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Purpose – the clear path to visual identity

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I have worked on dozens of identities in my career and my partner Dwayne has probably worked on 10x that number. Identities are hard, certainly even more if when the identity itself is perceived as the core of the brand. Trying to fit the vision, mission, and values into a logo is pretty difficult. But it ought not to be so.

I remember a particular design instructor and that first fateful logo design project. He correctly taught that a logo was the distillation of an idea, an act of reduction until all that was left was the purest version of that idea. In order to get there, we were berated with a constant refrain to produce “billions and billions of thumbnails sketches”. Billions. And billions. To this day, if you say “logo” or “thumbnail” to me, I may break down and hide under a chair. But he was right. Thanks, Jim.

A logo is like your signature. Identity is like your wardrobe. Both are important, but no one would ever say that your signature and clothing are ALL that makes you YOU. They are outward representations of style, taste and status, but they are not you. Identities are exactly this for companies – outward reminders of who the company is.

At Symbra, we get companies ready for growth and success. How? We start with purpose. This is deeper than a logo signature or a set of colours. It is a deep understanding of dreams and passion – the important stuff. Purpose is a company’s heartbeat. Understanding purpose actually makes many things easier, including identity work.

What I’ve learned in the past year or so, is that designing an identity for a company driven by purpose is actually much easier. Writing for a company that has a clear purpose, vision, mission & values identified is much easier. Why? Because it’s easier for a person to know what clothing to wear understanding body style, tastes, activity level, skin type and why. For companies, knowing the passions, the outcomes and the results that really drive it forward to make designing for it a clear path. Instead of billions of thumbnails, you can visualize much faster.

It is deeper than a logo signature or a set of colours. It is a deep understanding of dreams and passion – purpose is a company’s heartbeat. Understanding purpose actually makes many things easier, including identity work.

Now, I’m not saying identity work is not important, because it most obviously is. In the corporate world, people see the signature of a company multiple times a day in some cases. The power in all this comes from the recognition that companies are more than their identities, and empowering owners and teams to realize that. Spinning that around, a company without purpose, acting hastily, cannot be saved by a new logo. A new logo is quite simply a new signature. It has very little effect on operations, attitudes or finances.

This is why we start with purpose. Everything down the line can be filtered through purpose, and that litmus test directs actions much more clearly and relaxes stress when small things pop up, like when the pantone colour on a short run of business cards isn’t an exact match. Start with purpose and then the small stuff will fall into place faster than you would have imagined.

Brian Olstad

Brian Olstad

Brian is a director a Symbra with 20 years experience in visual design and entrepreneurship. He specializes in seeing the connections between things that others do not and waving his hands a lot. 

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