image Courtesy of viktor hertz —

The Honest Brand

Honesty and branding are not synonymous. 

After spending the last 6 years as a graphic designer, largely focused on brand design and development, I like to think I have learned a few things about the nebulous world of branding.

One of those things is that honesty and branding are not synonymous.

Allow me to explain.

Brands are built on perceptions, and perceptions are not reality.

I have come to terms with this over the past few years. Most brands that I have worked with have never wanted to express who they really are. Rather, they have wanted to affect the perception of what their products and services are through superfluous messaging and ornamental design. These things only exist to cover up the reality of their brands — that their products are subpar, their services are flawed, and they care more about their bottom line than their company culture, employees, or customers.

I’m okay with that. Nobody is perfect.

What i’m not okay with — and what took me a long time to realize — is the toxic dishonesty of the business world (design included) in trying to persuade people otherwise.

I can accept subpar products as long as you don’t pretend they are perfect.

I can accept flawed services as long a you don’t pretend they were solely designed around my individual needs.

I can accept that your business has to make money as long as you don’t feign empathy for your company, employees, and customers.

I can even accept that your brand image, that is to say a set graphic devices and visual images that signify your brand, is ugly (subjective, I know) as long as the experience I have with it is positive, engaging, and meets a mostly subjective set of my own personal criteria — that is to say the utility of your brand, products, and services is more beautiful than how it actually looks.

So what does that have to do with honesty?

Enter the Honest Brand

The Honest Brand is my attempt to quantify invasive ideas that have taken root in my mind and are attempting to subvert and affect the ethos of my being and career.

The Honest Brand is a manifesto of sorts. It is a set of guiding principles and ideas on how to bring branding closer to reality and further away from the toxic dishonesty i’ve been exposed to throughout my career.

Principles of the Honest Brand

I’ve thought long and hard about this (maybe too long and too hard), and while they may change in the future, these are the fundamentals of the Honest Brand:

  • Honesty and authenticity are paramount.
  • It is possible to be original, as long as you are sincere and speak from the heart.
  • Customer and user experience play a large part in determining precisely what your brand is.
  • The customer and the user is not always right. As a matter of fact, they are frequently wrong. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell them otherwise.
  • Brands are systems and should be treated as such.
  • Do not tell stories. Tell it like it is.
  • Intuition is a stronger tool than analytics. But together they can be very powerful.
  • Intuition is not always quantifiable and at times you will have to place your trust in something that is fuzzy and illogical.
  • Do not sell or advertise products and services. Instead allow products and services to sell themselves.
  • Do not make decisions based on a bottom line. Rather make decisions based around providing tangible benefits and profound, empathic experiences to users.
  • Utility always has been and will forever be more important than aesthetic.

Again, these are meant to be a set of guidelines — not a rigid framework that cannot be deviated from.

These principles, while still very much in their infancy, have affected me greatly in last few months and represent the next logical step in my evolution as a designer (and on a higher level, a human being).

I hope they can affect others as they have affected me.

Stay honest.

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