How does design fit into brand building?

My very first, ever interview guest on the blog hails all the way from Reading in the UK. That’s right – I had to travel far and wide to source this guy, so you’d better learn something! We’ve spoken a lot on the blog about how branding is not just simply about designing cool graphics and logos. Logo design and brand identity, however, IS a major component of brand building and so this week we delve into the question of how does design ACTUALLY factor into the process of building your brand? What are the pitfalls to look out for in your branding endeavours? What constitutes really good ‘design’? What makes a logo timeless and memorable? Well our special guest today, Ian Paget (a brand identity and logo design expert) is here to draw you a pretty picture explaining just that.

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the Brand Dr.: Hi, Ian. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: who are you, what do you do, where do you come from and where are you going?

Ian: My name’s Ian Paget, and I’m a graphic designer based in Reading, UK. I work full time as a design director for an e-commerce agency where I have been lucky enough to work with some of the world’s top global brands. In my personal time I run my own design business called Logo Geek, where I work on logo designs. To support this I run a popular twitter profile too, sharing logo design related resources and news for the design community. My long-term goal is to become the go-to expert for branding, and I plan to do this by continually doing good work, sharing good content, writing books, appearing at design events and inspiring other designers to make the world a better place. I’ve only just started my journey, but I really think I can do it.

TBD: How did you get into design? Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?

Ian: From a young age I knew I wanted to work in art or design. I was the kid that always won the art competitions and had my work on TV. In school and college it was my main focus too.

I didn’t go to university, so once I finished college I was on the lookout for a creative job. I became an assistant to a print finisher, where I was responsible for turning printed exhibition panels into full scale stands. It was a lot of laminating and cutting, and being honest… I didn’t like it very much. I felt clumsy and never quite got the hang of putting the paper in the machine perfectly straight, and never liked using the surgical scalpels on a daily basis. I wanted to be designing these things, not finishing them off. It was in this role that I had the opportunity to watch the IT guys touch up the work in Photoshop, and prepare the artwork for print. I had no knowledge at that time, but I was fascinated. After badly cutting my finger, I left that job and jumped into the next first one I could get.

I got a job in a warehouse for a medical company. Really not my thing, but I explained to the manager that I wanted to be a designer, and that I wanted this job so I could gain experience working within a team. (I just wanted a job, but she was impressed by my confidence). I was in this role for about 6 months before being called to the manager’s office … they understood I was good at art, and offered me a role working in the office side of the business. They gave me a 3 month opportunity to work in the job that got me where I am now.

TBD: How did Logo Geek come about – what made you interested in branding for companies?

Ian: I’ve always liked to work on side projects as you can push your skills and experiment on the type of things you’d like to get involved with. At the time of creating the business I was working on an iPhone game project called GooHoo with friends of mine which took around 4 years to finish. As much as I loved the project, it was exhausting, so I wanted future side projects to be less time consuming.

In my full time job I worked on the occasional logo design, and enjoyed it. Logo design made use of my illustration skills, yet always posed the challenge of representing the company and fulfilling goals. I’ve always been more of a technical designer than an artist, so it always fascinated me. As logo design is a relatively small project to work on, I started Logo Geek, offering my design services to anyone needing a logo design.

TBD: Something I’m sure my readers interested in e-commerce will appreciate : You offer your services virtually, with several clients not in the same country, let alone the same time zone! How do you build relationships with these clients?

Ian: I focus my marketing online. At the moment, since I work full time I don’t do any offline marketing at all. I’m fortunate to work for a company that has a team dedicated to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), so I have picked up quite a lot of the techniques. It’s through my website (people find me on Google) and social media that I have attracted customers so far, and it’s almost always started with an email.

I’ve worked with companies globally, most recently New York and Africa, and to date I haven’t found it to be a problem. Email and Skype makes it very easy to communicate online. Yes, okay, it’s not possible to have one-to-one meetings, but providing you communicate clearly through email I believe it’s possible to build business relationships online.

TBD: Now for the big question. Why is branding so important for a company?

Ian: A company is made up of people of all shapes and sizes. Good branding allows these people to consistently communicate with their audience no matter who’s doing the communicating.

I believe branding is a long-term investment that makes a business more profitable, and should be considered as one of the most valuable assets a company owns.

TBD: What inspires you about branding and design?

Design allows you to be anything you want to be. You can target anyone you want, and control how people behave and interact. Most of the world we live in is fabricated by designers like us. It’s fascinating.

I’ve been a designer for just over 10 years now, and I still have so much to learn. I don’t think a designer ever stops learning, and improving. I love that.

TBD: Branding and design are very much inseparable although it’s been said time and time again that a brand is not your logo. How then would you say they are integrated?

Ian: A brand is not your logo. A brand is not even the touch points we apply branding to. A brand is in the mind of the public – it’s their thoughts and opinions, and is something you have no control over. You can only influence, and that’s where the designer comes in. We are influencers.

TBD: Design is seen as an intently creative process such that many people mistake it to be about playing with logos, colours and fancy typefaces. Yet in order to build strong brands, design needs to be quite strategic. How do you think one could make one’s design more involved at this strategic level?

