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Seek First

We are designers, we tell stories. True fact.

Brands are often represented through stories. True fact.

Everybody loves a good story. Also, true fact.

What is also true is that the heightened appreciation of the story-telling prowess of brand designers, has led to a misunderstanding that they are constructed out of thin air. Or worse, that they are fabricated to cover-up a different brand reality. For the purpose of this blogpost let’s just call them tall-tales, and not stories. These are brand stories that do not work—they do not seem believable, or transfer any of their awesomeness to the brands they represent.

Some brand stories work. Their success may come from one or more results—they seamlessly connect with the brand, they knit the idea of a brand into people’s minds, they pull internal stakeholders into cohesion and so on. Some brand stories work better than others, because they have been found/discovered/excavated from the very depths of a brand’s core. A good brand story is not an independent construct, it comes from within and is shaped with knowledge of its origin and the restraint to stay on-course.

For designers, the value of finding a good story within the brand is manifold. It means that you are starting with focus, you are already connected to the core. It means that exploration is guided, and output is focussed. Most importantly, it means that your skills and efforts are amplifying genuine ideas and not fighting a desire to ‘just’ change something.

So seek first. And then create the narrative and give it form. For us, time and again, in the course of work on brand identity, the strongest stories have come from within the brand.

While working on the identity for non-banking finance company Jacob Ballas, we spoke to a selection of clients from their portfolio, to realise that their personal attention to detail is what stood them apart from the big giants in the segment. And therefore subsequent design did not attempt to stand as tall and grand as other players, but instead work with the advantage of smaller and more involved scale.

More recently, when we were working on the redesign of the brand identity for Royal Enfield, we were working in the construct of a brand which embraces diversity and quirks. This was not a brand (and therefore not an identity system) that followed a cookie-cutter approach to brand extensions. But we were looking still for something that could weave a common thread across all the different manifestations of the brand identity. And then we discovered the handprinted stripes on the Bullet motorcycle fuel tank. Not just on youtube

but also live and in person at the manufacturing plant in Chennai.

The handprinted stripes are limited to the fuel tank of one of Royal Enfield’s most iconic product lines, the Bullet. But what it stands for is true for the entire brand, an unwavering commitment to craftsmanship. The dual-lined stripe was the story we were looking for. It became the thread—a story known to some, discovered by some and narrated to others. It came from the brand’s legacy, but came alive as a detail, an accent across the board.

Everybody loves a good story. True fact.

But, seek first so you know you’ve got the right one.