Join Sean Adams for an in-depth discussion in this video Research, part of Branding for Designers.
- My first impulse, like most designers, is to put the pencil to the page. In that initial meeting with the client, I find myself solving the problem in my head. This would be fine if there were no real issues to manage, and I only cared about the design. But in order to do the job right, I need to buckle down and research. As we're already discussed, I need to know about the current brand strategy, competition, audience, goals, strengths and weaknesses. The best way to find this information is to sit down and talk with people.
If the client is a small company, or a sole proprietor, I talk with the owner. If there are more employees, I make appointments to meet with as many employees as possible. Just as I want to know what the CEO thinks, I also want to know what the person in the mail room thinks. The information is broader and more realistic, with more input. Talking to a salesperson may not give me the information I need to determine a course of action, but it will help me and the client to know how well the employees understand the brand.
If everyone at a company has a different idea, the message to the outside world will be confused and schizophrenic. I need to learn about the client's competition. He or she may be able to name their closest competitors, but it will take more research on my part to learn about the next level of competition. I can do this research online, in the library, or in person. When I was working on an admissions project for a university, one of our designers began the application process for several other colleges.
This gave us great insight about the competitions, communications, and responses. Identifying the correct audience is critical. Surgical marketing with clear messages can only happen when you know whom you are trying to reach. Otherwise, you're telling a story so broad, nobody cares. That's called "spray and pray". You can determine who the current audience is by talking with clients, salespeople, communications department, and marketing.
Identify a few customers to hear their point of view. Typically, the CEO will be the best source to determine who the audiences should be in the future. Another good tool is online analytics for a website, or a Facebook page. Values, goals, and the promises, are the territory of the owner or CEO. I think of his or her information as the core. I've seen many instances where a designer says, "My client is dumb, that's a bad business choice." Or, an employee will insist the direction is wrong.
But, in the end, if the CEO decides the company is about sustainable practices, innovation, creativity, and risk-taking, then that's the right direction. It's his or her company. It's our job, as designers, to make that vision tangible. A client is often too close to the issue to clearly identify all the strengths and weaknesses. He or she may recognize that the product is good, but the distribution is slow. However, there will be issues that you need to find.
Again, that's where talking with employees and customers work. The point, here, is not to open the dialogue for a complain fest. It's to find the areas that are working, and those that can be improved. It's important to not cheat yourself on this phase. It's your time and expertise that is gathering a wealth of information that the client doesn't have. It's a hard job, and it takes time and intelligence. Make sure you have a phase and budget in your contract specifically for research.
Without this step, jumping into the visuals on a branding project is like a doctor operating without asking any questions.
- The history of branding (pre- and post-1950)
- The elements of branding
- Conducting research
- Solving problems and presenting solutions
- Creating logos and identity systems
- Building a visual system with color, typography, and more
- Communicating branding with manuals and vision books