When I first launched my graphic design agency over 35 years ago, nobody told me I would be playing matchmaker. If someone had told me that it would be one the most profoundly important (and profoundly satisfying) aspects of my work, I might have run the other way—fast.
What I did know then was I would create brand-focused marketing materials incorporating essential visual elements that would help customers desire a relationship with my clients’ products or services. I knew I’d have the great privilege of developing attractive brand identity standards for clients and their brands: logos, key colors and typefaces, and other fun (but often overlooked) styling details like textures, materials, and photography.
Of course, brand design and marketing collateral remain fundamental offerings of my practice. But what I didn’t know in those early days of my career was I would become someone who helps discover and support the perfect match between a client’s products and their audience: the one to create conditions in which romance can spark and develop into a lifelong relationship.
Yes, over the years I have become that time-honored relationship catalyst/go-between/facilitator/: the matchmaker. And just like the best matchmakers, an effective creative designer uses both hard data points (technical specs, budgets) and creative intuition (ideally honed by years of practical experience) to guide each and every design choice.
Here’s my three-part process for helping clients find the happiest, most successful Brand-Customer pairing—the kind that puts a twinkle in your customer’s eye, and a spring in your accounting department’s step.
Like a parent has hopes for a child, the client has hopes for their product or service—a happy vision of what success looks like, an image of their brand’s ideal customer base. So, when a client approaches me to help with brand development—whether they’re looking to create an identity from the ground up or they’re refreshing an already established brand—we start by having a conversation about their hopes and goals.
Sometimes, the client will come in with a stack of information and specific outcomes: e.g. “We want our $20 wine to stand out on the shelf and outperform x competitors” or “We need to update our logo so that it works with responsive web design.”
Other clients might have a more open-ended idea of what want they are seeking on behalf of their brand. “We want our holiday DTC email campaign to have more of a hip vibe,” or “We want to change our brand identity, because it no longer seems to match the way we work and the services we provide.” (And every once in awhile, a client will come to me with the one-word query we’ve all had to utter at one time or another in our lives: “Help!”)
→ In need of retuning your brand’s visual identity? Let’s chat.
The key during this phase of development is listening. I ask open-ended questions so I can get to know the client and their product or service. For example, with established companies, we might evaluate a brand’s visuals and how they have fared in ‘past relationships’ with questions like:
At the end of this ‘getting to know you’ conversation, not only do I walk away with all of the information I need to get started on the branding project, but my client should have a clearer idea about what their expectations and needs are, too. What’s attractive about you and how do we make it show to the customer. How do we make you attractive to your customer?
"I want the customer to fall in love with the brand: to want to have a relationship with it."
- Karen Adair, DG Creative Branding
Ever notice how people tend to get really creative in the early stages of dating: packing elaborate picnics, checking out the latest club, booking a paint-your-own pottery session together? Relationship scientists know that creating opportunities for new, shared experiences helps us grow not only as individuals, but also as couples. So it’s no surprise that the same thing goes for brand-customer relationship building.
A professional graphic designer remains open to new insights and design directions throughout the development process. I begin by gathering relevant visual references and inspiration, creating what I like to think of as the brand’s dating profile. For retail products, I typically start by conducting store studies: observing how products present in their competitive range and how they look on the shelf. For a website redevelopment, I might collect the best examples of a given feature across the web.
Once I have my source materials, I begin fleshing out design combinations all the while keeping in mind the client’s image of both their product and ideal customer. What would this brand wear? How does it carry itself? How does it speak? How perfectly would it fit? I want the customer to fall in love with the brand: to want to have a relationship with it.
It’s time to introduce potential matches! Just as with the initial meet and greet, it’s important to evaluate the design work with a focus on consumer reaction. Which of these designs would your consumers respond to? Which connects best? Likewise, it’s important to consider the brand position and personality. What feels most right to you (as brand representative)? Which one could you happily live with?
As your matchmaker / designer, I will have created several designs for consideration. Sometimes we will review the drafts in person, though increasingly the review process happens online. We then work together to narrow down the selection to the most suitable matches, and from there, we may decide to create variations for further consideration.
When the design hits the mark, it’s time for the brand to enter into the world (or re-enter as is the case with brands that have undergone a makeover). The client and I know that we have made a match by the strong—and happy—connection with the ideal customer.
Is your brand connecting with customers to the fullest extent? The most successful brands have these five traits in common. Read on to discover your brand-customer relationship status.
Great design expresses the authentic story and unique personality of your brand: communicating what special qualities make you “you.” Don’t worry about how your brand compares to others; good design is not about keeping up with the Joneses! A professional graphic designer will work to find, refine and draw out your brand’s individuality. You should be true to you!
Hand-in-hand with authenticity, effective graphic design clearly communicates your brand’s true, unique traits. Your brand design must be in conversation with your customer, connecting to the individuals you want to attract on an emotional level—often in just a split second of attention. The way this connection is established? Non-verbal communication. (There’s a reason graphic design is called a communication, or emotive, art!)
A graphic designer will also consider longevity—crafting design that is as durable as the client needs. Is your brand hoping for a lifetime commitment with your customers? Or perhaps a fling? Whereas a one-time event or a holiday season toy might sport design that is intentionally trendy and ephemeral, a household staple like Campbell’s Soup is an example of workhorse, timeless design that has proven itself in it for the long haul!
In branding, consistency is key. Your logo should maintain its integrity and ‘visual voice’ over its lifetime and across a variety of settings—whether on a product label, a t-shirt, company stationery, website, or billboard.
Great design not only has to meet the customer in an honest, communicative, relevant, and consistent fashion, but it also needs to be easy to use. You should be able to incorporate your brand’s logo across a variety of mediums: no problem. As a test, does your design work in color as well as black and white? Large and small formats? Does it function equally well in print and digital spaces (the latter with ever-changing screen sizes not to mention social media’s variable specs)? You should be able to say an enthusiastic “Yes!” to each of these considerations.
It’s not an accident that many of the same qualities that signify a healthy brand-customer relationship overlap with qualities you should look for in a creative designer. At DG Creative, we take seriously what the client and their customers want. We listen to their concerns and needs and work to create adaptive, authentic design that communicates companies’ products and services as part of a larger brand strategy.
Ready to embark on a dynamic branding relationship? Get in touch—I’d love to chat!
Written by Karen Adair
Karen Adair is the founder of DG Creative, a brand-focused design agency offering strategic visual marketing solutions. When she’s not camped out in her Oregon studio, Karen is out at the theater, playing the piano, playing with her camera or playing with her three (grown) boys. Come say hi on Instagram or Facebook.