Behind Brands™: An interview with Pilar Sola
We sat down with Pilar, an Art Director and Graphic Designer at Sola Studio, to learn more about her approach to a branding project, her thoughts for the future, and how she got started with design.
How did you get into the world of brand identity design — and what made you stay?
I would say that my introduction to the graphic design and brand identity world was by accident. I knew I liked to draw letters and compose nonsense names in stupid drawings, but it wasn’t until my 3rd year at University that I recognised what an actual brand or a visual identity was.
I was studying Fine Arts when I decided to explore graphic design, so I took a class in Visual Identities. I can tell you now that what I learned was the “old fashion” way of corporate identity design: create and develop an identity with (needed or not) every little adaptation. I would find it very basic now but it definitely helped me to understand why it is so important to design and build brands as a whole universe and not only as a simple logotype.
Is there a perfect brand identity brief? What does it look like?
Does it really exist? :) In my experience a good brief comes after the client sends you the briefing, and you can take the time to sit down with them and define the final one, so it’s kind of a work in progress between the client and the creative team.
It is very interesting to see how every brief is different, but for me, it should always be malleable so there’s room for improvement, but at the same time, it needs to explain what the brand is and what it is not in simple concepts and keywords. Ideally having a strategy deck, in my opinion, is the best way to start the research.
What I found in the last years is that clients are sometimes very lost, or they don’t even know what their needs are. As designers, it is so important to guide them and explain every step of the project so they can understand how our job can help them improve their business or project.
You recently did the Camino Mitad branding. How do you creatively approach a project like that — from beginning to end?
This is a dream project for any designer. The situation was; a new company looking for an identity, but the reality was a much bigger project. I had the chance to be working on the project from day one, so I worked on the art direction and design process, and also took part in important decisions such as naming or creative strategy.
The brand’s deep-rooted connection to its family background and the passion for simple and good quality products are the pillars of the brand. Researching the history of the family’s village was key for the definition of the concept, so all the identity was based on the “origin”. The name was taken from an old road that divided the grape-growing areas of the village in the past (Camino Mitad means middle way/path), all the packaging is developed throughout a label system dividing the products into half parts or the photography shoots took place in the family village and its surroundings.
Besides the identity, visual system for packaging, web design and all the corporate needs, there was a separate job inside the project; the design of two wine labels (red and white). Immediately the inspiration came from the land and the richness of its soil, and the lights that harbour the vineyards of the village.
What I think makes this project unique is the approach to its tactile and respectful design. Together with the client, we looked for fully recyclable materials and we only used FSC certificate papers and cardboards.
What is your preferred client/studio relationship or process when working on a brand identity concept?
I don’t think I have a preferred process, in my case I think it’s more about personality or working relationship than the proper process. I tend to be very close to all my clients and collaborators. I find it very important to know each other (professionally talking) and always from a respectful position, talk in a direct and simple way. During these past years I’ve discovered that projects come to a better place, with better results, when there is a close and trust relationship.
What do you or your studio do differently than others in regard to brand identities?
I’m not sure if I do something different from other designers, but being an independent professional gives me the opportunity to be very close to clients and projects. What I think it’s important (even though the budget doesn’t allow you to do so), is to spend a lot of time researching and thinking before designing. I am a very organized person and I also love to manage collaborators and providers if the project needs it, so clients can focus on the real issues of the brand.
What are your thoughts on brand guidelines? How do they fit into the process?
As brands become more dynamic they are becoming more complex too. This complexity needs to have some rules, so identities can keep their consistency, and customers/users will always recognise the brand. In my opinion, I think defining every aspect of the brand can make the identity very constrained so I’d definitely leave some space to innovate inside the rules.
Guidelines are going to be crucial in future times and, as designers, we need to explain and introduce them to our clients. They need to be aware that any brand can not evolve, grow or be developed consistently if the brand guidelines are not thoughtful and suited for empowering the brand itself.
Do you have a ‘truth’ you follow when working on visual identities?
Follow the concept and don’t follow the trends. Identities must be timeless and should suit the client’s needs, so finding the right concept and avoiding using the latest graphic trends usually bring smarter results.
Has brand identity design changed in recent years? What do you expect for the future?
Yes, definitely! I think identities are seeing now as something very dynamic. A brand in this period of time needs a very strong and bold visual identity system composed of many different legs to communicate the same thing. Nowadays brands need narrative, illustration or maybe photography, different kind of collaborations, and a huge imagery to survive in this fast-branding world that we have created.
At the same time, it is also very confusing because we are seeing a repetition of the same strategies for different products or brands. I feel there is a copy inside a copy and now you don’t know which one is the good one.
On the other hand, as good branding is more standardised and present, clients are starting to understand why design or communication services are so important for their businesses.
Pilar Sola is an Art Director and Graphic Designer with extensive management experience, specialised in product and brand design for a wide range of media and products, including editorial, packaging and digital. You can check out more of her work here.