In the Spring of 1995, Rockport Publishers submitted a proposal to me asking would I write a book for them on how to design a logo. My response was a proposal to NOT write a book about HOW to design a logo - one should go to school and study or work for an identity firm to learn HOW - but WHY a logo, corporate identity, and graphic design is important to any business. Preaching to the choir does not interest me. Aside from my private practice, I teach at the University and College level and have no interest in how-to manuals. To my mind that is mechanical, and doesn't reach the heart and soul of why we do things.
But to reach out to those who utilize design - or more importantly, should use it - that is where the true education lies. In academia business classes never interact with design - visual communication - yet they routinely bridge the gap of sales and marketing. Yet long before R&D, accountant reps, marketing planners - since the beginning of trade and makers and markets - design has been used. From Mesopotamian indents in clay tablets for indicating a particular sheep count, to Medieval stonemason guild marks, to Imperial Japanese textile patterns, to the contemporary druggists' Rx, graphic design has been a major component in business communications.
This book consists of close to 40 case studies, each providing insight into a specific arena of business, and the unique role design plays in developing an identity as part of a strategy for success. Clients range from large multi-national organizations to small start-up ventures and non-profit associations. Likewise, design firms from across the country range from one-person specialty shops to large, full-service firms. The one thing all have in common is a vision for success and a belief in quality.
Some of the best designers in the field today explain their process in creating identities, from initial client meetings and planning, through logo development and a wide variety of identity applications. From both the client and design sides rise unsung heroes of industry and art. These are not the usual suspects, though as I write this (6 Feb 98) snowboarding is about to enter the Olympic Games in Japan (see "Burton Snowboards" article, detailing their growth from small Vermont, USA shop to major market leader) and Digital Equipment Corporation is about to make an enormous merger (see "Digital" article to understand the lack of, and value of branding) with Compaq [and later, HP].
Both client and designer tells it like it is. And the late master Paul Rand (identities for IBM, Cummins, UPS, ABC TV) provides an insightful essay that is as succinct as it is scathingly to the point. A lot of great design, backed up with a good read, I believe there are enough ideas in here to lay the groundwork for beginners, whether in business or design, and enough insight for the seasoned vets. And while designers will grasp its value immediately Designing Identity's lasting value will be with clients who have the vision to understand that the strategic use of design can be a means to an end.
addendum: Since Designing Identity was first published, it has subsequently gone into additional printings, and is now in paperback. It is used in university classrooms across the U.S. and has reached beyond the initial audience for which the publisher intended: designers. It is read by marketing and business folks, as well as the general public.