Trust the Process

The Smith & Diction Identity Process

Smith & Diction
Published in
10 min readJan 23, 2024


One year ago, we published The Process on Figma. We put it together to give prospective clients an overview of who we are and how we work. Simply put, we realized that a lot of our initial conversations were spent going over basic info that didn’t necessarily need to be shared during a 1:1 conversation. We could make the precious initial client moments more productive by giving folks a little more information up front. Plus, by writing our process down, it lets us to share our thoughts more coherently and visually than we ever could in a 30-minute Zoom conversation.

But over the past year, we realized that unless we directly shared our process with someone, it was fairly hard for them to find. If you search online for “Smith & Diction Process” the Figma file won’t come up, instead you have to stroll on over to my silly little xeeter profile, which is fun for no one. So we figured we’d repost the guts of the Process here (with all the lovely built-in SEO optimization, thank you Medium), with a few new insights and examples thrown in. Hopefully this new edition will make this info even easier to find.

Before we get into the details, have to start like we did in our original document: we know there’s more than one way to build a brand. There’s no secret sauce or special workshop question that unlocks an extraordinary identity. All kinds of folks do it all kinds of different ways — and that’s awesome.

We’ve challenged our own process a lot over the past year, which actually led to us launching a whole new way of working that’s quite different from the typical Process you’ll read about here (see: The Sprint). But whether the process is relatively new or tried-and-true, we still believe that having a process — a framework for creative exploration — is important. So this is ours.

Step 1. Introductions

Our process is all about real conversations between human beings. Working with us means a lot of casual — but important — discussions, complete with honest opinions, unhindered excitement, and creativity that’s only possible when you wholeheartedly trust your partners, because you know they truly have the best interest of your brand at heart. Picking partners can be a delicate process, but for us it all pretty much boils down to the issue of trust. We pick partners whose vision we believe in, and in turn, we ask them to trust that we’ll treat their brand like it’s our own.

Before we ever take on a new project, we start things off with a quick chat. Just a chance to get to know each other and really understand your project scope and goals. This is where you do a lot of talking, we do a lot of listening, and we discuss just about everything.

We usually ask questions like:

How did you find us?

What do we need to know about your company?

Why is this a good time to focus on your brand?

Where are you hoping this new brand will lead?

Step 2. Proposal

Once we understand the gist of what you’re looking for, we’ll estimate out a project budget and timeline for you to review. This is where you can get a clear picture of the road ahead. This is also where you can choose to add or remove things from the scope to meet your needs and budget.

Our proposal will include things like:

Outlined project scope

Projected timeline

Estimated costs

This stage often includes a little back and forth — you say, oh, can we also get a pitch deck template? Or maybe we adjust the timing to align with your next round of fundraising.

Typical brand identity timing

Step 3. Contract & Deposit

Once our project gets the green light, we’ll sign a contract and collect a deposit. Typically, we ask for 50% of the project fee up front. That ensures both parties are equally invested in the project right from the outset. The remaining payments will be spread out over the course of our work together.

Before work begins, we’ll finalize the paperwork:

Contract for a digital signature

Detailed scope of work

Initial invoice

A contract sent from heaven

Step 4. Discovery

We kick every project off with a candid, casual get-to-know-you process. We don’t usually spend much time on those “if you were a car, what kind of car would you be” gimmicks. Instead, our goal is simply to hear from each key stakeholder, working to understand as much as we can about your company, your work, your brand, your passions, your individual perspective, and all your various needs, likes, dislikes, goals, and expectations for our work together.

In our discovery conversation, we’ll ask questions like:

Who are your main competitors?

Who is your target audience?

What feelings do you want your brand to convey?

What are your goals for this branding effort?

What other brands or companies do you admire?

Why is now the right time for this work?

Step 5. Moodboards

Our process is built on trust — but it’s also a pretty collaborative approach. We always want a branding effort to feel like we’re all partners, working together. So before we launch full-steam into creative work, we always do a gut check to make sure we’re on the same page visually.

When I say, “luxury” and you say “luxury”, we might be thinking of two very different things. That’s why we put together Moodboards — visual inspiration that we’ll share with you to make sure we’re all on the same page about what “luxury” looks like. We’ll talk about what vibe feels right for your brand, and use your choices as an ongoing reference throughout our creative process.

This step is one of our favorite moments in brand creation, because it’s all about possibility. We share all the ideas we’re excited about, while you get to share all your most honest opinions before we invest time and energy into making actual creative work. This conversation is pure potential, and it’s always an exciting moment when we get to sit down and create a vision for where your brand can go.

