If you're an entrepreneur or on a startup team, chances are you've contacted an agency to get a quote for branding services or logo design. The price tag may have surprised you, particularly if you're not clear on the design process or how agencies calculate costs. Essentially, the main resource of a design agency is time. For the creative industries more than any other, time is literally money, because we don't use physical raw materials to create our product. Put simply, the reason that branding tends to be quite expensive is because it takes a lot of time. Reduce, that time and you reduce the cost - this is exactly what I'm aiming to do with the Brandsworth business model. In this article, we're going to look at the 5 main factors that contribute to the time-cost of designing brand identity, and what can be done to reduce it.
Clients Don't Know What They Want
Let's start with the big one. In my experience, this is the main factor that increases development time from what could be a matter of days, to a matter of weeks or even months. I'm not criticizing clients. They're not designers with a clear sense of what can and should be done - it's why they're commissioning the services of an agency in the first place. It's also natural for the client to be wary of accepting the first proposal that's offered to them - they've made an investment, and if more options are potentially on the table then why not get their money's worth?
However, these same two factors that can be used to argue the case for the client trusting the agency to do their job properly, and not requesting endless designs and revisions to reassure themselves that the process is within their control. A branding agency relies on years of shared expertise to ensure that the client is only presented with options that are right for their brand, and often the first proposal really is the best because it's the one the agency has poured its heart and soul into.
There's no easy solution to this one, but in my view the best way to reassure the client that they're driving the process, whilst also discouraging 'perpetual revision' syndrome, is to ensure that they are fully engaged at the start of the project. A questionnaire is commonly used, but it really does need to be as thorough and incisive as possible.
Unsuitable Designs Aren't Ruled Out Early
Responsibility for this one rests entirely with the agency, and some are better at it than others. Essentially, if the designer builds a logo from start to finish, and it turns out to not be right for the brand, then something has gone wrong. If the designer spends hours tweaking a single design before discarding it as unsuitable or unworkable, then something has gone wrong. This is time and money down the drain.
There is a very efficient way of ruling out unsuitable designs quickly, and that's to rapidly draw pages and pages of rough thumbnail sketches before going anywhere near a computer. In the digital age, not every designer is comfortable with a pencil, but frankly they have to get over it. Anyone can do this with practice. Even people outside the design department. It really is the best way, not just for quickly ruling out bad ideas, but more importantly for vastly increasing the pool of good ones.
At Brandsworth, we're working on a method of ruling out whole swathes of unsuitable designs before pencil has even been put to paper - but that's a topic for another post.
The Misconception of Subjectivity
This is actually linked to my first point. I'm going to suggest something that may be controversial here - what the client wants shouldn't matter. The client is not the brand. Their personal preferences are irrelevant. The agency process is focused on tailoring the perfect identity and design solution for the brand, and the results are (or at least should be) based on careful research, analysis, established design principles and hard experience. In that sense, any proposal generated by a competent branding agency can, arguably, be considered objectively 'correct'. Art is a matter of personal taste, design is not, or at least not entirely. If a client can be bold enough to accept that their personal preference is not equal to their agency's professional recommendation, then you immediately reduce the amount of back-and-forth required, and therefore reduce your time-cost. I'm still working on a way of explaining this to clients that doesn't come across as an arrogant affront to their professional pride, because frankly everyone thinks that they're a designer.
This situation is complicated somewhat with small startups, which are often driven by a single charismatic individual with a strong personal vision. In these cases, the entrepreneur almost is the brand. This can even occur in huge multinationals, such as Apple and Virgin. In these cases, making a distinction between client input that draws on their vision, and input that draws on their personal taste, is key.
Design Gets Put Before Identity
Unless an agency has at least one dedicated branding specialist, chances are that responsibility for developing the brand identity, personality and values will fall to a combination of client servicing executives, copywriters and designers. Because logo and identity are almost interchangeable in most people's minds, the onus will be on the designer to start work immediately, and tease the identity out during the logo design process. This inevitably leads to numerous false starts and dead ends. Not only is the brand identity going nowhere fast, but the designer (whose time is arguably the most valuable) is throwing resources into a black hole.
The solution seems simple - sign off on the values and vision with the client first, then incorporate them into a clear brief for the designers. Unfortunately, eagerness on the part of the designer or client can result in the steps becoming merged or (shudder) switched around, with a tortuous rationale often being applied retrospectively to a serviceable but disconnected logo design. Treating identity development as a crucial first step instead of an afterthought helps to streamline everything that comes afterwards, and having a dedicated branding specialist steering the process works wonders.
Too Many Stakeholders
This is my first point, multiplied by the number of people who have a say in the branding process. The clients (plural) don't know what they want. This can happen in a startup when a team of equals comes together and feels that everyone deserves an equal say, or even a veto. It sounds fair, it sounds right, but from a design and development standpoint it's a major problem. Now, each revision to your logo design has to run the gauntlet of five people's opinions, tastes and biases, and it's going to be a rough ride. Even a perfect design isn't going to survive that process without being weakened or undermined somewhere along the line to appease a member of the team. This can become a never ending process, and usually results in a weaker identity rather than the stronger one you might expect. Your branding can become schizophrenic. This issue also arises in larger organizations, only this time the gauntlet is multiple levels of management rather than a team.
At the very least, only one member of the organization should be in direct contact with the agency, and should be responsible for distilling the input of every stakeholder into clear and constructive feedback (I know agencies that put this in their contracts). Ideally, that person should be trusted to take personal responsibility for the branding process, with as little interference from the rest of the organization as possible.
The solutions to these issues may seem obvious and logical, but they're rarely easy to execute. The challenge for Brandsworth is to find new ways to streamline the design process, as well as the relationship between agency and client, to minimize time-cost. Only then can we fulfill our promise to be 'the affordable branding agency'.
If you're starting a business and appreciate the value of effective brand identity, take a look at Brandsworth's Startup Identity Package, and discover the affordable branding agency for startups in Wales.