Logos are easy. Creating an identity is wicked hard.
This headline sounds like something you’d expect from a design shop. It’s not meant to be cliché or self-serving, but more of a personal realization. This is something I would say to clients, but I am not sure I completely believed it. The truth is, a skilled designer can get a logo approved about 80% of the time just by using a trendy font coupled with a well crafted rationale. Something like, “The soft curves of the chosen typeface indicate your brands agility.” That sounds pretty good, right? That type of logo makes for a great sign or email signature or business card. But, when you’re creating a true identity, the stakes are much higher. A client seeking an identity has a different type of expectation. They’re looking for us to take an intangible feeling they have about their organization and create a tangible visual. It’s their company’s spirit animal. Which again, may sound a bit touch feely, but that’s because it is touchy- and feely. As hokey as the phrase spirit animal may sound, just about everyone can answer this abstract question. The reason is they know themselves and they know characteristics of animals. It’s a great way to make the intangible, tangible. That’s why we ask our clients that very question. It helps us to dig deeper into the emotion of what makes them, their people and their entire enterprise work.
We learned this recently when a client pulled their project after we sent them the first round of logos (and they were just logos). It is important to note in this case the company name is literally the client’s name. It is his identity. Upon seeing our first round, I think it safe to say he was offended. When he saw it, he remarked that he didn’t even recognize his own name.
I was confused. Why was he so frustrated? It was just the first round. I assured him we could make changes and improve on it. He didn’t agree and abruptly pulled the project. I didn’t get it. We didn’t get it. Why was he so emotional and unforgiving after just one round?
Because it is emotional.
We might have well as handed him a bunch of ugly drawings of his face. “Is this what you think I look like?” It was as if we had no idea of who he was or what he looked like. If someone handed me a picture of me that looked like the oldest brother from Home Improvement (Brad), I would be pretty PO'd. Maybe I kind of look like him, but that is not how I see myself or how I want to be seen by my clients and peers.
We didn't give him an identity we just designed a logo of his identity. And, once we understood the difference, it was clear to see why he was insulted. Because we were able to see and own our mistake, we were able to repair the relationship. We admitted our error and vowed to recommit ourselves to develop his identity. He agreed. I'll keep you posted on how it turns out.
A logo is created. You don’t create an identity. The identity already exists. It is our job to take our client's personal and often abstract feelings and forge them into something they can see themselves in. Though they've never seen it, it should be instantly recognizable to them. The irony is that I often talked about the importance of developing an identity in favor of a logo. But, it took ten years and getting fired by a client for me to see it for myself.