The new entry point to your brand

It used to be that all one needed to succeed in sales was a great smile, a firm handshake, and an impressive business card. If a person had these three attributes, they were pretty much guaranteed an audience in which to pitch their product or service. This personal interaction allowed for questions to be asked, concerns to be addressed, and a certain level of trust to be established between the consumer and salesperson—the very essence of branding.

 

Unfortunately, in today’s highly competitive marketplace, building brands through a charming personality and great looking business cards is not enough—consumers have been inundated with marketing and advertising messages, a seemingly endless selection of products to choose from, and increasing demands for their time. Therefore, a well-designed logo or brand is no longer enough. More and more, people are turning to the web in order to make purchasing decisions.

 

The Internet offers a pressure-free environment in which consumers can explore a company’s products or services at their leisure, and without eager salespeople trying to close a deal. A well-designed web site allows companies to communicate their brand essence—the qualities, benefits and value that resonates with their target audience. Regular email communication and promotions, as well as community forums, allow for the organization to create an emotional connection with consumers. In this capacity, the web has truly become the entry point for the brand experience.

 

Even though online communications are becoming essential to business success, this does not necessarily make printed collateral, such as brochures, sales kits, or direct mail pieces, obsolete. In fact, this is quite the contrary. Any type of Internet marketing effort, whether it is an informational site (referred to as an “online brochure” or “static site”), an email marketing campaign, or an electronic newsletter, must still be supported through traditional marketing and promotional activities.

 

Brands are more than just an organization’s logo, brochure, or even a web site. The brand experience encompasses all aspects of communication between a company and its target market or audience. Therefore, it is important that all touch points associated with your brand must have a professional look and feel, and communicate a consistent message. It just so happens that now the most important first impression is your company’s web site.

 

—Ryan Hembree, principal/brand strategy

Graphic Design and Presidential Politics

Although the general election of the next President of the United States is more than one year away, candidates are already blazing trails across the country on tour buses with an army of staff and legions of supporters. Also in tow are terribly designed graphics, banners and signs, all meant to appeal to and resonate with the American public. The question is, do these graphics have to be so bad? Why don’t political candidates learn the lesson that most businesses have, which is that “good design sells”? It seems that most politicians, and the designers who create their campaign logos and graphics, are stuck in a rut.

 

 

A comparison of most political graphic design will result in the following conclusions: that in order to look more “patriotic,” one must use red, white and blue; incorporate stars and stripes; and even throw in a donkey or elephant to make sure that people associate the candidate with the appropriate political party. Color is particularly important in politics as well: People tend to identify themselves with either “blue states,” for the Democratic Party, or with “red states” if they are Republican. This has not always been the case.

 

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Political party color-coding has been directly influenced by the media, and even reversed from its original meaning—before the 1996 Presidential Election, blue states were used to denote states in which the incumbent presidential candidate had won all of that state’s electoral votes; the red state designation was for those states won by the challenger. Ever since Bill Clinton, an incumbent, won re-election in 1996, blue states have been associated with the Democratic Party by the media and now the general public.
graphic_2004_campaignsThe campaign graphics for the 2008 Presidential campaign have improved dramatically since the last election, in which John Kerry and John Edwards faced off against the incumbent George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Each of those two campaigns used white text on a dark blue background, combined with a waving American flag to communicate how “patriotic” each candidate was. The only differentiation one could make between the two, if you had no idea what their political party affiliation was (or you lived in a vacuum), is that Kerry used a serif typeface (more personable, friendly) combined with the tagline “A Stronger America,” while Bush used bold, sans serif type that is suggestive of strength and solidarity.

 

ObamaOf the Democratic front-runners, the only campaign graphics that stands out is that of Barack Obama, whose “O” logo incorporates a striped valley in front of what resembles a rising sun, suggesting a new dawn in politics. Hillary Clinton’s campaign logo looks like it was created by the same designer as John Kerry’s, complete with the same typface and a compressed flag underneath. She has even attempted to “brand” herself as simply “Hillary” so that she is not as closely related to her husband, Bill Clinton. And while John Edwards has attempted to break the mold with a modern typeface, the rest of the graphics are cliché, with a star and green swoosh trailing behind it (is this his attempt at appealing to all aspects of society; the blue states, the red states, and even the green environmentalists?)

