Photo: Ken Carbone & Leslie Smolan
The most iconic brands are instantly recognisable. Their logos are strong, and so is any other visual representation, like signage outside the store. But it’s not easy to pull this off.
So what’s the key to differentiating yourself from the competition? We’ve asked Leslie Smolan and Ken Carbone, co-founders of the design and branding company Carbone Smolan Agency and authors of the new book Dialog: What Makes A Great Design Partnership. They’ve created designs and visual displays of information for dozens of companies, including The Louvre, Tiffany & Co., New York University, Sesame Workshop, and Aether Apparel.
Carbone says the best way to create an unmistakably-yours brand is with three words: unify, simplify, amplify. When your brand is “easy for people to recognise and embrace, your clients become ambassadors for your brand,” he says. “If you’re too fractured in the way you communicate with your clients, it’s very easy to get lost in that noise.”
To begin, “I take a design problem and carry it around with me, taking my time to decide on the right approach,” Smolan writes in Dialog. “It’s a bit like baking a cake: I make sure I’ve added the best ingredients before popping an idea into the oven.”
Although consistency is important, creating some room for versatility is key. She gives Geico as an example of a recognisable brand that uses a variety of visual graphics in its commercials. “The strategy of those commercials is consistent, and the execution is different,” says Smolan. “So, you can have inconsistency that’s actually designed into a consistency. There’s way too many brands screaming at the top of their lungs trying to get attention and I think you have to be consistent for people to recognise and understand what your brand is.”
It’s important to invest in creating high-quality visual graphics, even if you have limited funds. Carbone says that designers are generally willing to work with small businesses whatever their design budgets may be. “Small companies should definitely think about it, not just in terms of cost, but think about what they feel they can afford at this stage in their development,” he says. “Any responsible designer would adjust what the cost would be, based on what the budget parameters are, and design something accordingly. It has to all be relative to the size of the business.”
Smolan says that the design campaign doesn’t need to be executed all in one go, either. Small businesses have hired CSA for the first steps, “so we’ll align what we deliver with their budget, and then they’ll come back when there’s more funding for the next stage to continue that relationship.”
What’s important to remember when it comes to branding, says Carbone, is to “do less, but do it extremely well. Don’t stretch the budget too far,” he tells us.
Carbone writes in Dialog that he hears many brands tell him “‘It won’t work.’ ‘We can’t afford it.’ ‘People won’t understand it.’ My job is all about turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes,'” he writes. “Fortunately, I enjoy this.”
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