“We can’t design brands”, according to John Spencer from Offthetopofmyhead, writing in Design Week. We could hardly let that go unanswered, could we?
Spencer argues that because your brand is your audience’s perception of your organisation, and perceptions only exist in people’s minds, you can’t design your brand – and should stop wasting time trying.
We’re on board as far as his definition of brand goes, as you’ll know if you’ve ever worked with us. We’re particularly fond of the way Jeff Bezos puts it: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
But just because we’re not in the room, does that mean we’re not responsible for what people say about us? We don’t think so. Every organisation has an ideal impression of itself; every interaction with the organisation contributes to an impression in the audience’s head; and designing the organisation’s brand is the process of designing each interaction to align the audience’s impression with the organisation’s.
Piece by piece, we create the brand in people’s minds.
Design for the brand you want
As creative director and author Dave Trott writes in Campaign: “The public look at our product, what it is, how it behaves. The public then decides what the brand is based on that behaviour.” Who designs the product? We do. Who designs how it behaves? We do. And the impression we want to give the audience informs those designs. Repeat for logos, written content, online user experiences, staff training and more. Piece by piece, we create the brand in people’s minds.
When we first got started 30 years ago, this was hard going, because of organisational silos. Sales, marketing, internal communications, strategy, web and brand were often considered separate functions and didn’t necessarily collaborate. As silos break down and different functions understand their part in maintaining the brand, it becomes possible to create the kind of seamless audience experience that builds a cohesive impression in people’s minds.
It’s this dismantling of silos that Spencer seems to be reacting against. “I design logos and identities,” he writes. “I don’t claim to design brands.” But like it or not, nowadays the people designing logos and identities are part of the wider effort to design and maintain the brand. And if they don’t see themselves as such, there’s a danger they’ll do their work in a vacuum, damaging the overall cohesion of the brand, and undermining the impression being built in people’s minds.
Tell people a story
A creative director claiming to design logos, not brands, is like a novelist claiming to write sentences, not stories. The novelist can’t control precisely how each individual reader will imagine the action she describes, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t telling a story.
Every webpage, push notification, leaflet, customer service call and news item about your organisation is another sentence in your brand story. We can design brands; it’s just not as simple as designing a logo.