 

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The Republican presidential candidates have not done much better in creating unique and memorable graphics for their candidates. The one that stands out the most is that of John McCain, as he has veered away from the use of traditional blue and red colors and drawn upon graphic references to his military record—the black and yellow color scheme resembles a Naval officer’s uniform. Rudy Guliani’s graphics are simple and effective, as most of American refers to him as “Rudy,” while the simplicity of Mitt Romney’s elegant typeface stand out on a navy blue field.

 

McCain

 

Only time will tell if the much improved, yet still lagging, political graphic design of the current presidential campaign will help propel one of the candidates through the primary, and then finally to the general election in November 2008. One thing for certain is that the new visual standards set by these campaigns is slowly helping to raise the bar of what John-Q-Public expects of graphic design.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

 

A Better Way to Define “Identity”

In the past few years there has been a lot of debate in the creative world regarding the term “identity.” Depending on whom you ask, you are bound to get different definitions: marketing and public relations firms are quick to use the term “branding” to explain the activity of identifying a product or service, while advertising agencies and design consultancies might use the term “corporate identity.” Both terms, branding and corporate identity, seem to be used interchangeably, but do they really mean the same thing?

 

According to Walter Landor, founder of Landor Associates, “Products are made in the factory, brands are made in the mind.” Based on this rationale, branding can be defined as the creation of a positive image or perception about a product, service, or company through the use of graphic design. Creating a perception, or in most cases, an emotional connection, in order to persuade a consumer to buy something, is more about psychology. Corporate identity, on the other hand, stresses immediate identification: through good design, it serves to establish a consistent image of a company, product, or service. Much of the emotion of branding is left out.

 

Both branding and corporate identity serve the purpose of promoting a company, a product or a service through increased awareness and in turn, increased sales, although they achieve these goals through different means and usually for different audiences. Branding is considered more of a business-to-consumer (B2C) activity, in which a company appeals directly to the end consumer. Corporate identity, on the other hand, focuses on building business-to-business (B2B) relationships.

 

But what happens when a company operates in both the business-to-business and the business-to-consumer marketplaces? Although they might have marketing components that are purely dedicated to building their brand, these companies must also have graphic elements that establish its identity within a more corporate, or B2B, environment. It is in this area of overlap between “branding” and “corporate identity” in which a more accurate and truly universal definition can be found to describe the role of graphic design in enhancing a company or product’s image: visual identity design.

 

“Visual Identity” incorporates graphic elements from both branding and corporate identity, and includes those that must appeal to all audiences, regardless of whether they are B2B or B2C customers, and regardless of whether or not increased sales or stronger brand awareness is desired. At the core of any visual identity is the logo, a graphic mark that must simply, quickly, and effectively communicate the essence of the company or product. This logo must be applied to everything from a company’s letterhead and stationery system to vehicle graphics and web site. Consistency is most important, and a graphic standards guide or manual ensures that all subsequent applications of the visual identity remain effective.

 

The term “visual identity” encompasses the graphic elements that are common within both a corporate identity program and an extensive branding campaign, but doesn’t necessarily exclude other marketing needs. After all, an identity must above all be consistent. What this does mean is that companies, before selecting a creative firm or agency, should evaluate who their audience is and what their graphic design needs truly are.

 

By: Ryan Hembree, Principal | Creative Director

Airline Identities Take Flight

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Some of the most highly visible identities in the world today crisscross the globe at 35,000 feet. Not only are the visual identities of airlines vitally important to identifying passenger jets while in the air, they are also a source of national pride for most countries, particularly those in which airlines are governmentally controlled and operated. Utilizing color schemes and graphics that appeal to the sensibilities of their countries of origin, these airlines’ often use their countries’ flags to promote their brand. This is not the case in the  United States, where the airline industry is an unregulated, private enterprise.

 

Airline_wing_symbolsWith so many different choices in carriers, airlines in the U.S. must compete for passengers on a daily basis by using a unique and memorable identity—not only to differentiate each company’s aircraft, but also to project an image of quality, experience, and reliability. Surprisingly, most airlines do not take the opportunity to stand out in the crowd; many utilize similar color schemes, such as the color blue, which is suggestive of the sky. Additionally, similar themes are used in most airline marks, such as wings (think American, Midwest or United Airlines, globes, or the idea of a horizon (Continental and Delta).

