Branding – the buzzword that’s causing a bullsh*t design services epidemic.

Branding – the buzzword that’s causing a bullsh*t design services epidemic.

Nearly every designer worthy of the title will tell you that a ‘brand is more than just a logo’ – a statement that’s 100% true, yet equally loaded with the potential to misguide an eager client.

Sexy online portfolios with beautifully crafted visual identity packages masquerading as brand design litter the web and my daily design feed.

In a consumer-driven world, brands, particularly the good ones, have penetrated every aspect of our everyday lives. It’s safe to assume that everyone is familiar with iconic brands such as Apple or Nike or BMW, and names such as Kleenex, Q-Tip and Tupperware, which have penetrated our collective lifestyles so deeply and successfully that they have become part of our standard vocabulary.

It’s no wonder that with such wide-spread influence, branding has become the deliverable of the decade. Clients are asking for it and (unsurprisingly) designers everywhere are responding in droves, and providing ‘branding’ or ‘brand design’ as a staple service.

So why do I feel this is a misguided offering coming from designers? After-all, it’s not that branding isn’t a ‘real thing’ and certainly there are amazing companies out there, who, at their core, specialize in brand design.

The problem is that the vast majority of graphic designers have been trained to provide visual solutions. The good ones will capably design a visual identity that meets and exceeds client expectations (as all good design should!), yet in doing so, many of them will make the claim that they have effectively designed your brand. How do I know this? Sexy online portfolios with beautifully crafted visual identity packages masquerading as brand design litter the web and my daily design feed.

The misconception is further proliferated by design blogs and search engines and where one might argue that this is simply a matter of semantics, in this case (at least in my opinion), semantics matter since herein lies the problem:

A brand is more than a visual identity, and a visual identity is more than just a logo.

Designers have fallen victim to the buzzword epidemic and instead of staking a firm claim on their core skills and offering visual identities which, at their best, are ‘honest, graphically expressive and highly memorable’ (Adrian Shaughnessy) they have tried to lay claim to brand design… and I call bullsh*t. Why?

Branding design requires a specialized team, with specialized knowledge because, well, branding is everything! It is the corporate mentality, the advertising, the copywriting, PR, the consumer touch-points, the client relationships, the outward appearance and mannerisms of brand evangelists, the social and community engagement and yes… the visual identity design. Brand design means having a solid overview of the company’s goals and objectives, an understanding of the business plan and an over-arching communications and marketing strategy in place so that the intended brand voice and image matches what happens in reality.

A visual identity is a highly impactful and extremely important element of the brand, however it should rightfully be defined as the visual/graphic system that accompanies all other aspects of the brand, which are intertwined and interconnected. In brand creation ‘design is essential, but design is not brand’ (Seth Godin). One certainly cannot – or should not – exist without the others.

As Sean Perkins (founder of North) accurately pointed out, there is a clear difference between brand creation and identity design: ‘The brand is the whole experience, the service, product, personality and expression, and I can’t see how people claim to do the branding, the total experience. We build identities, not brands.’

And we should certainly make a point of caring about the semantics and educating our potentially misguided clients. After all, there are logo designers out there who limit themselves to simply designing the mark, and consequently failing, at the most basic level, to offer the full value of a creative mind, which can be the driving force behind spectacular visual identity and a crucial element of a complete brand.

~ Aleks

Full disclosure: At o2creative we make a point to distinguish between Brand Strategy, a consultation service where we help set our clients on the right track in developing a brand and building a team who can make that brand a reality; and Visual Identity Design, where we take a strategic and creative approach to designing complete visual identities in support of the brand. We start every project by assessing client needs, and while in many cases these two services go hand-in-hand, we also cherish the challenge of working with those of our clients who have strong brands in place and simply need our help in conveying the brand essence in a visual way.



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