Behind Brands™️: An interview with Mari Eline Raste Amundsen from Designit.
We sat down with Mari Eline from Designit to talk about her role as a brand designer, and to learn more about how both she and Designit approach a brand identity project.
First things first. How did you get into the world of brand identity design — and what made you stay?
I was introduced to the world of brand identity design when I was around 15 years old. I would spend a lot of time searching the internet for inspiration, playing around in photoshop and creating visuals just for fun. I started noticing design around me, and more and more I appreciated a well-designed brand identity.
During my studies in Visual Communication, I really enjoyed the Strategic Design course with a focus on research and insights and developing design as a result of the findings. When I finished university, I worked in a couple of different advertising agencies but felt that I lost that part of the design process there. I realized that I instead wanted to be a part of a design agency where I could take part in a project from the beginning to the end, including the strategic phase. That’s why I ended up as a brand designer in Designit.
Speaking of starting projects; is there a perfect brand identity brief? What does it look like?
I think a good brief comes from collaboration with the client. It’s important to establish an understanding of their challenges and needs to know how to approach the project in the best way. The process and results are always best when there is mutual trust, and the client is open to new ideas — even great discussions about their business.
Not all clients understand the importance of a good brief and as designers, I think it’s our task is to make sure we create that together, so the deliverables align with the expectations and business needs. Ideally, a project shouldn’t begin until we’ve discussed and agreed on the final brief. Sometimes the brief changes along the way (especially after we get the insights from the research phase) and that’s something we have to keep in mind, but it’s still important to get off to a good start.
You recently did the Operasjon Dagsverk branding. How do you creatively approach a project like that — from beginning to end?
Operasjon Dagsverk(OD) is Norway’s largest solidarity campaign organized by, with and for young people. Naturally, they produce a lot of their material themselves, so it was important that their identity could be used by people with limited design skills and tools.
The project started off by discussing the challenges they had with their existing identity. The identity was difficult for a lot of people to use correctly and it also needed a refresh after existing for many years. Based on this discussion, we established their real challenges and goals; our task was to create an identity system which could be consistent regardless of who was using it.
In a sense, we focused on creating a flexible system that gave OD an opportunity to communicate their message in many different ways. The identity is based on a few defined elements that have to be part of the design to make it consistent and recognisable, and the rest is flexible. All the elements were then gathered on Brandpad and could be easily shared within the team and with others. In this project, we used Brandpad more to inspire and tell a story, rather than as a traditional guideline. We didn’t set up strict rules or too many explanations, and the language was straightforward, easy to understand and written in collaboration with the client.
During the process, we had a few people from OD sitting in our office to test if the system actually would work the way we hoped it would. OD has a lot of enthusiastic youths who are eager to make things and express their opinions. That’s why we wanted to develop a system so that their messages can be communicated in a different but at the same time recognizable way.
What is your preferred client/studio relationship or process when working on a brand identity concept?
The best way of working is when the client is engaged and included in the process to avoid any surprises or miscommunications. Both the client and we have a lot to learn from each other during the process and together we’re sort of the perfect team.
I absolutely believe that including clients in the process allows them to contribute with valuable input along the way. Our experience is that they usually enjoy the process; taking part in workshops and getting more “hands on” with the team. It also builds ownership in the project, which is key to creating strong ambassadors for their new brand in the end. If the process is good, the result is a client who is proud, eager and enthusiastic about their unique identity and the road ahead.
What do you or Designit do differently than others in regard to brand identities?
In Designit we have a strong culture of working together across our disciplines which is excellent for getting a broader perspective on the projects. We also have the opportunity to collaborate with other offices within the Designit family, especially with the Nordic countries, when the right project allows it. By being able to merge our expertise, skills, and offices we can shape a genuinely unique and valuable brand.
Do you have a ‘truth’ or rule you always follow when working on visual identities?
I reckon it’s important to ask for feedback on an early stage and not be afraid to show something that’s undone. Every project is different, and when I get stuck or need a couple of fresh eyes, I grab a colleague and ask for his/her opinion to get further. I also make sure to ask my co-workers who’re not designers because usually, they have a different perspective — sometimes they are even close to the target audience.
Regarding collaboration and clients, what are your thoughts on brand guidelines? How do they fit into the process?
Brand guidelines are important to make sure that the brand will be implemented the right way in the future. It’s also good to have something to hand over to the client after the project is completed as a full result of what the project was about. I also think that for the guidelines to be useful it’s important that there is someone from the client side responsible for the identity, who can make sure it’s being implemented and grow the way it was intended.
I find that guidelines are also useful as a part of the process to gather all the different outcomes in one place and to help define and communicate along the way. Using a platform like Brandpad to create the brand guideline opens up for collaboration with the client. It can easily be updated and shared within the team, or with external partners and collaborators.
Has brand identity design changed in the recent years? What do you expect for the future?
I think there’s a lot of confusion on what a brand is and what it contains. Is it a logo, tagline or color palette? Packaging, service or a person? Branding is far more dynamic than only a logo and poster design. Strong brands are multidimensional, engaging and invite the consumers to participate in an experience. And that’s been easier to achieve the past few years using new technology and social media. Branding has become more personal and less corporate — the traditional static logo or packaging alone is now becoming more outdated. I think brands these days adapt to meet the market. They always change, especially if they’re a successfully adopted and reliable brand. It’s important to be flexible and innovative to attract attention, to keep your relevance and ‘top of mind’ effect on the consumers. Nike is a good example here, as they’re always changing in line with the market. As a brand, they’re constantly moving, and that’s how they manage to be one of the worlds most successful brands year after year.
Moving forward, I think brand identities will be a lot more about designing personalities and experiences and less about logos and colors. It’s getting more challenging to stand out in the world of brand identity design, and I think we’ll see that the norm of identities will cover more than just the visual experience. And, hopefully, it will take a few years until AI is intelligent enough to design its own brand identities.
Mari Eline Raste Amundsen is a designer at Designit Oslo. Designit is a strategic design firm working with ambitious brands to create high-impact products, services, systems and spaces. You can read more about them here.
Behind Brands™️ is an interview series by Brandpad, initiated to explore the people and processes behind visual identities. For questions, contact us.