« Back to Blog March 14, 2016 | Branding | Logo Design

How to Design a Brand Identity That Excites

I made a huge mistake.

I had spent the past month working on a new brand. I was talking to the client, asking questions, doing research, and coming up with concepts. The usual.

When it came time for me to present the new brand, it was met with a humdrum response.

I had missed the most important part of the logo design process, finding the root.

What is “the root?”

The root is the important message within a brand that makes it extraordinary. It hides beneath the surface and isn’t entirely obvious. The root is more abstract and conceptual, but the root gets to the heart of the brand in a way that the obvious can’t. It’s that “Ah ha! Now we’re-on to something” moment that comes up in discussion that gets everyone excited.

Living in Buffalo, NY means being surrounded by logos that haven’t found the root. About 1 in 5 businesses in the area seem to be using some form of Buffalo (the animal) as their logo.

Being a Buffalo-based business is an important aspect of these companies’ brands, but is it the most important thing?

The obvious and the expected aren’t things you should avoid simply because they are obvious and expected. Odds are they are the first things that get explored in your sketchbook. It’s harder to make a statement and design something special when you’re dealing with the obvious and the ordinary.

So how do you find the extraordinary and get to the root?

You need to ask the right questions

Not unlike real roots, you are going to have to really dig to find the root of the brand you are working on.

This process isn’t easy, but it is where the best work starts.

I’ve written before on avoiding the obvious when designing a logo, but I really can’t emphasize it enough.

The least memorable logos are the ones that are either extremely obvious and forgettable or are so abstract people who view them can’t understand what they are supposed to take away.

Continually asking questions is where you find the information you need. Keep pressing and digging until you start to see something special beneath the surface level of information.

Keep asking, “Why?” Be like Macaulay Culkin in Uncle Buck and just keep the questions coming. (Though, maybe in a less obnoxious manner.)

Finding out the client’s struggles, their reality, their hopes, and their goals are all a means to designing something better and getting to the root.

Let’s use a fictional example, say a landscaping business based in Buffalo.

A designer who doesn’t ask questions will design a logo that has a bison and a tree call it a day. There is nothing special or memorable about this logo.

A designer who digs deeper will uncover more. During discussion, they discover that this company has been around for over 50 years and they view themselves as the best, taking greater care and quality than there competitors.

Now look at how much we have to go on! But let’s keep going…

Why do they view themselves as the best? They pride themselves on providing a higher quality job than what their customers could do themselves. Their customers often compliment them on taking the stress of landscaping away.

Now we are really on to something.

Instead of just being “a landscaping company from Buffalo,” they are “an established, high-quality landscaping business focused on taking the stress out of yard work.”

See the difference? Now we can design a logo with substance that is tailored to the client’s needs and will excite others.

You need to take Responsibility

After I presented the new brand I mentioned in the beginning, we started a new conversation about the brand. After some back and forth, discussing what I had already explored and designed, and asking even more questions, we found the root.

While I am not particularly happy to be starting the identity design process over, I am extremely excited to explore this new direction and to deliver something with substance and meaning.

In this situation it would be easy for me to say things like “the client doesn’t know what they want!” or “they just don’t know what good design is!” or one of the many other things I hear designers complain about on a regular basis.

The fact is that I was the one who screwed up. It was my job to ask the right questions and to find and solve the client’s problems. I missed the mark.

At the end of the day, I’m the one responsible for 99% of what happens in a design project. I need to own that responsibility and do the best work I possibly can.

Making mistakes is never fun, but it’s how we learn. Now I know that I can not move forward in the logo design process until I’ve discovered the root and the client agrees on the direction.

My process has improved because of this mistake, so (in a way) I’m glad I made it. Sometimes our best work comes out of being put into a situation we never asked to be in.

Now that I’ve found the root for this project, I can start digging in more and designing something even better than what I had presented originally. More meaningful work is going to get done as a result of this. I am sure of it.

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