June 22, 2018

X, X and branding

All too often I read that agencies and designers specialise in something, something and branding. Historically, the something and something was print-related. The 'and branding' part is now also prevalent in the ever-expanding, cryptocratic and ubiquitous digital design community

Interestingly, two entirely new categories of designer have emerged from the digital product development world, namely UI and UX designers. The problem of user-experience qualifying as a design discipline aside, digital designers specialise in either UI or UX. In reality, it appears to be some combination of the two. Often, and to the point of this post, this also means 'and branding'

The emergence of UI and UX design disciplines has resulted in the role description Visual Designer, which appears to be an attempt to avoid strict adherence to the new categories and confusing the more functional aspects of the product with the visual side of the experience. This mostly concerns UI but is also implicitly connected to UX. Both UI and UX are, in turn, heavily dependent on what happens under the hood, which is the domain of the software developer, the IP computer science engineer, the hardcore coder

In the branding of digital products we find the usual suspects: logo, tone of voice and overall look and feel, which includes proprietary design elements, layout principles, fonts and colour palette. Not entirely dissimilar to print-related branding but now in full gamut, responsive and digitally native. New ventures that place utmost importance on the product rely heavily on the UX part of the process. In this new world, UX designers rule the roost, they're the heavy-hitters that help establish product uptake and success. They're the rarer breed of designer, blending business & digital strategy, project management, design and coding. Today, it's the UX designers that command a premium. In comparison, UI-oriented designers generally come from the purely graphic design world and mostly handle the cosmetic aspects of the brand. I say cosmetic because the result often shows in a stylistic graphic approach and questionable quality of thinking in the brand's primary symbols. And, to the thrust of this post, the problem of Visual Designers engaging brand identity work is – perhaps unwittingly but understandably – expressed in the role description, Visual Designer

Also important to consider in this digitally native business environment is that user-experience generally forms the basis of the entire brand experience (BX). And so the BX, in turn, is mostly dependent on the product experience. This invariably makes the resulting BX a 'brand of business' experience rather than a visionary, brand-led business. In other words, the business vision is for the success of the product, not so much for the success of the brand

UI and UX now also includes the all-important but often under-remitted branding of the digital product. This is problematic because this also usually means branding the entire business by default, including also the non digital aspects of the business; the survival of which being so heavily dependent on the success of the product. This is a catch 22 for many businesses in the start-up phase. Reliance on the success of the functional aspect of the product appears to be the reason that Visual Designers are also tasked with branding the venture, optimising costs but – to the point – not ultimately fit for purpose

The complexities and costs of developing digital products also usually means that the additional complexities and related costs of media-neutral specialist brand identity suppliers are less frequently employed. This also appears evident in the calibre of 'brand designers' that make the cut in the equally new world of curated specialist digital technology service supplier platforms such as Crew, 10x and Toptal. I've applied to a couple of these with digital brands that I've created and, while what I do is well received, even openly lauded, I haven't yet been taken into the fold

Judging by those who have made the cut, I've been left to conclude that these curated platforms of digital design specialists take on designers, touted as branding specialists but really they're only graphic designers well-versed in digital media who merely do... 'and branding'