8 "Must Haves" for Evaluating Brand Design


Presenting work is one of my favorite things in this business. My heart is always racing. I’m anxious every time but only because this moment represents the culmination of hundreds of hours of effort. A lot of thinking and sleepless nights. Moments of exhilaration when you start to see great stuff coming to life, and the minds of the gifted start to bear fruit. There is a lot that leads you to this big moment, a big moment for everyone because I know the clients are equally excited…creative is the best part of all our jobs.

Regardless of product categories or project types…whether the assignment is about innovation  concepts and ideas, or naming, or design, I can wholeheartedly say that two presentations are never ever exactly alike. Except for that one big question that always comes up: “How do you know which idea is strongest?”

Factoring in a group of stakeholders (both clients and agency side, all trying to set aside personal preferences for objectivity) it’s a difficult question to answer, even for the seasoned.

Our team has identified and tested a handful of rules (or “MUST HAVES”) that each concept, name, or design must follow in order to make it into the room.

These “must haves” must also work holistically and always answer the brief. Sometimes they even help us go beyond and unearth surprising new solutions that only the magic of creativity and design can solve. They’re not meant to replace gut instinct or the freedom of genuine creativity that goes against the grain of conventional thinking; however, it helps to know what the “gives and takes” are when rolling the dice.

1: Standout: "Did you see that?"

Whether it’s on the shelf or a photo on e-commerce, the world today is more crowded than a Tokyo subway car at rush hour. Visually standing out is becoming more and more difficult in every category. So “MUST” #1: determine which designs will visually standout and set themselves apart. This doesn’t mean “bigger, bolder” all the time…it just means: does this design have a shot at breaking through the clutter?

2: Memorability: “I can’t get that out of mind!”

Again, back in the same crowded world, filled with a lot of great stuff, the creative work before you, the name, the design, must be almost instantaneously memorable for the consumer. As the traditional ways of support give way to the fast and furious technology-driven world today, what about this idea or design will make it stand out from the crowd? What is going to make it “sticky?” Answer those two questions and you’ll have a better chance of becoming a brand that cuts through and sticks in people’s minds. 

3: Storied: “That brand has depth!”

Many believe that a storied brand is very important to Millennials, but it is actually very important to everyone else too. We are all yearning for more depth from the brands we are willing to pay a premium for. When we sip scotch we are drinking in character, history and craft. When we use hand-milled soap from Portugal, we know it’s the tradition, the level of care that went into its creation that makes this soap feel so luxurious. This is not about the written story, the story needs to be visually telegraphic.

Also, brand stories are not limited to image or “badge” brands. Every brand must bring a consumer more today than just functionality…the experience counts and the design counts now more than ever because your brand is going to help people define who they are. A storied brand builds word of mouth and referrals. Which options are telling the story best?

4: Different: "Well, sure!"

Differentiation has been a critical part of what we do in branding for a very long time. Being different looking than your competition is crucial; having a different, relevant and compelling story is a must. Make sure the competition and field audit you spent the time to do are in the room, better yet, evaluate each concept and design in situ and against the competition. In fact, don’t just look at boards, take the work outside and place it in the world and see for yourself. Most certainly your gut reaction is worth more than almost any traditional evaluation tool. Eye-tracking tests are not inexpensive!

5: Crisp & Clear: “Pow! I get it”

In an effort to be memorable, storied and different, the major watch out is overdoing it. Your customer must understand you in a flash, you must be telegraphically understood, in the wink of an eye. People don’t have the “Mind Space” (per Byron Sharp) to try and decode a design.

6: Worthy: “I’m worth it!”

Depending on what you are offering, worthiness can be measured in several ways. If you are selling a premium product, does the concept and design match the price tag? If your category is undergoing commoditization, what are the cues that would make your target see your brand as a brand worth the premium? Think about what a concept or design does to “earn” consideration. 

7: Has Legs: Beyond brand architecture – think stretch!

The very core of your brand’s idea and expression must be focused and crisp, yet there needs to be a robustness that will allow for brand stretch in the future into amazing spaces. When I was a young very cool “dude”, I never thought I’d fly a 747 called Virgin! But from CBGB’s to airline was made possible by the strength of the essence of the core of that brand. Could a perfectly positioned bourbon also be a line of men’s sportswear…absolutely.

8: You Must LOVE It: Embrace and support it.

It may be most difficult to define and may not happen right away, yet this  “MUST” is the most crucial. All that we do to build brands -- the big ideas and fantastic design, the greatest minds, all the money spent on validation research -- is worth nothing if you and every corner of your organization don’t LOVE it passionately.

When everyone loves it, from the C-suite to marketing, the sales force and front-line people will want to make it happen. Your collective passion is something that consumers pick-up on. “Loving it” is the most difficult goal to achieve, as creative is subjective, but it’s the one that will make the first 7 “Must Have” rules work harder and help your brand grow faster.

Creating passion and excitement internally will grow your brand better than anything else. Brand engagement with your organization is a “must” also, no digital guidelines manual can do what you can do through personal interaction with all levels both in and outside your organization.

A closing thought: Practice “glass half full” optimism.

We all know nothing is born perfect, so nothing in front of you is perfect yet. Look for the parts of each concept that are great and build from there. Don’t start by playing devil’s advocate - “This one doesn’t do this, and that one doesn’t do that.” 

A meeting where the team evaluates the work from a “glass half full” standpoint is far more productive. Assess each option first by what’s right and good, it will tee everyone up for a better and more productive journey. Starting by trying to identify what is wrong first will leave the team digging out from the start vs. building from the start. It’s also going to be far more fun for everyone! 

Attached is a chart I like to keep with me when leading an internal critique with the team. It truly helps weed out the weakest and allows the strongest work to emerge, and keeps the “filler” back at the office. I encourage you to print it out yourself and take it to every creative presentation. Good luck and I hope it helps!