1.  Strategic Graphic Design

What on earth is “strategic graphic design”? It’s what all graphic design should be, but seldomly is. Graphic design can be of integral value to the healthy life of a business/product. Just like a well designed car, or a comfy sofa, the visual expression of a business can draw you/your employees closer to your core values, building unity and giving identity, as well as building a strong brand, giving you the edge in a hotly contested market place. Many claim to add value to their customers in this way while not necessarily having the strategic business and design skills to translate ideals into profitable brands. Traditionally, if you wanted a comprehensive marketing/branding approach you would have needed to go to one of the “big boys”, costing an arm and a leg. Many emerging or growing busineses just can’t contemplate budgets like that. At Thought Sculpture, we believe that good design should never be cheap, but affordable – like buying IKEA, or Habitat furniture. We’re more Volkswagen than Tata or Bentley, although sometimes Toureg rather than Polo. It depends very much on your needs and budget.

How do we give our clients design excellence without costing the earth? Firstly, we run a tight shop, networking with specialists rather than employing many generalists/juniors. This way, just the right people are contracted for the job. Secondly, we have a high level of skill and common sense, which isn’t actually that common. We maintain academic/research acumen, studying trends in society and visual culture by writing, publishing and teaching regularly. We adhere to strict business controls as set out by THINK (Communications Design Council of South Africa). And we play a lot – with words and images, relying on intuition and serendipity to feed the dialogue between customer and designer.

We see each design project as a partnership: you know your clients and markets much better than we’ll ever know them; so our job is to listen carefully and translate your thoughts and aspirations into a powerful visually tactile brand experience.

2. Elements of a Corporate Identity

What is a Corporate Identity (CI)?

Like your own identity, corporate identity represents your organisation’s appearance in the world, mostly outside, but CI also affects internal communication.

Designing a corporate identity can include:

  • the company name, its logo or tag line;
  • developing a standard typeface for signage and or written communication;
  • the appearance of documents such as company publications, letters, minutes, envelopes, advertisements;
  • vehicles;
  • signs;
  • office environments (particularly public areas); and
  • employees’ appearance and manner of interacting with the public, including uniforms and standard interactions (“have a nice day”).

Before you start:

Changing a corporate identity is expensive and time-consuming. Before you change anything, talk to your clients, customers, stakeholders, staff and others, to determine how the organisation is currently seen, and what would need to be changed before their perceptions would change. It’s no use investing in a fancy modern image if your entire internal system is straight out of the British Raj – corporate letterhead and so on is just the icing on the cake.

Consultation:

You should also bear in mind that, no matter how careful you are, or how talented your designer, not everybody will agree on the new design, and some people will hate the finished product. Where changing the logo is a difficult decision, researching the result – or several alternatives – with your key stakeholders, will encourage commitment to the new design, and assist you to justify the final choice. Once you have a design that pleases your key stakeholders (who may include your governing Board, your boss, your most important clients, the clients you wish were your most important clients) it is important that the design is used consistently.

The Style Manual:

Most organisations have a ‘Style Manual’ which instructs the various people who will use the design on exactly how to do so consistently. Typeface, colour, page positioning, and relative size will all be important considerations. You may need to consider what will happen to your colours when they are reproduced in a black and white document. You may also wish to specify which types of documents will carry the logo and which will not.

3. On logos

A good logo must be both memorable and have a positive association.

We live in a world where everyone is vying for our attention. Information overload is an every day occurrence. It is estimated that the information every human has had to cope with in the last ten years is more than all of previous history put together. And it will be double that in another ten. Which means that it is not good enough simply to put your stuff out there, hoping it will be noticed/remembered. You have to give it a “memory hook”, let it tell a story which will be remembered. A picture may tell a thousand words, but not all pictures are created equal. A skilled designer can help your story telling by creating a logo which speaks when you’re not there.

4. On print

Most print communication is experienced at an arm’s length – literally. You read words at your finger tips. You also feel them. Feel the paper, respond to the messages subconsciously. If it’s a strain to read, you’ll respond negatively, regardless of content/service offered. If the paper is tacky, or the ink smudged, the type too small or too “arty” your brain simply leapfrogs. We remember things we like. And we like well crafted, well written, easily digestable print. Like a good dish, it’s a combination of presentation, varied aromas, textures and tastes, and how satisfied you feel in the end.

At Though Sculpture, we will not only originate your print communication requirements, but also manage the production so that the original intention bears fruit in the final piece. We will source a reputable print-shop, manage colour and paper, and all the other gremlins associated with going to print.

When it comes to signage, you will need to consider scale, placement, materials, local regulations about signs, power requirements for lit signs, building owners’ requirements, whether signs will be read from a moving vehicle or by a stationary pedestrian. Added to these are colour fastness outdoors and the need to withstand wind.

Whether we’re talking a small business card, or a huge billboard, we work closely with our suppliers to see the job through.

5. On websites

a. I need a site

You’re in business, you need a site. Probably the most important part of getting a useful site up is a detailed needs analysis. These days most 15 year olds put their own sites online. Getting your nephew to do your site is child’s play.

