One of the things I am most passionate about as a designer is creating an identity, or a logo. I always tell my clients and my students that it is the hardest thing I do — but it is also the most rewarding. A good logo and identity are the foundation to a company. It is a visual voice and a visual interpretation of what they represent and it helps them reach and connect to their target audience. Good branding tells a story and engages viewers by helping them feel connected. And at it’s best, a good logo and identity can make viewers and customers loyal.
But how does one go about creating a good identity? I go over this process in depth in my Creating an Identity class, but today I would like to go over one aspect in particular: research. It can be easy to overlook this step, as it’s not always the most exciting part of “designing.” It takes work, patience, and time. However, this step is essential, and pays off richly by leading to better concepts, better ideas, and will help you create a good design that represents what your client has in mind.
So what are some of the steps for researching an identity?
- Spend time talking to your client & gathering information
Chances are, your client is a pro in their area of business. You can be sure that they at least know more than you! Take the time to gather information from them, asking them detailed questions** about their company, their competitors, their target market, and their vision for the identity. When you finish talking to them, you should have a really, really strong idea of exactly what they do and how they do it. (One of my favorite parts about designing for so many different clients, is that I know a lot about so many different random industries. It’s very interesting if you love to learn!) If you really want to capture the essence of a company in a logo, you better understand them and feel like a part of that company.
**In my class, I give an example of a detailed questionnaire that I go over and fill out with my clients to better understand them. This helps me cover all of the research points I need to know.
(sketches made for a past client after talking to them and going over their research)
- Find out your client’s goals & their vision for the future
Not only should you understand everything about what your client and company currently does, but you also need to know about their goal and future vision. This is crucial, because no one wants to invest time and money into developing a logo, and then have to change it a few years down the road. So you are better off understanding how their company will grow, so their logo and identity can grow with them. If my client has specific goals for their company, I often take that into account when I design their logo — I want my design to capture how their company is and how their company will be! This makes the research process more difficult, but believe me, when you take the time to ask your client about goals and visions, they know you care about the company — and if you want to create a good logo, you really do have to care.
cohesive designs and materials for freshly picked (a past client of mine)
- Research Competitors and other similar companies
You might have already talked to your client about their competitors, but you should take the time to research them on your own. What do competitor’s logos look like? What are they doing that is working? What are they doing that isn’t working? How will you make your client’s logo and branding better? How will you make it different? These are things you need to think about, write down, sketch out, and just generally know. This also can help you explain to your client why you made certain decisions, and also why you recommend certain design elements.
- Research the target market of your client
I hate to include this step at the end, because it is so integral to the process! I cannot stress enough how important it is to grasp and understand the target market your client is aiming to capture. You should understand the current trends and behavior for their target customer. What is their purchasing behavior? What is their behavior like online? What types of styles and designs are “in” for that particular crowd? This part can be intuitive at times, but it helps to take the time to learn about the target market so I can put myself into that mind frame as I design.
all of these logos were designed for various clients of mine–all with a more male dominant audience that needed clean, type focused logos, which is reflected in the overall design.
- Research Design Trends & Be Familiar With Industry Standards
This is perhaps the most fun step! As you design for a specific industry, be familiar and proficient for what type of logos that industry needs. For example, a product logo (of which I happen to be working on one now!) will need logos that work online, in print, and oftentimes in 3d packaging. You have to plan and know how that logo will work cohesively across all platforms. Each industry absolutely has different identity standards and practices, and it is essential that you take the time to familiarize yourself with them.
Perhaps the most fun of all is researching design trends. I love looking over past and present logos on Pinterest and in magazines. One of my most favorite design magazines, Communication Arts, often has a whole section dedicated to identity design — it is so helpful and inspiring. It is helpful to look at present design, not to copy, but to be inspired and pushed to be better.
Here you can see the research (on the left) and the final logo for a past client of mine, EEI. Their focus and needs was for an environmental logo, and I spent a bit of time researching what current environmental companies were doing, and what type of standards they would need to follow. We needed it to be circular, and to feel earthy and yet modern.
- Have fun!
One of the most important things to remember as you research, is to enjoy the process. When I try to speed up or hurry through certain aspects of design, I forget to have fun. Taking the time to research reminds me to enjoy being a designer, to enjoy learning about new companies, products, and industries… after all, the more research you do, the more you will grow and learn as a designer and the better all of your designs will be!