What for? A better Design Resolution

For years Zago (the design studio I co-founded) has been classified as a “branding” agency. In 2016, we realized that we maybe never really saw this label as true to our identity. We should say that while we do not consider Zago a branding agency it is understandable why others put us in this category. We are good designers (great actually). Yes, we design logos, visual systems, and even messaging. It’s just not all that we do. We should have taken more care to define what we did and why what we offered was a little different. At this point, Zago sounds like that person at the party who gets called the wrong name and doesn’t correct it immediately, and everyone repeats it all night. Except in our case we didn’t know our name.

At the onset of every project Zago unpacks the why and the what; why the client is seeking a new brand, why now, what is working and what is not? We almost always find that the reasons organizations are seeking a new identity have to do with some other area in need of transition like: internal operations, processes, program development, and monitoring and evaluation rather than just its aesthetic. Seeing these other aspects might not be unusual for a design partner, but what is different is that we cannot leave these pieces alone. Instead we engage our clients on the root causes, employing design thinking practices and exercises to approach and work through these issues. In our opinion a certain amount of organization design is necessary to deliver the positive outcome that is being pinned on a new brand identity. You have to walk the walk. This doesn’t work for everyone. We know that there are some who are not ready to ask the harder questions and transform their actions. They are looking for a surface fix. That’s fine. We’re just not that interested, and frankly not that good at staying on the surface. Others find that our disdain for bullshit makes us a refreshing partner to work with during a transformation and strategize about how to tell the world about what they do.

To be clear, we still create visual identities and messaging if that is the right design intervention. But its not necessarily where we start.

We have grown up and have a better idea about with whom we want to be friends. Over the last twenty years our studio has always split its time between corporate and “for purpose” clients. We had reasons (maybe not great ones) for dividing our effort in this way, but looking back it wasn’t worth it. Today’s reality of the world demands that we prioritize our time better to focus on projects and partners that shift social and environmental outcomes for the better. This is not specific to sector, both a non-profit or commercial enterprise can work for positive social impact. We are also looking for honesty. We want to work with organizations that are ready to be truthful about their work, value, challenges, and motivations.

The revelation of what we do and with whom we work has helped us also understand how we work. We solve problems together with our clients. This means that it is a little your team and a little our team. While everyone seems accustom to hearing that a creative consultant’s process is collaborative, in practice this is more often than not misunderstood by those that we work with. The design process — whether applied to visual identity, organization, service, or transformation — requires time from your team. If you are going to own any design solution, you need to be a part of creating it. We enable and facilitate the opportunity for things to be discussed, decisions to be made, strategies to be developed, ownership to be taken, and alignment to be found. We will build the track, but we ride the rollercoaster together.

This year is a new year. We are going to be honest about what we feel is most important. In 2016, Zago is re-launching the studio to be a partner to organizations striving to change for good, focused on pressing social and environmental problems. As we embrace this New Year’s resolution, we look forward to partnering with you to transform what you do and how it impacts the world around you.

Yours Truly,

The Crew at Zago

Like what you read? Give Manuel Toscano a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.