A Peek Into the Identity Design Process

The identity design process is often misunderstood by new designers. Still stuck in the idea that “there is one, true method”, they get confused by all the different ways more senior designers get things done.

And one consequence of this confusion is the confusion present in the way they explain this process to their clients and associates.

The issue with any design process is what is behind the hands pushing the pixels, not the pixels themselves. The thinking and the decision making behind the pixels is the important factor when choosing a designer.

More seasoned business owners know this; they don’t choose the best-looking options, they choose the option that will prove to be the middle ground between the least amount of risk and the widest volume of expertise.

A mistake for a designer is to enter the process with the idea that the goal is to make a beautiful logo- as opposed to making the right idea beautiful.

This difference in priorities between young designers and senior designers counts, because in building a brand identity and not just a simple logo, a lot of variables such as sales, social media, products, employees enter the equation.

“Seemingly confusing” would think someone who believes the logo is the brand. However, once you get a serious grip over the process itself, it’s much easier to get things right.

An identity design process always starts with research, but what gets researched is overlooked by so-called “gurus”. Research, in a marketing sense, it’s not the designer’s job. The useful information (needs, behaviors, etc) about the brand’s target audience is the company’s research or marketing department’s job, and presenting these aspects to the designer is important.

Lacking any target audience is the mistake most do- and not because it’s hard to choose, but because the product itself is not focused and no prior testing was done. Without a focused product an identity cannot last, so the owner finds himself constantly changing his positioning, and with that, the brand identity.

Knowing the target audience, a designer’s job is to become familiar with the visual culture that surrounds that group. The 20-year-old solopreneurs from London have a totally different visual vocabulary than the 35-year-old firemen from L.A. The more specific this gets, the easier it is to identify what symbols speak to the audience the most, and what can be done to introduce a new symbol on the market, one that appeals and is easily understood.

An identity’s success is strongly related to the culture. Intricate emblems of the 14th century meant something to the people living then, but they are not adaptable to the current tech market for example.

Oversaturation is another important point- the other aspect of the research phase that designers have to work with is the competitive audit- finding what the competitors have done and finding points of differentiation. Right now, we have lots of logos and we see those things every day, and all of them own some tiny cerebral real estate.

When we see Apple, they own some estate in our brains, particularly within elegance and technology and innovation. Asus does the same. Microsoft the same. And for us, who work very closely with technology, spotting differences in the blink of an eye is crucial in choosing even our own gear.

And then, there’s the possibility of brand equity and stereotypes. Your business has stigmas on it whether you want to think about it or not, and if you come for a rebrand or a repositioning, you already carry values you have inherited from the past. Researching how people have talked about the business at hand and how do they talk now is necessary for getting to know the brand from the eyes of the one who actually matters- the customer.

The values, perceptions, and goals the business has cannot be conveyed or achieved without the collaboration of the customer, so to speak. Then, telling the story of a brand, simplifying it in such a way that when a customer looks, she knows at a deeper, instinctual level, becomes a matter of consistency across the brand’s assets and products and means.

The identity has to fit in and command attention and be unobtrusively a part of the client’s family.

At this point, designers have different ways of drawing conclusions and arriving at visual directions that will influence everything. Some of us use pure brainstorming, others jump directly into sketching, others write a lot. Personally, I use mind-mapping and start from the values and the cerebral real estate the business wants to own and keep on making associations until I arrive on concepts that create visual images in my head.

Those images need to be easily associated with what the brand stands for. And from those images, a symbol, or a logotype, or a mixed mark will be created.

But obviously, to get the important points across without overcomplicating the mark is the challenge. So lots of sketches need to be produced, not only to filter out the ideas that don’t do the job properly. The final mark also wants to transcend the distilled brand message and be more than just a “clothing company logo”, or an “app logo”.

This is the essence of creating something that lasts and is versatile- having a mark so simple and elegant that is capable of transcending the brand to become an icon for the people the brand wants to represent. The Nike swoosh is not “just a logo”, but something people identify with- the sheer pursuit of excellence and having a branded pair of shoes be the companion.

You, the business owner, want to be that companion. Reaching the hearts of your people, your customers, your employees through the sheer will and the focus and the commitment it took to get here, all the struggle, symbolized by your search for perfection. Can you find this perfection in yourself? Or will you blame it on the market that doesn’t accept your new identity?

A visual identity works only when everyone- from owner to customer- strives to make it work. And the designer’s job is to facilitate this process and make everyone fall in love with each other.

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