Design research is a continually evolving discipline. But even as new methods of data collection and analysis are explored, their aim remains steadily fixed on the same target: deeper insights into customer behavior. Unfortunately, schedules and budgets often conspire against research. Still, some quick initial research almost always saves time—and it might just provide the creative spark you need.
Do Your Homework
Before you begin designing a logo, do your homework. For starters, get to know the company—its current strategy and any past graphic identities that had been developed. The desire to be perceived as fresh or new often prompts companies to leave a rich visual history in the drawer. Mining these resources for source material provides a logical starting point for a new graphic identity.
Learn about the company’s target audience: What are their needs, their preferences, and their goals? Developing a graphic identity a company’s employees feel good about wearing on a T-shirt or baseball cap is an accomplishment. Identity work rooted in an understanding of the audience can transform a logo into a badge customers will proudly wear.
Additionally, find out what competitors are doing. The Internet makes it easy to conduct a quick survey of logos within the same or related categories. It’s also wise to look at marks developed for companies with similar names or letterforms. Even if these other solutions do not raise a legal conflict, they’re good input for your work.
Constraints and Opportunities
Initial research provides a better understanding of the constraints under which an identity program will operate. Constraints may eliminate some options, but in doing so, they help define the design problem. Embrace constraints as opportunities for innovation.
Designers are well served to experience the context directly to better shape their understanding of what solution might be optimal. Find out everything you can: What is the resolution of the device? What are the color limitations of the output method? Are sound and motion options? Can it be interactive? What are the lighting conditions? Does it need to hold up to daily use?
Most media do at least one thing well, so let your insights guide you to applications that leverage the strengths of your materials. Good identity programs work across multiple media, so there may be a time and a place for everything.
Know Your Customer
Great brand identities forge a real and direct emotional connection with their customers. It starts with a deep understanding of your target audience. Needs, preferences, goals, desires: You can never know enough about your customer.
There is a wide variety of traditional customer research techniques—surveys, focus groups, etc.—but newer ethnographic research methods are becoming an increasingly larger part of the design research mix.
Ethnographic research methods are aimed at discovering unmet or unarticulated customer needs that are less likely to be revealed with more overt research methods. They include activities such as customer observation and shadowing. Meeting the needs of customers in ways that others either currently don’t or can’t is a true competitive advantage.