Image: visual reference work for a new brand Sherpa House

While a student at Art Center I repeatedly took a class titled Identity Systems taught by veteran graphic designers. I had the class with three different professors, each with a slightly distinctive view on the problem being solved for the fictional client entity.

The upside of the approach taught, especially by Keith Knueven, was to think of visual identity for brands as a palette of graphic cues. These would not only include a primary logo and logotype, fonts and colors, but also many other relatable elements which would provide for a more flexible embedding of the brand in the world.

For the students, it was presented that brand design fulfilled the function that all entities need constant means of presenting a cohesive character in support of their product or service. What was not explored fully was the dynamic between brand design and the leadership responsibilities undertaken on behalf of the client entity.

Much of design is constant rebalancing between abstract concept and tangible execution. We have a vision, we then work backwards from what is feasible, and then revisit the concept and so on. In this way branding builds a bridge from the world that is today to a slightly-improved world of tomorrow.

In service of the larger responsibilities of leadership, brand design serves a similar function. We exist in a culture of mature ideas, and emerging ideas. But no idea is in isolation. By using an iterative process of articulating the intent of a new organization, both the intention and the cultural landscape come further into focus.

Generally, there is a movement towards greater abstract values being presented in commercial life. At the same time, there is more competitive pressure on brands which previously did not need to be highly defined, such as brands for political candidates. Churches, book publishers, consulting firms and social networks are all simultaneously needing to be more specific and more all-encompassing as functional ideas.

This expanded territory of each and every brand adds to a sense of nausea by those just beginning to consider branding for their entity. The advice here is that you are fortunate to be entering the fray at this late stage of brand development, and you can draw from the smart, tested work of those brands all around you. Next, there is absolutely a need to follow a branding process, and to work with professionals who have both conceptual training and practical experience in crafting brands for your type of entity.

But now we’ve defined a boarder between the design services firm you group needs, and your own internal process for defining the entity you are committed to building.

This is the point:  you want to apply the same ‘seesaw’ process of abstract intention balanced by real world expression in uncovering the through line of your brand.

In application, this looks very like bracketing. Blocking in examples of existing brands, noting what is similar and what is dissimilar. In this process it is very helpful to add contrasting brands, things which are an absolute negative example, are informative as well.

This process never ends, and can be seen as the balance between conscious awareness and the world we inhabit as embodied spirits, which is ever in flux. But the continuum of intention and trust earned is as real as anything. Perhaps more real, in a valuable way, as it connects to the future.

To put branding into practice for yourself as someone building an entity, develop a process for recording your intention, such as a journal or digital document. Second, in a similar way, practice a curation of examples from the world which inform your brand. Third, work on linking the two. Edit your found examples down by feeling which are more true than others. And while holding that feeling, work on the language and diagrams you are using to define your business intention in abstract, helping to make them more clear. In this way you can refine your intention to make it more universal and simultaneously less limited and more believable.


Adam Mefford
Straw to Gold