How to Forge a Consistent Brand: Use Less

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In 1855, Robert Browning first coined the phrase "less is more" is his poem Andrea del Sarto, is he right?

Less is more?

Maybe. This paradox has been championed by the design community for decades. I don’t disagree with it either, but after meeting with hometown design hero John Ball today, I might think twice before using it so hastily (more on this later).

I’m not stupid though, I’d paint a massive target on the back of my head within the design/branding community by diminishing the value of the statement. I get it: the use of minimalism and simplicity allow us to focus and get across a message. I believe that with all 262.5 cubed picas of my creative heart. But if the statement is meant to persuade us of less' potency, the conversation needs to change as well.

More is overplayed

More sales, more revenue, more possessions, more followers, more, more, more. Customers are aware they are plagued with an incessant amount of messaging and trends like the minimalist challenge, cutting the cord to 400+ cable channels, or trading in our advertising-filled Kindles for actual books are clear indicators that WE DON’T WANT ANYMORE.

The writing is on the wall, excess is a waste and we know it.

Cue John Ball

AIGA San Diego put together a series of meetups called “Hometown Hero Breakfasts,” and the first one I attended was hosted by John Ball at his studio, MiresBall, on State Street. Within 5 minutes of his presentation, John pointed out a refreshing observation: less is less, and that’s a good thing.

It was like a grenade went off in my chest. The quest of seeking less and avoiding excess collided in this statement. I was curious though, what proof did he have?

The Lux Art Institute

John proceeded to showcase his philosophy in action with a case study on the Lux Art Institutes’ branding. Starting with a square window.

Lux Art Institute Window_MiresBall
Courtesy of MiresBall

You might be thinking,”it’s just a freaking square, how is that cool?”

You’re right. Alone, this square doesn’t mean a whole lot. But when it is used as an anchor and committed to, it unifies experiences and creates a brand.

Lux Art Institute Business Cards_MiresBall
Courtesy of MiresBall

Lux aRt Institure Signage_MiresBall
Courtesy of MiresBall

Lux Art Institute Wall Art_MiresBall
‍Courtesy of MiresBall

Lux Art Institute Website_MiresBall
Courtesy of MiresBall

Lux Art Institute Signage_MiresBall
‍Courtesy of MiresBall

Lux Art Institute Banners
‍Courtesy of MiresBall

One unifying concept

When MiresBall commits to this shape, they bring together elements that wouldn’t be connected otherwise. The tables could be squares, lunches could be served with square plates, the square ties endless possibilities together and leaves room for play. So long as the concept of the square manifests itself within the design, it can be tied to the whole brand identity.

Use less to create a consistent brand

How do you implement this framework into making a cohesive brand? Truth is, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. Each brand is unique and you should do some heavy, in-depth thinking about your strategy and goals before making big decisions. That being said, there are some practical tips that can help anyone unify some elements of their brand:

Use less colors

Color is a tough nut to crack. The options are endless and they all seem to hold the same potential. But here’s the cool part, colors have specific psychological attributes. Blue is associated with being trustworthy, red is a color of intensity and passion, black is sophisticated. Find two or three colors that uniquely fit your brand and stick to them.

Use less typefaces/fonts

Pick one or two. It takes a special kind of aesthetic to effectively utilize three typefaces and any more is excess. The good news is that most typefaces carry numerous weights (bold, regular, oblique, italic, etc.), allowing flexibility. Of course, using the same typeface at one size is going to be boring, but if you play with scale, composition, and proximity, you’ll be surprised what one typeface can do.

Use less to fuel creativity

Tell a creative to make their masterpiece and you’ll get nothing done. Tell a creative they can only use the color blue for half an hour and you’ll get something unimaginable. The pitfall of ideation and creative thinking is that stopping is hard. When creatives reasonably limit themselves, the task becomes objective-based rather than a subjective form of expression. There is a finish line to cross, a challenge to be completed.

Use less words

Three paragraphs to describe your upcoming event? Ain't nobody got time for that. Let this quote from Robert Southey sink in: 

It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.  

Use less messages

March to the beat of one drum. Claiming that your brand is good in ten product categories or services is not as effective as being an expert in one. Solidify your vision to one goal and knock it out of the park. Put every single ounce of creative thought and energy to aligning your brand with that goal.

Less is less and that’s a powerful thing.