When creating a brand design, either for yourself or as a designer for a client, the most important step is getting the right information down on paper at the beginning. Talking on the phone or in person is sometimes important too, but a paper questionnaire allows time and space for reflection.
I don't work with clients who come to me with a brief as such. They may have some ideas about the direction they want to go in which is great as a starting point, but I'm always wary of working with a client who wants to dictate exactly what they want their logo to look like.
Many graphic designers prefer to have a set brief to guide them and for some clients that is exactly what they want to give and that is fine of course. But the way I like to work is to gather lots of information in the beginning and then let that information guide me on the design choices I make. I'm guided by the persons story, how they got to where they are, and I'm always trying to infuse as much meaning into the brand design as I possibly can.
This is not to say that the client has no say in where the design goes - of course they do! The difference though, is that they are hiring me as a branding expert to steer them in the best direction for their brand. A direction that feels true to their business and who they are, and a direction that will also appeal to and make sense to their target audience/ideal clients.
And so, I thought it would be helpful to show you how I peel back some of the layers with the questions I ask my clients at the very beginning of their projects.
The important things to remember is that the person you're working with probably doesn't know the information you need in order to create a meaningful design for them. You are the expert, so you need to guide them.
And if you're not a designer but are looking for someone to work with you on your branding, hopefully this will help prepare you for the experience a little!
1. Is there any special meaning behind your business name?
Maybe this sounds like a super obvious question, but it really is necessary to ask it. Like I just mentioned, your client might not realise that this would be really useful information for you to have.
If your client is using their personal name for their business then maybe this won't give you any nuggets of wisdom, but if they have chosen something other than their own name it can give you a wealth of information to start with.
An example of where this simple question really paid off for me is with a recent client of mine - Caroline, see her website here.
When Caro first booked in with me her business was called Blue Cicada Photography, but she wanted to rebrand to bring herself more into the centre of the business. She wanted to rename the business to her own personal name, the short and sweet 'CARO'.
On the surface it didn't seem like there would be any meaning to find from asking the question, but upon reading Caro's questionnaire she surprised me with some beautiful information that really helped steer the direction of the project.
An extract from Caro's questionnaire is below:
Is there any special meaning behind your business name?
There is [meaning behind the name Blue Cicada Photography] but I feel that I have moved on from there and that my business has evolved to be more about me.
It’s funny because recently, someone pointed out that cicadas stay in the dark until they shed the skin that protects them as they are growing.
Once it is done, they go in the sun and sing their heart out. I feel like this is me now. Enough staying in the “dark”, I feel more ready than ever to celebrate my business, who I am, what I can do and the skills that I have been working on for the past 20 years.
After reading this I knew straight away that although the Cicada was not going to be in Caro's business name anymore, the imagery was still something I wanted to explore and perhaps keep in the new branding because it represented the history and story behind Caro's business.
See the full case study on Caro's branding here.
2. Why did you start your business? Is there a story that lead you to where you are now? What is driving you to deliver your product or service?
So this is a few questions in one, but sometimes I like to ask questions in groups to get my client thinking about not just each question, but how each question/answer interacts with each other. The three questions are separate, but they are also linked and there is probably some crossover in the answer for each.
I also mention that these questions might warrant a long answer and I make sure to say they can write as much as they like which allows the client to feel a bit more free.
Asking the questions together is almost prompting them to reflect and think more deeply and answer in long form rather than with a couple of sentences.
I love reading this section of the questionnaire the most because it really helps me to understand the persons history and the driving force that lifts them. Often, because the answer is longer than a paragraph I can pull out or highlight small sentences that feel like they could take me somewhere - as in they might be a starting point for imagery to explore for the logo and branding.
An example is a simple sentence I got from my client Katie when she was explaining her story is "I love the magic of translation" (she is a translator and copywriter). This gave me the idea that we could add a sprinkle of magic into the branding, nothing over the top, just a little something extra.
3. List 2-3 of your 'competitors' or businesses that are somewhat similar to what you do. What are they doing well? What are they NOT doing well?
I don't particularly like the word 'competitors' because I think if you have a strong and defined brand then the notion of competitors sort of fades into insignificance. Your brand can be so unique that for your ideal clients or customers, you are the ONLY choice for them to go for. I can write much more on this subject so let's save that for another blog post!
The word competitor is easily understood by all though and most people will have a few businesses that they know they are somewhat similar to, so I do use it in this question.
Asking follow up questions like 'What are they doing well/not so well' helps me to understand what my client views as 'good' and 'not for them' in terms of business and branding. It's always so interesting to see the answers to this question and it really helps to know who we need to differentiate their business from.
Often, clients might say a business is similar to them in terms of services, but they want to have a much different feel to their brand so that they're attracting a slightly different customer. They may often describe this other businesses brand in words and so it gives me a benchmark and an understanding of what words they use to describe different 'vibes'.
After working through all the answers my client has given me, having pulled out various snippets that stand out, I will head over to Pinterest to begin to find some imagery that feels like it matches with all the information and come up with a visual direction for the branding.
This is such a fun part because I will get to try various combinations of colours and imagery to see what feels right. This is where words lead to images and images lead to more images and I'm sent down a wonderful rabbit hole!
I try to look for inspiration not just from branding that has already been created, but from other sources, like book covers, magazine layouts, beautiful artwork, tiled patterns, interior decor, and nature (to name just a few).