Let’s talk about roofs for a minute. The purpose of the roof is primarily to prevent leaks. To do this properly and last as long as possible, the roof must be constructed correctly, with skilled labor and appropriate materials. And even when that is done right, sometimes at great expense, it will age. And it will need to be replaced, and possibly repaired along the way.
Working with cheap materials and inexperienced labor can save some cash in the short term, but that approach will usually require more repairs and a replacement much sooner than if it were installed properly.
It probably feels pretty intuitive that investing in the roof protects the rest of the investment—the house underneath. I had to buy a new roof a couple years ago. My choices were clear.
A brand identity is similar. It will age. It will need replacement. And it may need adjustments along the way. But when created properly by a practitioner skilled in brand identity design, your brand identity will remain effective for a longer period of time.
Let’s dig into the benefits of working with that specialized practitioner.
*Hang on a sec. What is brand identity?
Jargon is an easy trap to fall into. Let’s take a step back to clarify.
When we refer to “brand identity” in this article, we are referring to the visual identity of a brand—what it looks like. Beyond that, brand identity includes the verbal and conceptual: how it speaks, behaves, and what it believes.
Benefits of the specialist
There are differences among design professionals. Some are wildly experienced in layout and production, and they can run circles around anyone doing that kind of work. Some are infographic experts. Some are excellent generalists, who can do a bit of everything.
But someone who really knows how to create a brand identity will need a few specific skills that not all designers have had to develop.
Practice makes better. A brand identity designer will spend most of their time thinking and working through branding and identity projects. Month in and month out, this is their space. These are their processes and methods. They can reliably execute these projects with solid and repeatable results. This is what they know and do best.
Part of that is knowing what delivery looks like. We meet people who never received the brand identity elements that are needed for the complex design projects and campaigns they need to produce. They worked with someone who didn’t have a system for delivery. They didn’t provide the tools for future, unknown applications because they didn’t know they needed to.
If you hire a roofing company to install a metal roof, but their crew has only practiced on clay tile roofs, there are bound to be some problems in quality, schedule, or both of those things. Practice makes better. And it leads to expertise.
It’s easy for a client and designer to operate as client/vendor. Client says, “Hey I need this to be blue.” Design vendor says, “Got it. Here you go.”
It’s not as easy in the client/expert scenario. When the client says, “Hey I need this to be blue.” Design expert says, “Why do you believe blue is the best color for this?” The design expert is a guide. They challenge their client’s assumptions (“blue is our customers’ favorite color”) and biases (“blue is my favorite color”). They help them make hard decisions, avoid pitfalls, and achieve a strategic outcome.
This is sometimes uncomfortable. It takes experience, knowledge, and confidence on the part of the design expert. It takes trust and respect in both directions. And it requires an understanding of strategy.
Strategy is integral to effective brand identity design. Clearly defined strategy builds the sandbox that the design team and client get to work within.
At a minimum, a professional brand identity designer must understand how to interpret brand strategy as a key input into the design process. At best, the brand identity designer is also a brand strategist, and can work with the client to define that strategy.
If this strategy stage is skipped, it should only be because it’s already been done and is still fully relevant. If it’s not in place, and is skipped to keep the price down, that’s a bit like buying a car without the motor. We do not recommend this.
This is not the time to play Pictionary. In Pictionary (one of my very favorite board games from the 80s), the idea is to draw the simplest scribble to get your team to guess the clue on the card. If the clue is ‘carpenter,’ everyone will draw a hammer.
The Pictionary approach to brand identity is where the neighbor’s nephew, cheap-logo website, or the non-specialist designer (and soon, A.I.) dwell. This approach is always going to be cheaper, because it doesn’t seek to find the best or right solution. It’s only concerned with finding the quickest and cheapest solution.
The bare minimum does not achieve differentiation and recognition. It is not a recipe for great success.
A professional will go far beyond the first and easiest ideas, and the overused clichés (Space Needle for your Seattle business identity, anyone?). Understanding the audience, digging into research, evaluating the competitive landscape, and aiming for your goals can’t help but produce better concepts, and better business results. If this isn’t part of the process, something important is being left out.
At Chalkbox we do these things and we walk through all our thinking and all our sketched ideas with our clients. This brings them into the work in a way that three options to choose from never can.
Many specialists working in this space will be part of a team. That team approach allows the creative professional to only focus on strategy and design. Distractions are removed. Someone else can schedule the meetings, organize the research, request the printing estimate, sort through emails, send invoices, pay the bills, and file the taxes. All those distractions are removed by the rest of the team.
Another unseen benefit of the team is that they help keep the creative work tethered to the strategy. Internal discussions about the project will see frequent moments of “but what about,” or “remember that thing they said.” The team helps the work evolve in the best direction.
Like your roof, your brand identity will age. You’ll wake up one day and it will so clearly be in the wrong decade. While it is in use (and aging), continually evaluate it, ideally with your brand identity designer. How does your identity map to your next year’s strategy? How does it align with your planned audience in three years?
We all work with specialists: clay-tile roofers, new-construction plumbers, estate attorneys, even Italian restaurants. We do that because we believe it increases the odds of success. And it truly does.
When it is time to make a change to your brand identity, whether through repairs or a full replacement, make sure you're working with a professional. If you don’t know that person yet, let’s talk.