 

airline_feat_swa-nwaThere are, however, two identities within the U.S. airline industry that soar higher than the rest in terms of uniqueness and memorability: Southwest Airlines and NWA. Southwest Airlines uses only blue, red and yellow painted Boeing 737s in its fleet, and prominently features an illustration of one as its logo—the consumer not only knows exactly who the company is, but what its planes look like as well. Southwest’s brand is fun and approachable, and doesn’t try to pretend and be a business-oriented carrier—instead, it resembles that of a discount vacation carrier. NWA (Northwest Airlines) started as a regional airline (hence its name) but is expanding into international markets. Even though the name was abbreviated to give it wider market appeal, the airline was able to keep the essence of its old mark, that of a compass pointing to the northwest. Not only does the logo capitalize on the equity of its old mark, it is highly suggestive of travel without the use of traditional clichés.

 

With the turmoil in recent years within the airline industry such as mergers, bankruptcies, and financial chaos, it will be interesting to see how carriers’ brands will continue to evolve. Gone are the days of giant corporations such as Pan American (PanAm) and Trans World Airlines (TWA)—today, smaller and more nimble startup services are taking the skies, along with a new perspective on the creation of successful airline identities.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

 

No relief from Political Correctness

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Today, in our multi-cultural and wonderfully diverse world, there is a heightened sensitivity to political correctness, particularly in branding and corporate identity design. No one, particularly a business or international organization, wants to appear to be offensive to any other culture, religion, or ethnicity.

 

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This is particularly true when it comes to religion, and in light of the tension that exists between those of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith. Any part of a design that can be perceived as having religious connotation is removed, or avoided altogether. For example, a traditional star shape with five points might be perceived as either a pentagram (symbolic of Satanic cults) or a Christian star, while a six-pointed star references the Jewish Star of David. Because of this hypersensitivity to religion, one of the most internationally recognizable symbols is on the verge of losing its effectiveness and intended meaning—the symbol for the International Red Cross Movement.

 

red_cross_feature_swiss_flaAlthough originally adopted as a symbol of neutrality, the Red Cross is considered offensive to many in the Middle East and Muslim countries since it bears striking similarities to the symbols that adorned the tunics and shields of Christian knights during the Holy Crusades. In response to this misperception, Turkey adopted the Red Crescent, which has religious connotations rooted in Islamic faith, and it was accepted as an additional symbol of the Movement at the Geneva Convention of 1929.

 

The religious connotations of the symbols of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, although falsely applied, have hindered Israel’s Magen David Adom relief society from joining the movement. In consideration of being sensitive to the beliefs of Judaism, a new symbol was adopted during the Geneva Convention of 2005—the Red Crystal. According to Conference resolutions, the third accepted symbols is “devoid of any political, religious or other connotation.” What is essentially a rotated red frame, it may be used on its own, or frame either the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, or the Red Shield of David.

 

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By: Ryan Hembree

Battle of the Broadcast Brands

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Television broadcasting has become an increasingly crowded marketplace. During the mid twentieth century, only a handful of networks dominated the airwaves and established strong, immediately recognizable identities. The CBS “eye”, the NBC “peacock” and the four circles of ABC are all extremely effective because of their simplicity, consistent application and memorability—so much so, in fact, that they have changed very little, if at all, over the past fifty years.

 

Today, digital cable and satellite have created hundreds of different channels for viewers to choose from. In order to stand out from their competition and entice viewers to tune in, cable networks subscribe to the idea that developing a clearly defined “brand position” will help them achieve the same success as broadcast stations mentioned above. Taglines such as “We Know Drama,” “Very Funny” or “Characters Welcome” have become common ways in which these new networks try to attract and retain viewers.

 

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The idea of creating a “brand position” is not a bad one; after all, effective branding encompasses every aspect of a company, its products, or services—its visual identity as well as the emotional connotations its customers may have. It takes several years build a successful brand. Unfortunately, cable networks are too busy mimicking each other’s attributes or reinventing themselves every couple of years that they do not give the time necessary for a brand to become ingrained in the consumers’ psyche.

 

TBS_logo_evolution_PLACETBS, or Turner Broadcast Station, has gone through several revisions of their brand since the late 1990s. Most recently it has matured into a simplified mark that clearly identifies their name and resembles a smile or open mouth laugh. “The Superstation” was dropped from its name, most likely to reduce confusion between it and Chicago’s WGN Superstation. While an improvement over the old identity, the true effectiveness of this re-brand will be whether or not it resonates with viewers and remains in use for more than a few years.

