"A Graphic Design Agency That Takes The Status-Quo and Eats It."

RITUAL –  Lasting

At last we see the end really is only just the beginning.

07 April 2015
Josh Davidson

We now come to the last element of RITUAL, Lasting. In my opinion, this is the one that makes the distinction between ‘good’ design and ‘great’ design – perhaps being the most difficult to pull off. It’s also the point at which you put some distance between yourself and the company you’ve built. With Cornwall having become something of a hotbed of start-up companies, everything feels somewhat new again. Not only are there a lot of new technologies that justify establishing a company in the first place, but there are also new ways to employ existing practices in better, more exciting ways. What lasting aims to do is make you think inwardly about the direction of the company and not just what is considered ‘iconic’ design (a vague term if ever there was one) – that’s what using RITUAL as a whole helps to achieve. What you need to realise is that if your brand is to be successful you must look to the future and not just the now. The present is happening right now, and it becomes the past in a matter of seconds; if you stand and spend too long evaluating, you’ll miss out on what could be.

As morbid as this sounds, one day you will die. What you need to decide is what happens to your company when you do. Does it end with you? Does it go on with someone else carrying the flagpole? Is it sold along with the rest of your estate? What’s worth remembering is that while humans have a finite life span, brands don’t. While you may not want to dwell on this fact, there is a silver lining to it: your company will last as long with such a mentality. So many start-ups worry if they will get past the 5-year mark without having to re-mortgage their house a few times or sell-off some non-essential organs. While it’s a viable concern, your best weapon with which to combat it is perception – a word that perfectly sums up why design is so important to a company.

Perceptions can be false, exaggerated and, most importantly, positive. The running theme here is that you can create a perception rather than letting others dictate how well your company is doing – hence the need for good branding. A brand that delivers on perception states that the company and brand are here to stay; they don’t expect to fail. When a company first starts up and has a logo they created, purely ‘for the moment,’ perception states that they are considering failure as an option and so don’t want to invest in a permanent brand. This in turn suggests that their company isn’t quite good enough for whatever reason. See, design gives people this impression, however quick or subconscious the thought process is. Don’t ever underestimate the human powers of assumption.

Two very useful ways to generate a positive perception lay in ambition and passion – making a spectacle of these will only communicate good things to people. Having a strong passion for something you do or have created demonstrates its value. It also speaks volumes about your ability; generally speaking you can only be passionate about something you’re good at. Passion demonstrates care and an energetic enthusiasm that people find alluring - somehow it becomes their passion too. Think of a good front man for a band, they can work the crowd and get them singing & dancing; the audience goes mad for it.

Ambition is the way of seeing something through as a goal. You can be passionate about drawing animals, but lack the ambition to do anything with the talent. Coupled with passion, ambition tells people that not only do you believe whole-heartedly in your own talent, but others will too – these will be the customers/clients that make your business a success.

Essentially these are the people you make memories with; brands become part of these people’s lives in one way or another. I remember my first trip to a theme park – Universal Studios in Florida. I remember the rush of the roller coasters and the excitement of boarding the rides. It wasn’t a feeling I had ever experienced before; whilst several people sat in sheer terror, my sister and I sat grinning, anticipating the adrenaline rush that was in store for us. The rides also piqued my interest in physics and I went on to study it at college level. As the theme park continued to succeed and improve, we have since returned to try new rides and revisit old ones, making new memories with new people. I still keep an eye the park’s announcements to keep track of their progress and see what new rides we get to try out next. I want to continue making these memories when I have my own family.

That’s the feeling that brands need to aim for – not verbatim, obviously, but a sense of continuation – a sense that it’s not a one-time deal. A lasting brand will have its clients and customers return to it and take people with them, or even introduce friends and family to it. This is a relationship with your audience that is worth more than you can imagine; it’s not an easily quantifiable thing. Not only are they doing your marketing for you, they’re encouraging people to make these memories with your company too, kind of beautiful really.

What’s crucial to take away from this, other than the power of word-of-mouth, is the effective delivery of your service. Universal’s park branding isn’t the best, but they have consistently provided me with a great experience. You’re branding could be the greatest of all time, but if people hate your product or the way you do things you’re not going to last particularly long.

I think this idea is fantastic, but it wasn't exactly something they could keep, nor was it legal.

The internet is a great boon to this effect: businesses can make use of pop-culture to increase sales by reconnecting with previous customers or by jumping on with those riding the newest bandwagon. Think of it this way – if you were to meet someone at a music gig, you would probably find you are both interested in some of the same stuff outside of the music; that’s usually when you become friends and discover such interests together. Businesses can have interests too and they normally show up when said interest is popular enough for their customers to embrace it. Usually seen with companies who make novelty and creative gifts, anything contemporary presents an opportunity to generate more market awareness. What you don’t want to do is base the business solely around these things: if, for instance, a company made clothes inspired by Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, I would be associating myself with GotG brand, rather than the brand that made the clothes. It means I will probably not be interested in buying from the brand again. To make use of pop culture and the like, you need to make sure your brand is tractable enough to be recognizable no matter what references you make. This way, customers are interested in the brand’s offerings instead of just buying a ‘cool’ T-shirt; they are eager to see what you produce next.

