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Who is your brand?

An approach for avoiding the clichéd responses.

Kris Jeary

Published: 22nd August 2014

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As a seasoned designer will recognise, there are clichés abound when asking clients to give character to their brand. Left as an open question you stand to get a mixture of contradictory adjectives:

  • Friendly but authoritative
  • Nurturing but stern
  • Cheeky but serious

I'm sure you've heard these before, and many more equally baffling responses besides.

The alternative (and often the one preprepared by a client) is a list of websites that they like, I dislike this approach even more.

In my experience you typically get either a list of competitors, or big well known sites.

With the competitor sites it often demonstrates how low the bar is, I want to deliver a site tailored to my client not ape a successful competitor.

The list is of well known sites it is even less helpful and mostly quite irrelevant. I've been told "the Apple website" so many times and by clients across the board, recruitment agencies to furniture makers.

At the end of this Q&A what have you learnt? What can you take away and apply to your solution?

My Approach

The path I prefer to take is to ask a client to define their brand's voice in terms of a well known actor and a specific role they've played.

This starts with a name but we then interrogate a little deeper, asking what qualities that character has. By this point you are avoiding the contradictory answers and you have found some common (and non-technical) ground.

I'm no film buff but it gives me an opportunity to ask about what the character stands for and ask a client to give examples within a film where these traits are displayed.

Most of the answers I've been given are really helpful. Han Solo comes up a lot, what does that character mean to you? For me he is confident, no-nonsense, a straight-talker, knowledgeable and adaptable. But always check your assumptions, ensure your client feels the same way and don't lead them, prompt for their answers.

With design it is so easy to sound pretentious, giving out soundbites and quoting Richard Buckminster Fuller (although he is great). This doesn't impress clients, they've heard it all before and they are left with the impression you are going to be this dull and predictable during the design process, not good characteristics for a designer to show.

Avoid the clichéd answers from your client and you will have a better chance of delivering a winning solution, you are the designer and a big part of that role is interviewing your client with skill.

A note of caution; please avoid turning into a film bore. Don't opt for obscure characters in an indie film only you have watched, we are not showing off our film knowledge here. If you need to help your client a little then go for those films that most people have seen; Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Mary Poppins etc.

The moment you have your character you can apply it to every design decision, does this font represent our voice? How about the photography?


I'm not claiming this solution as my creation, it has been brought together from a few differing sources to create an approach that works for me.

The great thing about this approach is that it is fun and engaging, do this early in the process, the first meeting is ideal. It has a double benefit of helping you better understand the brand as well as making a memorable and enjoyable first meeting, one that is likely to stick in your client's mind.

It will set you off on the right path and leads you to start building emotion into your design.

Thanks for reading

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