Design and thinking. Sometimes together.


Branding is thinking made real. Here are some thoughts on design, branding and other miscellany.

A Magnetic Conversation

Below is a quick conversation I had with my good friends at the Magnetic Group. I was sent a somewhat cryptic email from Ziggy asking for my thoughts. Due to my giant and verbose ego I gave them to him. Below is our quick email exchange. I thought there might be something of value that could be teased from it. Or not.


ZIGGY: Can't give any context, but I'm thinking about what it means to test a brand, and how I could tell a company if they had a good one or not.

My general thinking:
-Face validity: That is, can those of us know who know what we WANT the brand to convey point to certain features and see these qualities being conveyed?

-Internal validity: once the concept is explained to interviewees and they are asked to discuss what sort of perceptions they’d expect the brand for such a concept to convey, do they request a “feel” or “approach” that matches what the internal team originally thought would be important to convey. If so, we have internal validity.  

-External validity: Do potential customers who are exposed to the brand pick up on the perceptions the brand was intended to convey. If so, we have external validity.



If the company agents and the creative team all agree on what they want to convey and can see what they want conveyed in the brand, we have face validity.

If the goal had been, “Create a brand that conveys ‘youth.’” we would explain the concept to potential customers and ask them what they’d expect the brand for such a concept to convey. If they say “youth,” we have internal validity.

Next, we would expose potential customers to the proposed brand and assess their perceptions of it. If they perceive “youth,” then we have external validity.



-What attributes of a logo can be measured? I'm thinking about being
memorable, being easily identified, being differentiated from competitors, perceived appropriateness, and general likability. What other dimensions do you consider?

We can also ask about our specific intended perceptions, of course. Like how well the brand conveys ‘youth’ or ‘creativity’ or ‘innovation,’ etc.


More globally, what would constitute evidence? That is, if a company asked me, "Is our logo any good," what would it take to put their minds at ease and resolve the matter?

Let me know if you have time to play along; would love your thoughts.


JASON: Okay. I will try to get at these issues briefly. To be clear there are two things being questioned and measured here. There is brand and there is logo. These are two different things. I would say measuring the two would also be different. For the purposes of this discussion I’ll stick to the subject of the logo. If you want to venture into the idea of brand later, then great!

Face Validity: Certainly there are elements of logos that speak directly to what a company wants to convey, but I would guess literal interpretations are the easiest to see (measure?) like a phone for a phone company or a plunger for a plumber. But sometimes the symbolism isn't direct even if there is a directness to the mark. Two magnets make an M for the Magnetic Group. Obviously there's a pneumonic aspect to the mark, but there are implications of the energy and cleverness of the company that I'm not sure how you "measure". Though a good designer (like me!) can point this out and people internally can get on board.

External Validity: I suppose you can ask people what qualities they perceive and see if they match up with what's desired. But it needs to be noted that no logo is going to be working on it's own to convey messages. It works in concert with all the other materials and communications junk floating around. So while you can ostensibly measure this, I don't think it lets you know if your logo is effective.

If someone came and asked me if their logo was any good I would ask these questions about it:

1.) Is it legible across most media (the web, print, big, tiny, t.v., tattooed)?

2.) Part A.) Is it up to the standards of your line of business, Part B.) If uniqueness is important, is it unique in your line of business?

3.) When you and your designer arrived at the logo did it answer all of the needs you had for it? This speaks to the face validity piece, this assumes that when the logo was created that the client actually was clear in what they were trying to get across in the first place. If they were clear I would imagine they don't even need to question the logo. So, the research probably should go into why they are insecure in the logo and what it is they really want to accomplish.

I would also be careful of what the client means by "good." If they are asking if it's ugly it probably is. But I don't know if that means they should change it or not. Kindred's logo is hideous, but doesn't make or break the brand and for the most part is in line with what Kindred would like to say about itself. The "good" moniker for a logo is subjective in terms of whether or not it is cool, or tasteful, or even if it looks "professional."

That will be all for now.


ZIGGY: Great comments. For the external validity, in the research world, I think the opposite is the problem. Instead of people not seeing your cleverness, they see too MUCH cleverness. That is, they draw connections and connotations that no normal person would ever draw. My suspicion is that it's a function of the research environment: that is, people think, "Hey, this guy invited me down here and is paying me for this, so I better say something really smart." But that's a problem for me, not you.

Back to design...great point about defining "good."  I need to make sure that there IS a way to answer this conclusively to their satisfaction. If I can get them to define what they would accept as convincing evidence, then at least I'll know that it's possible to convince them one way or the other. Otherwise, it's a hopeless sham, and they'll always suspect that their right and everyone else is wrong.


Any other ways that you've found to make a client think, "Yes, this is the way to go."


JASON: How I get clients to go with a logo:

1.) My winning personality

2.) Being able to articulate how it achieves the main themes they want to express

3.) Beyond that it gets a little hairier. You might remember the experience of looking at a bunch of stuff on a logo sheet. All of it seems “good” but one felt more “right” than the others. For our little endeavor it was partly because we were working with multiple names (Link to the post about your naming process), but even within one name we had things we liked about certain marks. Some of the unused logos could be just as successful in the end, but we liked what we finished with mostly for formal and logistical reasons. You could use the mark without the name, being held in a perfect circle lent it to easier usage, the name didn’t have to be broken up like in other logos we liked, yada yada yada. Those details are all well and good, and make for ease of use, but I don’t know that the wining mark is “better” than the others in terms of it’s impression on memory or the tone or the metaphor. Those are much more subjective on the semiotic scale the others are concrete. However, when people are sold on concrete terms it’s A LOT easier to get them to follow you down the road on the metaphoric thing. Hence you can convince people that five colored stripes stand for the five virtues your business holds dear, and all of that mumbo jumbo. Which gets to how I can understand how people will just make insane inferences as to the symbolism of the mark.

And that brings up an interesting thing about the logos and their true function. Because people can so easily imbue things with meaning, even if it is meant to be meaningless, the logo isn’t solely responsible for it’s interpretations or its success. A kind of shitty logo put on an awesome product, wrapped in incredible service =  An incredible logo mixed up in horrible services and bad product = Enron. So another thing I do is try to make sure people aren’t putting all of their eggs in the logo basket. A logo says, this is us, this thing is made by us, we approve of this thing. But it’s not the only thing speaking.