Designers as Brand Strategists

MindmapMarketing professionals may believe they need a fully developed brand strategy prepared before bringing in the design team to create the brand’s look and feel. Collaborating with your design agency earlier in the process, however, can facilitate innovation and lead to more robust concepts.

Outside creative pros think differently, making them valuable partners in the earliest stages of your new product development or brand restaging process. A sharp designer can round out your team by adding:

              • A non-linear approach to thinking that connects ideas in innovative ways
              • An outsider perspective, helping you see your brand and/or industry with fresh eyes
              • The ability to help team members visualize possibilities through quick sketches and/or their ability to verbalize abstract concepts

Think Different

Clients often ask us, “How do you come up with ideas?” The artist Chuck Close famously said, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” Design teams routinely use brainstorming and structured exercises to generate ideas. We don’t necessarily show up at work everyday bursting with ideas (sorry to destroy the illusion). We have a framework that allows ideas to flow, and that helps us to reliably turn our thoughts into value.

It occurred to me recently that our clients could benefit from the process we’ve used internally for years. Joint “brandstorming” sessions can bring greater creativity to the whole brand development process.

Designers approach problem solving differently from most people. Faced with the daily challenge of being creative on demand, we have learned to approach idea generation as an exciting challenge that’s ripe with possibilities. Most creatives are non-linear thinkers, adept at jumping from idea to idea and making connections between unrelated concepts. They link data in unexpected ways and take leaps of faith that lead to new ideas that might be missed in the logical, sequential process typical of linear thinkers.
And, because we are comfortable exploring uncharted territory – spending most of our work day doing so – designers can help the brand team see what might be, rather than looking to the past for answers.

An Outsider Perspective

Every organization has its own prejudices, perceived limitations and assumptions. Brand marketing teams are no exception. Their strength – deep knowledge of their product, brand history and company processes – can also be their weakness. Bringing an outside creative in can help the whole team see things with fresh eyes.

As outside consultants, designers are able to suggest alternative solutions, helping you get beyond the familiar, obvious answers and break new ground. Because we don’t work with your brands and company every day, we can help the team take a broader view and see around perceived roadblocks.

Additionally, our comfort with the unresolved, exploratory stage of development helps others trust in the process, and keeps ideas from being squelched too early. This makes everyone in the room feel more comfortable with exploration.

Graphic Facilitators

Unformed ideas and new possibilities can be difficult to verbalize. From the first day of design school, we designers are trained in the language of what might be. Describing partially-formed ideas is routine in a design studio. Beginning with the initial kernel of an idea, and throughout the process of molding that idea, our team must communicate about what’s working, what’s not, and what we think will make an idea better. Using this skill set, creative professionals can act as facilitators within the strategy development team.

In addition to verbalizing, we routinely sketch to clarify and convey our ideas. We use quick drawings in the studio as well as in meetings with our client partners; not only to express our own thoughts, but also to help other team members get their thoughts/ideas across. This helps bring non-visual team members along in the process and keeps sessions flowing, inclusive and productive.

The language – and even the sketches – that come out of these joint work sessions can later be used by the marketing team to sell the ideas in to senior executives and gain approval to proceed.

Complementary Skill Sets

Consider bringing your creative agency into your early brand strategy sessions. There are several ways to do this. They can participate in early stage strategy sessions, bringing a complementary approach and skills to your brand team. Alternatively, they can lead brandstorming sessions, act as graphic facilitators and even host your team in their studio for off-site sessions.


Here are a few more perspectives on creative work we thought you’d enjoy.

The elusive creative genius – Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gave a great Ted talk about the pressure of creating on the heels of your own great success, and summoning creative genius. If you don’t time to watch a video, just listen to the audio while you’re driving. Get it here.

Doodling helps us think. Not just us designers, but everyone! Watch Sunni Brown’s Ted talk about Doodling – and consider doodling to improve idea generation and retention of learning. We use her book, Gamestorming, as a resource in our studio. Watch it here.

Designers as Brand StrategistsSterling Creativeworks
Subscribe to receive branding insights and new work. We promise not to overload your inbox, and we won’t share your contact info, ever.

Receive quarterly branding insights and new work.

© 2014 Sterling Creativeworks | 707.257.0207