In a recent article published by It’s Nice That, graphic designer and writer Elizabeth Goodspeed talks about trends and originality in the world of branding. Goodspeed writes:

Commercial art is in a bind; clients’ increasing reliance on venture capital and fast returns has pressured designers to deliver work ever-quicker and more predictably. Coupled with post-Covid economic tensions and an impending recession, originality has become a gamble.

This means that lots of work ends up looking similar, with some brands having more in common with their competitors than they’d like. If brands want to truly stand out, it means working with an agency that is willing to take risks—but this is easier said than done.

The designers and agencies who manage to create lofty mythologies about their studio and approach often succeed in pitching unconventional rebrands to hesitant clients – but therein lies the paradox. Getting buy-in on unique work often requires already having done unique work before. Only once a studio gets press coverage or commercial recognition for a groundbreaking originality does it tend to attract clients looking for similar levels of ingenuity. In contrast, studios not already known for making “weird” work might find it challenging to secure clients willing to deviate from the norm.

For many companies, it might seem difficult to find a well-matched studio that can accommodate their project and deliver a truly original brand, all whilst remaining affordable. (At Novagram, we believe that we solve this problem for clients—if you’re interested in working with us, get in touch.) In fact, the financial aspect of branding projects is important to consider. Goodspeed writes:

From a financial perspective, the rise of value-based pricing over the past decade has muddied the waters between designers and clients further. Compared to industries like construction, where cost breakdown between labour and materials are clear, branding fees aren’t always easily parsable. Even when deliverables are expressly defined, by nature, the scope of a rebrand extends much further into the murky ether. Clients are ultimately paying for ideas, expertise and the occasional spark of genius that can’t be quantified by hours or days.

This lack of clarity can lead to confusion over costs. If clients choose a low-cost option without fully understanding the implications for their organisation, they may end up with a brand that is almost indistinguishable from the brands of similar companies.

“Pre-Branding” or “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) branding – where clients receive pre-made or quickly made identities that are just enough to get them over the first hurdle of fundraising or launch – have also contributed to increased confusion around the value of design.

This isn’t to say that this type of project is always a bad thing: we’re able to help clients who need temporary or transitional work, but we’d be even happier to follow this up by extending the project into something more thoroughly-considered. After all, work that is delivered quickly or developed over a rushed timeline cannot benefit from the deep thinking and passage of time that are often foundational elements of a well-executed branding project.

Goodspeed acknowledges that there is a balance between originality, and what is appropriate for each individual brand. At Novagram, we always take the time to understand our clients and make sure that what we are delivering is as effective as possible for each unique project. To this point, Goodspeed quotes Emmunah Winer, creative director at branding studio Nihilo:

“Many clients mistake newness for bravery, but sometimes bravery can be something restrained, if that’s what the client needs.”
— Emunah Winer

We believe that as a truly experienced and consultative agency, we will always be able to advise what is best for our clients. We’re not afraid to present edgy ideas, but we’re equally unafraid to work in established styles where necessary or appropriate. As Goodspeed notes, context matters:

[Is] a 100-year-old company trying to regain cultural relevance? Is the company expanding its business or product offerings? Are they scaling up to reach more audiences, or merging with another company?

Goodspeed also quotes Dave Ladd, executive creative director at global design agency Koto:

“[N]ot every rebrand is going to be the most cutting edge or incredible thing you do – some people don’t want to shift entirely and it’s not feasible for them to do so”. In Dave’s words, “a font is not a brand, and an illustration is not a brand. There is no original idea – it’s how you assemble parts in what order.”

This is one of the tricks to good branding, and it’s an art we’ve perfected over many years. We’ve reached a level of discernment that greatly benefits our clients. The decisions we make with each project are original but not gambles – they are unique to each client and their strategy, precisely calculated, and delivered with flair.

We are Novagram, a UK creative agency
specialising in branding, design and digital development