Applying the Percy Principles to Brand Design - Part 2

Link to Part 1

In the previous post I introduced the Percy Principles of Art and Composition - a list of 8 simple yet powerful insights for creating more engaging artwork. In this article we'll be looking at the final 4 principles, and exploring how these insights can inform the logo development process, as well as your brand management strategy. Whether you're a new startup or an established business, the Percy Principles are guaranteed to give you something to think about.

 Logo design & brand management

5) Cherish Mistakes

"Mistakes are fascinating gifts, and what we do with them makes all the difference."

Mistakes are a valuable opportunity to learn. This is true of every walk of life, and logo design is no different. The crucial thing is to be sure that those mistakes are made and those lessons learned before signing off on the design, getting the stationery printed, and revealing it to the public. A common mistake made by inexperienced logo designers is creating a logo that doesn't scale well, becoming unreadable at smaller sizes. He or she might not discover that mistake until it's too late, which is far from ideal - both for the designer and for the business owner. But next time the designer will probably avoid that mistake by simply printing off the logo at various common sizes to check its clarity. The crucial thing is for the designer to know their craft, be vigilant for situations in which mistakes might potentially be made, and do their best to preempt them. In the field of health and safety, these situations would be called 'critical control points'; a term that works equally well for the logo design process. As a business owner investing in a new logo, you need to feel confident that the designer or agency you've selected has everything covered.

Mistakes with brand management are much harder to plan for, and potentially even more damaging. The are an infinite number of ways in which your brand could be mishandled, misrepresented or blown off course, and any one of them could be the unexpected miscalculation that decimates your brand equity and customer engagement. This isn't always the case though. Sometimes, recognising a mistake and rectifying it could actually save a business. Imagine you're a new startup with a new product, and all of your branding is geared towards 18-30 year olds. Now imagine that your product ends up being used in ways you didn't anticipate, and actually turns out to be much more popular among 50-60 year olds. Do you keep sinking resources into the existing branding in the hope that the market will bend itself to your will, or do you reposition your product for the more receptive demographic? The second option will almost certainly turn out to be more costly, frustrating and even embarrassing, but it's possibly the only chance you'd have to create a thriving business.

The concept of a startup business quickly and regularly responding to market feedback by making fundamental adjustments to its product, positioning and strategy is known as a 'pivot'. While pivoting isn't necessarily the result of a complete error of judgement, the principle of cherishing mistakes is surely one that the lean startup would embrace.

6) Be Accident Prone

"Accidents in art are tragic or happy - depending on the artist's disposition to respond."

'Accident'. Like 'mistake', this is a word with few positive connotations in the world of business. But fundamentally, the point of this principle isn't to be deliberately incompetent - it's to come up with potential answers to questions that haven't yet been asked, to keep working at something until you've explored it from every angle, even if some of the output you generate along the way turns out to be guff.

If this is how the best art is created, then the same is certainly true for logo design. A good designer will typically churn out many pages of rough thumbnail sketches as they try to get at the meaning of the brand, and to then represent that meaning in a visually succinct and engaging manner. Most of these sketches will be little more than curious doodles. Some might be downright ugly. But the more sketches the designer produces, the more they increases their chances of striking gold. Sketching out lots of simple designs also gives the designer a quick indication of which approaches aren't going to work and are not worth pursuing any further. When it comes to logo design 'being accident prone' means time saved, and stronger results.

This approach has an obvious parallel in the world of business, if not in brand management specifically. You've probably heard the phrase 'fail fast, fail often' used in relation to startups, particularly those in the technology sector. This is an American import that takes the quick thumbnail sketch method described above, and applies it to entrepreneurship. The idea is not to fail as such, but to quickly accept, respond to, and learn from failure, even if that means wrapping your business up and starting a new one from scratch on a frequent basis.

To those of us not living in a Silicon-Valley-esque bubble of rapid prototyping and angel investors, this approach to entrepreneurship can seem risky and extravagant, and in terms of developing a brand it's pure anathema. Consistency and continuity are key to building successful brands. That said, there's no reason why a brand can't take this approach pre-launch. For example, you might organise a series of focus groups that present multiple approaches to the brand identity to various demographics, discarding what doesn't work and building on what does. But once a brand is out there in the world, being accident prone is far from ideal.

