Creating rules so you know which rules to break

Imagine the pitch. The proposal is to create a number of wordmarks and use them all at once. Design a number of colour palettes and use them all. A number of graphic styles and we’re going to mix them up; we’re going to change it all regularly. All your shops? Different colours, all of them, different typefaces, all different, everything.

You would be forgiven for thinking that it sounds bad. It sounds like a disaster, it’s a mishmash of identity and style with nothing to grasp, nothing to understand or identify with but most importantly, nothing to recognise.

Except there’s a lot to recognise. Look at the brand package as a whole not just as a visual identity. Look at how consistent your product is. Look at its name for example, or how consistent and uniform your service and customer experience is, how about the style of your playlist, the scent when you walk into a store or even the traits of its locations.

I’ll spare you the bit about John Cage and his 4.33 piece but it’s an interesting analogy, you can read about it here. The upshot: removing the main focus of a performance yet challenging an audience to react conventionally to a musical recital forces a new perspective on the piece. The atmosphere, background and environment becomes the focus of the composition. 4.33 ‘sounds’ different every time it’s performed but what if we’re talking brands instead of music and what if the remaining elements that we talked about earlier were consistent across a brand.

It’s a bit extreme but perhaps it’s a good simulation exercise. Remove the focal point of a visual identity, see if brand perception still stacks up when you look at its component parts. Does removing a visual cue challenge customers to think more deeply about the product or service on offer? What do people choose to identify with when you remove these elements, are the good or are they negative.

A stronger identity within a wider, more relaxed frame.

For me, brands that understand how to make rules that extend beyond colour or typeface or graphic elements and instead concentrate on wider style brackets exhibit confidence in the quality of their product or service. Breaking rules, like modulating your logo type, relaxing your colour palette or actively evolving your visual style helps assemble a bigger picture, it helps keep people interested and coming back for more. It helps people stay inquisitive.

What about the idea of presenting each outlet of your brand as an independent concern, each with its own identity within a broader frame. How about the concept of representing a larger cross section of ‘style’, strengthening its association with a particular period in time, industry or influence or being able to tailor the particulars of an outlet based on its location or ‘macro market’.

Conversely, brands that concentrate heavily on a tight and rigid set of rules but ignore a wider ‘style’ frame have very little scope for a wider understanding of identity. Imagine shrinking an artist's canvas by 90% but telling him to paint the same picture with the same size brush.

Dave Rushton

Dave Rushton

Creative director at Hypergram in Leeds, Dave specialises in heritage and luxury brands as well as working directly with a diverse roster of clients in TV, hospitality and leisure.