 

USA Network, not to be outdone, recently introduced a new identity that looks somewhat similar to the new TBS. It too is rendered in lowercase letters, with the “s” formed by the negative space between the “u” and “a”. Bearing a slight resemblance to two puzzle pieces coming together, the mark says nothing about the network or the type of programming it provides. How it relates to the idea of “characters welcome” gets lost in the overall execution. Unfortunately, their previous brand was much more unique and effective.

 

USA-logo-PLACEThe battle of the network brands has only just begun. Within the past year, other networks have followed suit by introducing new looks, with brand positioning that they think will help them be identified in a saturated marketplace. What these networks fail to realize is that changing a logo or image does not a good company make; it is only through the consistent application of that image, and positive associations from customers. The ABC, CBS and NBC brands were not created overnight, but through consistent application became dependable to their viewers. Consistently changing or re-branding a company, on the other hand, only communicates a false sense of identity, and that it is not sure who or what it really is.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

Design-related Governmental Waste

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In another example of bureaucratic lollygagging and waste, one does not have much further to look than to the state of Kansas. In the past year the state has spent an insane amount of money for two high profile design projects that turned out to be flops (in this author’s opinion, of course).

 

The first undertaking was the development of a new slogan and tagline for the state’s tourism office. After spending an estimated $700,000 with the advertising agency Callahan Creek, located in Lawrence, the result was “Kansas: As big as you think.” The new logo is simply a font, Futura, stretched horizontally. A star with a flowing, ribbon like tail completes the new mark. While there were no doubt many committees, focus groups and voices vying for attention during the creation of this piece, I find it difficult to accept that almost three-quarters of a million dollars of taxpayer, yours and mine, went to this effort, and this is what we have to show for it.

 

KU LogoThroughout 2005, the University of Kansas undertook a tremendous effort to unify all of the school’s existing marketing collateral into one identity. LandreyMorrow, a marketing firm from Portland, Oregon, was commissioned by the school to develop the new identity using the letters “K” and “U”. After narrowing the field of concepts to four designs, feedback was gathered from current and prospective students, as well as alumni (including this critic). The result of this $88,900.00 expenditure by the University was four finalist designs, all type-based solutions using the Trajan typeface. None were conceptual in execution.

 

Why the university, which has its own School of Fine Arts with talented design students and staff, didn’t commission its own resources is beyond me. Someone inside and familiar with the university would have been able to develop a more appropriate and unique solution to the problem, and at a far lower cost. What is even more surprising is that one of the finalist designs is the exact same mark as another, smaller college in Pennsylvania, Kutztown University. And what did they pay for their logo with similar scope of work? $20,000. Now that’s an example of money well spent in my book.

 

By: Ryan Hembree, principal | creative director

The Problem with Dimensional Marks

In recent years there has been a growing trend among well-established, large corporations to update their logos or brands. Sometimes this change is justifiable—for example, when merging with another company a changed logo must reflect the qualities of both companies. Most of the time, however, the reasons for an update are asinine.

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Perhaps a new CEO has been brought on board, and in order to justify both their ego and high salary, their first order of business is to implement a massive, company wide change. Or perhaps it is thought that a new image will bring a failing company or brand back to life. If a company’s core focus of business has changed logo updates are thought to communicate that it is more progressive or cutting edge than before.

 

Shiny new John Deere logoMost companies fail to realize is that just because a logo or brand is changed or updated doesn’t mean that more people will buy their product or service. The quality of the user’s experience with both it and the company’s representatives influence purchasing decisions. If a product or service is bad, then no amount of improvement with the company’s image will help. A good logo or brand design does not a company make.

logo_UPS

 

The current trend in branding and identity has been to add dimensionality, shininess and reflective qualities to a brand mark or logo. Even brands that had remained unchanged for decades feel prey to the lure of updating—first John Deere introduced their new badge, followed by UPS. The latest and most upsetting victim is the new AT & T mark. Like so many other marks, it has become a three dimensional globe with a generic typeface.

 

AT&T old and new logosThe problem with adding dimensionality is more a technical issue than anything else. When shown on a television or computer monitor, these new logos look great—print them on paper in anything less than full color, however, and they lose their effectiveness. The new AT&T logo, when printed in two colors on billing statements, ends up looking unrefined like a first or second year design student’s project. Companies should consider testing the new identity in all forms before implementing them. One simple way to do so is print the logo or mark in black and white and then fax it to another machine within the office. If a mark doesn’t translate well after printing it in black and white or faxing it, then  a redesign should be considered.

