Creativity Loves Constraints

How to reveal your brand’s potential, save time, and avoid headaches

By Matt Steel
15 Jul 2016
6 min read

Art: Jason Tasso
& Matt Steel

Branding is challenging work that requires tons of research, discernment, distillation, and the kinds of decisions that could have a dramatic impact on the life of your business. But sometimes people make branding much harder than it needs to be. Sometimes we need someone to open our eyes to what’s possible in order to see that an effective brand identity is more attainable than we ever imagined. There are methods I’ve discovered and refined over the years that make the process more enjoyable, save time, and have yielded consistently strong results over the course of numerous client engagements.

If you’re launching a new company and need a branding expert to walk you through the rest of the process, then I have a gift for you.

If you’re in an established organization that is undergoing strategic changes and are thinking about rebranding, but don’t know where to begin or how to create enough consensus to move forward, then I have a gift for you.

If the idea of sampling this kind of work through a small yet formative project intrigues you, but you’re hesitant to commit to a full scale branding engagement, then I have a gift for you.

If any of the above is true for you, then I invite you to join me for a brand discovery workshop. This is a short, two week process that will give you clarity on how your brand could take shape and evolve. After that, it’s up to you to decide whether to forge ahead and bring a new brand identity into being, hire another designer, or save it for the future. There are absolutely no strings attached. Either way, you’ll have a clear picture of what’s possible.

During those two weeks, this process will require no more than 10–12 hours of your valuable time – less than two full workdays. If you choose to join me, here’s a brief outline of what we’ll do.

1. Research
We’ll gather examples of identities in action – anything that could inspire and influence your brand’s direction. We’ll look for good examples of brand voice, i.e. verbal personality. We’ll collect visual elements from within your industry and others, including logos, color palettes, typography, imagery, print collateral, websites, and more. Anything is fair game. The only bad research is no research at all. All you need to do is 3–4 hours of hunting and gathering. The bulk of research will be my responsibility.

2. Workshop
I’ll lead a focused full-day meeting with up to three stakeholders from your team. (I usually wrap up ahead of schedule – just in time for happy hour!) We’ll start by reviewing examples of voice, which will help us create lists of attributes and values that your brand will embody. Next, each of us will take turns presenting our visual research and discussing each image or case study’s merits or shortcomings. Everything that both of us find to be relevant and valuable will be added to a mood board. We’ll also review what your competitors are doing, what’s working for them, and what isn’t.

3. Summary
After the workshop, I’ll create a PDF that includes mood board images and notes, as well as our lists of brand values and attributes.

Here’s what you’ll get

1. New vision
You’ll start to see how your brand could take shape. Every single client who has gone through this process has walked away with greater clarity about how to position their brand for success.

2. New focus
By boiling our research down to a diverse yet clearly defined pool of influence, we’ll work far more efficiently when the time comes to bring your new brand identity to life. Unlimited possibilities and blank pages are terrifying. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Creativity loves constraints!

3. New energy
I’m not talking about energy from passion. That fades over time. The energy from these workshops is the result of refined purpose and strengthened consensus. That kind of energy has staying power, and it will inspire everyone around you. This excitement will inevitably come through in your subsequent branding efforts.

In addition, you’ll get me at my very best. While I’m a designer by trade, I’m a teacher at heart. When guiding clients through this process, I get in touch with my most discerning, authentic, and joyful self. Besides writing, nothing else comes close for me.

Some of my colleagues might question what we’re doing by studying other people’s work. Are we looking for things to copy? Is this an elaborate way to shirk obligations and ride on the coattails of other designers and writers? The answer is a resounding no. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Nothing is new under the sun. The artist must therefore embrace influence, or forever be frustrated in his unadorned cell. No one can create from nothing. By embracing a broad and deep range of influence, we’re able to find unique solutions to your branding challenges. And by carefully surveying the brand identities that are already out in the wild, we’ll be less likely to inadvertently plagiarize someone else’s work.

Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. … Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) with be authentic.
– Jim Jarmusch

Why am I divulging valuable methods that took years to develop?

After leading 17 workshops since 2012, I have found that this approach creates consensus early on, and saves much time during the design process. It would be selfish for me to keep it hidden. I want more people to experience this work; that’s why I’m sharing it with you. And at the end of the day it really isn’t complicated. This ain’t rocket science!

Here’s what two of my clients have to say about these workshops.

I’ve worked with Matt on three complex projects for Anova, including an iPad app, our printed portfolio, and a full website redesign. The most valuable phase of each project has been the discovery workshop. This is an opportunity to dig into every aspect of design and positioning. The workshop is not only a fun day of exploration and immersion, but also extremely valuable in saving time down the road and eliminating back-and-forth discussion. As a marketing leader, I’ve left every workshop with a strong sense of alignment as well as clear expectations for how Matt will manage the project and when my team and I need to participate.
– Katherine Wilson, VP of Marketing · Anova Furnishings

One problem I’ve found in working with out-of-house designers is that they often understand less of my brand’s core value proposition than in-house designers. This understanding is vital when making strategic design decisions. But in the workshops that Matt leads, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that our combined research and exploration allows him to clearly see the essence and purpose of my business – at times more clearly than I see it myself.
– Baoshan Sheng, Director · International Classical Music Database

If you see the value in this work and are ready to begin, then let’s talk! If you’re on the fence or have questions, shoot me an email to schedule a free 20-minute consultation. Or if you’re a creative leader who is interested in integrating workshops into your own process, I’d be happy to talk shop with you.

I look forward to creating something amazing with you.

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