Dear Graduate Designers—A brand is more than a logo.

Recently I sat as part of a panel giving mock interviews and advice to honours year design students on their portfolios. The one comment I gave the most was — you need to expand on this concept more.

Just showing a logo and a stationary kit in your folio doesn’t fully express the depth of your concept. A design job goes way beyond the visual identity or logo — think about it, if you were showing a website or magazine design, you wouldn’t just show the first page. Fleshing out a brand as a campaign or full range of branded collateral is very important.

The good news is, if you put in the time you’ll have an edge in interviews and make a better impression with your folio. So even if you're sick of the work after flogging yourself to get it done before end of semester, find a little more time and put yourself ahead of the rest of the applicants for your first job by expanding on your designs.

Now it’s not only students who make this mistake. Heres one of my favourite examples of this kind of failure in the public eye — the Tokyo 2020 Olympics identity. This identity was surrounded by a lot of controversy and a legal battle which didn’t help it at all. I’m not going to go into my thoughts on it’s design here, I did that back in 2015. But one of the biggest factors in its failure to be accepted was the fact that they only released the logo and a very quick video treatment of its use. No collateral, no examples of it applied as a campaign. Just a logo that was a bit retro and ugly on its own.

A few months later, after the original logo was scrapped, the entire campaign was shown and it was quite beautiful. Now in this case the design community couldn’t see this identity realised in their own minds, and fixated on the logo over months of debate — so imagine the impression your work will make in only a minute as a creative director looks through your folio.

That’s the crux of the issue here — a brand is more than a logo! A well considered brand has depth that considers how it reaches its audience, how it speaks visually and vocally, the message and values behind the brand. These are the reasons why consumers should buy in, and essential to the success of the business the brand speaks for. If you don’t show this depth, then you’ve just got a graphic device that your audience may not understand the context of.

Now to be honest, your first job or two in agencies or or client side will likely be working on the rollout of campaigns and collateral for already existing brands. Its not likely you’ll be employed to just design identities, even in a branding agency. And really if you ask me just designing logos is not a very engaging job or a career goal that someone should aspire to.

I’ve had interviews before where I made the mistake of showing a “brand” consisting of a logo and a couple of treatments to business cards and a poster and the CD flicked over it and said “I’m not really interested in colours and shapes, what was the idea behind this”. Unfortunately I hadn’t really thought too deeply about that design and didn’t have a good explanation. Needless to say I didn’t get a call back.

Showing a fully realised brand to you potential employers says that you understand the scope of a design job, and it will invite deeper conversation. You can talk about the different collateral, why you chose what you did, what makes it important for the company you’ve branded to use that method of communication. This will all reinforce the fact that you’re a designer who knows what the work is about.

Okay so I’ve told you what not to do, i’m sure you’re happy to hear it. haha. Heres some advice.

  1. Consider the meaning and story behind the brand, write it down, pick it apart, look at it from your clients perspective, look at it from their consumers perspective.
  2. Take that depth and show how it will reach their audience across relevant media.

For example Brand collateral — You’re creating a brand for an exclusive restaurant that attracts high end customers largely by word of mouth. What could be relevant collateral for this brand?

  1. Discrete signage for the frontage,
  2. Luxury business cards matched with with coasters and menus,
  3. Branded cutlery and napkins,
  4. Way-finding and other design elements of the interior that add to the feel and speak about the brand. Custom signage for bathrooms. If it fits the attitude of your brand, go for it.

What about a communications campaign to launch a new product aimed at socially conscious millennials.

  1. What is the key visual (hero image) for this campaign,
  2. How is this adapted to relevant digital channels: Facebook ads, snapchat filters, sponsored Instagram posts, youtube and Spotify advertising, etc.
  3. A free product promotion run at a university — think Red Bull turning up on campus.

It’s really worth spending the extra hours expanding on your work in this way. It will put you ahead of many of your peers, give you an edge in interviews with more talking points, and drive home the fact that you’re a committed designer whose willing to push themselves to do great work.