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Great Brands Are Not Born, They Are Raised

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 08:00

Those of you who know me well may already be aware that my wife and I are expecting.  With a baby on the way I guess I couldn’t help myself but to see the design process through the lens of parenthood.  Forgive the unintended sexism.

The essence of my observation is that the relationship a designer has with their brand is probably not so unlike the relationship a father has with his child.  At best its creation is an act of passion, and its long-term stewardship and care is a labor of love.  At worst its creation is self-indulgent and there is no long-term follow through whatsoever.

In other words a designer either relates to their brand creations as a father or as a sperm donor.

Some designers just have issues with commitment.  They’re not looking to stick around and their ideal client relationship is quick and temporary.  This is something to beware of if you care about the longevity of your project.  It’s better to find someone who has the potential to be there when you need him.

Strangely though, not all clients really want their designer to be involved as their brand grows and expands. Many structure a finite relationship where their designer is only involved long enough to donate their aesthetic DNA – so to speak. This may be the case for cost reasons or perhaps simply do to a lack of appreciation for what it takes to grow a brand. Either way, it is basically betting on nature over nurture when we all know that success requires a little of both.

While the creator of your brand might produce a brilliant logo, pallet and typography it does not insure they will be applied wisely or to the greatest possible effect.  This is where the sustained presence of the designer might help in its development as the brand grows.

The best example I can give you of fatherly guidance comes from the world of American Football. On one hand we have Peyton Manning, a 6’5” 230lb quarterback.  He is a four time league MVP, and Super Bowl Champion. On the other hand we have Eli Manning, his brother, a 6’4” 218lb quarterback. He is also a clutch, pro-bowl caliber player and Super Bowl champion.

While I have no doubt that their common genetics are responsible for their shared size and athleticism – that alone does account for their success in the NFL. The fact is that these men were not raised by a saucier in New Orleans or they might very well be working as head chefs. Their father was the starting, all-pro quarterback for the Saints.  He raised the boys in his own image and the rest is record-breaking history.

Similarly a brand should benefit from the influence of its designer as its suite of communications grows and expands. Like Archie Manning, consider that your designer has probably been there before and their experience might open some doors.

In the absence of this guiding presence I've seen brands  –good brands– fail to live up to their potential.  They are entrusted to surrogates that don't know how to nurture them or don't care enough to do the job right. 

When you choose a designer you want one that shows long-term promise.  Moreover you want to give them the opportunity to exercise it.  While it might seem cost effective to do it yourself, no one will be more generous in the stewardship of your brand than the designer who created it.

John Gavula
Contributed By John Gavula

John is the creative director of Gavula Design. He has provided design and illustrator services for many of New York and the region's biggest brand consultancies. Leveraging this experience, and his multidisciplinary background he now works closely with Gavula Design’s clients as a trusted branding partner and steward.