As a designer, I’ve often struggled with how organic vs. structured I should be with my making process. On one project, I would decide to float with the wind and see what manifests. While on another, I would decide to have a spreadsheet of check-points and task lists to reach my end result. In the defense of an organic approach, you might find correlations that otherwise would have remained in the shadows based on happenstance. However, with a structured approach to the design process, the correlations should be able to form in an almost formulaic manner.
I am a big fan of structure, consistency, and intention. I think it’s safe to say that every project has a few constants — a beginning and an end. And if you have a sound and solid process to connect those two dots, then the end result will consistently be just as strong.
I will be using contextual references from a project I worked on with Bill and Linda Chin at Parachin Design Studios while under the creative direction of Scout Driscoll of DesignScout.
The first step in my brand identity design process is an audit.
Whether it’s a brand audit, competitive audit, or both — I first become familiar with the brand in question and where it ‘lands’ in its field. A couple examples of audits are a ‘competitive set’ and a ‘positioning matrix’.
This is helpful because it not only allows you to become an expert on that particular brand — learning everything they’re doing right and wrong, but it also allows you to become an expert on their competition. This step will often point out flaws, issues, and points of interest that you or your client might not have previously considered and allows you to have the sturdy structure to build your ideas upon.
The next step in my process is creating the moodboard.
I gather brand inspiration based on the project brief and the results/findings of the audit. With moodboards, I think it’s SO important to not just find images of the ‘style’ that you are going for or the fonts that you want to use. Those things are more of a literal translation of what you want to accomplish with that project. And while those elements are important, I think the moodboard should be reserved for higher-level thinking — abstract images, patterns, & phrases. These are going to be the images that evoke an emotional response and translate how what you are making will make other people feel.
Once I have created my mooboard, I then share it with the client to make sure our visions are aligned and that were on the same page (😏 pun intended). Often times, this step will lead to the most clarity with relations to the goal of the project because thoughts or ideas that were not able to be articulated in the project brief come to light.
Then I move on to concepting.
My concepting typically starts with a thesaurus. This can either be something as straighforward as thesaurus.com or a visual thesarus such as The Noun Project. Using keywords from the description of the project brief, I began to dissect those keywords into their various meanings, parts of speech, or maybe even popular phrases or idioms that they in which they are used.
Being able to see the same word from multiple perspectives is where the magic happens. Correlations between different ideas can add up to create some pretty powerful concepts. Once I’ve established a three or four distinct concepts based on the keywords, I begin to sketch and visualize.
After nailing down a handful of concepts, I move onto providing context.
Contextualizing work is a pretty powerful exercise. It can allow the client to picture how their brand will work outside of their mind’s eye. I think that it’s more of an emotional response than anything else. But, being able to show them the beautiful design of their logo or website for the first time is a beautiful thing. But, it becomes most impactful when they see their logo mocked up on a business card or their website shown in a browser.
This part of the process can often be one of the most difficult because it forces the designer to think about more than just the logo, but also the world that it lives in. Although difficult, this step can provide the most information to the designer about the future of the the identity and how it can apply to unforeseen implementations.
This then leads to the last step which is ironing out the details of the identity.
Using the contextual references and examples that were created in the previous step, there is enough information to flush out the rest of the identity. I’m talking patterns, secondary fonts, tertiary fonts, iconography, photography, etc.
These are the details that can add the polish and thoughtfulness to the presentation of the identity. Having these elements can help a client to think about an identity as being more than just a pretty logo, but an entire visual experience. A complete and comprehensive presentation of the client.
The design elements have been collected to create both a beautiful and meaningful identity presentation.
While happy accidents are always welcome during the design process, I believe that a structured and curated process will allow for consistently effective design solutions.