This week I want to introduce you to my all time favourite and most valuable tool: the stylescape. I first learned about stylescapes from The Futur.
Stylescapes are a series of SUPER curated mood boards that are used at the beginning of a project to align the clients expectations with the designers vision before any actual design work is undertaken.
Let me explain.
Imagine a company that wants to freshen up their business with a rebrand.
When a designer first meets with stakeholders there is normally this high energy exchange of ideas and vision for the project ahead. Most businesses have core values (contemporary, bold, energetic for example) that they want reflected in the branding and a target audience they are trying to reach.
The designer leaves this meeting with the core values jotted down and sets about designing tens of different logos over multiple weeks. Honing in on three clear leaders, the designer has to create multiple mocks ups of the chosen three in various different situations to help the client imagine the design in the real world.
The thing is, just because you all left the meeting with the same core values, it doesn’t mean we have the same definitions. My idea of ‘bold’ might be very different from your idea of ‘bold’.
What often happens, is the designer returns weeks, if not months later, pours their heart and soul out knowing that best case, you’ll have to bin two of your three designs. Sometimes none of them hit the mark. The designs might be amazing but people are rarely impressed when they see something new for the first time. It's different and different can take a while to become awesome.
It's heartbreaking - it really is - imagine all the amazing designs that didn’t make it out of the client meeting.
This is when stylescapes swoop in to save the day! Instead of leaving that initial meeting and designing your heart out, leave that meeting and make some stylescapes!
I have two main ways I like to get started:
1: Take the core values (contemporary, bold, energetic for example) and start to research images that represent these words. You can then start to organise your images into mild, medium and spicy. Mild being what the client might expect to see and spicy being way beyond the realms of what they thought they wanted (this one wins almost everytime by the way).
2: Target audience is something that would’ve come up in that initial meeting so I like to use three different potential customers profiles and create a stylescape for each. These profiles are often created with the client and it's a super fun exercise.
Now I need images. Heaps of them.
I give myself a time limit and then search the internet to my heart's content! Go down every visual wormhole, collecting everything that could potentially be used. I’m looking for examples of typography, photography style, colour, texture, signage, interior design, basically anything goes. I use Pinterest, Behance, Unsplash, Dribble and Instagram mainly because I need the images to be a decent size. I'm not against the cheeky screen capture if that's the only way to get a really good image.
Once you have your images you can start to organise which ones will go on which stylescape. I use photoshop to build the stylescapes because it gives me the ability to colour correct images on the go. Attention to composition and colour correcting images is what takes these from interesting colleagues to a valuable selling tool.
It's now time to present. This may only be a week or two after your initial meeting I might add. You rock up and present three totally different directions that shouldn’t have taken you more than a day or two to create.
This is when stylescapes really work their magic.
They give the designer a chance to show the client their vision for the branding using the brilliant designs of other people. It gives the client a really great way of showing what they do and don’t like. It's so much easier for the client to dismiss ideas if they don’t think that you have invested lots of time creating them. The imaginary used in the stylescapes should inspire the client - it may not be their logo they’re looking at but seeing real world examples helps them imagine where they could be.
The result of this meeting should be a final stylescape that has aligned everyone's visions and expectations for the designs ahead. It may be a combination of a few elements from all the stylescapes but it's important to lock in a final version because this is what will be referred to throughout the project. I have clients who have framed their final stylescape as a milestone in the development of their brand. A personalised inspiration board.
Now technically you should be able to hand over this stylescape to another designer and there will be enough information in there for them to take the project over. They may not create the same designs as you but they should be able to extract a colour palette, typographic style and tone from the stylescape without any explanation.
Only once the final stylescape has been declared do I then start to design the logo! I’ve now got a super clear idea of what the client wants, I have colours, typography, textures and mood already decided. What was once weeks of work, now leaps out of the stylescape at me.
I’ve handed over the final logo design to a client in a text message (it was an animated video!) because I was so sure that it was right. No more intense, anxiety inducing presentations with clients, trying to guess what may or may not resonate with them!
Stylescapes create transparency around the design process. There are no more ‘great reveals’ which would disappoint some designers. The client gets to see where you got your ideas from and what inspired you. Sharing this part of the process with clients encourages greater trust and confidence in you as a professional. Removing the veil and showing clients that designers are just humans who get ideas from everyone else is liberating.
Showing clients that you can deliver a design that they are going to love in a matter of weeks rather than months is extremely valuable and worth you charging a premium for.
I love stylescapes.
Here are a few examples of stylescapes done for previous clients - Follow the CASE STUDY link below to see if you can guess which stylescape was the winner: