Confessions of a Graphic Designer: we want to design more than just your logo.

Confession: designers don’t want to design just a logo. In fact, when it comes to branding, a logo is only a teeny piece of the big picture puzzle. As visual communicators, designers know that it takes much more than a logo to craft a brand.

You planned and prepped everything for your new business, and you are ready to present yourself to the public. It is time to start thinking about your visual identity. Often times at this point clients want to move quickly to the next step and opt for a quick logo design. This is understandable; after all there is so much that goes into starting a business it makes sense to take it step-by-step, little-by-little. There is just one thing; your brand is no small thing, and taking the time to craft it and mold it to your business’ vision is an investment worth making.

I get asked all the time, “What is the difference between a logo design and brand design?” from clients who are usually just starting out, in a rush, and/or budget conscious — the only goal is to get to the next step. Well, there is a difference — a big one — and it is something all businesses need to decide on as they map their future.

Logo vs. Identity
A logo is a symbol, icon, monogram, or other graphic that visually represents a business. Well designed logos are smart, simple, and exhibit a deeper meaning that speaks to what the company does, and what it values. A well designed logo is nice to look at sure, but it also requires meaning. Those things in and of themselves do not actually make the brand. They make a piece of the brand. A logo can be well designed, but a logo can’t hold up a brand on it’s own — at least not for long.

A brand is a little less concrete. It is what a company’s audience thinks/feels about it. This comes from how a company does business, but also in how it presents itself visually. When a designer refers to brand design, it is the visual aspect of the brand, what we designers call the identity. As Paul Rand said, “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” The identity is a collection of graphics and visuals that are arranged consistently across a variety of materials, including the logo, typefaces, colors, photography, secondary graphics, etc.

To put it simply, the identity tells the whole story, and the logo is just a piece of the story.

So, those are the specific differences, but what about the work that goes into making them? This is where the differences become clear. Both are an investment for a business, but different in scope and payoff.

Scope of Work
Scope of work outlines the tasks and deliverables for a project. A brand identity project will have a robust scope of work that includes a research and investigative period, concept development, rounds of design that allow time for both client and designer to adjust and refine the work, application of the chosen logo to a suite of materials, a brand guidelines that explains visual identity tools and usage, and much more. This is all tailored to the company and its particular corner of the market. It takes time to do properly, and requires a strong partnership between client and designer.

A quick logo project is going to have a smaller scope of work due to the limited amount of time, and/or budget. Lack of time will demand fewer design rounds, and eliminate the research and investigative work. But at what sacrifice? Without the full scope of research and concept development, and design rounds, aesthetics often drive the process — which may or may not align with the company vision, and which may not serve all of the company’s needs down the road. In order to create a compelling logo, one must be thinking about the big picture. And to do that the scope of work must be broader.

Choosing your Investment
In the short term, a logo and a business card are useful and effective tools. However, a few months into your business, what happens when you need stationery? What happens when you need to place an advertisement? How do you handle printed materials? Do you need packaging for your products? These are just a few of the questions a designer asks during a brand identity project.

Designing a quick logo without taking into account all the other information is a risky investment for a company, particularly a new one. It means potentially having to hire creative to craft other materials down the road. It means approaching the visual identity in a piecemeal fashion, which results in a weaker, less cohesive identity.

Alternatively, by investing the time and money into crafting a whole visual identity, a company will be poised to shift and adapt as they grow in the marketplace. A visual identity gives a company all of the tools it needs to craft their visual brand, to tell their story — both essential things to building a strong brand. By designing for the big picture, all the variables are considered and accounted for — giving a business the tools it needs to navigate the future.

It’s All About Relationships
The most important thing is to know your options when you approach a designer. A good designer will ask a lot of questions about a client’s business and it’s goals so that they can recommend the best options. After all, we are problem solvers and information seekers! A good designer will listen carefully and offer other solutions, beyond just what the client asks for.

When I am approached about a project, I outline the value and investment options available so that clients can make an informed decision for their business. Hiring creative can be a scary thing, so I make sure that a client understands the scope of work, and knows what to expect for each phase of the process. I treat each project as a partnership between the client, an expert in their business, and myself, their design expert. Maximizing that partnership is a key part of a successful project. Learning about someone’s business and market is one of the most interesting parts of my job.

That’s it folks, you know what to do. Now go forth and partner!