, the better off all will be.  Designer’s should avoid getting caught up in becoming a “yes” man/woman and focus on how to cooperatively coach a client through ideas that allow for a reasonable work flow and well-constructed design in the end.

The more either side understands each other’s intentions and undertakings the stronger the outcome will be.  Mutual understanding are often significantly under-appreciated.

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Writing content for your website is often looked at as a daunting task.  For those of you who have done it, you know that professionalism, accuracy and proofreading are clear essentials to writing quality web content.  But how often do you consider how your specific word selection and sentence structure can either make or break your website’s effectiveness when it comes to visits, click-through and conversion rates?

In today’s hyper-competitive online marketplace, web browsers are constantly bombarded with in-your-face marketing and sales tactics telling them what they want and when they want it. Hard selling has become so common online that you no longer know whether you’re at a sleazy car dealership or in the comfort of your own home surfing the web.  Because these tactics have been used over and over while shopping online, readers have now developed a canny ability to simply ignore what they perceive to be marketeering.

This is why your shrewd attention to how you write you web copy can be a difference maker.  Tim Ash, from Website Magazine, states that the primary goal for writing your web copy is to “reduce the visitor’s cognitive load.”  By starting your sentences and paragraphs with your core points – not your lead-ins – you will increase your chance of capturing their attention.  He called this the “inverted triangle approach.”  These days, web readers have honed the art of skimming content until something catches their interest while screening out the unnecessary fluff.  So this is why making your point early is a vital technique.  Allow for brief introductory paragraphs that then lead to a link where more can be read if so desired.  If you force a reader through all your content at once, they’ll most likely not find reward in having to dig out pertinent content and move off your site before you’ve made your impact.  Be direct, be prompt and be on point.

With that said, your voice – your tone – can also dictate whether or not someone will stay with you and your site for any length of time or not.  Time on site is an important measure of content effectiveness.  The longer the stay, the better your chances of increasing your conversion rate. Don’t use marketese. Speak to them like they’re your fiend or neighbor.  Be polite, but not overly formal. This tends to turn people off. Natural defense mechanisms respond quickly to the hard sell or a overly formalized structure.  Provide immediate information up front (without a sales voice) pertaining to your product or service, then follow it with supportive material. If they feel like reading on, they will.  But if they don’t, they will have at least received your message.

Keep your thoughts and sentence structures short.  They are easier to follow.  Don’t use superlative adjectives and try to focus on providing objective information.  Keeping things short, to the point and inline with your readers attention span in this competitive web market is essential.  A secondary side-effect of brevity is that retention is often bolstered.  Your readers will walk away with a better understanding of your products and services.

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social mumbo-jumbo?

03/03/2010

Yes, graphic designers build websites!  But how strong is it when it stands alone?  Have you ever considered having your designer work with you on what I’ve come to call “marketing tentacles”? Web optimization techniques can certainly help your website rise from the ashes, but what about other avenues like social media?  Do they really work?  Are they worth the time and attention?  Well, watch this video short video and see whether you think getting involved in social media is worth it now.

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a new partnership

03/03/2010

Pressbriar.com

SCM Designs is happy to announce a new partnership with Pressbriar.com to bring you new website design and services.

With this new partnership, SCM Designs can now offer valuable website services to clients such as web design, SEO and optimization, hosting, and much more.  SCM Designs and Pressbriar can offer both WordPress self-hosted site construction and design as well as static, HTML based web design.

Pressbriar offers unique web development and marketing strategies based on the WordPress content management systems/blog platform and in HTML based static web pages.  We offers site building and content management of your site using hundreds of plugins and widgets, including tools for search engine optimization, account settings, site stats, forms, user registration, social networking, browser verification, and user comments to name a few. I am more than happy to walk you through the entire process.

We will also offer to install hosting and domain registration through GoDaddy or any other hosting service upon request.  This way your web design, domain acquisition and hosting service is all hands free for you.

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processing design

02/01/2010

Designers across different creative fields truly only have one thing in common – creativity.  Funky graphic artists to chique apparel designers, to web gurus all create with a personal process of getting from concept to reality.  Some begin with a sketch, others take a walk in hopes of striking sudden inspiration from their immediate environment – or maybe a good thump to the head to rattle something loose inside.

Where do you find curious sources of inspiration?  Do you strike creative gold when walking through the local art museum, or from that tattooed mongrel you tried to not make eye contact with in the metro?  Do you seek out novel ideas through others work, or do you purposely steer away from them to maintain your clear sense of self-identity in your ideas?  What’s the strangest thing you’ve drawn new ideas from?

