The Horror of Logo Design by Committee
Design by Committee is one of the more frustrating scenarios when working as a self-employed logo designer, or more precisely, the horror of 'logo-design-approval-by-committee'. Obviously nothing touches on non-payment, but this whole shit-bags worth of: every board member, CEO, Director, MD, partner needing a say in what passes as a solid logo design for their new identity, really frosts my y-fronts.
The one thing that I can guarantee that will completely ruin your month, and screw you right up in ways you didn't think were possible? You believe you are working with the one person who is responsible for the smooth passage of the logo design process, you have established a great designer/client relationship, and you feel that this is a perfect, almost symbiotic, relationship.
They are critical but constructive, they are enthusiastic as well as grounded, they don't allow their personal subjective views of design to interfere with the logo design process, as they are clearly aware that what is right for the company, may not be right for them as an individual.
You are feeling so positive, so motivated and enthusiastic, that you are so personally and professional behind this new logo design in every possible conceivable way, that you almost feel invincible. Why of why can't every logo design project goes as smoothly, and as fantastically enjoyably as this one?
During the critical part of approving and/or fine tweaking an idea to reach that 'so close I can smell it' project conclusion, when you both have expended huge amounts of emotional and physical energy in the creation and formulation of the company's new identity, your soul is crushed, shredded and vaporised into the closest and biggest black-stinking-hell-hole.
How so?–By the way, if this doesn't sound familiar to you then I hope you never ever have to become familiar with it. At some point towards the apparent end, your amazingly cool client confronts you with, something along the lines of, "Well, now we have really created something amazing together, I'm going to present this to the board for their approval."
Queue temple and blood vessel throbbing of such extreme proportions that you want Thor's Hammer to smash repeatedly in their face.
Your brother-in-arms, your go-to-person, the best client ever, turns out not only to not be part of the actual logo design approval process, but they have somehow, and quite incredibly, been working to a brief that is completely foreign to the newly introduced logo design approval committee.
This is that moment in a graphic designers' life where you can literally feel the will-to-live ebb from your body. The bewildering realisation that what they have been on some kind of personal mission that shares absolutely no similarities with the completely different views/opinions of the logo-design-approval-committee.
The premise that a graphic designer is ideally designing with their clients and customers mostly in mind, and mostly not to personally please and serve each member of the committee, is of such horrid foreign nastiness, that they laugh and spit in your face.
It goes without saying that the story doesn't end at all well for all concerned, but it can be, and absobloodylutely needs to be avoided at all costs.
When you are close to confirming a new client you must, at all costs, ensure that the person you will be liaising with understands the following: that all persons, who will have say into the final design, are both kept up to speed during the project, and that any conflicting feedback they might have at any point during the project, is filtered into one cohesive voice before landing back on your table.
It is of no use for a client to send you 5 differing set of views on your latest logo design proposal, because every one of the 5 members of the logo-design-approval-committee have completely different opinions on what sort of design should be adopted. If they are unable, between them, to come to a mutual agreement about which opinion to go with, then that's more of an issue for them to resolve, not the designer.
For sure, I sometimes find it interesting to hear what these conflicting thoughts and opinions are, as they can actually create useful insight, but that's only when I know each member of the collective understands that the new company logo isn't going to be a personal reflection of their personal taste in design, and that the current set of comments have already gone through the process of being filtered into one collective voice.
Never allow/tolerate a client to surprise you, and put you in that very difficult position of having to wade through, and somehow make sense of, conflicting thoughts and opinions about the latest design proof, when you have previously been lead-to-believe you had been on the right track. It's simply not on, and also reflects poorly on the client if internally, they can't see eye-to-eye on something as crucial as their brand's new logo and identity design.
The key-word above is surprise. I think there are always exceptions to this rule, but only if you are confident about taking control, banging heads together, showing them you are the boss/professional etc.
You might already be aware, before getting too deep into the project, that there is a possibility of some challenges in getting people on the same page. Also, maybe the person you have been working so closely with, and whom sincerely believed they WERE working to a unified brief, are themselves surprised by those members of the logo-design-approval-committee. In these cases you can allow for time, maybe charge additional costs for time-wasted etc, but the worse possible case is having your go-to-person lead you on a merry dance all the way to the gutter, especially when you've done nothing but follow all that amazingly positive feedback for week-after-week.
Design by Committee Sucks
I have been known to pull the plug on the whole project if no one from the committee shows any willingness to budge/compromise on their own personal views. There really are times when there is no way to move forward until the committee can see how their collective stubbornness is actually damaging the natural evolution of the company's brand.
I get a lot of people filling in my logo design brief with junk copy just so they can get a sense of what questions are spread out over the five pages.
