As a logo and brand identity designer, it still never ceases to amaze me how many people think that logo design is a 10 minute job, usually involving “putting some text up in a nice font with a little graphic”. Especially when I receive enquiries along the lines of, “Yeah, I need a logo for my company, just my company name in a nice font, with an image of a computer or something. I’ll give you £20 for it, it won’t take you long.”
All this points to a lack of knowledge of not just the logo design process but also to how important the logo design and visual identity of a company/product/service is. To quote the legendary Paul Rand, from his article Logos, Flags and Escutcheons:
Design, good or bad, is a vehicle of memory. Good design adds value of some kind and, incidentally, could be sheer pleasure; it respects the viewer—his sensibilities—and rewards the entrepreneur. It is easier to remember a well designed image than one that is muddled. A well design logo, in the end, is a reflection of the business it symbolizes. It connotes a thoughtful and purposeful enterprise, and mirrors the quality of its products and services. It is good public relations—a harbinger of good will.
So what we’re talking about here is good design, quality design, design that is considered, researched, thoughtful and completely tailored to the specific needs and desires of the company/product/service in question. This then begs the question: how does one arrive at quality brand identity design?
Allow me to show my way, the process involved when I’m developing a unique visual identity system for a client.
Step 1: Research & Inspiration
How do we develop, for the client, a unique design? How do we arrive at a quality design that aids memory and identifies the qualities of a company/product/service? We start by performing research. We need to know as a designer, what it is about the client that makes their business or service unique. We need to know everything. So we research their company history. We research their industry and market. We research their competition. We research their target audience. We research their current customers, their likes and dislikes, their goals, their aspirations and so on. We look into the perceptions people have of the company. We explore where the company wants to go, what message they want to convey. All this information we gather is distilled and forms the working brief, which is a crucial part of the design process.
If there is no brief, there is only directionless design.
With a brief established, we can look into the concepts and imagery behind the company, we can seek inspiration, and move onto the second step.
Step 2: Mindmapping & Sketching
In my experience at least, this stage seems to be either significantly undervalued by various designers or skipped altogether. This part of the process is vital. After all the research that’s been done, your head is going to be swimming with ideas and concepts (it should be anyway). So, get them out of your head and onto paper. Usually, I mindmap first. Pen and pencil is simple and easy enough, but I much prefer using mindmapping applications like MindMeister. You can structure your mindmap in any way you see fit, alter font sizes and colours to aid navigation and memory and add links and images. I find it very handy. You can see a mindmap I developed for my Str!pped Brand Identity Design.
Once we’ve explored various ideas, concepts, word associations, images and so on, it’s time to start sketching some actual designs. Grab a pen and paper and go for it. We’re not looking for quality sketching here, just quantity. Get all those ideas out of your head and onto paper and start the process of narrowing down certain designs that meet the requirements outlined in the brief. Sketch out, refine, develop, refine and refine further. We’re now moving towards the next step.
Step 3: Drafting & Creating
Time to get on your machine and start crafting and solidifying a design, ready for presentation to the client as a First Draft. Various designers approach this stage differently. We all have our own ways. Some present a multitude of designs for the client to choose from and refine further towards a final design. Others present perhaps two or three clear options. And some, like me, usually present one solid solution. Two at a push.
The way I see it is this: I’m being hired, as a graphic designer, by the client to solve an image problem they have with my particular skills, knowledge and expertise. It is my job to solve image problems. The problem could be, “our brand is out of date and doesn’t represent the company we now are” or “we’re a new company and require a unique and complete visual identity”. So I will solve that problem to the best of my ability. If you were to present your car to a garage with an engine problem that needs solving then fixing, you don’t receive multiple solutions to the problem in return. They’re the experts. They have the knowledge and expertise. They will solve the problem.
Step 4: The First Draft
It’s about now that we’re ready to present our solution to the client. I tend to send a complete PDF document to the client, unless we’re able to personally meet, in which case I’ll happily meet up with the client and present the First Draft to them.
Typically for me, a First Draft clearly explains the reasoning behind the design and how this relates to the original brief. It outlines the problem, shows the thinking and research behind the design, explains typographical, colour palette and design choices and presents the solution in a clear and simple way. I tend to also show the construction and development of the design and present various digital mockups as well to show how the design solution could be applied in various real world contexts that are relative to the brief and the company market.
You can see an example in my Jonathon Wort Productions brand identity design.
Step 5: Feedback & Alterations
With the First Draft presented, it’s time to receive feedback. Remember, it’s my job to provide for you, the client, a visual identity solution that will work for your business for many years to come. There’s always a degree of flexibility to my approach and I’m always happy to receive feedback and critique. It’s at this point that the final design is prepared for distribution or alterations are made and re-presented.
Step 6: The Final Design
The design is finalised and upon the payment of the balance for the project, I release the vector artwork to the client in an email or make available for download. Depending on the client’s specifications, I can make the design available in a variety of file formats and sizes to suit any purpose. I will always provide, at the very least, two or three vector file formats, so that the artwork can be scaled to any size with no loss of quality.
Further to the release of the final design itself, depending upon the size of the project and the amount I’m being paid, I will also develop and distribute a Brand Identity Guideline document, in PDF form, detailing what is and isn’t acceptable use of the logo design as well as explaining the corporate colour scheme, typeface choices, minimum dimensions of the logo and more. The Guidelines document can range from a single page for smaller start-ups to a multi-page, detailed document for larger businesses.
Step 7: Post-Work & Aftercare
If it has been specified in the brief, it’s at this stage that the development of necessary branded stationery is produced. Business cards, letterheads, complimentary slips and more can be provided and I work with a couple of excellent local printers as well, so branded stationery and print work can be designed, printed and delivered straight to your door. Though not a web developer myself, if a branded website design is required than I am happy to work with web developers that the client provides or can suggest some very talented web designers that I personally know.
Even after the complete brand package and visual identity system has been delivered, I don’t stop there. I am always available to answer any further enquiries you may have, any further work you require from me and will take a keen interest in the development of your business.
What’s Your Process?
So, to put it simply, this is how I roll. As you can see, there’s really rather a lot involved the development of a unique and quality brand identity design. This process can take anywhere between 3 weeks to a few months, depending on the scale of the project in question, and is clearly significantly more work than “our company name in a nice font with a little graphic symbol”.
How does your brand identity design process differ? Do you provide more solutions, different stages of development? I’d love to hear how you approach your work in the comments below.
Ian Cylkowski aka Izo
Logo & Brand Identity Design
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