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Bland Identity: Tips from Jim Sutherland

Jim Sutherland founded hat-trick design with two friends in 2001, and left to set up Studio Sutherl& in 2014. He is currently working on identity, signage and editorial projects in the UK, Brazil, Spain and Switzerland. He has had over 75 pieces of work in D&AD over the last 25 years.

In 2016 Jim will be Foreman of the D&AD Awards Branding Jury. 

Jim Sutherland Designer

One of the definitions  of ‘brand’ is ‘a distinguishing symbol, mark, logo, name, word, sentence or a combination of these items that companies use to distinguish their product from others in the market.’ One of the definitions of ‘bland’ is as follows:  'devoid of any distinctive or stimulating characteristics; uninteresting; dull' . Another is 'unemotional or unmoved'. 

For me, too much branding (and design) work unfortunately falls into the latter description. Too often we are confronted in the world around us with corporate wallpaper. 

Jim Sutherland Horniman Museum brand Identity Branding
hat-trick design, Horniman Museum Identity

As designers, we have the opportunity (or even obligation) to delight, engage and inform our audience. To do something beautiful, thoughtful and interesting. To create something intelligent and joyful. Work that has a warmth and humanity. Sometimes this is through a great piece of thinking around the problem. Sometimes it is through the craft - exquisite typography, beautiful imagery or stunning colours. The best work is often a combination of the two. It can be loud or quiet, it can be for organisations large or small, and it can be in any sector. 

We can go beyond what’s asked for - do more than is expected. An identity can do the practical job at hand - but it can also do so much more for the client, the audience and society at large. Let's not treat the audience as unintelligent, let's surprise and delight them. We can make people’s lives a little better through the work we do.  Let's get away from the usual lazy suspects - swooshes, globes, hands and meaningless shapes etc - unless we use these in a different and amazing way. 

Jim Sutherland Williams Identity Branding Formula 1
hat-trick design, Williams Identity

Obviously the days of rigid identity systems have passed, so identity often comes alive in the application - the attention to every detail, in the real and digital world – not applied blandly, but to add ideas and depth to the experience. There's been a lot of talk of the demise of logos - but you still need a simple iconic symbol on twitter or facebook. Often this is the way people will experience a brand first. 

Jim Sutherland House of Illustration Identity Branding
hat-trick design, House of Illustration Identity

When judging, I've often come across the phrase 'Designing for designers' I think it's a damning and belittling statement. Good work should be good design for everyone, including designers. We can delight and surprise everyone involved, including ourselves. 

Let's stop talk of brand onions and ideation, let’s get away from ‘brandspeak’ and just produce some stunning and relevant work that speaks for itself and that doesn't need loads of explanation and post rationalisation. 

At D&AD - I hope to see some of these projects – and be amazed, delighted and also slightly jealous. 

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