“The only way to communicate is to understand what it is like not to understand.” – R.S. Wurman
This is a quote that I love to use with clients, peers and students to help generally describe what I do for a living, and specifically define the meaning of brand innovation and design at BOLT. Today, I find it more compelling than ever before. As our industry adjusts to this new century, we too as designers must embrace the true needs of our clients, their brands and products, as defined through our design practices, in order to keep them relevant and preferred, and to build greater value in our industry and individual practices.
As Richard Grefé so succinctly worded it in his AIGA article last year, “What makes designers most valuable are the interrelated dimensions of their contribution: head, heart and hand.” Our firm has been focused on head, heart and hand for over 25 years.
Admiring the ability to communicate ideas and concepts thoughtfully and creatively, not to mention strategically, through visual information is what drove me to become a designer in the first place.
It was that notion that pushed me into writing articles about branding over the last few years, as I have blogged for FastCoDesign.com. Most of my rants circled back to three foundational elements of the designer’s role – strategy, empathy and craft – and how they so often failed to come together on major programs because of intrinsic or extrinsic forces. As designers, we are driven to be more than just artists creating beauty, or engineers creating functionality, or marketeers driving perception and desire. In today’s economy, we are all of those things at once.
Every design project has a communication objective. Or should have. But every objective must be grounded in some form of strategy, which is where we always begin. Our process starts with revisiting and refining, or creating the brand strategy [head] that will lead the initiative and become the filter for the craft [hand].
Our first step is a deep immersion into the brand or company, digging into the foundational elements to uncover the latent opportunities that inevitably exist for all brands. Shedding ourselves of pre-existing constructs, bias and prejudice is key in allowing ourselves to openly explore and understand the situation and opportunities that may exist. It is often in this immersion that we discover the underlying issues that plague the brand, and not just the symptoms of the problem.
This initial work also helps us to develop a true sense of empathy [heart] with the consumer or end-user, along with the inspiration, intuition, and design thinking that we will need as we assimilate those insights into ideas that can transform the brand strategy into thoughtful and meaningful creative. Meaningful creative builds value. And value drives preference.
Grounding our creative work in both strategy and empathy for our target audience gives us unique insights into determining how the craft will manifest itself – developing the most appropriate direction, not just the most handsome. Constantly using these elements as filters help guide direction, set the tone and manner for execution and allow for more objective interpretation of the creative.
The end result is creative that communicates the promise of the brand with more passion and conviction. And it is at that moment that we, as designers, earn our keep.
Jamey Boiter is a nationally recognized brand strategist and practitioner who has been based in the Queen City for over 25 years. As BOLTgroup’s brand principal, he oversees all brand innovation and graphic design teams. He has received numerous design awards, ADDYs, and citations for his work in brand development, packaging, and corporate identity, and is a Charlotte 40 Under 40 recipient. He attended Clemson University and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Communication Arts from East Carolina University. A member of AIGA since college, and a former AIGA Advisory Board member, Jamey is currently serving on the CPCC Advertising + Graphic Design Advisory Council. When not thinking about brand and design, or collecting toys and watches, [or enjoying a good single malt] he’s working around the house and spending time with his family, their cats, and Max, their Springer Spaniel.