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This Branding Guru Helps Elite Designers Hone Their Image

This Branding Guru Helps Elite Designers Hone Their Image


Is there a philosophy or approach that connects your far-flung projects?

Our studio ethos is anthropological in nature—we are motivated by our fascination with people, how we relate to one another, and how we engage with the world around us. We are interested in the complex, delicate interplay between human behavior, brand, and business. Our approach is consistent, whether we’re working with international corporations, boutique businesses, or start-ups.

Tell us a bit about your process. How do you distill a unique identity for each client?

We have a very detailed discovery phase, which is usually a robust six-week analysis process where we ask detailed questions, meet all the stakeholders, review the objectives and goals of the business, study the market landscape, examine all existing print and digital communications, and conduct on-site tours of their projects or facilities to better understand the client’s point of view. It’s a very revealing time for the client, and a fertile time for design ideation. The studio then synthesizes its research and produces some of its very initial design themes.

A breakout area with Emeco chairs and an array of reference books nearby.

Stephen Kent Johnson

What are some of the challenges and opportunities presented by the insane year we’ve just had?

Obviously the pandemic has forced a lot of business to move online. There are designers I know who have embarked on projects without ever meeting their clients face-to-face. I think now is the time for designers to review their digital presence to ensure they are communicating successfully to existing and prospective clients. Since everyone’s business has changed, at least to some degree, their communications strategies need to evolve as well.

What are your criteria for a successful website, especially one for an interior designer?

The most successful websites are the ones where a succinct first impression of the subject or brand is very quickly attained. The web experience should feel like a natural extension of the brand, with equal consideration paid to both the design and the programming. You can have the world’s most brilliant site design, but if the programming isn’t fluid or the site is not responsive on mobile, you end up with an inferior experience that, I feel, subconsciously reflects badly on the brand. It’s important, especially for interior designers, that they update the content regularly to make it feel relevant. There is nothing worse than visiting a site a year after launch and the content is exactly the same. Websites are living, breathing entities and need to be maintained. Simply refreshing imagery, revising copy, and adding new projects when available are always good practices.

Branding work done for Studio Volpe.

Courtesy of Hoffman Creative

What are some common missteps?

As I mentioned before, it’s important that designers do not let their sites go dormant. There are easy ways to keep your site active even if you do not have a new project to shoot. Editing is key. Designers feel that they need to share every image from every project in their portfolio. It’s more effective to edit the list of projects and showcase a handful of images that best represent the work. If a potential client is interested in seeing more, they will ask for it.

What advice would you give to designers about documenting their work?

Invest in documenting your work. I can’t stress this enough. Whether you capture images for your website, social media feed, published book, or in-house archive, good photography is absolutely essential above any other asset. Hoffman often recommends to our clients an industry photographer-and-stylist team to capture the work and aesthetically uphold our artistic direction. I realize this can be a costly proposition, but the importance can’t be overstated.

Works by well-known photographers and artists cover the walls.

Stephen Kent Johnson



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