Killing your babies and the other secrets to great design

Jan 2020

2019 marked ten years in business for Mount Deluxe and things have changed a little over the years – we’ve moved studio a couple of times, discovered how to balance running a business with parenting, and pushed ourselves beyond our comfort zone. But one thing that hasn’t changed is what makes design great. So I decided to share a few behind the scenes secrets – those little things that take a brand from ‘cool logo’ to ‘epic brand’.

– Sarah Delany, Creative Director at Mount Deluxe

Sometimes you just have to kill your babies...

The key to any good design is editing. Having someone with an outside view to give you their critique can be incredibly useful, and should be part of bringing a brand to life visually. However, any good designer should also be able to put someone else’s head on and critique their own work. They should be able to make decisions about what works and what doesn’t, edit any design to make it better, and be prepared to ditch an idea completely if needed. I like to call this ‘killing your babies’.

It can be easy to disappear down the rabbit hole – following a path that’s not quite right, just because you’re not willing to give up on an idea. Great designers can recognise when something isn’t working and axe it completely. After the heart and soul that most designers put into their work, giving up on an idea (that may be great but isn’t right for the business) can be hard – but it’s also vitally important to get to the right result.

Keep it simple

When you look at some of the most well-known and iconic brands in the world, there’s one thing that ties most of them together – simplicity. From the golden arches to a partly eaten apple, simple often equates to being memorable – and there’s a reason for that. Keeping everything from your logo to your brand positioning simple makes it easier for people to recall and engage with. Making it easy for your customers to remember and engage with you should always be the goal. Just keep in mind – when it comes to building your brand (visually and beyond), simple doesn’t mean easier. Getting something down to that one defining idea takes work – not in the least because creating a simple brand means making a lot of tough decisions...

Designer? Try decision maker

Designing is always about making decisions – big ones, small ones, all as big as your brand!

Unfortunately not everyone is great at decision making – and those who own a business in particular may not be experienced enough in branding to know what decisions to make. That’s why, as designers, we have to have made some decisions for them first.

When we first started out we’d give clients multiple options of logos – up to four often! Because we had yet to create our brand discovery sessions, we found we were guessing a lot, and would provide heaps of options to try and cover our bases. Unfortunately, it tended to chew up the budget and wouldn't leave us time to roll out the brand so the client could see the look and feel of their brand in-situ. Because they had too many choices, clients would also tend to pick and choose pieces from different designs – which is never the way to achieve great design. These days, we’ve gotten much more confident and push back if we get even a sniff of ‘design by committee’ – all that does is dilute the idea, which never ends well! By making decisions in advance and limiting concepts to two (or sometimes even one), we’re able to really flesh out and test an idea – which is often where the magic happens.

You see, the more we edit, the less decisions a business owner has to make – and knowing how many decisions business owners have to make on a daily basis, that can only be a good thing.

Experience = the best teacher

I know that I’m a far better designer now than I was when we first set out on this adventure ten years ago – and that I’ll likely be an even better one another ten years from now. That’s because experience is the greatest teacher. Over time, you learn to really value negative spaces, discover how pretty design isn’t enough on its own, and learn to balance the brands you’re creating with the contexts in which they’ll come to life. There’s a (well-founded) reason people pay a premium for senior design resource. Great design comes from the experience of the designer and although new designers can still do awesome work, experience often takes good design to great.

More than just a pretty picture

But above all, the key to great design is understanding that it’s not actually about design at all – it’s about the business you’re designing for. If we didn’t first gain a deep understanding of the business and what makes them great, we would never achieve exceptional design. If we didn’t take the time to think through what would best reflect the business, or invest the time in editing our ideas, then our prettiest design wouldn’t do anything beyond look pretty.

By investing the time into really getting to know each client, and then putting the time and thought into what will best reflect their story and their overall brand, we’re able to achieve outcomes that get us, and our clients, pretty excited.