Quick hits and key takeaways from the RGD’s Design Thinkers 2019 Conference in Toronto.

For two days last week, the RGD’s Design Thinkers conference took place here in Toronto. We were in attendance, and the two days of talks, breakout sessions, keynotes, and panels was a thoroughly invigorating experience that covered elements of branding, advertising, graphic design, process, and more.

There were three quotes in particular from three talks that stood out to us, which carry quite a bit of meaning beyond just the inside baseball of design talks aimed at creatives. Without further ado — here they are, along with some of our related thoughts!

“It’s not just about the things you do, it’s about the intent behind it.”

Vanessa Eckstein, Founder & Creative Director, Blok Design

This stood out because so often the focus of commercial creative work is on the output itself, but the intent (and therefore the business or creative strategy) behind what’s being created — whether it’s a logo, or a website, or an ad campaign — is what will ultimately shape whether it has any impact.

On top of that, remaining constantly aware of the business, messaging, or strategic intent behind a project means that you’ll become more open to a pivot of tactics that answers the same strategy in new or different ways. This is a powerful place to begin any project from, as it moves the conversation away from the misguided notion that the rollout of particular tactics — e.g. paid first, then social, then PR, then out of home, then mass, then a rebrand, repeat — must be followed in any one standard order.

Start with what your business needs for the short, medium, and long term, and what the budget range is, and go from there. Everything else should be up for discussion.

“Brands gain power only over time. First impressions can be misleading.”

Sagi Haviv, Partner at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv

Branding is tough. It’s both a deeper peek into the soul of your company than a marketing campaign commonly is, and whatever gets created needs to encompass the big picture without breaking, allow individual expressions to change or evolve over time, and ultimately last way longer than any individual campaign or brand element.

The rubric of what makes a successful brand is therefore different. What makes a great ad campaign, even if conceptually the same, won’t make a great brand. Falling in love with an identity in the first presentation is tempting but dangerous, as the evaluation of appropriateness needs to be weighed by far more than just the CEO’s preferences. A successful branding exercise lets things simmer for perhaps an uncomfortable amount of time before a final decision, which is a crucial step given how long a brand needs to last, and how . many parties — customers, prospects, staff, vendors, partners, the press, etc — that need to be considered.

Haviv went on to say that a logo needs to be appropriatedistinctive, and simple to have any chance of success. A logo is what everyone lasers their focus in on during the brand creation process, and for good reason — but this sometimes puts too much weight on it, as a logo’s success can only be judged in its role in supporting all communications.

Branding is the sum of all parts over time, not just the logo.

“The problem with minimal viable product is it leads to minimal viable thinking”

Brian Collins, Chief Creative Officer, COLLINS

There’s a time for A/B testing and pivoting your way to a final result over a long period of time — but branding and marketing is not it. Branding shouldn’t be treated with kid gloves, as the very success of your company could depend on it.

Branding your company is ultimately the most important time to be boldly, unabashedly yourself. This doesn’t mean you need to be a loud brand; the expression should follow the heart and soul of you are, married to what will resonate with your audience and stand out in the marketplace.

But if going through a rebrand is raising doubts, or if your communication has 17 points of emphasis because messaging can’t be prioritized or you’re addressing too many audiences at once, it’s not going to work. These stumbles along the way are perfectly natural, but they’re a symptom of a larger problem of company direction not being as clear as it could be, which will ultimately hold back your brand identity, regardless of how it looks, sounds, or feels.

You can iterate features. But you can’t iterate soul.