OK I admit it. When Google first came on the scene, I really hated their logo. Decidedly ugly, it looked like it had been unwillingly designed by an engineer with no time and even less taste. (Sorry Larry Page, but I guess, today, even you would agree.) Hideous font, bad kerning, childish color palette … and that drop shadow! Yikes! So many bad design decisions. That logo, shown here, was already Google’s third in two years but it is the first one most of us saw. Then, over the next seventeen years, Google changed its logo six more times. In 1998, they introduced the first Google Doodle, which to my “expert” eyes, was another no-no. And then, with their last change, in 2015, they finally adopted a professionally designed, full-scale, visual identity system complete with wonderful animations. (Below) Now Google shines as a perfect example of a fluid identity system. I wrote about those on June 17. But it’s also an example of a serious technology company adopting both a playfully wacky name and a playfully wacky design aesthetic. That’s a trend we’re seeing more and more these days. Question is: Should everybody hop on this bandwagon? No. Right? Well, maybe.
Back when I was first getting into the branding biz as a graphic designer, best practices insisted on a pretty rigid approach. A business should have one logo, one corporate color, one everything. And everything should be applied in exactly the same way, in every circumstance, every location. At the time, once a company was so branded, it was thought it would stay that way forever. Once it was done “right”, why should it ever have to be addressed again? Of course, times change, companies change and aesthetics change. So, of course, even legacy B2B brands like IBM and General Electric have, from time to time, adjusted their brand strategies. They’ve updated their corporate identities even more often. They do this to stay fresh and relevant in the eyes of their markets. Then, in the ‘80s, MTV introduced what would be known as the first identity “system”, one logo that was illustrated in countless ways. Breaking all the norms, MTV proved that a visual identity could be a living thing; it could change day to day and even have different moods. Today, many other visual identities are alive in that sense. There really are no rules anymore. That sets up an exciting environment for visual expression. But it’s one that can be damaging to many companies that aren’t prepared to manage the ensuing complexity.
Society impels us to conform but individualism drives us to stand out. Tribalism induces us to band together but curiosity draws us out onto lonely explorations. Where, as individuals, do each of us fall on that safety-seeking/risk-taking continuum? Where, on that same continuum, should we position our brands? And how do we make sure our brands can be recognized by kindred spirits – by the correct market? With all the tools available to marketers these days, visual style – semiology – is still the most direct, visceral connection to human beings. Businesses need to signal to their markets that they share values. That way, the market will feel safe in letting the brand into their lives. It’s all about showing the market something they recognize and trust. We can understand the phenomenon the moment we walk out onto a busy, urban street.
Human beings are visual hunters. We get 90% of the information around us through our eyes. Your brand has to look like what your market is hunting for. To get that to happen, you need to work with an excellent – professional – graphic designer. You have to give that designer useful directions so that he or she can put their talents in full service to your strategic objectives. You need to share a clear creative brief with that person, a brief that is the result of a well-thought-out brand strategy. That way, the designer can leverage the immense power of graphic design to attract the market (and the employees) that you want. She or he can integrate your brand strategy into your logo, your retail interior, your packaging, your online presence and every other aspect of your storytelling. Here are a few tips to ensure yours is the best it can be.
If you’re in a position to name something: a business, a product, an event, anything, please make it count for something. I recently witnessed a naming crime that was nothing short of tragic, on three different levels. Two family-owned companies with synergistic offerings decided to merge. Both companies had decent names. Not great but decent. Both names had meaning to the market. That is to say the market understood the origins of the names and what they stood for. There were existing market relationships with both brands. Either name would have been a workable moniker for the combined company. Either would have been a meaningful banner to carry forward. However, the owners decided that the new company should have a new name. Fair enough. Why settle for a good name when you can have a great one? But then the wheels came off the bus.
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