The following is a blog post I wrote for the Creative Kinds blog. Creative Kinds is a consortium of independent creative professionals that operate remotely as a full-service agency. I was a partner in that firm before moving to a new role as Creative Director at Beson4.
“Everybody’s a genius…” – Albert Einstein
What started out as pro-bono work for an upcoming local stair climb event turned into something much larger and more exciting for the Creative Kinds team. It also provided a great example of how to avoid a common creative trap: assuming that your professional (creative) opinion, based upon years of experience should always outweigh the client’s because “they don’t do this for a living.”
In actuality, the single goal of every agency should be one thing: Delight the client.
But more on that in a minute…
Sharon Baroncelli, Director of Development for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) was originally looking to brand an individual regional 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb event with a new logo. The events, held in various locations throughout the country, raise funds that help the NFFF create and maintain programs that support fire service survivors.
This includes providing assistance to the surviving families and co-workers of the 343 firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice on September 11, 2001. Each participant pays tribute to an FDNY firefighter by climbing or walking the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center.
In a day and age where Americans seem to increasingly have trouble agreeing on anything, I think it’s safe to say that most in our country still hold our firefighting heroes in the highest regard, and recognize the importance of honoring and supporting those who gave their lives to protect our own. Naturally, we were very excited to help.
Subsequently, via karma, great creative, or some combination therein, the work we submitted to the NFFF was deemed so strong that it was forwarded to the national Board of Directors who voted to use one of our marks for the NFFF’s new national logo for its 9/11 National Memorial Stair Climb events.
The only problem: Which one to choose? There were many great options and the Board loved all of them! 🔥🔥🔥
Here are a few of our original concepts.
Of course, being the creative experts, we felt compelled to voice our own opinion about which mark we felt should be selected. We decided that #9 (L to R, Top to Bottom), the mark with the American flag-themed stairs would be the best choice. The rising stairs perfectly portrayed what the stair climb events are about, both physically and spiritually.
The shield form made for a perfect patch (which firefighters love) and the logo felt crisp, light and modern while simultaneously classic and timeless. We’d need to sharpen the feathered edges of the stairs for vector art applications but overall, felt this was the mark that needed to be selected and that would be.
Until we asked our client and an audience of, ahem…non-professionals.
You see, to confirm our flawless instincts, we put $5 behind an Instagram carousel post (a great survey tool, by the way) targeted to our firefighter audience, and quickly racked up over 400 “Likes” and dozens of positive comments. People loved the marks, all of them, and many noted that it was difficult to choose a favorite.
But ultimately, by an overwhelming margin, our test audience chose their preferred mark: option #5, the silhouette of the kneeling firefighter. In short order, the NFFF agreed.
At this point, we might have strongly encouraged the NFFF to reconsider our preferred mark, the one we wanted to see promoted on their highly-visible national platform. After all, as design professionals, we’re often told by our peers that we are obligated to steer our clients in the “right” direction.
Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody’s a genius…” But he finished that statement with “…but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” In other words, we’re all great at different things. Non-profits are great at organizing events and raising funds. Firefighters are great at fighting fires. And designers are great at design. Ergo, we, the designers, really needed to push our client and their audience to make the “correct” choice.
Because who’s to say which design was the “right” one?
We wouldn’t have presented any marks to the client that would have been wrong.
Design, you see, is subjective and quite frankly, logo design can sometimes be overrated, with more importance placed on it than what might sometimes be merited.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Great logo design is not easy. They take a lot of time and surprisingly few graphic artists are really good at it. The best logos can become foundations for iconic brands and be relevant for years with only occasional evolution for the passing of time.
At the same time, the great thing about design is the unlimited nature of ideas. There’s always more than one right answer, always another possibility. We provided the NFFF with several. Their first choice was our second choice. But theirs was the only one that mattered.
Take it from someone who’s been there. Don’t ever assume there’s only one best answer and that only you are informed and insightful enough to understand it.
Remember that there is only one imperative in business and it doesn’t take a genius to understand it: Delight your clients.