What do Moodboards look like? Here are a few we’ve put together recently:

Boards of mood™

Step 6. Identity Design

After Moodboard approval, design work begins. An initial brand identity usually takes about four weeks, but it varies depending on project scope, schedules, etc. This is the only “black box” period of our process, where you get a little break, while we work with our heads down : insert kermit typing furiously GIF :

If you don’t hear from us for a few weeks in here, don’t worry! That just means we’re hard at work turning ideas into designs.

A few logos we’ve made:

Step 7. Brandwork

We work hard to make sure the identities we build have both strength and flexibility. To that goal, before we share anything with you, we put each new brand option to work. We’ll do that by designing out a few relevant sample executions that show how all the elements of a new identity — logo, colors, typography, design elements, copy tone, etc. — work together. We call this brandwork, because it’s designed to show your brand at work.

Brandwork is important because it allows you to understand how your type and colors and logo feel in various different contexts. But Brandwork isn’t the same thing as final, production-ready files. If we put together a sample event invitation, it might not be for a real event. If we mock up a website landing page, it may not have all the right content and CTAs. The details are just there to help things feel real, so that you can understand how all the brand elements work together. Because that will help you decide which direction you want to go.

Examples of Brandwork may include:

Print collateral—stationery, brochures, mailers, etc.

Digital collateral—like avatars, social media ads, emails, presentation decks, etc.


Signage—wheatpastes, wayfinding, neon, etc.

Merch—tees, totes, hats, cups, keychains, etc.

A website landing page

Step 8. Presentation

A typical S&D branding project includes 2–3 identity directions. Rather than aiming for quantity, we go for depth, working to make sure each option will truly be able to meet your brand needs.

We’ll present logos, identity elements, and brandwork all together — and ideally, we’ll share it with all your key stakeholders at once. That way we can gather everyone’s initial thoughts and gut reactions, but we’ll also send you a PDF to mull over afterward as well.

View the full presentation for Marke Jewelry

Step 9. Feedback & Revisions

A standard project scope includes two rounds of revisions. That means you’ll see designs, provide feedback, see updated designs, provide more feedback, then see final designs for approval. If you need additional revisions, we can either build them into the scope from the start, or we’ll charge an overage fee — that approach helps keep feedback clear and concise, which saves everyone time and energy all around.

As you’re reviewing the options, of course you’ll want to trust your gut. But we also recommend these best practices as well:

Live with it — set your logo as your lock screen & see how it feels each time you tap your phone

Know your audience — remember that what works best may not be what you like best

Gather the stakeholders — let all your key decision-makers weigh in on the options before any revisions begin

Step 10. Brand Rollout

Once we have brand approval, it’s time to share it with the world. For a typical identity project, we’ll deliver all kinds of logo files, any key design assets we created during the branding process (patterns, illustrations, design elements, etc.), and a style guide. Often, this is also when we start kicking off additional design projects — like a website, branded merch, a presentation deck, print materials, and digital templates.

A brand rollout package usually includes:

Logo in all the file types you’ll need—ai, png, svg, jpg, etc.

Any design assets we’ve created—patterns, icons, etc.

An Illustrator Cheat Sheet—with all the things listed above in one easy-to-find document

Social media avatars

Links to purchase fonts

Brand style guide — either as a PDF, a working Figma file, or an online style guide built on Standards

Often, a brand rollout will also include a few other things, beyond the scope of an identity: brand stationery, social templates, a website, etc. While our Brand Identity process is fairly well tested, our Brand Rollout process is much more tailored to each and every client. We can scope out a few additional executions as part of your identity package, we can dive into them after identity is approved, or we can kick off an ongoing relationship (which we call Brand Reinforcement) to work as your on-call CCO/design team after launch. Totally up to you.

Conclusion: Trust Your Partners

That’s the full Smith & Diction branding process. Nothing else to it. There’s just one other thing we didn’t mention yet: this process can be a lot of fun.

One of the best side effects of choosing partners you like and trust is that over time, we get to know one another. Often, after a few deeply collaborative conversations where we anaylze the nuanced differences of typefaces and pull up more design references than any of us thought possible, our clients begin feeling less like clients, and more like friends.

So if…a few months in…if find yourself in a Slack channel that’s supposed to be brainstorming ideas for your latest merch drop, but that’s seemingly more focused on sharing relevant jokes and memes, well…we’d like to say that’s unusual, but actually, it’s one of our favorite things about this business: the people we get to make stuff with.

Think you’re ready to trust the process?
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