I spoke in the alluring post about fandoms, which are not just expanded universes and poor character design – they are also about brand association. I started to talk about the divide between Microsoft and Apple, and how they created audiences by targeting different mentalities in people who use technology. A lot of people will feel they have to use PCs because they are a work-related item, associated with the daily grind, whereas Apple leads the market in personal accessories. People will more than likely feel happier using an Apple product if they associate it with the memories of communicating with friends and family in a positive way – hence the perceived higher value of Apple products. The interesting thing is their respective secondary audience, who are totally immune to the same appeal the primary audiences go for. PCs have a very dedicated following of programmers/developers and complex-imagery producers like those that work with 3D or animation. This is probably because of the ease of control PCs have - with enough computer knowledge, you can do just about anything, which is also the case for LINUX users, required to produce such vastly complicated things. Apple have the majority of the graphic design industry using their devices (admittedly no where near as complicated), more than likely because they believe their work looks better on these computers, which is a terrible sentiment considering most people interacting with these designs won’t be using the same equipment. I use both, in case you were wondering: each platform has its pros and cons. However, most will have an association with one brand and be heavily on its side; I’m just an over-critical git (editor’s note: he is).

People align themselves to brands that they regularly interact with. When such brands have this level of dedication, they can put out just about anything and their audience will embrace it with open arms. Put out something similar from a competitive brand and the audience will blast it for being technically inferior or call it just plain copycatting.

You should hear the arguments between PlayStation and Xbox users; it gets fierce to the point where it becomes personal. People want ‘their’ brand to be the best because it makes them feel better, even smarter than the person using what they consider to be a worse product just to justify a purchase. It isn’t easy to garner this level of dedication from users in most industries (sorry accountants), but if you can get customers on your side of the competition to the point they are fighting it for you, then you will very much enjoy the internet fame these heated debates will bring you. You don’t obtain such fearsome admiration by being a timid, publicly-concerned company. You must be fearless: no doing what other companies have done because it’s the ‘safe’ option – nobody remembers the copycats. This isn’t how to get people on your side.

"This isn’t at all specific to the design industry – it’s known as ‘planned obsolescence’."

For once I’m explicitly telling you what to do. Stick to your guns, even if the grass appears greener on the other side. It’s so easy to go with the current trend; designers will often opt for such an approach because it doesn’t occur to them to take a risk. For them, what currently looks fashionable is what works across the board – what is regarded as successful. With this in mind they effectively mimic, without thoroughly understanding, a design idea for a company that fits them worse than a suit from the 90’s. However, the thought of this being bad seems so readily apparent to me that I’m becoming increasingly suspicious. What if they produce branding and design that only works for the span of 5 years, knowing the company in question will have to come back for a rebrand when they realise how “old-school” their visual identity now looks. This isn’t at all specific to the design industry – it’s known as ‘planned obsolescence’.

Many years ago, a bunch of light bulb companies sat around a table and complained how their sales were dwindling. Apparently their bulbs were so good people didn’t need to change them; imagine that today! They decided that the best way to have an increased number of on-going sales was to make the bulbs deliberately break after a relatively short while. This way, people would have to keep buying them. If only one of the companies did that, they would be deemed to have the worst bulbs and no one would buy from them. So they all agreed that collectively worsening their products was the best course of action. If you think about your branding as one of these light bulbs, how on Earth can it be lasting – let alone iconic - if it is supposed to become defunct?! Do you see Coca-Cola changing their branding every five minutes? No. They’ve stuck to their guns long enough to even define what our current image of Father Christmas is!

Saying "Coke, Coke, Coke" kinda sounds like "ho, ho, ho"... maybe.

That’s an ad from 1931, jump to the modern day and people literally wait for CC’s image of St Nicolas brandishing the side of a red lorry to officially kick-off Christmas; you think I’m kidding, I’m really not:

Coca-Cola has been using their image of Father Christmas ever single year to the point is has become tradition for everybody. If you keep messing around with different campaigns your company will never obtain such recognition, everything you’ve done will fade into obscurity, forgotten in the vast see of advertising campaigns. I applaud Compare the Market for sticking with their meerkat-centric campaign. They created something original and pushed through even when it got to its gimmicky-stage, most advertisers will ditch it for something else at that point (there’s that planned obsolescence again). You might be pleased to know that I not only find this admirable, I rather like the meerkats that appear in CtM’s ads. Little buggers are goddamned adorable. Gimmicks usually occur when advertisers run out of ideas and it quickly looses the cutting-edge appeal it first had. CtM saw to it that they stuck with the idea and built on top of it – it’s now one of the most recognizable brands in the modern market. They didn’t have the advantage of time that Coca-Cola had. In a world where people “have seen everything” they put out something that surprised and delighted all ages. They’ve done some good for preservation and attendance at zoos, not to mention a ton of merchandise sales – a feel-good campaign all round.

This is the last point of call in these RITUAL posts that I get to stress the importance of design. It is so much more than a logo! If you go about your business treating design as a commodity or even just a corporate necessity without truly valuing it, the market you position yourself in will eat you alive. Consider what’s been said in these last 6 posts and critically think how these can apply to your business; that’s not to say take it word for word, totally not the point. Instead, be brave, be bold and mostly importantly, be you.

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Change alone is perpetual, eternal, immortal.