My top tips for reviewing creative work
Branding or rebranding your business can be a fun, inspirational and thoroughly thrilling journey. It's so exciting to see how someone else will interpret your brief, communicate your business values and create the public 'face' for your company. It can also be pretty daunting, can't it? Choosing the right designer in the first place can be enough of a challenge, but once you've got the initial concepts back, how should you review the creative work that's produced? What should you be looking for? And how do you make sure you get something that's right for your business whilst maintaining a positive working relationship with your designer?
It's all very possible with just the right focus and an experienced hand to guide you. I hope that this post will help you work through the process with confidence. I'd love to hear tips below too.
Tips for reviewing branding concepts
Constructive critique is an integral part of the design process. Handled thoughtfully and sensitively, it can be an inspirational and thoroughly rewarding exercise in ensuring that, as a designer, you produce your very best work. And that's why so many designers really relish client feedback: of course it's about hearing that the job has been done well, but it's also about gaining feedback to make sure that your identity really works for you.
I've been working in branding for fifteen years now and have developed hundreds of brand identities for businesses around the world. And now that I'm consulting in a very different capacity, I see once again how many small business owners, who simply don't do this sort of thing on a daily basis, need great advice. The images below are based on a project I'm working on right now with a client (I can't wait to share the full brand reveal with you!) and I hope will give you an insight into how the process works.
Start with the big picture. What message does this identity send out about your business? Ignore the fine detail for a moment and look at the big picture. Is it headed in the right direction?
Above: I created this mood board for my client, Diane James Home, to help them envisage how I felt their brand should look and feel. It formed the basis of our search for the right branding company as well as a powerful jumping off point for both the agency and reference point for us as the brand progresses. Image credits: Botanic Gin: Save the Dates by Lisa Hedge; Floral Stationery; One Eleven Botanicals by Lindsay Nauman; Salt Box; Florals Diane James Home; The Botanist
Go back to the brief: does this achieve what you set out to? Does it reflect the vision you set originally? Sometimes brand identities can go off on a tangent. Sometimes this can be a good thing: it can help you achieve things creatively that you never thought possible - and it's one of the reasons that working with a talented designer or brand stylist can be so inspirational. But just make sure that it still sends out the message you originally hoped it would.
Go with your gut. Trust that initial instinctive reaction you had when you first opened the email or viewed the presentation. How does the design make you feel?
I could't help but smile from ear to ear when these initial logo design concepts came through from Stitch Design Co. They sent through a dozen or so ideas, and so pinpointing both which were in the general ballpark of being right as well as the fine details that we loved was an essential part of the process.
Resist the temptation to micromanage. It sounds obvious, but it's worth bearing in mind that you don't need to micromanage the design work: simply identify the elements that aren't working for you and why. Let your designer work out the solution: that's why you're working with them! Being too directive can often result in a design that just feels a bit wrong because, if you're not careful, your designer will feel they just need to do 'as they are told', regardless of whether it's the right decision or not.
What your designer really needs to understand is how the brand identity feels to you. They don't need you to tell them which font to switch out or for you to give them all the answers: this is usually where things go wrong. A strong and experienced designer will usually challenge you if they feel that your suggestions will have an adverse impact on the design, but they may not: and that's often where things end up going a little awry.
As the designs progressed Stitch presented the collateral together on one page so that we could begin to see how the identity would flow together. Every agency will have a different approach to this. In my company, we used to present just three, very finished concepts, complete with contextual work, brand boards and mood boards at the initial stage which I found to be a really efficient way of working. Neither approach is 'right' or 'wrong' - they are simply different ways of working.
Hone in on the details. Look at every single detail: the way things line up and are balanced, the way your illustrations have been executed, the size of the font etc. Does it 'work'? Your designer will have reviewed all of this before they send it over to you, but you should also have a close look and check that you are comfortable with how everything fits together. Again - no need to direct what they do if you're not comfortable: better to ask questions or make suggestions. For example, "the icon feels too modern, how can we make it more timeless?" Rather than "can you use thinner lines and less corners?". That way your designer is still creatively in control and you are allowing them to be at their best.
Print it out. Always! Things always look different on paper to the way they do on screen.
Now that we are close with the main Diane James logo, Stitch are working on the diffusion brand: Blooms, which is the younger, funkier range. I can't wait to see this whole thing come together and share it with you!
Work as a team. Your designer or brand stylist is a design expert, and no one knows your business better than you. Use this to your advantage and work as a team to create something that looks fabulous and reflects your business. It (almost) goes without saying, but when you're giving feedback, be warm, encouraging and specific. Explain what you love as well as the detail that you don't and why. Remember, your designer is on your side: they want to create something that you can both be proud of. As long as you both communicate openly and respect each others' expertise, you're on to a winner.
Underwhelmed? Avoid getting personal or too emotional. Designers are creative beings and always work best when supported rather than put under pressure. Making them feel bad or telling them how disappointed you are isn't going to help you get what you want, so take a deep breath, sleep on it and try and work out why it isn't resonating with you.
Over to you
I'd love to hear your tips and suggestions for reviewing creative work. Do share below! By the way; if you haven't read it already, my post on how to choose the right designer for your branding project is packed with invaluable advice on picking the right partner in the first place...