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Backwards Branding: Case Study

With my last couple of branding clients, I’ve tested a new design process.

While our studio has thankfully achieved a zero-revision and friction-free process with our clients, there’s been a looming friction point I was unaware of until recently.

It was an internal struggle that I accepted as the norm. Something within my brand design process that I resisted for nearly a decade.

The internal friction was this: Why do I struggle so much with designing logos?

Ironic, I know, coming from a logo designer! And one that teaches about logo design to fellow designers.

While the final brand identity design is something I’m always proud of, it’s the process that sometimes feels like a struggle.

It wasn’t until the last year or so when I decided to take a deeper look into my design process that I realized I naturally embrace a backward approach to branding.

I design the logo last.

(I can hear my design professors gasp!)

While clients hire us for logo design, our specialty is brand identity design. Meaning: We create typography systems, color palettes, graphic elements, patterns, submarks, collateral, and yes… logos.

As a former in-house designer, it’s in my training to think of the comprehensive brand identity design rather than solely the logo.

When I looked at my current logo process I had a moment of clarity. As I was designing the logo, I couldn’t help but play with typography layouts on the side of my artboard.
Here’s an example of what I mean:

Look at that type sitting on the side of the artboard, almost ashamed it’s not waiting for its “turn” to be considered yet!

This part of my process felt like I was distracted or procrastinating on the logo design.

But then I questioned…

Was it wrong to design the logo last? Or was I embracing my type-forward approach to design?

After all, the brand application (print, packaging, web, etc.) shows the logo minimally. Why wouldn’t I focus my attention heavily on layouts, and emphasizing the logo a bit less?

(I think I heard another gasp…)

Not to diminish the logo, but instead prioritizing other brand elements earlier in my design process alongside the logo design.

This is when I realized that my design philosophy was a bit different than what I was taught in design school, as well as how my peers typically approach logo design.

Rather than fighting it, I embraced designing type layouts first, or alongside, the logo design.

I tested it out behind the scenes and then brought Ash (our lead designer) into the process as well.

The results?

Designing logos has felt a lot easier.

As a bonus, it’s added a helpful check-in behind the scenes for our team when designing brands for clients.

Introducing: The Brand Style Tile

What does this look like?

Instead of initiating the design process with logo sketches, we’ve introduced a new step. The Brand Style Tile.

This is a working document in which we’ll test out photography styles, graphic elements, mock typography layouts, and logo concepts.

It helps us see the entire brand together as we test out type + logos together.

Here is an example from one of our client projects:

As we sketch and refine the logo, we’ll have several versions of this style tile. It’s a work in progress, and we embrace that. The client won’t see it :).

Full case Backwards Branding case study:

Here is a behind-the-scenes video of a client project where we used the “backwards branding” method.

In this video I share:

  1. All about the brand style tile — a new step our team has introduced when designing brand identities. What it looks like, where it fits in our process, etc.

  2. The design process from start to finish

  3. How we translated the brand style tile to the client presentation, collateral and website

Enjoy the full case study below!

Want more examples?

I’ve pulled together 6 brand style tile examples (.pdf) for you to reference as you try out the Backwards Branding method.

Ready to try out the Backwards Branding approach? I’d love to know your thoughts below in the comments!

– Jamie


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