Ian: Good design is very strategic, and the sooner a designer understands this, the better the designer they will be. Logo design is not an art, its functional design. Design decisions need to have solid reasoning, and “because it looks nice” is never a good reason. So many design galleries out there focus only on the visuals, encouraging votes by how it looks and less on the strategy side of things which does give off mixed messages to designers.

Non-designers can also make the mistake of seeing graphic design as art, so a designer also needs to educate the decision maker too. By asking the right questions and doing solid research to back up design decisions, you will immediately put yourself at the same strategic level as the decision maker – if you’re seen to understand it, you automatically become part of it.

It’s strategic design that makes a designers work more attractive to business owners, and is the reason that some designers charge £1000s for logo design work.

TBD: What does a company itself need to know clearly or have before they start on their branding?

Ian: They need to know why they exist and what makes them different from the competition. Sadly not many business owners know this, in particular start-ups. At a bare minimum, they should have a clearly defined target audience. A design will be more successful when targeted at a specific audience.

TBD: To the untrained non-designer, logo design may look like a piece of cake and your portfolio of work certainly doesn’t help stem that misconception – your designs seem wonderfully effortless.

But creating a successful logo design and identity for a brand is a huge challenge for most. What design advice do you have for small businesses and start-ups that are looking to brand (or re-brand) themselves with a timeless, creative logo?

Ian: I think the key to good design is firstly accepting that logo design is strategic. I like to form a list of objectives before designing a logo, as it creates a tick-list for both myself as the designer and the client too when making a decision. Logo design is too easy to be seen as a piece of art, so it’s easy to let personal opinions slip in. With a list of objectives you have tangible goals to meet, which helps you step back and make a solid strategic decision.

I also think it’s important to test your designs in real life situations. There’s a great plugin for illustrator which I would recommend called LiveSurface which allows you to easily put your design in real life locations such as a billboard, box or t-shirt. I’ve had a number of designs which was my least favourite quickly become some of my best work once tested in a real life scenario. Simple design in particular is difficult to have confidence in until you see how well it works in a real life scenario.

TBD: What (in your view) does the new era of branding look like?

Ian: Our technology is changing, and the way we interact with brands has certainly changed too.

I think it’s becoming more transparent. Social media hides nothing, so if a business slips up, everyone knows about it quickly. Businesses need to be confident in their decisions, otherwise the public will quickly treat them like a puppet. Take for example Air B&B – their recent logo had a horrific backlash online, however they have stuck with it, which will probably make the identity more memorable in the eyes of the public long-term.

It does mean that brands need to evolve and adapt quickly, becoming much more human than they have ever been before – making mistakes and recognising it – being ‘real’. Nobody likes a corporate lifeless machine.

From a design perspective I don’t think branding has changed much from the days of Paul Rand. Good logo design is timeless. Trends come and go. Real quality shines, and will do for years to come.

TBD: If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?

Ian: I wish I started using social media sooner, and started showing off my design work. If you’re a designer, seriously – show your work off to the world. Even if you think it’s bad, someone out there will love it. The more work you get out there, the more opportunities can come your way. And if your works not so great, you can also get some real honest feedback which you can learn from. It’s a win-win.

From a freelance business point of view when I first started out with Logo Geek I was promoting myself as something I’m not. I was acting like a business, using ‘We’ a lot in my text (this was based on bad advice from someone I met at a networking event), and I created a ‘fun’ identity. I thought it would be cool to have my process broken down into ‘the boring bit’, ‘the creative bit’ and ‘the exciting bit’. After about a year I realised it’s just not me – everything looked cheap, but I wanted to offer a high end, professional service. I revaluated everything, went back to the drawing board and started again to create an identity that fits me better.

TBD: On that note, what pearls of wisdom would you give to marketing students looking to dive into a career in branding?

Ian: I think you just need to get out there. We’re in a world where you can reach out to anyone though social media, so it’s really easy to network and get to know some very experienced and important people. Get a website, write a blog and interact with the world – grab every opportunity. You can learn as much as you want from school and books, but it’s knowing the right people that will get you to the places you want to be.

These are some images from the creative mind of Ian Paget himself. The first two of these are from GooHoo (the iPhone game whose design he worked on), and the other two are examples of the type work he was creating in his first design position (lots of Photoshop illustration). Ian gives one final nugget of wisdom below relating to his work and for anyone looking to promote their creative work.

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Ian: You may find a lot of this work surprising based on my Logo Geek portfolio. The reasoning is simple, you show only the type of work you want to do. I’ve learned that people don’t have a lot of imagination – if you show web, they think you are a web designer, and if you show illustration they don’t see you as anything else but an illustrator. By showing only logo design people assume I’m a logo design expert, and I get more of that type of work (even friends and family who have known me for years!). It can be frustrating for designers as something they worked on might be amazing, but if its not something they want to do, they need to forget about it, put it to one side and show only the work that’s relevant to their ambitions and dreams.

For a look at LogoGeek’s FULL portfolio, click the image link below

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