Which is precisely where the trouble starts. Having a site that will be found by your customers and the search engines has become so important that there is an occupation called “Search Engine Optimisation specialist”. True. Luckily, we have one on board our team. Then you need someone who understands how interfaces either aid, or hinder, engagement with content. That person needs to be a reader, and a surfer – not a likely combination. Many designers are surfers (web or wave), but few engage critically with written, and even visual, content. If you have ever tried to book a flight or plan a holiday online, you’ll know what I’m talking about. While some sites are near impossible to navigate, others are a breeze (with apologies to seaside holidays).

Make sure that your web designer knows more than pretty pictures, but also make sure that your web programmer knows a thing or two about aesthetics.

b. Web design

In print, there’s the page and the stuff on the page (image and text). The content may have many layers of meaning, but the form is two-dimensional. In the web, there’s what you see/hear on a two-dimensional screen, but there’s a whole lot of functionality behind the pixels. You can search, compare, be informed, chat, post, access databases and even reveal your credit card details. It is important that form follows function; but also that function follows form. Hand in glove. No compromise, either way. It is also important that the design can accommodate growth, so that your site can grow as your business grows. Carefully considered design does just that. It creates a framework which is flexible enough to accommodate change, which remaining defined enough so as to enhance the brand experience, not fragment it.

Web design/development is generally a once-off cost to the client, while ongoing maintenance and updating is dependent on functionality and needs.

c. Email newsletters

A brilliant way of keeping in touch with your clients is by sending regular newsletters by email. The postage is less than snail mail, more immediate and the option to unsubscribe easily give people a sense of control. There are no printing costs either, and if you’re prepared to make the effort, you can create and manage your own content once we’ve created a template for you. The real power in email newsletters, apart from informing your customers, lies in the unseen worlds of search engine optimisation and brand loyalty.

Regular communication with your clients puts you into the forefront of their minds as well as letting them know that you can add value to their livestyles/businesses/etc, which in turn builds brand loyalty. One way of doing this is through regular newsletters. The other useful function of emailing newsletters is that they provide a source of fresh content for the search engines, especially when linked to your website. Send out a newsletter with teaser paragraphs, which link through to the full article hosted on your site. Each time a link to the site is made, the search engines are happy because it means that people are using your site. Each time you post a new article, it’s fresh content, which is good webspider food. All of this means that your site is considered by search engines to be of value to their customers, which gives you a better page ranking, which means you get closer to being first on the list when your search criteria are met. And everyone wants to be listed in the top ten listings on google/msn/the like.

d. Manage your own content

You now have a good looking and informative site; you are sending out regular newsletters linking back to the site; you have even arranged cross linking with suppliers or interst groups. All of this is good. Your page rank is healthy; you’re in touch with customers, but it is tedious/costly to update your content. All you want to do is change a few pictures, post your own news, perhaps share events internally. And now you have to ask the webmaster to do what you really would like to do yourself. It’s an ongoing need.

At Thought Sculpture we believe that you should approach us for things you can’t do yourself. Let us take care of the design. If need be we’ll write copy, take photographs or programm the backend database. But if you can do-it-yourself, do it. We’ll make it possible for you to manage your own content, both written and visual, in an easy to use, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, drop-and-drag, cut-and-paste kind of way. We’ve developed the tools to do it, written the code. It’s simple and it works.

e. Online catalogues

Printed catalogues have an immediacy about them. You can sit under a tree, page through your favourite gear and decide at leisure what you want. Trouble is prices are seldomly listed (as they change and as catalgues are costly to produce), which means you either need to phone the supplier or check on a seperate price list. Although we love creating catalogues for print – because there’s someting special about a “glossy” with sensitive typography and striking photographs – we more and more see the need for online showcases. They are more interactive, can easily be updated, can automatically be linked to fluctuating prices, make comparissons easier and purchasing a click away.

f. E-commerce

Want to sell your products or services online? We can provide you with a complete online shopping solution. Before starting on your project, here’s some important questions that will need answers:

  • How many products are you looking to sell through the website?
  • Are the any product variations (e.g. Gender, Size, Colour, Type, Shape)? If so, could you please elaborate?
  • How many product categories are there?
  • Does the website need to keep track of stock keeping?
  • Are there any digital products where people will pay to download items?
  • How will customers pay for their products (e.g. EFT, Credit Card, COD, Cheque)?
  • How will customers receive their goods? Are there any shipping rules involved – if so, how is shipping calculated (e.g. weight, number of goods, value of goods)?
  • Are there any shipping insurance involved and is this included in the price?
  • Will there be any discounts (e.g. Valentines sales)?
  • Have you got all of the product photos / text descriptions at hand?
  • Who will be responsible for processing sales / managing the online store / answering questions?

g. Hosting

Our clients generally host directly with established ISPs (internet service providers). We can assist you in finding the right package for your needs, advising you who is best suited, depending on technical requirements and your client location (national or international).

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