Brands worth following strive for an idealized state that is well understood and valued by customers. If the founders aimed high when conceiving their business their design team should also aim high when creating the identity that will come to represent the business in the minds of customers.
STANDING FOR SOMETHING
The best businesses and the best graphic identities embody an ideal. The graphic identity itself is often an idealized form a geometric abstraction or other simplified version of an image. If you consider the role of symbols in daily life, they very often draw upon deep beliefs or experiences: history, nature, religion, patriotism. This isn’t to say that every logo for every styling salon needs to evoke some deeper meaning, but even the ubiquitous barber pole has a rich legacy.
Logos that represent an idealized state tend to be easier to get excited about: service, quality, speed, performance, health, etc. The graphic identity becomes a symbol for the ideal solution to a customer problem.
BUILDING TOWARD SOMETHING
Identity program designers orchestrate many small steps to help deliver on the promise of an ideal. The mark itself symbolizes the ideal, but everyday artifacts, spaces, services, or other interactions may add or detract from the promise of that ideal.
The customer problem what a brand should aim to solve is often felt in small pain points over time. Brands promise to deliver an ideal solution to the customer problem. A well-designed system of program elements builds upon itself to reflect, extend, interpret, and continuously strive to reach the ideal.
Program elements for Frank, the restaurant at the Frank Gehry–designed Art Gallery of Ontario, builds on the architect’s reputation and design sensibilities.
There is a reason positioning templates are structured to force an organization to consider what they are going to be the best at: Are they going to be the cheapest? The coolest? The smartest? The easiest? These are simple paradigms well understood by customers, making ownership in one of these areas worth seeking.
Brand identities are built on such paradigms. The value proposition doesn’t need to be all about superlatives per se, but people do seek ideals in their daily lives. Meaningful brands align their offering with customer needs, emphasizing their solution as the best.
For its Always Building book, Herman Miller wanted to inspire a sense of possibility about the evolved workplace.
Many businesses will require healthy doses of pragmatism as well, but unless the ideal that customers are striving for is to be the most pragmatic (which is unlikely), pragmatism should not find its way into the brand identity. There are casualties in every conflict, and building a strong brand requires isolating the ideals represented by the team’s flag.