I’ve been a creative director and an art director. More importantly, as a partner in several studios, I’ve sold design. I sold design very well, because I really believed in what I was selling. I’ve truly believed at times that the right color palette for a company and the right typography is the only thing standing between my client and a massive exit; the only thing to determine how much their clients will buy or consume their product.
I’ve gone to great length to explain why you should use that style and not another style, and how a circle is way better than a triangle and how both are way better than a rectangle. I’ve spoken with great passion about opacities, transparencies, filters and masks.
Over the past 15 years, my job was pretty easy. There were two kinds of companies. They either looked professional or seriously outdated. The companies that looked seriously outdated knew they looked seriously outdated, especially when you showed them how a professional company looked. Who doesn’t want to look professional?
We turned many companies around, especially image-wise. Their websites looked sharp, as did their letterhead, business cards, brochures and booths.
The companies that looked seriously outdated knew they looked seriously outdated
We also offered copy and messaging, but that was often given as an afterthought. We knew it was important, but the client had just committed to a chunk of change and they weren’t in the mood for going through another lengthy process to find the right voice and tone and think how their brand would really communicate and interact.
Today, there are very few companies that look as bad as companies did, say in 2008. Most companies look ok and you can tell they’ve been working with a designer or a studio.
It’s much more difficult today to approach a company and say “hey, it’s about time you get yourself a new look.” It’s much more difficult to convince a client that salvation lies in design.
Branding was all about visual identity. That’s what most clients paid for and most brand agencies offered. Strategy and content were given as an afterthought, primarily because it made the agency seem more serious.
Six corner of Pinterest
We can thank two companies for having so many companies look alike. Our own local Wix (and WordPress to a certain extent) has rendered the internet completely homogeneous in look, providing an almost standard look for every industry. In many ways, Wix has truly democratized design, enabling a ma’ and pa’ shop to look just as good as a much bigger competitor.
But it has also eliminated different companies ability to be differentiated by design alone.
Pinterest is another force majeure that has changed design and has eliminated the power of originality for many companies. When it first came out, it was a tremendous tool for designers to present concepts to clients. Instead of spending endless hours of mocking concepts up, you could simply pin a board together and voila!
But then clients started using pinterest and that led to them basically asking clients to make something look like the board they put together one sunny afternoon.
So, how can a brand stand out these days?
What is branding about, if not to create differentiation. It is the proverbial peacock, the painted feathers that are meant to draw attention. If companies all look the same, where will this differentiation come from?
Why will someone buy cream a over cream b, or shoe c over shoe d, or widget q over widget x.
So if everything looks the same, how can we still attain the much-needed differentiation that business is so reliant on?
The answer to that lies in creativity. Not only the creativity of designers, but the creativity of free-thinking professionals who apply their thought processes to solving problems and coming up with the next big thing before there is a next big thing. This requires a leap of faith from companies who like to pay for well-defined deliverables and have been reluctant to pay for thought and for overview.
Strategy and an idea-first approach is required. Content and culture is where brands have an opportunity to shine, to find their unique voice and to create parallel conversations. The answer lies in pulling your clients in and not only pushing stuff on them.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical, one-size-fits-all answer. It’s a journey that needs to be taken. We need patience, curiosity and creativity.