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David Airey on Laying the Groundwork for a Successful Brand Identity Design Project

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Without knowing specific details of your client’s business, his reasons for seeking a brand identity, and his expectations of the process and final design, you can’t possibly be successful with the project. In this chapter from Logo Design Love: A guide to creating iconic brand identities, 2nd Edition, David Airey shows you how to lay the groundwork to achieve project success.
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At some point in the future, you might find yourself giving your client a lesson about design—perhaps about typography or print quality, for example. But first it’s important that you learn all you can about your client. Without knowing specific details of your client’s business, his reasons for seeking a brand identity, and his expectations of the process and final design, you can’t possibly be successful with the project.

Gathering this info needs a significant investment of time, and more than a little patience, especially when what you prefer to do is to get started on the design work. But if you cut back on the time and attention this early stage needs and jump straight onto the sketchpad, you risk completely missing your client’s mark.

Calming those nerves

At the onset of just about any design project, you or your client, or perhaps both of you, will likely be feeling some anxiety. That’s because, as any designer with a bit of experience can attest, the client-designer relationship doesn’t always run smoothly.

For your part, you need to be careful choosing clients, in the same way that clients often choose from a number of designers.

I get emails like this now and again:

“I need a logo. I know exactly what I want. I just need a designer to make it happen.”

On the contrary, that person doesn’t need a designer. She is the designer. She needs someone who knows how to use computer software. She can save herself money by finding that person instead.

Always remember that you’re being hired because you’re the expert. The client should not assume the role of telling you what to do. She should be comfortable simply letting you do what you do best—creating iconic brand identities.

If you feel uneasy in any way about the relationship, you should definitely find a way to discuss it with the client. There’s nothing like healthy dialogue to get a clear sense of what is expected, both on your part and on the part of your client.

Most clients will be anxious about the process of having a brand identity created for their business. Many will see ideas as a risk, and not as a way to secure their mortgage. So the more in-depth your initial discussions, the more at ease you will make your clients. It may be that it’s their first time working on an identity project, and it’s up to you to show them how smoothly the process can flow.

Brief, not abrupt

Understanding your client’s motivations involves a lot more than simply setting minds at ease, however. You’re not a mind reader, so a series of specific questions and answers about your client’s needs and desires is the first order of business. You then turn this information into a design brief that reflects the expectations of both you and your client for the project.

The design brief plays a pivotal role in guiding you and the client to an effective outcome. There might be stumbling blocks that crop up along the way—your client may disagree with a decision you’ve made, for instance. It’s at points like this when you can return to the details of the brief to back up your stance.

That’s not to say you won’t make design changes as a result of a disagreement—you want to please your client, after all. But the design brief exists to provide both of you with concrete reasons for making decisions throughout the process.

There are several ways you might obtain the information you need from your client: in person, by telephone, video chat, or by email. I find that with many of my clients, it’s useful to pose questions in the form of a digital questionnaire or email. With others, more face-to-face time might be necessary. What matters most is that you’re able to extract as much relevant information as possible, and at the beginning of the project.

Gathering preliminary information

You’ll want to ask your potential client the following basic information before moving on to some in-depth questions:

  • Your name
  • Company name
  • Telephone number
  • Mailing address
  • Web address
  • Years in operation
  • Your role in the company

More detail

The crux of a healthy design brief lies in the questions you pose. Getting the answers isn’t difficult. You just need to ask.

Here are a few suggested questions to use as a starting point. Keep in mind, however, as you form your own list, that the needs of each industry and every company vary.

Summarize the business

What do you sell?

Who do you sell to?

How much does it cost?

Summarize the project

What are your goals for a new identity design?

What specific design deliverables do you want?

Who will be working on this project from your end? Will any additional outside partners or agencies be involved, and if so, how?

What is motivating you or enabling you to do this project now?

When does my work need to be finished, and what is driving that?

What are you worried about? What do you imagine going wrong?

Is there anything about your company that might make this project easier or harder in certain ways?

What is your budget range?

How many designers are you talking to and when do you expect to make a decision?

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