This actually bothers me for a few reasons, but the main one is the sense of disappointment I feel immediately after being excited at thinking another job has come through.
I see the email; I think I have a new job; the excitement hits me; I read the email and discover it's just been filled in with gibberish which ultimately leaves me with a huge sense of disappointment.
For example: job enquiries have been very quiet the last month, then last night three submissions came in! I was so excited. Turns out all three were from the same person, and all filled in with complete gibberish. But before realising it was gibberish, I thought I had three new jobs come in. That really does piss me off.
One-page logo design brief dummy
So to try and reduce this frustration, I have created a one-page dummy of the logo design brief which is downloadable as a PDF for you.
The thing is, one only need ask me for copy of the form rather than wasting your own time filling in 5 pages of complete twaddle. Just saying…
Now one doesn't need to fill in my form with junk just to get an idea of what questions I ask, and you'll save me the bitter disappointment in the process.
It's common for people to ask 'So, what do you do' as an opener in conversation, opposed to 'who are you'. Same with a project brief for a logo or identity design.
People believe that asking 'what we do' defines who we/you are and once an answer is given, we are labeled accordingly. The mass stereotype begins.
Society often steers definition away from the self to the collective. When we are asked 'what do we do' before anything more personal, we are demoted to being just a performing entity rather than a unique and sentient being.
Next time you are talking to someone new, and before you have asked anything personal, except maybe their name, show some real interest and defer from asking the 'so, what do you do?'.
An identity is not so much what you do
I had an interesting conversation the other day with a new client. During the process of the client providing me with information on the company for the upcoming logo design, I realised something far more important was being totally left out.
I really couldn't of asked for more information on what they have done and what they do and how they do it. (Bear in mind this this is a rebrand, so the company has been around for some time.)
The missing information was the personality of the company, it's soul, it's own unique characteristics that stand it out from all the other similar companies. The personality differences that help contribute to a company having a USP 'Unique Selling Point/Proposition/Position'
The client was so enthusiastic about telling me what they did and how they did it that I had little idea on the 'who' other than than how I perceived the them. How and where it all started, it's early formative years and how it has grown, how clients perceive and talk about it, and how the company had evolved was all unknown.
This wasn't a huge problem, but it was an interesting observation.
It's easy for a client to explain why and how they do what they do, but not so easy trying to verbalise the companies core identity. It's not something that all companies even really think about. I have worked for quite large companies that had a distinct lack of vision in this area.
Defining a companies personality and identity can be hard, not all of us like the idea of opening ourselves up to friends and families, it can leave us feeling vunerable. But for a company to have the best shot at being around a few years down the line, they need to 'really open up'. They need to put themselves out ther and that is scary stuff to commit to.
This is how I like to explain it.
You have ten companies, represented by ten naked manquines. They represent the companies but are devoid of anything really unique, 'who' they really are isn't particularly apparent.
The company that starts to show an interest in it's visual appearance/identity, how it looks and acts, will start to dress the mannequin up and work on expressing itself both visually and verbally.
It now becomes more attractive, more of interest than the other nine.
Then some of the others see this change, see their competitor wooing the customers, and they start to play 'dress up'. Some do it for the right reasons and some do it for the wrong reasons. Some play copy cat and some just do it because they feel they have no choice rather than really believing in it.
The companies that 'believe' in this transformative evolution will have higher odds of succeeding. It's not just a once over makeover though, it has to be maintained and altered as the mannequin gets older and starts performing other duties. In other words, once you start, you can't really stop. Hence company rebrands and logo updates and refreshes. All part of a company growing up.
This doesn't guarantee success of course, they are so many more variables, but a companies identity is just one crucial ingredient.
With your next client, make a point of poking around a bit more. Once you know what they do, found out about the more intimate stuff. You can't really design an identity for a company if you don't have all the juicy details. The logo may look pretty and cool but it will be skin deep, it will lack depth, character and real personality.
The more you know and understand, the more options and choices you will have to work from.
This isn't just about working on a larger identity project, it's just as important when working on the logo design. The more you know about 'who' the more you will be able to craft something that contains more than a descriptive icon of what they do.
If you're stuck trying to make sense of a clients brief or explanation of what they do, try simplifying the task and start again.
I will read the online form that potential clients take the time to fill yet all too often feel I am reading an obituary rather than a colourful and useful introduction to their business.
Not everyone finds it easy to verbalise such things or even consider that this business has potential to be a strong personality with a dynamic heart and soul. Often seen in a sterile and practical way, devoid of feeling and emotions.
My end game, deciding if I should take on a new project, is to get a more intimate awareness of this business. Only then can I truly gauge if my design style is an appropriate fit. I believe it's wrong to take on all logo and identity projects, even if you don't feel it's a right fit.
