This week I was a guest speaker at CollArts, School of Design. I gave a 45 minute presentation about stylescapes which are the most important and prized tool in my practice as a brand strategist and graphic designer. I’m very proud that I got asked to talk and wanted to share some of the highlights with you today! I’m also going to show an awesome personal branding project I worked on with Sarah Conners. Sarah is a fashion educator, writer and mentor and required a visual identity package that included strategy, brand guidelines for socials, stationary and a website.
So, what are stylescapes?
Stylescapes are a series of three, super curated mood boards that I produce as part of the strategy phase of a visual branding project. As part of initial conversions about the brand's aspirations, the client and myself develop three target audience members that the new branding should hopefully attract. Coming up with these character profiles is normally a lot of fun. We name our audience members and build up stories about their day to day life and what their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) may be.
One stylescape is created for each of our audience members and I spend on average about 2 weeks collecting and curating images that build up our characters' world. I have a pretty extensive ‘hit list’ of where I collect my images (See Resources below) but ultimately all of the images are sourced for free off the internet. You have to make sure that your images are as high res as possible! I tend to take screen grabs if I can’t directly download the image.
To make a stylescape truly useful (rather than just looking interesting) there has to be a clear colour palette, typography style, tone, texture, energy and most importantly inspiration. Inspiration for the client, I deliberately put objects and designs that are outside of the scope of their project - if they just want a website, I put in some awesome business cards. If they just want stationary, I put in some great social media tiles. This isn’t to try and extend the scope of the project but really is to inspire them. I mainly work on personal branding projects and people are so limited by expectations for themselves. It is my duty to put their name in lights!
I like to present the stylescapes in person. I print these out on A1 Card and mount them on foam board. They end up being over 80cm wide and 15cm tall. I built my stylescape photoshop file at 7500px by 1406px and the print quality is fine. The reason these are super long and landscape is because that isn’t a common size. If they were ‘portrait’ or shorter people are inclined to read it like a website but this format is far enough away from screen dimensions that it doesn't affect the interpretation. You want to be able to walk them through the ‘scene’.
Presenting the stylescapes is absolutely the most fun part of my job! Building the visual around the audience rather than the client themselves gives me an opportunity to explore styles that the client (and myself!) had never even considered (I obviously take their requests into consideration and build them in where appropriate). The way in which I reveal the stylescape is carefully crafted so I can take my client on the most wonderful journey possible! Once all three have been presented we can start going through them all and noting what resonates and what doesn’t. I’m learning the client's visual language. Because all of the images have been sourced and weren’t necessarily created by me, the client feels very confident in telling me when they don’t like something.
People generally don’t want to hurt other people's feelings so giving clients the opportunity to confidently say no is pretty powerful. Just a note here on the traditional work flow of presenting logo designs. After an initial meeting(s) the designer would go away for 6-8 weeks and produce maybe 100’s of logos then whittle them down to three favorites. They’d spend hours refining the design then photoshopping the logo on mockup’s of business cards, letterheads and tote bags so the client could imagine the logo in the real world.
Now the best case scenario is that the client likes one design and you only have to bin the other two designs!!! So much work would go into these designs and the worst thing that can happen is that a client says yes to something they aren’t 100% on because they aren’t comfortable saying no.
One thing designers have to remember is that most people don’t immediately like ‘different’.
We do of course because we are designers, we are actively looking for it, but if you're working with a timber manufacturing plant that wants a rebrand and you present your favourite ‘avant garde’ design, it might get knocked back, even if it's the best design you’ve ever done because it is unexpected, it's different. You didn’t slowly introduce them to the idea.
That is why stylescapes are so powerful. The client becomes part of the decision making process about their own brand. I obviously experiment with typefaces that I think could work, I spend quite a bit of time colour correcting images so I have a really clear palette and I photoshopping out bits that don’t add to the composition. Ultimately though it is the client, with guidance from me, who decides what elements make it onto the final stylescape.
Once finalised we have our new north star. An inspiration board of epic proportions. Again, a really great stylescape will have a clear colour palette, typography style, tone, texture, energy and inspiration. I should be able to hand this to another designer and they continue on the design part of the project, this marking the end of the strategy phase.
The most wonderful thing is that we are at week 4 of our branding engagement. I probably know more about what the client likes and dislikes than their best friend. This is when I start the actual design work and create the logo. After going through this process I normally present just one logo design. The logo itself is absolutely something I didn’t expect to be presenting at the beginning of the project. The design is so tailored to the clients individual values, style, and aspirations that it's pretty much accepted and celebrated on the spot! I’ve had client hand overs where I just sent a little animated gif via text message because I knew it was bang on!
Using stylescape has removed the grand reveal relished in by so many designers and created a truly collaborative process where often I consider my role one of guide and facilitator rather than designer. Building such a process into my visual branding package has been an absolute game changer. I can now guarantee that I will design a brand that is 100% you or your company, while reducing project turn around time to 3 - 5 weeks. I have removed those overwhelming client presentations and greatly expanded my repertoire on the designs I create.
If you're interested in working together and experiencing stylescapes in their full glory please don’t hesitate to reach out, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest lockdown had caused a few openings in my schedule! In the meantime, here are some resources if you're interested in creating your own stylescapes, don’t think they are limited to branding projects either - putting together one for your bathroom renovation or the next massive house party is a great way to collect and curate ideas and create a new north for your project!