What’s the “why”?
In this current situation of businesses on hold, lockdown and social distancing, for most people work is understandably quiet. The upside is that I now have the time to reflect and finally get through some of the books that have been on my reading list for a while. This has allowed me to question my business as a freelance designer and screen printer. My thinking always came back to “why do I want to design” and “why do I want to run my own business”. I thought I’d share some insights into this process as it might help my clients and other small businesses in this quiet period.
This all started with a book “What is a designer” by Norman Potter. This is a great little book and worth a read for anyone interested in design; you can pick it up at Hyphen Press (https://hyphenpress.co.uk/products/books/978-0-907259-16-9). Norman Potter takes a broad stroke producing an overarching image of a designer (which he does wonderfully) getting to the core of what we, as humans, do when designing. As much as this book looks into the processes, typologies and design education, it only briefly touches on why we choose to do this as a profession.
Why they do what they do is one of the first questions I ask my clients when helping them with a rebrand. As I mentioned in the “brand and visual identity talk” that I gave in February, a key to creating a good brand is making an emotional relationship with your client base. The “why” helps build a personal aspect to a brand. It starts to create the story. Even though most of my clients give me the answer it’s rarely seen in their branding. A good example of this was the work I did for Senate Consulting.
Senate Consulting came to me as they needed a brand refresh. They felt their current visual identity, whilst it worked for them the last 20 odd years, didn’t represent what the business has become. On our first meeting we talked through why they thought this. Their story of how they like to work, who their clients are and the services they provide gave me a great picture of the company, but the key piece was at the end when the question “why did you call yourselves Senate” came up. Their owner then told me that he started this business because he didn’t like the fragmented way the industry was heading. He wanted to create a place where all aspects of construction were communicated in a democratic way, making sure all challenges were met as a unified decision, thus making architecture safer and better for all. This was exactly what was needed to tie the design together. The final outcome was all based around the layout of a senate, formed to allow for everyone to have their say.
With my own business I feel I’ve not told my story of how I came to love design; particularly graphic design and typography. Mine’s a very personal story. I can’t remember when I wanted to study architecture but art and construction have always been a huge part of my life. My mum, after leaving her job to raise three kids, went back to uni to study contemporary crafts at Manchester School of Art whilst I was still at school. This, along with my brothers both studying it, made me choose art at GCSE. I’d like to say it was my school, but it was actually my mum who taught me everything I know about art; how to question, what’s the story and what was the reason. Skip forward a bit and I’d managed to scrape through to get into Edinburgh College of Art to study architecture. This became my life for 6 years and I loved everything about it. But during my studies I learnt about book and layout design. My granddad, who was an art director at Good Housekeeping in the 60s/70s, taught me the basics of graphic design and actually helped me realise that graphic design was my true passion. This is how I got into design, but why did I start my business?
After university I started working professionally as a graphic designer starting in a design agency and then working in-house for a few companies. I worked my way up from intern to senior designer mainly in the construction sector. The design industry is obviously very competitive and I got quickly pigeonholed to work in the construction sector. At the start this was fine and I learnt a lot about the design process and working very efficiently on large projects with high budgets. But with large projects comes larger teams which separates you from the lead client and quickly becomes impersonal. I wanted to work directly with clients in a process which engaged them and made them feel that their visual identity wasn’t just something for designers to do and users to see as pretty packaging, but instead something they believe in. This is why I started as a freelance designer and why I’m going to continue to do so.
This is my story, and as my brand is linked to me it’s my brands origin. I hope this encourages you to reflect on how you got to where you are and why you do what you do. I feel that all brands, at this quiet and challenging time, should think about this and use it to refocus their brand for the things start to become brighter and busier again.