Doug Birling

Don’t perform slight of hand with your brand

By Doug Birling on March 8, 2013

Over the course of 15 years I have seen it many times. So much energy is placed into helping shape a brand: crafting the perfect message, picking the right combination of colors and images. In the end everyone is happy, yet then, a few months later, someone wants to “add a splash of color!” or “try making the logo bigger!”

When you’re building it over time, on a daily basis, it’s far too easy to become bored with the brand. You see it and you live it … a lot more than your customers.

We want our clients to be ready to accept creative leaps, but we also want to help them understand the value in developing brand standards and designing to capitalize on the strength of consistent brand expression. And that’s true whether the brand is being expressed through messaging or design.

[pullquote align=”right”] With a limited amount of attention, your audience is best reached with consistent branding. [/pullquote]

Making quick changes in the moment – adding that splash of color – can erode the hard work of utilizing design as a positive steward of your brand. And that’s a responsibility that we, as partners in the development of our clients’ brands, take seriously. That holds particularly true for designers as we’re responsible for that first impression – the-stop-in-your-tracks look of your brand and, sometimes, the products on the shelves.

In their book “The Invisible Gorilla,” Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons perform a series of experiments. In one, the test subject is given the task of watching a group of six people pass a ball. Three people dressed in white passed it to each other, and three people dressed in black passed it to each other. When asked to count the number of passes the white group performed, about half of the test subjects failed to recognize that a person dressed in a gorilla suit walked to the center of the group, thumped its chest and then walked off screen. When told they missed something that should have been obvious, they were sure they were tricked. But the problem, the researchers surmise, is that we only have a limited amount of attention. When presented something, we see what we expect to see.

From 2006 to 2009, Apple ran its popular Mac vs. PC campaign. By maintaining consistency in music, many viewers were immediately able to determine it was a Mac vs. PC ad. By keeping the branding consistent, I was prepared to digest their next message … why I should buy a Mac.

I expected the message. They deepened the meaning.

With a limited amount of attention, your audience is best reached with consistent branding. Developing and adhering to design standards makes it easier for customers to recognize and select your product over the competition. Make it easy to standout not by providing a moving target, but through assertion of your brand strength.

Building brand standards and adhering to those standards through consistent design and voice is an expression of the quality, confidence and power of your brand. When we’re working with clients, particularly large organizations with multiple divisions, vested interests and different people calling different shots, we have a shared responsibility to ensure we’re true to developing and maintaining that brand strength.


Doug Birling is a senior graphic designer who spends his days and many nights exercising his practiced skills in packaging design, video editing and photography.