 

NOTE: All names, logos and trademarks used are the property of their respective companies and used for illustrative purposes only.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

 

How Important are Design Awards?

Design firms and agencies will tout the number of design and advertising awards they have received as being indicative of good design and marketing prowess. Because they have received “x” number of awards, or they have appeared in “numerours” design annuals, are they somehow more authoritative when it comes to working on client projects? Not necessarily.

 

Today there are more design and advertising competitions than ever. What this means is that top quality design firms or agencies cannot possibly enter all of them, as the expense in terms of time and money is far too great. With fewer quality competitors, the field of entries may be mediocre work at best. Even mainstream competitions are awarding more and more entries with honors, thus “watering down” the quality of design that makes the cut. “Celebrity” designers and ad executives judge these competitions, meaning the merits of a piece are judged mostly on aesthetic and communicative qualities, instead of being based on overall effectiveness, such as: did the piece connect with the customer, and were the business objectives met?

 

The truth of the matter is that awards shows, particularly design and advertising competitions, mostly exist to stroke a creative firm’s own ego.

 
Usually it is only other designers that care about the results, yet a lot of creative shops will use their recent success in those competitions as a selling tool or to coerce the client into taking risks with the design of a new project—to try something “new” or “experimental”. The problem is that sometimes “cutting edge” design can get dull, or the audience doesn’t respond well to it. Additionally, there is a tendency to make everything look the same, because that is what “will win awards.”

 

This is not to say that winning awards is bad.

 

There are many positive things that come with winning awards for clients. First, it can increase a company’s visibility and can be an effective public relations tool. Second, it is rewarding for design firms and agencies to know that the work they have developed is appreciated, even by a jury of their peers. Most importantly, however, award winning design and advertising acknowledges the fact that the client values design, and the impact it can have on their bottom line. Effective communication, in addition to excellence in design, should be the goal of any design project.

 

At Indicia Design, we don’t set out to win awards. Sure, they are nice to receive and we have won our share, but our philosophy is more about modesty and humility through design—we set out to achieve our client’s goals by making meaningful connections with their target audience. We listen to their needs, and ask questions to make sure that we understand their business. After all, nobody knows that business better than the client.

 

By: Ryan Hembree

 

NOTE: All names, logos and trademarks used are the property of their respective companies and used for illustrative purposes only.

On the Web, Less is More

On the Web, Less is More

 

More and more, business is realizing the value of the Internet as a marketing tool, with its tremendous accessibility and exposure to existing and potential customers. It is now easier than ever for companies to design, build and maintain web sites, and as such many are scurrying to create or enhance their online presence. Unlike the dot com boom of the late 1990s, however, this rush to the web is not about making millions in advertising revenue or to be the first to claim a portion of cyberspace and thus consumer recognition. Instead, the renewed vigor to add, enhance and establish sites has been brought about by several factors:

 

But who really cares if your web site has all of the bells and whistles, but doesn’t say anything relevant?

Additionally, if you reveal too much information to the viewer, you don’t give them a reason to call. For example, most web sites are merely the company’s printed brochure, chopped up and regurgitated into a more palpable form. What reason are you giving them to return to your web site, especially if you do not tell them something new or have already sent them that particular piece of marketing collateral?

 

When it comes to web site design and content, less truly is more.

On average, you have about seven seconds to grab your viewers attention and make them want to interact with and enter your web site. People do not want to wait until a splash animation or movie loads, no matter how cool it is. The creative industry is particularly guilty of this offense: in an attempt to prove their capabilities, advertising and design firms have loaded their web sites with special effects, animations, and even short movies. Sometimes over fifty web pages in size, they also contain dozens of images of work as well as philosophical copy about each piece, their design process and other irrelevant information.

 

Really, who has the time to read all of the information that some web sites contain, and will it sway a customer’s decision to use one company’s services over another? It might, but chances are, your potential clients want to know more about how you are going to help them solve their problems instead of reading an ego trip. More importantly, they want to find out this information fast!

 

With the short attention span of today’s savvy consumer, the message that a web site needs to communicate is: who you are, what you do, why and how to contact you for more information. That’s it.

 

By: Ryan Hembree, Creative Director

 

NOTE: All names, logos and trademarks used are the property of their respective companies and used for illustrative purposes only.