Next comes the process of taking your idea and turning it into reality.  How do you do it? Do you jump right into CS, or do you start by sketching, stretching or building?  Let’s find out who has the most unique process of turning thought to final product.  Tell us anonymously, or proudly proclaim you curious process.  Either way, this could be a fun exercise in discovery.

Steve Muth
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What constitutes a good logo design?  Here’s a question that has been asked over and over again throughout the world of “creatives” and designers alike.  Frankly, there is no one right answer here.  Designers and creatives all develop their sense of construction and style via their own eye’s perspective.  When you combine this with the fact that the same applies to the clients each designer works for on each individual design, you end up with a subjective juggernaut of opinions and conflicting interpretations of what a particular logo should look like, represent and invoke.

With that said, there are a core set of principles to live by when taking a logo from conception to delivery for a prospecting client.  These core elements drive the basic themes and ideas that should essentially be embedded in the process behind every logo design.

(1) A thorough inception
First and foremost, a designer needs to spend time meeting with the client to get a feel for the client themselves, the product or service they are providing and the general culture of the company or individuals seeking the design.  This is vital for one simple reason.  If one does not take the time to familiarize themselves with their clients, there is no way that they can then build a design that would represent them best.  Without an ample understanding of their vision, culture and background of your client, you simply can’t put a design together that will best represent their brand in an effective or responsible way.

(2) Research comparable marketplaces
Once you have developed a strong understanding of the client themselves and their internal ambitions, then it’s time to turn to the market they will be competing in.  Study their competitors, market-specific trends, tendencies and data on what to avoid.  Identify how to differentiate your clients logo from the crowd, while still providing a direct or indirect association with their respective marketplace.  Their design should not result in an imagery that might inadvertently place them in another marketplace via color, form or imagery associations.

(3) Creative Development
If both step 1 and step 2 are fullfilled, then a designer can then move forward into conceptualization.  This is the time to put marker to dry-erase board, pencil to paper, or whatever intitial medium one choses to literally start throwing ideas around and see what sticks.  Some may create 4-5 initial thoughts, others more.  Honestly, I think a designer needs to apply a bare minimum of ten initial concepts (but only rough ones) – not to the client, but to themselves.  I say this beacuse every time I have stopped short of that, I later come up with a design idea that ultimately becomes the final draft.  Don’t settle!  If you’re not excited about a design, neither will the client be. The key here is to take brakes when the creative juices stop flowing.  Go back to it later if need be.  Take a walk around your neighborhood and you’ll be surprised by what might give you a sudden idea or burst of inspiration.

(4) Invoke an an emotional response
This is a step in the design process many designers skip right over.  This is a crucial element of a well designed logo. Once an initial concept is developed through the designer’s conceptualization, it is then time to step back and absorb the visual message it/they translate.  Does it tell an internal or evident story?  It should.  Does it appeal to some human sense?  It should.  What innate associations arise from it?  These natural, human tendencies to see something visual and immediately associate it with something else is very common and must be taken into consideration.  It is part of how a human brain functions – sectioning off certain stimuli and categorizing them with other similar connotations. Be aware of this… be very aware and address it accordingly.

(5) Presentation and feedback
Once a designer has addressed the above steps, it is now time to present your work.  Designers should not approach this too proudly.  If they do, it will present to the client that the designer feels they know better than them.  Not a good start. Only present your strongest design concepts is a common theme among  logo designers.  I personally think this up to the designer.  If only a few final designs are presented, then yes, just present the strongest ones.  But if a designer wants to approach the presentation by offering numerous solutions to the design, so be it. Maybe the client might choices before the process can be focused better. But be sure to have some very strong ones within the mix.  If you have good ones mixed in with the really powerful ones, they can sometimes help accentuate the ones the designer wants the focus to fall upon.  Be careful though, offering too many options can render confusion and indecisiveness with the client.  Part of a designers job is to bring focus and solutions to a visual identity, not create more questions to ponder over.  The presentation is also crucial, in that this is the time to listen, not defend your designs.  Take the feedback and work it into the design.  This is time when you need to follow your mother’s advice and “be a good listener!”

(6) Refine and Solve
Now it is time for a designer to take the feedback back to the studio, address it within the design that solves both the client’s and the designer’s internal dilemmas.   There is no place for ego here.  This is where the designer needs to ask themselves whether they’re in the business to build a portfolio or address their client’s needs.  Decision time. I have been stuck between these two rocks before, but stepped aside, then reengaged and found that I could address their needs while satisfying my desire to render in a particular way.  If designers do this, they will succeed in the final piece.

