Cooking Up a Design | Understanding Branding Assets Better
What are branding assets?
In 2019 while I was teaching typography, calligraphy and lettering at RMIT University, I explained to my visual communication students that graphic design has a lot to do with cooking.
Sometimes, you are given the ingredients to cook with, and have to come up with an effective and flavoursome dish; other times, you are in charge of curating the ingredients and the final dish; And other times, you go all the way in and prepare the soil, plant and grow your own ingredients, harvest them, select the recipe, and create a four-course meal!
In either case, each set of ingredients below are part of your daily practice, and as great chefs do, the more literate you are about each of them, the better.
Here are some key branding asset ingredients:
Content (and tone of voice)
Delivered by a copywriter/journalist/scientist/academic or the client itself.
Curated by the graphic designer or delivered by the client.
Photographs (and photography style)
Commissioned specifically to a photographer, or imagery already shot and curated by the graphic designer.
Illustrations and surface patters (and illustration style)
Commissioned specifically to an illustrator, or imagery already created and curated by the graphic designer.
Crafted by a letterer or the graphic designer itself.
Logotype / Logomark / Wordmark / Icons
The ingredients above is what I call branding assets. Mixed together they will produce a desirable dish, which will reflect the brand’s tone of voice, and speak to the client’s target audience in its specific market space.
Crafting branding assets or cooking with them?
In some instances, each branding asset has been crafted independently, and the designer’s job is to balance them all creating a thought-out piece of visual communication containing the right amount of harmony and tension.
In other instances, designers are able to craft the assets themselves, as we can see in many self-generated works where the author creates the content and context for the piece; chooses the colour palette; takes their own photographs or creates their own illustrations/imagery, and craft a custom lettering for it. Additionally, some designers doubling up in typeface design will also develop their own font for the project.
Cooking Up Time
Some recipes are quick 15-minute meals, others take days, weeks or months. It is important to identify if you are cooking a meal, crafting an asset, or doing both.
Designers don’t sell time but provide value to a company, individual or organisation. Understanding your personal circumstances, the costs of your business, the industry you are designing for, and the value you are providing are key elements to help you price your work.
The more experienced a designer is, the faster they will be able to execute a task. And — paraphrasing Debbie Millman — “the more repeatedly successful endeavours they have accomplished, the more confident”.
Time and practice are the key ingredients for experience, as well as mastery and excellence. Tara Brach illustrates these concepts in this interview between a reporter (R) and a bank president (BP) where the first one asks:
R — “Sir, what’s the secret of your success?”
And the response is:
BP — “Two words”
R — “And sir, what are they?
BP — “Right decisions”
R — “But… How do you make right decisions?”
BP — “One word”
R — “And what word is that?”
BP — “Experience”
R — “And how do you get experience?”
BP — “Two words”
R — “And sir, what are they?”
BP — “Wrong decisions”
In the past, I have visited many countries where I didn’t speak the native language, so having a visual menu to pick my meal was extremely handy. In the same way, some clients may not have the right vocabulary or language to communicate what they are looking for, so having a visual menu of your branding assets may be a great way to guide them. I learned about this concept for the first time in an interview with Catalan designer Marta Cerdà and I thought it was a very graphic explanation to how your self-generated or pro-bono work can play a significant roll in getting in more flavour-aligned commercial projects.
Your visual menu can attract, illustrate and inform the client on the type of dishes you are able to cook, depending on the meal they are looking for. This below is an example of my custom lettering, wordmark and logomark menu.
Why clients commission branding assets?
Brands occupy a specific space in the market, and branding assets help them to communicate to their audience in a personal, identifiable, emotional and impactful way.