As my graphic design practice has developed over the years particularly since I became a freelance designer in 2011, I’ve come to understand both my processes and how I work with my clients.
Two things stand out are expertise and collaboration, and the balance between these two. Clients don’t employ me to make them pretty logos, rather I’m tasked with solving business problems through visual design. I’m given this role because customers recognise my expertise in doing great things with branding. Balance this with the fact that the business and it’s staff know most about its philosophy, its goals and plans as well as its customers.
Ideas and Collaboration
During my earliest attempts at branding, I understood that collaboration with the client was important, but I didn’t understand the best way to implement this. I assumed it was by providing ideas. So when drafting designs I left many options on the table. I proposed a series of draft designs at various stages of development, almost like opening my sketchbook, to the client.
In one project I presented no less than 11 ideas. In another, I showed some really rough drafts including a pretty poor sketch of a boat, assuming the client could see past the poor drawing. Taking this many designs to the customer and asking them to help choose seemed like a great plan!
It was however flawed. I was asking for collaboration in the wrong place.
Presenting so many options, some that should never have made it off my sketch pad page wasn’t working in the way it should have. It placed the onus on my customer to choose “the best” idea rather than me using my experience, knowledge and understanding to present the best solutions.
Presenting 3 Ideas
After a few projects like this, I took the decision to not put those rough ideas, the ones that would never make it into the mix. I settled on presenting my 2 or 3 best ideas. I’d develop and refine these into a document that I could share with the customer, perhaps with some context and some mockups to help put the design into reality.
I’d also arrange a time to go through the designs either in person or over video conferencing so that I could further rationalise and contextualise my design choices.
This improved things somewhat, but still left me with a problem. I’d almost always have a “favourite” design, the design I think that we should use. The problem was when the client didn’t choose my preferred solution. I was left developing a brand that I wasn’t 100% behind, or one which took aspects of A and stuck them onto B, perhaps one that I didn’t think answered the question correctly and I wasn’t sure would do the job as effectively.
This didn’t always happen, to some extent this was because I became adept at selling the design I thought did the project justice and guiding my client to that choice. I was providing the illusion of collaboration rather than real collaboration.
Deeper Collaboration Earlier
At the same time as I was adjusting my brand proposals, I was also improving the early stages of my process. Getting to know my clients and their business a little better. This allowed me to understand their needs, the goals of the business and discover how their customers thought.
It’s a process that takes time and starts with talking and asking (lots of) questions. It expands from there understanding competitors, talking to their potential customers and generally getting more stuck into what makes their business tick.
Increasing collaboration at the front end of a project resulted in better outcomes at the other end. Rather than showing a bunch of logos and asking which a client liked, together we would identify not only what the business problem was, but the best way to solve it using visual design solutions.
Working on things like mood boards and idea generation to craft a brand strategy everyone agreed on. This then informed the rest of the project from the logo design to the wider brand and its application.
By shifting the collaboration earlier and in many ways deeper, it became easier to craft logos and brands that satisfied clients and their customers equally.
It encouraged me to leave less suitable ideas on paper in the sketchbook and show only the good stuff. Indeed it meant the best solution became the only solution I needed to present.
The One Logo
This shift to deeper, earlier collaboration has helped me define a “One Logo” solution. It’s not something I invented, there are plenty of other agencies and designers out there who do something similar, but it is something I’ve developed from my own experiences.
By placing the importance on a branding project on the earlier stages, when I do present that One Logo solution, I’ve confidence that it’s “The One” because I’ve already put in the hard work. I’ve already explored multiple directions, sketched out ideas and thoughts, discounted innumerable options and rather than presenting a handful of good ideas, I show a single exceptional design.
More Than a Logo
One important thing to underline is that although a brand solution often revolves around a logo, the logo isn’t the first thing developed (that’s the brand strategy) and it doesn’t end with the logo.
There will be primary logos and multiple variations, colours and lockups, colour palettes, perhaps patterns, secondary design aspects, visual social media tools, type suggestions and probably some design collateral.
Expertise and Collaboration
I’d love to explore this branding process with you, to share my expertise and to collaborate on something visually stunning that helps answer your business problems.
Working together on a brand that will define itself as the right solution for your business.