7) Never borrow other artist's ideas. Steal 'em!

"Ideas are free for the taking. Ideas are all around us in the vapor of existence."

Whether you're a designer or an entrepreneur, the concept that ideas are 'free' to be 'stolen' probably rings a few alarm bells. Intellectual property lawyers certainly wouldn't agree! Marvin Percy Bartel addresses these concerns in his own write-up for this particular principle, and it's worth reproducing it in full here;

"Ideas are free for the taking. Ideas are all around us in the vapor of existence. Images and particular arrangements of words, on the other hand, are copyrighted. Inventions are patented. Copyrights and patents are "intellectual property", but ideas and concepts belong to everybody. They are in the public domain - always have been. If I find a good idea, a truth, I do not want to borrow it. I do not want to return it. I want to appropriate it, test it, and make it my own. I own it. Like the thief, I want to steal it so I can tell it, paint it, and fling it in clay and glaze.  Ideas are free. The ability to express a good idea is a valuable artistic ability."

In truth, logo design positively requires that we take an existing idea and make it our own in most cases, because an effective logo must (at least to some degree) convey meaning to its audience based on common preconceptions and expectations. I mentioned this whilst discussing the 4th principle, but it applies here too; logo designs are generally developed with the conscious objective of encouraging certain assumptions about the nature of the businesses they represent. Logos for professions like solicitors and accountants typically share certain common underlying qualities because society collectively agrees upon a certain visual shorthand that communicates authority and respectability. This is why logos representing these businesses typically have sombre colours, simple fonts and no wacky mascots.

Done well, a logo can be just original enough without leaning too heavily on the conventions that are typical to logos of that industry. Done badly, the logo can come across as an unimaginative knockoff. The designer has to appropriate the conventions and make them their own. Of course, there are widely acclaimed logos that don't seem to rely on conventions and preconceptions at all - the Virgin logo is a good example, but even that seeks to communicate a sense of free-spiritedness using design conventions that we're all subconsciously aware of.

When it comes to brand management, and particularly marketing, 'stealing' ideas is par for the course. It's incredibly difficult to come up with a brand activation that hasn't already been done somewhere, in some shape or form. Let's consider a business practice so widespread that we probably don't even think of it as an idea any more - I'm talking about the concept of having a sale. At some time in the distant past, someone came up with the idea of reducing the cost of their wares, perhaps to get rid of food stock that was going bad, to attract business away from the trader in the next village, or simply to generate more buzz around their market stall.

Today, every business does it, but we don't imagine that we're stepping on the toes of some ancient entrepreneur. As with logo design, the important thing is to take these universal ideas and shape them into something that effectively supports and communicates your brand identity. Not every business has sales, because it could undermine the premium positioning of their brand. Others seem to have most of their products permanently on sale, because projecting the image of always offering a bargain is so integral to their brand identity. Facebook promotions are another good example, with the basic idea of giving something away repurposed in a myriad of different ways depending on the communication and positioning strategy of each brand. It's okay to steal ideas, provided you find a way to make them uniquely your own.

8) Make it Memorable

"Strong and authentic artwork is hard to forget."

This is the holy grail of both logo design and brand management - anything to do with branding at all in fact. Every business by definition has a brand, even if the owner makes no conscious effort to define, develop and position it. But every task that's undertaken with those goals in mind is essentially an effort to create something that customers will remember and engage with. To appropriate Percy's phrasing, a strong and authentic brand is hard to forget, and the only way to create a strong and authentic brand is to have a thoroughly developed brand identity that stems from the founder's enthusiasm and unique vision.

Sometimes a brand is memorable for the wrong reasons, so it's important to acknowledge that being memorable is not an end in itself; it's a means of building customer loyalty and brand equity. If you're brand is memorable in a way that damages loyalty and equity then you're doing it wrong. That said, If you only take one lesson away from our exploration of the Percy Principles, whether you're an entrepreneur, marketing manager or a designer, let it be this; make it memorable, because in doing so you'll be building the foundation for all your future success.

If you'd like to discover how Jamie's insights can help you develop your brand, contact Brandsworth for a FREE consultation.