We only need a logo…

We were asked to put together a proposal and costs to design a logo for a Tudor stately home. Our proposal was rejected immediately on receipt because we used the term ‘brand identity’. They didn’t want a ‘brand’, they just wanted a logo.

This raises the question: can any business, even one rooted in Tudor history, decide it doesn’t want a brand? By wanting a logo they are acknowledging that they need an identifier of some kind? If it wasn’t required to do anything more than signpost, why wasn’t just writing the name sufficient? Perhaps they thought that a ‘logo’ would be cheaper than a ‘brand’.

Every company and organisation – even individuals in some cases – have a brand, whether they choose to manage it or not.

The logo is the visual representation of the organisation – an identifier – and once used on a website, visitor leaflets, merchandise and signage it builds a bigger visual picture that further develops the perception and, dare I say it, builds the brand.

Businesses with a clear vision of what they are and what they want to be, who choose to manage how they are perceived through their visual branding, are the most likely to succeed and build a memorable, cohesive brand aligned to their vision and future ambitions.

A logo used without control and consistency and without considering the bigger picture, quickly becomes devalued and can, potentially, drag the rest of the organisation with it.

I hope they end up with a well thought through, appropriate logo that’s aligned to their future plans as well as being rooted in their Tudor history. You don’t have to use the word brand to create one but whatever label you put on it, without careful management you’ll probably end up wasting your groats.

Howdy nominate their top five Charity identities

mind-logo
We love this logo. It’s a great idea implemented with honesty and energy – it looks like it’s just been scanned from the first ‘back of the envelope’ idea. It communicates what Mind are about in a single blue pencil (or mouse) line. And you can’t say that about many logos. On the down side, Mind use a particularly nasty, scratchy ‘hand written’ typeface on their web site which clashes horribly with the logo. Nice logo, shame about the implementation.

macmillan
Speaking of nasty hand written typefaces take a look at Macmillan’s identity. The intended friendliness of the blobby, hand painted letter forms is tempered by the use of caps which lends a certain toughness to the look. This toughness works well in the context of what Macmillan do – they support and help people stand up to, and fight, the horror that is cancer. The inspired addition of ‘WE ARE’ adds a sense of togetherness and an almost football terrace belligerence to the brand – ‘Oi Cancer! Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. The Identity is implemented consistently, and, though considered, has the look of an identity that hasn’t had loads of money lavished on it – important for a charity. We also love the blanket use of green, green and more green. However, don’t mention any similarity with Greenpeace.

WWF
A beautifully drawn panda that’s more than WWF’s logo – it’s almost become a symbol of our threatened environment. This cuddly logo from the sixties is proof that logos do look better in black and white – although what other colour could it be? However, we’re still not sure what WWF stands for. I know it used to be World Wildlife Fund, then it was changed at some point in the 80s to World Wide Fund for nature, to cover flora as well as fauna, I guess. To some it stands for World Wrestling Federation. But does it matter – anyone know what IBM stands for? (That’s rhetorical by the way, don’t email us the answer.)

Amnesty international
Another one from the early sixties that’s stood the test of time, due to the brilliance of the idea and the simplicity of it’s execution. This, probably more than any of the others, has the ‘I wish I’d done that’ factor. We can but dream.

Prostate-UKWe really like this man of men logo. It suggests unity and the power of working together. It’s a simple idea that’s well executed. The individual figures within the logo give flexibility for implementation as individual icons and use within infographics helping to reinforce the brand. As we like to say, this is a logo with legs – in this case literally!

That’ll be £100,000 please

I recently listened to a podcast of my childhood hero, Pete Townshend, delivering his John Peel lecture on how creativity (in music) has been devalued by the growth in free music downloads. Pete’s beef was that, while lawyers, plumbers, pilots, cleaners and accountants get paid as the clock ticks, ‘creativity has less value than an hour’s work by me as a musician’. The comparison with design isn’t perfect (artwork vs ideas?), as musicians are self motivated artists rather than commissioned ‘professionals’, but the comparison does hold true when it comes to the difficulty we have in putting a value on creativity.

As designers we’re commissioned by small companies, global corporations, charities and individuals, so the value of a great idea to each of these types of client can vary hugely.

We’re currently working on a small project for a sole trader IT specialist. His brand identity will help him communicate his personality and professionalism and will be of huge value to his embryonic business. Ideas may come easy, it may be a tortuous process or inspiration may strike in the middle of the night (it sometimes does). However, having worked on countless identity projects the one thing I can absolutely guarantee is that this project, and the way the creative process develops, will be unique.

