Getting the best from designers
Kendrick Lamar sings a song called ‘How Much A Dollar Cost’.
I often find myself asking, how much does a brand cost? And more importantly, how much is it worth?
If you’re branding in Melbourne, a logo exploration, colour palette and set of fonts can start from anywhere between $2,000 to $25,000 dollars. I want to emphasise the word ‘start’ again, because many companies have spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, getting their brand right.
There is no debate that designers should be paid for their work. There is nuance and skill in crafting visuals that meet a brand persona. They don’t just press a button and then design happens, they work through an explorative and iterative process to find something that aims to fit the essence of who you are and everything you do into a reasonably small graphic device.
However, where I think brand is far more powerful, is in it’s execution – the way it’s applied across digital and printed assets to tell your story. These can be from business cards and brochures to social media assets, video intro and outros, illustration, imagery, and more. The real value is in a brand’s ability to visually accompany content; articles, presentations, social media posts, etc.
It can be a chicken and egg scenario of whether to create the visuals or the content first. Agencies approach it differently. Some lead with a strategic function, others are purist designers. I recommend to almost always develop strategy and content first, followed by design. This is something I learnt the hard way, experiencing designers get confused or have to backwards engineer the graphics to meet the concept.This is why strategy is so important. You will get the most out of your designers if you have your strategy in place before you even start thinking about design, or redesign, or collateral, or especially a website.
Part of the expense in hiring an agency to undertake a branding project is the exploration they need to do beforehand. The immersion, workshops, and stupid brand surveys that ask you if you prefer Gucci or Prada and what kind of shoe you would describe yourself as…
Whilst the immersion and workshopping is vital to uncover personality and preference for the development of a brand, different strategists and designers have different skill levels in drawing out this information and making meaningful sense of it all. That’s why it’s helpful to have someone work within the organisation, or as a representative of the organisation, to guide the design agency in the right direction. You want to give them clear briefs, make sure they are teeing up interviews with the right internal people, and ensure they are not ‘missing the mark’ on their branding concepts.
The sooner you work out your tone of voice, your key selling points, the value you have to offer your stakeholders, the articles you might write and share, the events you will need to attend, the conferences you should speak at, and all the other marketing, communications and operations initiatives worth undertaking to better your brand, the more accurate the visual branding exercise will be and the more useful the visual outcome will become. It also means your designers aren’t going to apply a prospective brand mockup to a construction helmet when you’re an accounting firm, or design print brochures when you have no intention of printing a one single hard copy brochure.
An industry of creators that I believe has nailed the delivery model is the advertising industry. You’re not pitched as a solo designer, but as a pair; copywriter and designer. The copywriter comes up with the idea, written content and the punchline, and the designer matches that creativity and drive with intelligent visuals.
A brand is priceless (I’m starting to sound like an AMEX ad), and it’s worth getting right. Designing a brand is something you should not cut corners on, because even a ‘just for now’ solution dates quickly, sends the wrong message, and can be very expensive to fix.
Start properly, start from the inside out, and start with a fit-for-purpose strategy that is going to meet your organisation’s goals, as well as getting the most out of your designers. Remember, designers love a clear brief. Clarify, don’t confuse!