By utilizing these basic principals throughout the design process, a successful logo will demonstrate to the client that a great deal of time, effort and critical thinking went into the final rendering – which adds a great deal of value and appreciation for the work performed.

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Facebook has become a real phenomenon, both in personal networking and in professional brand development.

If you want to jazz up you page or if you’ve recently built a business page from your personal one to promote your business, here’s a little trick to improve on the somewhat boring page layout we’re given by our friendly Facebook programmers.

Profile pictures are small and restrictive, but now you can increase that image to fill the majority of your profile landing page.  Few users know that Facebook allows for a 200 pixel(W) X 600 pixels(H) image as your profile pic.  It has to be formatted at exactly those pixel dimensions and must be in 72dpi.  But once loaded, it’ll really add that “wow” factor your page really needs.  So, you’ll need a little help from Photoshops to get this just right.


Steve Muth
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A colleague came to me today and asked me provide any input I might have on a summary she was presenting on Baby Boomers and marketing strategies to a group of co-workers.  I’ll be the first to admit I am certainly no statistician or marketing guru regarding Baby Boomers, but after combining some pre-gathered info with a brief web search I was surprised at the insight I found.

As a graphic designer, I came across certain aspects of my brief digging worth sharing.

“…some companies may have to reinvent their images because boomers don’t want anything that smacks of being stuffy or stodgy. More youthful models should be selected because boomers relate better to younger images” —

“…baby boomers seek immediate gratification, but seek it out in products and services that are well packaged, reflecting sophistication, a green slant and simplified”  —

“Boomers will always try to act much younger than their chronological age.” —

“They also want products designed to fit their individual needs, so customization, or the illusion of it, is important” —

“Environmental and social awareness will strike a responsive note in some boomers, so they should be highlighted” —

I particularly took note of the second quote as this is directly related to how a company, big or small, decides to promote themselves and their products and services in an era when Boomers will become a significant spending gear in the marketplace.

Business as usual is no longer the norm as this generation will be changing the competitive marketplace in how they choose to spend their money.  Boomers do not like to look at themselves as aging, and they will emphasize this by how they chose to identify with brands and products.  They see themselves as special, unique and are driven by instant gratification (as are the Gen Y’ers). The more youthful, green and value-added a brand image is, the better off you’ll be, according to many sources.

So, companies may want to rethink their brand images, logo designs and even print and online promotional materials to meet the needs and wants of this new significant spending power.

A refreshed logo is the first place to start as it is your brand “stamp” in your competitive marketplace.  It will differentiate you from you competition.  Creating an “ageless” image through your logo, Boomers will better identify with your company and product/service as they are a very selective demographic.  Small companies and start ups can really benefit from this as they are inherently more flexible with branding ideas and how they choose to brand themselves.

The more a company can create an image as a “specialty-niche” and not a “do-everything” identity, the better off you’ll be at reaching out to the Boomers.  A clear, sharp and unique brand image is a vital key in absorbing valuable market share.

Steve Muth
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logo stories

08/03/2009

Henry Ford once said,

Every object tells a story. You just need to know how to read it.”

When designing logos, the same should apply. Not for the sake of the designer, but the the benefit of the client and their customers.

We all know the reasons behind our designs, but does a story emerge when discussion arises about it?  It should.   Logos don’t only serve their purpose in the few split seconds that they’re seen by the average viewer, but add real value and identity to those we design them for.   If a logo can be developed with a tangible meaning to the client, the inherent value of that design jumps ten-fold.

For a lack of a more decorative manner of expressing it, the logo should take on a personality similar to the culture of the company it represents.   To use the poor analogy that dogs always seem to resemble their owners, logos should also reflect the key elements of a company’s personality and culture to the point that when they’re not seen together a viewer would still interpret the similarities in tone, character and mood.

Granted, the inherent challenges of making a typelogo or graphical image to all this is significant. Each concept, each company name, can either help or hinder this effort depending on it’s relation to it’s parent company.

Conceptually, a logo really appeals more to your client’s ego then their intented customers and this needs to be kept in consideration throughout the design process.

In most cases, designers should only present their strongest concepts, but this lucky company in the video had a handful to chose from.

Steve Muth
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Apple's Jonathan Ive

Jonathan Ive, esteemed Senior VP of Design at Apple, says that what makes a designer a true designer is the way we look at our world. We see things differently. He states that desingers are cursed as we’re always wanting to know why something is created as it is and not another way.

I would certainly agree.  I find myself constantly analyzing marketing collateral, identities and design – whether they’re television commercials, logos, signage I see every day or, most commonly, my own work.

