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.
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.