The Design of Our Identity

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Here’s the problem with people: you don’t know them. Heck, you probably don’t even know yourself. So how can you say confidently that you are you and someone else is someone else, and prove it to a third person? And I don’t mean this in a philosophical think-challenge way that you must prove by applying some nihilist’s logic to your view of the world and yourself in it. That’s not the point of this article. The point is to take this on a practical level, where you can find actual solutions to these questions about who we are and the design of our identity in the world.

When I started working with Credntia back in 2015, there were two paths that were going along in the identity field’s discussions. As is often the case, the first path was led by thought-provoking, philosophical dissertations on the subject of identity in today’s world and society, digital identity, political views on immigration, multiple personal point of view and stories shared by individuals that held strong position on these subjects. It was a big old messy cauldron though. The other path, was led by technological insight in the field of personal identification, specifically the biometric field of study.

So, how’s a simple designer gonna keep up with a whole world of contrasting opinions on a subject that seems so relevant but yet has no major, applicable solution to it? And more importantly, how can you help your company take the spot with your design?

Design is Objective

As a designer, we shouldn’t be influenced by external factors. Though this might be one of the hardest challenges you might fight over throughout the course of your career, it’s vital to remember a simple assertion that goes by forgotten all too often: design is objective. If it weren’t, no one would need you.

You’re job isn’t to research, analyze, test, reiterate and explore just to understand what the majority “prefers”. What the majority prefers is the solution that floats on the surface of the problem, but yet doesn’t address it in any direct way at all. Your job is to go to the bottom of the problem, objectively: considering all the options, evaluating all the position, trying out all the concepts you can come up with. In the end, when you’ve done all the research you could, eliminated all the subjectivity from the argument and did so by a place of pure analytical analysis, what’s left on the notepad, however absurd it might sound, is the solution.

Most people will not go through this process because it’s much easier to just come up with a beautiful mockup and wow your stakeholders with a glaring fanfare. Other people just fear the mockery of the oh-so-self-loving design community. But is it worth your career? Won’t you want to actually improve things overtime?

Leaning into Uncertainty

When we started pondering solutions for Credntia, we were coming from a place of uncertainty and excitement. In the end, it was rebranding.

No one felt comfortable in the previous brand position, because it was difficult to assert the previous brand’s value. But no one was comfortable enough to move away from it. Yet everyone was excited for the upcoming rebrand. Sounds contrasting? That’s ok. That’s what normal people do. That’s how most behave. Your job also includes easing the pain of this transaction. If you, as a designer, show even the tiniest bit of uncertainty, the feeling will spread over to the entire team in a form that is likely several magnitude higher. You’ll fill everybody’s head with questions that you probably don’t even want to answer. So never come unprepared, otherwise you might spend several months just trying to make everybody (and yourself) recover from those few seconds of silence in that presentation you did back when “maybe we could’ve rebranded.”

We needed rebranding to clearly reflect our values as a company in our product. And we absolutely needed to show the quality of our team. So, we improved. We improved our communication by putting a short-term strategy in place that could reflect who we really were and where we were going. We improved our design by creating and respecting simple, straight-forward guidelines that everybody could agree to. We improved our company by constantly making sure everybody was 100% on board with what we were doing and how. And this design-thinking, along with the analysis of how our market was moving forward, led us further from a heuristic, a simple rule-of-thumb, to a design algorithm if you will.

Influence ≠ Inspiration

As I mentioned earlier, design shouldn’t be influenced. Inspired, yes. Informed, of course. Influence is a double-edged knife. You go through the whole process, along with the stress, mental fatigue and rehearsal that will inevitably happen down the road, and in the end you reach an inconclusive work. It happens even though it might seem the work you came up with is good, but you’re always gonna just float above the real solution, because you came from a biased point of voice. It’s important to understand this because influence can happen in so many ways we as designers don’t even consider: colleagues, news feeds, you name it.

The difference between inspiration and influence is the first can help you go places you haven’t been before, without re-writing your baggage of knowledge, but simply enhancing it in different ways. The latter can insinuate itself in the tiniest fraction of your mind, in what could seem like the most futile part of your process, and block you with its own personal history: people who have been there before you, have done the same thing that are “influencing” you, and that you are letting impose on yourself.

For example, when we started discussing the ways of Credntia, I was doing research related more to the design-thinking than to the design itself. The work on identity at Fujitsu really impressed me, and I was inspired by it, but I wasn’t influenced. I went past what I could see or hear talking with people working there, the level of technological advancement they achieved, and got to the bottom of it. This led me to the Gemba Kaizen.

Living Our Values

The leit motiv for Gemba Kaizen might sound pretty common and even outdated today. It’s basically the equivalent of “less is more”, but as always, if you stop on the surface you miss much more of everything. Gemba Kaizen is a self-disciplined process that involves all aspects of your organization, and all the members in your team. It started with Toyota after WWII, when the company was short half of its staff and had to shut down almost all of its fabrics. The process of elimination was key to the founder Toyoda Kiichiro to set up the now famous Toyota Production System based on the Kaizen principles.

You might think this process has little to nothing to do with design, or even the startup world in general, and you’d be wrong. Once we scraped all the Japanese terms, we noticed Gemba Kaizen was something we were actually already doing day by day, just without knowing exactly what it was. And knowing something like this from the bottom changed everything for our rebranding.

The key values of Gemba Kaizen are elimination, self-discipline, working in the midst, flexible standards and a visualizable work process. All of these reflected and built upon what we were already doing and the core values of Credntia being simplicity, openness, reliability, peace of mind.

We started our process in reverse, by creating a visualizable work process (simplicity) for the rebranding, and involving the whole team in it (working in the midst, openness). We worked hands in hands, even though we are thousands of miles apart from each other, and we worked live on any tools that would suffix our goal: screen-sharing calls on Skype, quick back-and-forth brainstormings on Slack, hundreds from minor to major updates to the principal guidelines (self-discipline, reliability).

Each step we would revise everything we did up until that point, which sounds like a lot of unnecessary effort, but it’s actually the fastest way to track what you accomplished and make sure everything’s going according to plans (peace of mind). Then, you eliminate. By asking yourself 5 simple “why’s” every time, you can get to the bottom of everything, and when you’re there, everything that isn’t absolutely vital to the process, you remove it.

Imagine having a simple product idea that you want to create a brand for:

  • Why do we need this product? 
    Because people need to be able to build their identity
  • Why do people need to build their identity? 
    Because identity in itself is a journey.
  • Why is it a journey? 
    Because everyone starts from zero and build who they are overtime.
  • Why does everybody has to start from zero? 
    Because there isn’t a good process to help people do better.
  • Why isn’t there a good process in place? 
    Because no one thought of easing people’s pain by accompanying them through the journey of their identity.

This turned out to be the best process for us, especially considering we’re a startup and at the time the process involved more or less 10 people. But nevertheless, everyone has to be on board with it for the Kaizen process to work. You must act on it constantly, use your common-sense and involve all the management levels of your company for it to work.

Continuing the Journey

The journey of our rebranding was in a lot of ways similar to the journey we want to take people on with their identity. We appreciated it on every level of our work relationships with every member of the team and on in every step we made closer to reaching our goal.

So, what sprung out of this process couldn’t be anything but a journey itself: a journey for a brand that is created only as a result of the co-operation with people that are through their own journey for identity.

Author | Antonio Auterio
Director of Design
Antonio is passionate about design and the user experience. With over 10 years design experience with start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, today Antonio leads Credntia’s design work, creating The Credntia Experience that both shapes people's lives and how they define who they are in the world.

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