How do I break into brand and identity design?
December 21, 2007 8:55 AM   Subscribe

I would really like to get into brand and identity design. What are my best options?

I really enjoy everything about brand and identity design (the naming process, product or company positioning, the logo design, letterhead, business cards, etc). Luckily, in addition to liking it, it turns out that I am pretty good at it, too.

I just sort of realized all this in the last year, but have managed to pick up a few well known clients (e.g., designing a logo for a new product line launch of an international company). However, I really want to take this to the next level. My friend and started a design business together where we share responsibilities and that's going ok. But I really want a more long range plan.

1. What sort of higher degrees would serve me best? I was thinking of getting an MBA in marketing to help with setting up my own businesses and so I can be more reputable when making suggestions to clients.

2. Where can I go to submit my portfolio for possible freelance jobs?

3. My optimistic goal at this point is to somehow make a living doing this sort of work. What should I do to achieve this goal?

4. If you do this for a living, what do you wish someone would have told you or suggested years ago?

Thank!
posted by milarepa to Work & Money (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Companies/clients are not looking for an MBA, they want to see your past performance and book (work). It takes time to earn that kind of trust from major clients. Think about it from the client side...why should they trust you with thier financial investment? As a freelancer you'll have to start very local with small accounts. The best thing I can tell you is it's better to work for an agency for a time, which will quickly expand your knowledge and book, rather than trying to freelance it from day one. AIGA will have lot's of info for you.
posted by artdrectr at 9:19 AM on December 21, 2007


Identity design is, after book typography and typeface design, generally seen by those within the industry as the apotheosis of graphic design careers. The best logotype designers got that way after decades of experimentation and polish, and while I don't think any were self-taught, don't let that stop you from trying.

Study the best - not just logo designers like Paul Rand and people who experimented and got away with some really crazy stuff, like Rick Tharp, but the great single-image / boil-it-down designers - the people who are best with distilling a bunch of messy concepts into a single image. I'm thinking most about people like Tibor Kalman. Most importantly, devote yourself to typography. Logo is short for "logotype," of course, and the best typographers are frequently the best logo designers. Familiarize yourself completely with the writing & graphic work of Doyald Young, Ruari McLean, Tschichold and Bringhurst.

Learn to build projects that is articulate and meaningful, not just glossy and pretty; things that DO THE WORK for the client, not just "work" for the client. I can't remember which design educator said it, but to paraphrase: if you give the client exactly what they're asking for, but not what they need, you're failing. That is, find out what they need by studying the company and their past identities (if any), and don't give them a fancy web 2.0-ish shape that makes them happy but doesn't actually communicate anything substantive or real about them.

This is all just design school 101 stuff - your first lesson. I think reading a stack of Beirut and Heller will be extremely helpful to you at the very beginning. Stay AWAY from every single annual and best-of logo book - try not to even browse them at bookstores. They will damage you and your ability to think critically and origiinally.
posted by luriete at 9:34 AM on December 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


And please learn to be a better writer and editor than I am: "that ARE articulate and meaningful..."
posted by luriete at 9:35 AM on December 21, 2007


earn to be a better writer and editor than I am: "that ARE articulate and meaningful..."

Naah. As a writer who supports some amazing graphic designers, I think if you're a good writer and editor, you get kicked upstairs and end up pitching and managing designers rather than doing design work yourself. I work with award-winning, industry-accoladed designers who can't write a lick.

Build a strong, diverse portfolio. Network through groups like AIGA. If you want to get more education, graphic design - either a portfolio program or a master's degree (no one will care about your degree, but you want to be exposed to teachers and students who are passionate about it). Study typography. Heavily. I used to teach at an art grad school and the two biggest differences between the people who did exceedingly after graduation were pure creative enthusiasm (which I don't think you can learn) and a beautiful hand with type.

You can freelance for businesses directly, but if you're serious about being good at it, trying to spend a few years under a strong creative director is more valuable than school anyway.

If you are, however, excited by the concept of brand and the business thought behind it, I work with a number of people who do have MBAs who are brand strategists, laying the strategic groundwork for the identity and positioning. But they're never looking at a letterhead except to thumbs up/thumbs down it in relation to strategy.
posted by Gucky at 9:48 AM on December 21, 2007


These are really great answers. Thank you very much.
posted by milarepa at 9:53 AM on December 21, 2007


I have to second what Gucky said about maybe working with people who are brand strategists. Its important to remember that branding is much much much more than logo design, letterheads, and business cards. Branding is the relationship a large corporation holds with its audience. Branding is what other people think of the company, not necessarily the logo and such (although of course that stuff plays a major role). In the grand scheme of things, the logos and design work come nearer to the end. Knowing a little bit about this strategy (even if you're not completely 100% interested in DOING that strategy) will help you tremendously with how you design your work. Or at least thats what i've experienced.

I suggest maybe picking up a few books on this. I think maybe The Brand Gap might be a good start. Here's a quick pdf of what the book is about. Its a VERY easy read.
posted by modernsquid at 10:09 AM on December 21, 2007


A lot of companies are sick to death of the buzzworld of "branding"; I know my last employer disqualified any marketing firm that approached their work from that idiom. Get some broader advertising work into your portfolio. The world is changing, and you want to look like someone who understands what's emerging. Pigeonholing yourself as a branding and identity person is not a good investment.
posted by gum at 10:54 AM on December 21, 2007


Seconding the Brand Gap.

Keep in mind that at the end of the day many visual designers create things that are treated as commodities. You want to avoid this. A good place to start is by asking, what makes you, your philosophy, your view of the world unique? How can clients leverage this? That's your value-add and your visual designs are simply a manifestation of that.

I've worked for and hired designers who don't understand that, and I'd have to say, these are the people who wind up being the least paid and easiest to replace. It's not about the portfolio, per se, but the design thinking that influences it.

Good luck!
posted by diastematic at 11:46 AM on December 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Excellent recommendations here about learning as much as you can about big-picture branding. My inability to work in such a broad/interdisciplinary environment is why I'm a book typographer, not an identity designer.

Books I'd read if I were you:

No Logo / Naomi Klein
Thames & Hudson Manual of Typography
The art of the Letter / Doyald Young
Bringhurst, of course

Others with more knowledge of the mechanics of branding itself can give you a more complete reading list.
posted by luriete at 1:44 PM on December 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


Gucky has great advice up there. I'll just add:

- Whichever degree you choose to follow, the only thing you'll have to do is: Study, study, study. Either by yourself or in a school, you will observe, deconstruct and reconstruct everything that will pass under your eyes from now on: this is usually called "the designer disease", and after a while you'll find it natural. But you'll never stop studying.

- However your skills may be good at this point, under the direction of a good teacher OR a good senior director, you'll appreciate that in graphic design (a very wide term), there has to be a solid project behind everything you do. You can't skip on those basics.

- Always have people to discuss your work with. Either colleagues or friends in the same field. Network.

- Have clear the difference between graphic design and advertising. A good adv art director might be able to do decent graphic design, but it usually doesn't work the other way around. Be specialised, but not rigid. And be open to collaboration.

- Finding gigs: the old way: locate a few relevant studios in your area and pitch your portfolio to them. Have long, realxed chats with senior art directors and you'll get out of their office with some further ideas (and, maybe, a new gig).
posted by _dario at 1:55 PM on December 21, 2007


Read Seth Godin's blog.
posted by daviss at 2:53 PM on December 22, 2007


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