Watch Jonathan’s interview on the documentary “Objectified” to hear him describe design as he sees it.

In my quest for  higher design, I follow several other designers on Twitter. Their sites are essentially web blogs/pages on which other designers logos are featured, discussed and critiqued.

What I really find most interesting when reading other designer’s comments on the site is how critical they can be without providing constructive feedback to the designer.  Many simply post comments like, “I don’t like it” or “It doesn’t do anything for me.” What they fail to acknowledge in many cases is that the design was rendered for a client who guided the design process to where it is for a reason.  We, as outsiders, looking in without knowledge of the developmental process that took place, are all too quick to be critical of others work without getting even marginal insight into the constructive thought process.  Remember, modesty and constructive feedback are traits well- liked in any profession.

One critical thing I constantly try to keep front-of-mind when designing a piece is something I’ve observed in many fields – but more so in creative professionals from clothing designers to graphic artists.  As in any profession, it seems the more “accredited” one becomes in their field and the more advanced their design “consciousness” becomes, the more apt they become to disconnecting with their intended audience.  Many would say that the more “proficient” one is at their craft the more innovative they become.  This is true, but only to a certain degree.  Designers often developed such advanced design aesthetics and methodology to a point where they become lost in translation.  It can sometimes become a show simply for the sake of a show.
At what point do we as designers need to think about self-editing to maintain concise, purpose-driven mechanics in design theory and practice?  What really constitutes good design?  Keep in mind that design is subjective – driven by emotionally subconscious associations mixed with personal aesthetic taste.  Frankly, I most enjoy the lesser known sites and their content, logos, etc. simply because they feature lesser known artists with some fresh, new ideas.  Many other graphic design sites have a tendencies to fall into a pattern or trend, which is a bad model to follow in the creative world.

So, if Jonathan Ive is right, we should be looking at ourselves as much as others in how we develop and communicate our designs. After all, we are all seeking out new business with those who are outside our field. As difficult as it may be, given our self-proclaimed superior vision, aesthetic values and immaculate taste, we may need to think more of our clients motivations and less of our own.

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How do we judge or interpret a good design?

We’re all surrounded on a daily basis by visual representations that we interpret in many different ways. Some we walk by without any needed effort to understanding their meaning, while others seek to invoke an emotional response in the brief seconds we afford them.

Over time, certain design principles have bounced back and forth from the forefront to the background as stylistic transformations have occurred within each generational movement.  Take the classic “form follows function” as an example.  This has been a design foundation to many designers over the years, but does it always hold true?  Could we say that the form of an iPhone follows its function?  Not so much. Does a digital camera form follow it’s function?  They’re still shaped based on a design that accommodated film rolls within.  Digital camera no longer require such a shape.  But yet its functionality is as loud as its form. When is it appropriate to follow certain rules and when does a design need to deviate from these hardened guidelines to better suite the needs of its intentions? Should a design be minimalist or complex in its presentation to its viewer?  Should designers focus on a functionalist approach or is there more to it than that?   What role does symbolism or iconography play in the design of a logo or other piece and should archetypes be so often revisited or should we seek new, innovative ideas?  So, what ultimately determines whether a design concept is successful or not?

Unfortunately there is no one simplistic answer to solve these creative dilemmas designers face every day.  Ask any designer and they’ll tell about the struggles they’ve encountered while working on a project with a client and how they found difficulty in seeing eye-to-eye when it came down to final artwork.  But ultimately, design is a cooperative effort of listening to ideas both from their point of initiation and throughout the design stages.  A good idea can mature into a great one as it moves through constructive critique.  The difficult part is recognizing this and acting on it.

Ultimately, a design should generate a desire, an emotional energy, a clear understanding and association to something – whether subtle or not.  Colors, shapes and how these elements interact will determine the success of a piece, but not due to their sheer presence, but how they are cooperatively intertwine to invoke a response.

A great design is not one that solves everything at once, but one that inherently solves the challenges of its intended audience as it and they mature over time.  Unintended audiences may not see it as successful, but the design itself should predict this. Individuality is often an underlying factor in how a design is created, whether corporate or private, and should be embraced as part of the process.

In the end, a design will serve to support an idea, a business strategy, an identity, a visual representation of a tightly wrapped emotional package that with the right trigger, would openly identify with something so simple as a visual aesthetic – a creative identity with a distinct purpose.  A narrative.  A story.

No, design is not simply the construction of shapes, lines and text, but how these elements are constructed to interact with their viewers.

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”- Henry Ford

Steve Muth
SCM Designs

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