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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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.

SCM Designs

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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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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
SCM Designs

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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.

SCM Designs

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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
SCM Designs

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