One man who had no problem in putting a price on his creativity was Paul Rand (designer of The IBM logo, amongst others) who, when asked to present some design options by Steve Jobs for his new computer business Next said “I will solve your problem and you will pay me. You can use what I produce or not, but I will not do options, and either way you will pay me.” (It would cost $100,000). If I had the ego and arrogance to say that to a client I’d be shown the door, and rightly so. I think that today even a legend like Rand would be out on his ear. Branding is a collaborative process and no designer would expect his client to have zero input into the visual identity of his own brand.

Maybe branding should be an even more collaborative process. If we find it difficult to put a value on creativity maybe more of us could share some of the risk by taking a reduced up-front fee, but charging a ‘royalty’ that’s linked to the clients’ (hopefully) growing profits. This seems to make sense as the value of a brand identity only becomes apparent over time. The problem there is that it takes a lot more than a brilliant piece of graphic design to ensure a company’s success. Management, advertising, PR, quality of product/service, quality of staff, to name just a few, all contribute to the success of a ‘brand’, so we’re still left with the same ‘how much is it worth’ conundrum.

Would it be easier for us, and for our clients, if we simply charged an hourly rate for a transparent process that ran from research and strategic planning, through to implementation and evaluation? The bigger the project, the longer the hours, the bigger the fee. But while the strategic and implementation phases of a branding project can be planned, managed, controlled, estimated and scheduled, that spark of creativity and invention around which any successful design project hinges can still be so slippery and elusive.

So how do we measure the effectiveness of a brand identity so that a client may better value it? Maybe the modern way would be to get the public to vote on it. Do an X factor. Throw your logo to the dogs. In fact, I can remember a new British Airways identity being killed off by the people (and Maggie Thatcher’s handkerchief), and that was pre-internet! And we all know the fate of the new Gap logo when the Twittersphere got its talons on it.

Should it be as simple as measuring sales and awareness before and after a redesign? A rebrand is often only the visual manifestation of more fundamental changes within an organisation, so it would be equally wrong for a new identity to take the credit or the blame for an organisation’s success or failure. What if we’re branding a new organisation or product? What do we measure against?

So where does that leave us? Don’t ask me. But I think at Howdy we’ll carry on as we are at the moment: discussing a client’s needs, expectations and budget limitations and submitting an honest and fair estimate of how much we think he should pay for our work. We won’t be taking Paul Rand’s stance any time soon: “I know best, I’m a designer, and I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. Oh, and it’ll cost you £100,000.”

Five tips for writing a design brief

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It goes without saying that the first step to getting the right design solution is getting the brief right. Your designers can help you to write a design brief but the basic information that you need to provide is outlined in the five steps below.

  1. Outline your objectives clearly.
    Why are you commissioning this project? As with any marketing exercise you need to set clear goals outlining what you want to achieve. Typical examples might be to raise awareness, increase sales, reach a new audience, etc.
  2. Give as much background and supporting information as you can.
    No one understands your business as well as you do so make sure you tell your designers about it. Good designers will engage with your business and share your enthusiasm. Tell them about the culture and personality of the organisation as well as a factual overview. Share what’s good and bad, what is and isn’t working. Be honest. Recognising issues and addressing them is key to business success and design can help reflect changes and alter perceptions. Tell them about your competitors, industry and audience.
  3. Clearly state any specific requirements.
    What are the deliverables? Try to give a guide budget and timescales. If you have brand guidelines ensure that you supply them. If this needs to work alongside other marketing materials ensure that you show them.
  4. Don’t be overly prescriptive.
    Try to involve your designers as early as possible in the process before too many decisions have been made. They can recommend formats, distribution methods and production options that you may not have considered. Try not to influence the design solution too strongly with your own ideas at this stage. You’re paying designers for their creativity so don’t stifle them at the start of a project even if you have to rein ideas in at a later stage. This leads to more exciting and innovative design solutions.
  5. Supply any examples of designs that you like or think are effective.
    While you don’t want to copy what others are doing it’s a good starting point to see examples and get an indication of what you do and don’t like. If you have any examples of materials that you have produced previously it is important to show these – even if it’s to show what you want to change or feel isn’t working.

These are all discussion points to develop a dialogue between you and your designer and help them gain a deeper understanding of your organisation and create something that is unique and relevant to you and specific to your brief. The more information you can give the better the outcome.