This is a guest post by Katie from The Branding Zoo
Finalizing a beautiful brand design full of drool-worthy details and the latest design trends feels oh so good to any designer. But no matter how pretty, design elements that are purely ornamental aren’t doing businesses any favors. So before you pop the bubbly (or sip that craft porter) to celebrate your newest brand design, make sure you are covering all the bases to build your clients a brand that will truly serve them.
A stunning brand can appeal to just about anyone, but without the thoughtful elements of an authentic story incorporated into the visuals, it won’t engage an audience for long. Or worse, it may captivate the wrong audience all together. The secret sauce to designing the perfect brand for your clients is to give them one that DOESN’T appeal to everyone.
Ok, let me explain.
For the most part, your clients don’t come to you for a rebrand because they just willy-nilly want a new look. If they are investing in a rebrand, it’s usually because they aren’t reaching their ideal clients and are desperately trying to figure out why. They base the project’s success on how well it converts to paying customers, not how pretty that final Pinterest-worthy brand board looks. While the lovely design you hand over wows them at first, if it fails to bring them more business and engage with the right audience, their confidence in your service will plummet.
Your job as a designer is not to give them a brand that appeals to everyone. It’s to give them the most visually appealing brand you can that authentically portrays the soul of their business in a way that tugs at the heartstrings of their ideal clients and repels the not-so-ideal ones. Brands that emotionally connect with a small group and completely repel another are much more successful than the ones that produce a lukewarm feeling across the board.
Shew, that’s all tall order.
My personal process involves having my clients complete a workbook full of personal and business-related questions. I review their answers, make some notes and have a 1-1.5 hour video call with them to talk through their story and how to reach their audience with it. Before I ever begin designing, I put together a brand brief full of information about their values and motivations, ideal customers, brand voice, brand experience and the visual direction that will support all of those elements.
It can sound daunting at first if you are used to jumping right into design and wrapping up projects quickly. It takes more time, but the results are unmatched in the quality and effectiveness of the design.
Here are some important things to remember when incorporating brand strategy into your process.
Less Talking, More Listening
Sit back and really listen to what your client is saying. They don’t always know what values and emotions they want to portray with their brand or who their ideal client is, and that’s ok. Most of them don’t know what they want until they see it. It is your job to listen to them, pick up on the way they talk faster and more excitedly about certain subjects and find the common themes that keep coming up in their conversations. This is how you can begin to weave together elements that will form their brand narrative.
Bonus tip, video chat is essential here. I used to do my calls over the phone. Without visual cues, it was really difficult to discern subtle emotions about particular topics. Once I started incorporating video calls, I was able to tell without a doubt what was truly important. Not to mention, we bonded and built a sense of trust with each other much quicker.
Put Design On The Backburner
A lot of designers begin their relationship with a client by finding out what visuals they are drawn to. Getting a sense of your client’s design preferences is absolutely important, but it is secondary to finding out exactly what they hope to accomplish with their project. If you base your whole design on their preferences without consulting them about their goals, you could create something that completely misses their ideal client.
Spend some time up front asking the important questions like what really fires them up about what they do, what personal values drive their business, what is their long-term vision, and a host of others. Use this time to get a sense of who they are. Start making mental notes of how you can take bits and pieces of that and incorporate it into their visuals. This process gives you enough background information to begin a design full of meaning that represents their business on a level beyond their favorite colors and personal style.
Confidence Is Key
Once your client has reviewed their brand brief and signed off on the direction, it’s your turn to jump in the driver’s seat and begin designing. No matter how confident I am, the butterflies never cease to take over my belly as I hit send on the first round of logo proofs to a new client. But that’s as far as the jitters go. Your client should never sense any kind of anxiety in your presentation.
Once I started incorporating brand strategy into my process, I was no longer presenting first proofs on a wing and a prayer. I start to plant the seeds of color theory and design direction during our video chat in reference to certain elements of their narrative, and then bring it all home with the brand brief and moodboard. Those first proofs are the visual representation of the plan they’ve already enthusiastically endorsed, which makes them much more likely to get approved. So there’s no need for selling. Thank goodness, because sales is REALLY not my area.
Expect Revision Rounds To Dwindle
Revisions are an essential part of any designer’s workflow. Incorporating brand strategy before design begins has been a game changer for my revision numbers. Every designer has probably experienced a final project that became a Frankenstein concoction of a color tweak here, icon tweak there, until suddenly it’s indistinguishable from anything that resembles the original design. Having a brand strategy takes out the subjective revision requests that makes every designer want to slam their head on their desk.
Remember that when you incorporate brand strategy into your design process, you are giving your clients much more than just a design. You are giving them the tools to communicate with their audience. And when they are involved from the start in determining their brand story and strategy, the sense of ownership they get from their brand design gives them an extra boost. It’s a much more daunting task than just designing pretty logos, but it gives you an opportunity to get to know your clients so much better, make a real difference in their business and have happy clients that keep coming back for more.