Creative Branding — The Process to Making Your Mark


by Robert Palmer

Have you ever writ­ten and per­for­med a song? I haven’t. I ima­gine it’s one of those subli­mely trans­cen­dent expe­rien­ces of brin­ging something truly enjo­ya­ble into being.

I say “enjo­ya­ble,” but I know that any song that I write will pro­bably be awful. I can barely clap along in time with music, let alone write a song — a cle­ver, popu­lar song, no less.

Bran­ding, much like songw­ri­ting, is more art than science. Ask most graphic desig­ners — even ones just finishing school — and they’ll inva­riably say they “do bran­ding.” But, just what does it take to “do” branding?

Well, what is it that peo­ple do to write a song? Do they con­jure it from thin air? Do they find a song they like and tweak it a little? (I’m loo­king at you, Vani­lla Ice.)

Truth is, there’s no one right way. But there are about a billion wrong ways.

10 per­cent inspiration

Fin­ding your­self at the begin­ning of the crea­tive pro­cess is daun­ting. Sta­ring at the blank page is tough. Nobody’s best work begins with just sta­ring at a blank page. You have to have ins­pi­ra­tion, that elu­sive spark that leads you down a path of crea­tive exploration.

With music, having a rich body of know­ledge of human foi­bles, rela­tionships, and pain helps you write songs with mea­ning and depth.

Simi­larly, for bran­ding, kno­wing what others have done, and what is visually and emo­tio­nally sti­mu­la­ting can help you create marks that are attrac­tive, appro­priate, and distinctive.

In either case, you have to live life.

You have to do things, have mea­ning­ful expe­rien­ces and rela­tionships. Learn from others, make mis­ta­kes, and build upon the foun­da­tion of your past work.

90 per­cent perspiration

In 1989 Vani­lla Ice sam­pled the song Under Pres­sure, in his recor­ding of Ice Ice Baby. Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie, the artists who first crea­ted Under Pres­sure’s bass line, were not cre­di­ted. Call it lazy, call it thought­less, but it sure was popu­lar. Even­tually, Mr. Ice was made to paid Bowie and Mer­cury for using their song, and cre­di­ted them for their work.

In 1975, NBC spent $1 million (over $4 million in today’s dollars) deve­lo­ping a new, bold logo. That logo unfor­tu­na­tely was also the logo of the Nebraska ETV Net­work, a chain of PBS sta­tions. NBC sett­led with Nebraska ETV Net­work the next year, giving them tele­vi­sion equip­ment and money for a new logo.

In both cases, NBC and Vani­lla Ice come out emba­rras­sed. It may seem obvious in retros­pect, but when you want to dis­tin­guish your­self from your com­pe­ti­tors, cop­ying them isn’t the right way.

Of course, that doesn’t stop peo­ple from trying. You can simply search for what you want, and you’ll get peo­ple that will sell it to you. Howe­ver, that doesn’t make it good or memo­ra­ble. It may even get you sued.

This is where the pers­pi­ra­tion comes in.

In bran­ding, as in music, ins­pi­ra­tion takes sweat. The blank page doesn’t fill itself up the same way the melo­dies don’t write themselves.

There’s no easy way out when it comes to being crea­tive. Illus­tra­tor Tim Bis­kup says that when you start dra­wing, you have 10,000 bad dra­wings in you that have to come out before you can draw well.

There are no shortcuts.

Spoilt for Choice

Not long ago, Hyder Media asked me to deve­lop a new brand for their com­pany. Kenny wan­ted something that reflec­ted their inde­pen­dent spi­rit without sac­ri­fi­cing the relia­ble, trust­worthy foun­da­tion he’s built with his customers.

I desig­ned six options for Hyder, in a wide variety of sty­les. From friendly to trendy to sto­lid to ico­nic, I wan­ted to pro­vide a menu of choi­ces that was diverse enough to appeal to a variety of tas­tes. If none of the marks fit the bill, then at least I’d have a fee­ling to shoot for with further revisions.

Kenny liked seve­ral of the options, but pre­fe­rred two: The one he chose that you now see on this site, and a very basic block H for­med out of nega­tive space.

The mark that Kenny chose was ori­gi­nally inten­ded to be a gritty, authen­tic, no-nonsense mark that would con­vey street-smarts and a boots-on-the-ground aesthe­tic. Kenny liked the mark, but not the grit: He was con­cer­ned that some of his more con­ser­va­tive clients might not share the same taste.

A revi­sion later, and the new Hyder Media mark was born. It was pai­red with an exten­ded sans-serif, Trade Gothic, to give the mark a solid typo­graphi­cal foundation.

Can’t Unsee

Like a song, a logo, at a glance, tells the story of your com­pany. There are some­ti­mes little visual details, like the famous white arrow in the FedEx logo. Other times, it’s a fee­ling you get, like com­fort or ten­sion.

More often than not, the only thing you want from a logo is for it to be remembered.

Songs can be remem­be­red for all the wrong rea­sons: Songs that you remem­ber hea­ring amidst a bad brea­kup, or songs that are over­pla­yed on the radio. Time­less songs, on the other hand, we remem­ber fondly.

With bran­ding, we make our­sel­ves memo­ra­ble. Hope­fully for the better.

As for time­less­ness, in music or iden­tity, only time can tell.

Post by Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer is a digital problem solver who lives and works in Encinitas, California. After a decade of in-house and agency work for the creators of newspapers, magazines, television, hardware, software, sporting equipment, and tract housing, he started his own web development and graphic design company. He has hand-crafted websites, WordPress themes, iOS applications, identities, and technical illustrations for startups and Fortune 50 companies alike. He will marry his amazing fiancée Michelle next year, and works from home with her two cats, who are only occasionally helpful.

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