Over the past couple of weeks we have held a number of discussions on logos, brand and identity overall. The main points of discussion have been about whether we even need a logo or if the logo needs to be good. Let’s assume that you are working on a company identity and this identity will be showcased everywhere. Because it will be omnipresent you want to make sure the identity is strong.
I’m avoiding using the term “brand” or “branding” because in this case I’m going with the idea that brand equates more to an individual’s experience with your company over anything else. Identity in this case means more than just a logo. It is the personality of your company so to speak.
If you are like me you assumed that McDonald’s used the two golden arches because it looked like a ‘M’, but that isn’t the real story behind their well-known logo. That isn’t how it came about.
The famous Golden Arches in McDonalds logo represent style, significance and a strong corporate identity. It was created by Jim Schindler in 1962 and the idea was first introduced by Dick and Mac McDonald as arch shaped signs on the sides of their then ‘walk-up hamburger stand’. From an angle, those arches looked like the letter “M” and thus, were incorporated in the McDonalds logo as a merger of the two golden arches together. The “McDonald’s” name was later added to the McDonalds logo in 1968.
A story isn’t necessary for a strong identity or at least a story doesn’t need to be known by someone to know a strong identity. However, if you can build a story around your identity then you have something to share with people and they have something to share with their friends. Over time you might even find that your story has turned into a grand tale of you fighting dragons upon a flying steed while being sheathed in black pearls.
Like McDonald’s you might not have a great identity initially and it will take some experience and time for a good one to develop. However, you can lay the groundwork for a superb identity by ensuring that you build up a rich history. When their is a great story to tell about your history then you can begin to wrap your head around what the identity of the company will be.
Your logo is not your brand. We’ve established that, but that doesn’t mean a logo doesn’t have an effect on your identity. Going back to the GAP fiasco every discussion focused on the consumer, but what about the GAP employees? A powerful logo can greatly affect the morale of your employees. Give them something they can be proud of and you have given them a hidden boost that is often overlooked. Put up some crap and part of them probably feels they can get away with crap as well.
What the real issue with the GAP logo was that it didn’t match the identity of the company. If they were planning on making sweeping changes then it probably should’ve been done in unison instead of trying to change bits and pieces of an identity that people are familiar with.
The Google logo is a well-known disaster. Because of it their identity can never be about great design because the logo doesn’t reflect that. In fact their logo mirrors their identity because Google focuses on bringing on engineers instead of designers. Google might be a great place to work if you like to dive into the backend of things, but for frontend people it is probably a nightmare and it shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Over everything else this is the most important thing and probably the hardest for a designer to implement. Every so often I challenge designers and ask why shouldn’t a company buy a theme or use 99designs for their needs. I can’t recall a time when the company’s personality came in a response from a designer. Not saying that they didn’t mean it the way I’m putting it, but if every company is unique then that means they have a unique personality that can only truly be found via custom design work.
The problem with this is that I don’t know many designers that can match a company’s personality to a design. It is very hard to do and take years of experience and a talent that not everyone has. I know you will hate to hear that, but it’s true and that is why there can be so much frustration in finding a designer that fits these needs. Often it is not only cheaper, but easier to buy a ready made theme and run with that.
On the designer’s side it can also be difficult to get a company to describe their personality to you because often you get the personality of the founder and that is always the case of the company. There is a reason the big money designers get paid the big bucks and that is because they research these things. Great design doesn’t happen from your instincts alone.
Nike’s personality isn’t a swoosh. To me, a Nike personality (notice how I see it applied to a person) is an athlete who is the best at their sport, but doesn’t get there on talent, but through hard work and they make sure they are stylish the whole way through. Ask almost any athlete at any level or age and they will tell you that a person kitted out in Nike has a different aura about them. If your personality doesn’t match that of Nike’s though you just look like a poser. Going to their site (after you click through the 50 prompts) you will see it takes on this personality.
Oakley’s site and their stores do a wonderful job of matching the personality of the company and its products to the experience that customers go through. In contrast, you view the Apple Games page and it doesn’t fit the Apple personality that we are used to. Because of this it hurts Apple’s brand because it goes against their identity. It just seems off, like when the fun loving person gets drunk and goes into a Hulk-like rage.
So many designers work so hard in trying to redesign Craigslist, but doesn’t the current design perfectly match the personality of the site and the people on it? To change the design you would almost be changing the identity of the company and people might find it hard to relate to.
Designers can learn about identity through sports teams. Every major sports franchise seems to have an identity that they either embrace or try to run away from and it is amazing how much this identity will not only affect the fans, but the players as well. Not to pick on the city of Cleveland, but when it comes to sports their teams have an identity of choking in the big games. Psychologically this can greatly affect a person because you are so busy trying to escape that identity you choke.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have an identity that correlates to hard-working, hard-hitting football and every player that passes through the franchise seems to take on this identity no matter what type of player they were before. Because of their identity the Steelers also make sure to go out and look for players that fit into their identity. Too often you will find teams that go after players that don’t fit their identity and it never works out well for them.
What is key to remember is that a company’s identity will permeate everywhere. You can’t pick and choose the places you want an identity to be showcased. You carry your identity with you be it through your actions or the logo on your clothes. Identities aren’t something that can be thought up later. They begin when the company begins and starting off on the wrong foot means it will take time to fix.
There aren’t a large number of successful corporate identities in the world because they are hard to build. It is hard to maintain consistency through everything that you do so that the identity remains strong. It can be even harder to get the visual design of things to match up properly with the identity. You want to be more than a template designer than figure out how you can improve your skillset to allow you to properly translate a company’s identity to the online world.
I asked on Twitter what people thought identity was and here are some of the responses.
Identity is comprehensive. It’s the totally authentic sum of a company’s parts. Like a person, not just the clothes they wear.
I consider identity to be the collective perception of a company through all mediums
Identity is what you want people to think of you. It’s strong if it reflects reality.
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