Why I quit freelance design.

Why freelance projects never run smoothy. How to avoid the revision apocalypse.

Brand strategy blew my mind when I discovered it, and it blows my mind time and time again.

I had been searching blindly for the way to make client work better, but I didn’t know how to create the missing inputs my design project needed, and it was just too frustrating. I desperately wanted my projects to deliver more value and run smoothly, but I was severely limited a lack of strategy in the process. I felt like I couldn’t design in a vacuum.

Having infinite choice costs time because you waste time doing the wrong things, or ‘seeing what sticks.’ Three iterations aren’t that many if the first one is based on a guess, and the rest just reactions to the client’s reactions to that guess. Fifty iterations probably wouldn’t really do it in that case.

What designers need are creative constrains. And what better way to make these constraints than with actual strategy? The problem for me was that my clients didn’t have strategy. I needed to learn how to translate their needs and goals into brand strategy. But I didn’t know this, so I quit.

A designer who’s been around the block a few times knows that working without design constraints is a recipe for disaster. Projects creep beyond scope as revisions pile up, clients and designers misread each other’s intentions. Projects starts to feel like wading through a swamp. You put on a cheery face, but it’s not that great. It’s not great for the client either. They trust that designers will apply their magical ‘creative’ skills and magically come up with results that fit their personal taste, in the lack of any other real criteria.

Enter Strategy

When I was finally exposed to brand strategy via the Futur, I knew it was the missing link. My previous freelance clients all had no brand strategy. I realised I needed to get into the design process on the ground floor, by downloading their strategy, or helping them define it.

Brand strategy is a vague concept that doesn’t describe itself very well – mostly because brand itself is elusive. Most people mistake it to mean identity, and it is, but not the outer layers. Brand goes so deep – it’s basically the way you get judged by people – and this judgement is subconscious in the same way people judge other people is automatic. Brand strategy is an effort to influence the judgement, so that you are understood the way you want it to be.

It’s very strategic and needs to be, because none of the factors are obvious. A business has a solution, there is likely something that unites people with the problem, the brand needs to find the best way to find and talk to those people. It needs to work out where they are in life, what their likes and challenges are and what they respond to, and manufacture a brand that caters for that.

That’s the core of brand strategy. But because the brand is a complex culmination of every single touchpoint, it’s a big job to translate and implement the strategy into individual tactics. The brand strategist would usually provide guidelines for the translation.

Because the brand is so ineffable, brand strategy is usually a collaborative process, led by a specialist but including anyone who cares or has stakes.

In cases where the brand is more authentic, like a personal brand, it might not have to be that complex, but the brand strategy still needs to be identified and communicated so as to create direction and certainty. In any case, the act of communicating things which you assume about yourself and your people will in any case give rise to a lot of ideas and allow you to use techniques such as idea generation matrix to keep yourself engaged with everything.

The strategic part is all in the planning, and translating the heuristic into the tangible. Identifying those hard to describe attributes, and painting a picture of a general type as a specific persona, is all very creative, although you can include as much real-world information as you can. One reason it might not be good to do this though is if those inputs have preconceived limits baked in. For example (a worst case scenario), using your current customers’ demographic as the basis for your personas, rather than the customer you aspire to or a customer that is more compatible with your goals. In this way, another layer of abstraction is applied in brand strategy: it looks to the future.

To see how brand strategy can improve your design process, and increase your value as a creative, hit me up for a call.