Getting your show on the road

So, the Future Positive team asked me the following about my creative process: 
“Craig, how on earth do you go about distilling all of the complex information we give you and ultimately end up turning it into a beautiful new brand?”  

Allow me to take you on a journey…

Ok. So, I’ve got the project keys from the client. The team have filled up my fuel tank/charged up my EV battery with briefs and a dozen or so reference links. Now it’s up to me to decide which direction to travel to arrive at the final destination and deliver the goods. 

The ‘goods’ in my case are usually the visual components of a new brand. Often appearing deceptively simple from the outside, they accommodate a lot of information such as brand purpose, values, mission and customer requirements. 

So where exactly should I start? What’s the best route this time? How do I turn all of this into shapes, colours, fonts? How will it animate? Will it use video? Can it change the world? 

Firstly, I don’t panic. It’s a fairly long but by now familiar road. I begin by packing some snacks; making sure I have a ‘map’ and estimating the journey time as I plan out my trip; not forgetting the importance of making time for a few carefully orchestrated breaks on the way. 

Thankfully I’m lucky enough to work with a very experienced and strategically minded team. They do a lot of research and, more importantly, hold workshops and group sessions with clients where I end up doing a lot of listening.  

And here’s the key, I listen. I listen to the client. I listen to my team. I make it my business to understand as much as I can about their goals, their products and services, and their end users. 

While everyone has their own path, here are my next steps: 

Imagination: I tend to keep away from screens and get quickfire ideas down on paper. Throughout the meetings, I take notes and sketch freely. Remember: your pad is a safe place where the pages don’t judge you (that comes later). I don’t overthink it at this stage. I usually include these initial sketches in presentation decks: this is the ‘spark’ – even if it does end up evolving into something completely different. At this point I don’t get stressed out about typography, colours or imagery; they can feature further down the road, once the engine is really warmed up. I try not to limit my approaches early on. Instead, I prefer to challenge myself, take multiple paths, and see where they take me. You risk getting lost. Taking a one-way street. Ending up in a cul-de-sac. But it’s all part of the journey. Soon you find an open road, and when you do it’s time to hit the pedal. Roll down the windows and crank up the music…  

I then try to immerse myself into the customer’s world as much as possible. When working on a project with Fender in my pre-Future Positive days I took my team along to the studio. There we forgot about the task at hand for a while – trying out guitars instead to experience that feeling the customer gets when first picking up an instrument. 

And before developing the brand identity for Yukan Canoes, I headed down to the river to get inspiration from the different craft on the water and the natural surroundings. It gave me a sense of the culture and the customer. With an understanding of the craftsmanship and the products, I was inspired to incorporate the grain of marine ply and the construction techniques in the making of the logo. ( 

Experimentation: Once I have an initial set of ‘sparks’ (or spark plugs, to continue our analogy), I move over to the screen and continue experimenting to see how robust and applicable they are.  

It’s a time to play and escape the feeling that you must create the final brand identity at this point. And while none of the initial routes should be dismissed at this stage, it soon becomes clear what’s working and what’s not. You learn how to tell a dead cert from a dead end. 

Personally, I create mood boards for everything: colour, typography, illustration, imagery, even animation and motion. This is about more than meeting requirements: it’s a great place to show clients and the team something they haven’t seen before; a new place they can take it. Of course the client can always say no to your idea of a 20ft neon sculpture that wraps around their HQ. But at the same time they might see something in it that inspires a new idea. 

Once these ideas start gathering momentum, I let them fly and see where they go, giving myself enough space; knowing that inspiration will flow and the ‘magic’ will materialise. At this point if a creative block does appear I go and do something completely different. Pruning the bonsai. Playing the tuba. Milking the cat. It’s true that ideas often present themselves when you’re not looking for them. 

I’ve learned to be confident enough to ask for longer if I need it: you have to be happy with where you’ve got to before you present it back. And just like a journey it can take time to get somewhere great. 

Presentation: When presenting work, I like to give the client at least three routes to choose from. As a rule of thumb, the first one should at least meet the brief, whereas the others can be more disruptive and push the boundaries. It’s important to challenge the market as you never know how adventurous or ambitious a client will turn out to be, and often they don’t know until they see it. From a visual standpoint you’re looking for immediacy, clarity and punch, so the simpler the better, but it pays to be bold and to try and be different.  

At this stage, we’re still collaborating, working with – not just for – the client. Their feedback is crucial, as well as input from the rest of team, so a big part of the presentation stage is listening again. 

Evaluation & Verification: After pitching or presenting any creative work the first thing we do is to re-group as a team. Hopefully we either have a chosen creative route to develop or a clearer direction on where to head next. For me this is where the crafting happens: I close the workshop door, sharpen the tools, flip down the visor on my welding mask and get busy. Of course I step out occasionally to run the work past my colleagues and make sure everyone’s 100% happy before we present the finished brand creative to the client.  

Having confidence in the work also plays a part. I remind myself to relax and enjoy presenting, after all, a lot of teamwork has gotten us this far. Good or bad, all feedback is fuel: you may have missed a more scenic route, or it may lead you on to somewhere entirely new. Just make sure you enjoy the journey – from experience it always makes for a better result.

If you’re looking for ways to make your complex more visually compelling take a look at the BEAUTIFY service from Future Positive.