Show genuine interest in what they do
The following paragraph is an example of what I will send to a client in order to dig further under the skin. It is usually enough to evoke a deeper and emotional response from the client. Helping them to better perceive their own business, and how they describe it to others.
The idea is for us, both client and designer, to feel more more connected.
This is NOT an exact copy of what I send, it's just the points I usually make, shoehorned together. Feel free to borrow, edit and do as you like with this. It may sound a bit 'guh' and 'blah', but it can work a treat if you follow it through. Certainly will give you an idea of what I angle for.
A request for deeper insight
We are at a point where a deeper understanding and view of your business is needed. I have the facts, I have the details, but what I don't have is any emotion, passion and soul. Without these, we are like surgeons, not creatives. We might be able to fix and cure, but we cannot create and build (plastic surgery aside).
Could you pelase explain more about what you do, how you want/need to be perceived by potential clients etc. View me as someone who does not know anything about your business, I am someone you are trying to describe in detail, the heart and soul of what you do.
The trick is to imagine introducing a loved one to a dear friend for the first time, you will talk excitedly, you will be animated and passionate whilst explaining all the virtues of this person. The good points and maybe the bad, and the areas that are just unknown. Sometimes we find it awkward to talk openly about a person but we may get excited and motivated about something else in our lives, whatever sparks up that pilot light, use that to help.
It may feel awkward at first and quite foreign, but it is essential that you relate to your own company in an emotional and deeper way. Only then can you really understand what is required to brand and market yourself accurately.
To be able to visualize your business in a deep and meaningful way, is to see and hear all that you know, feel and think about it. Look at is as a person with an evolving personality, one that you are helping to put on the right track in life.
Without that deeper and meaningful description, we can only touch the surface with a visual representation of the company identity. If you want future clients and customers to build a profitable and emotional bond with your company, we would have to ideally built in a level of emotion to start with.
This is where some fail, business owners failing to understand the real driving force of a successful brand and company.
Back to me
As a designer you may feel uncomfortable with this, but it can be so important to creating a really strong identity. The times I have needed to put this in action, I have seen a real change in the clients response. One minute the brief is very solid but lacking in soul, the next minute I can really sense the real excitement and drive that made them start it up in the first place.
Often you then hear them saying what a useful exercise it was, to be reminded of some of these most basic feelings. This method is not needed all the time of course, but some of those projects that need that 'zest', it's a good thing, trust me.
More logo design tips for the creative designer
Every so often I add sections to my logo design brief form (always a work in progress), currently hosted by Google Docs. Anything to help in with the 'getting to know your client and their business' makes for a more exact and satisfying project. To this end I came by something else that one could add that I feel in some instances could be very informative and valuable.
It was quite by chance actually, during a conversation with a new client the other day. After they had filled in my own logo design brief, we arranged to have a conference call to further discuss the possibility of working together and what it was I needed from them in order to 'get them'.
Logo Design Tip: Testimonials and Perception
When I asked them to try and describe their good points, the MD jumped in with an interesting thought, it was all about how their existing clients viewed them and the product. It turns out that they a number of stellar testimonials, letters of praise, emails of encouragement and other forms of flattering feedback. Each one pretty much reinforcing the rest, all focusing on a few specific areas of their interaction with the company.
This was incredibly enlightening. I knew immediately this would be valuable insight to factor into the brief when working out the best strategy for the design of their Identity. It also seemed to spark a new level of motivation within themselves on the phone, it's like they had just realised how much they were appreciated.
Logo Design Tip: Incorporate into your project brief
The short story version. If your clients have stellar feedback, even better if it's received on a voluntarily basis, knowing how they are already perceived by existing clients is very valuable information. It means that you are not just taking the clients word at how great they are, but that you have firm proof about their existing perception and experience.
It needn't be specific to a rebrand or an existing company, in this case they have been in business for some time, but have a new commercial product that needs to be branded. This means we can apply the success of their current business and emotionally build this into the DNA of the new product, somehow.
Sort of seems common sense, and in some cases this information usually turns up at some point during conversations, but for me it's going to be a key part of my logo design brief. So rather than it being 'information to acquire' it will be addressed right at the beginning, when you are first collating your thoughts and impressions on the new project.
Clearly not all clients will have this sort of client feedback but for those that do, it could prove very information to sift through and incorporate into the identity in some way.
Cover both bases
Would make sense to also ask if they have had any negative feedback and ask to see these, so at least you are aware of the full story. You never know, for every one good testimonial, they might have 2 negative ones. Last thing you want to do is be lead down the garden path.