A Simple Theory in Successful Design and Branding
December 14, 2011
No too long ago our Toronto logo design studio was working on a project that focused on a website redesign – nothing too fancy, just a simple upgrade from the grassroots version that had gotten the company from startup mode to full throttle expansion. Key challenges in this project were evident early on when we sat down to first review a very weak existing brand as well as confusion and indecision around the vision and key message the client wanted to communicate in the new design. It took some extra time and perseverance to cross the finish line, but along the way I had scribbled some interesting notes in my sketchbook during an early call with the client and made a mental note to come back expand upon these thoughts later on. I’ll elaborate on the general points that helped drive us through the original problems with the existing site and brand to the final solution going forward.
A Weak Brand is as Good as a Crumbling Foundation
Ever stop and ask yourself what is in a brand? A brand is not just a logo on a sign or business card. It is the emotional and psychological relationship the product or company has with its customers. Strong brands elicit thoughts, emotions, and sometimes physiological responses from customers. Take a look at the following logos:
Just by looking at these logos you experience an emotional response to each. I’ll bet you had thoughts and feelings about each company and your experience with the brand good or bad. You may not even realize when this is happens, but we all do it.
A brand isn’t a brand to you until it develops an emotional connection with you.
– Daryl Travis, Emotional Branding
Logos are not brands! Logos are visual representations of brands. They are the entry point and later the shortcut to the brand in your mind. Brands are not tangible things; they are the thoughts, feelings, and psychological relationships between a business, product or person and a consumer. Your brand is the foundation of all your marketing activities. If you’ve ever worked with us on a design project, you’ll understand why we stress branding all your marketing materials uniformly to ensure your brand is always in the forefront of any communication you have with your target audience.
Think of a brand as the all mighty cornerstone. The very first stone set in the construction of a solid structure is always the cornerstone. It is the most important piece of any masonry structure because all other stones will be set in reference to this single stone. In this way, your brand will be the blueprint for the user experience you offer your audience and it will set the stage for all conversation about your business or product. Your brand will also play a key role in aligning your advertising and promotional strategies. Your brand determines the direction, position and strength of your entire marketing framework.
Taking the time and effort up front to develop a strong brand is paramount to the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. If you do not take the time and resources to develop a strong brand, you will quickly realize that once you’ve set all your other business (building) materials and strategies in place the confusion around your image and/or message will often grow exponentially. The weaker your brand is at the start, the more it will begin to show in related materials as you continue to build your business around it.
A strong successful brand has both internal and external benefits. Within the business, your brand serves as an compass or guiding light. If you clearly brand your business, you have an understanding of what you are all about and should you begin to veer off course you can easily steer yourself back. You will have a self awareness that dictates your actions and decisions.
Externally, a strong brand creates an identity that resonates with customers and helps to form the emotional relationships we all associate with brands. There is a theory that suggests people do not make purchases with logic, they often buy through emotion. If this idea holds true, the more positive the experience or emotions you leave with your customer, the more likely they are to become repeat customers.
Over time, with these elements working together you build a stronger business identity and establish a winning brand.
The Paradox of Choice – Be Clear, Be Concise!
In 2004 psychologist Barry Schwartz published The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less. In his book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety in shoppers. A key design principle called Occam’s Razor also suggests that we offer the user the simplest solution to achieve the greatest results. If we stop and look at these two very basic and very important ideas about choice and perception, it quickly becomes clear that when developing a brand, less really is more. Cliché aside for a moment, what this really means is that we should keep our key message or messages short and sweet so as not overload the viewer with too many ideas. (For more on design principles, see our article on Guidelines Great Designers Live By).
Going back to the project that sparked this conversation several months ago now, when we asked the client what their key message was they came back several days later with a long list of twenty-two messages and ideas they wanted to convey in the new design. You can imagine how difficult it would be to design anything that carried on twenty-two conversations at the same time. Over the course of the project, we helped the client trim the list down to the top three messages or ideas they wished to communicate to their audience.
If we had not been able to work together and clarify the message, visitors to the site would have looked at the page and found no visual hierarchy – no place to start, no place to finish. We would have instead offered up an interface with many elements competing with each other for the viewer’s attention resulting in confusion and a negative user experience, which in turn, would translate into a less than desirable emotion left with the viewer.
A successful design has a beginning and an end. It tells a story – your story – while the visitor’s eye travels through the elements on the page. This typically happens within seconds as average person’s attention span trails off rapidly, usually in 5 seconds or less, so it’s crucial to clearly establish the brand and message.
Putting forth the effort to develop a strong brand on which to build your business is paramount. Don’t waste your time and hard earned money on a temporary solution because you’re in start up mode. Take your time, do your homework and find the right designer to help you lay a rock solid foundation for your business.