An Interview with Creative Director Joanna Ellis
How did you get involved with CO?
We worked together on redesigning their collateral pieces last year, and that evolved into a larger project to overhaul their brand identity and website. I am a huge fan of their work— Craig is a great talent with a wonderful design sense.
Have you ever done branding for an architecture firm before?
It's a familiar space to me— my father is an architect, and when I started my design career (many years ago) I worked with the firm Hodgetts + Fung in Los Angeles, developing their marketing collateral and creating graphic design for some of their projects, such as the interpretive signage at the Hollywood Bowl. It's come full circle— now Belmondo is working not only with CO but also Field Paoli Architects on their digital marketing and brand.
What kinds of challenges do you encounter when you're working on branding for an architecture firm compared to branding for a physical product?
Typically architecture firms are named after a person, so most firms want their branding to represent the name as opposed to a more abstract concept. In most cases the logo is a monogram or logotype. Craig wanted something that reflected his sensibility and aesthetic, modern minimal, using geometric forms. There are some distinctive elements in architectural renderings, such as isometric perspective and forms. This was an important touchstone for us— using these elements to create a sense of structure to the logotype.
How many iterations did you go through?
For something like this, there are many stages. In the early stages, you might look at fifty or sixty different sketches, and then whittle that down to a subset of contenders, say five or six. From that we refined three selections, and then finally one champion. Once that direction is chosen, there's a final process of refinement that requires solving at a macro scale— things like details of strokes, proportions, color, etc.
Was this a full rebrand?
Yes, it was a complete branding package. Oftentimes the approach to brand building remains splintered within the creative industry. This was an opportunity to redo the brand identity from top to bottom: the logo, the website, digital marketing along with the copy and messaging.
We've covered the logo development. How does the rest of the branding process work?
It's important to note that none of these elements is created in a vacuum— we don't create the logotype first and then patch in the other elements. At the beginning, we start with a deep dive discussion about who they are, their values, their mission, who their audience and competition are, how do they think they're perceived and how do they want to be perceived. Anything is fair game at this stage— we look at examples of brand identities across different industries and discuss how these brands resonate. It's also useful to look at brands that might be problematic for some reason! The brand attributes we arrived at were: balanced, clean, progressive, energetic, approachable, fresh, modern, cutting edge. The partners, Craig and Jessica, are very likable and approachable and are very involved with their clients throughout the entire process. We wanted something that wasn't too pretentious or fussy, but also wanted to feel sophisticated.
How has branding changed with social media?
You want a mark that is very clean and simple and can hold up well at small sizes as well as large scale for print collateral. We created a version that will hold up well at a very small size and also could work well on signage one day. The other thing to consider is how social media is evolving the concept of a brand experience— a brand might be expressed as a Snapchat story, or as a video bumper at the end of a case study. We have to challenge ourselves to move past traditional brand collateral and imagine future uses.
To that point, where do you see the branding used going forward, are there any things you'd like to try with it?
In the short term, you can see how video is playing a huge role in branding. Many of our clients are asking for video assets of all kinds— everything from case study videos to short animated elements and logo builds that can be deployed across Snapchat or Instagram. In the longer term, you can look ahead to things like Augmented Reality, where branding will be extended to a kind of media layer that sits on top of the world. We're still in the early days of this technology, but in ten years it will be everywhere, in ways that we can't imagine. Already, furniture retailers are doing some very interesting stuff with AR, and I think that architecture firms will be all over this when the tech matures!
How important do you think it is to be mindful of what’s current in design?
It's always good to be informed about the latest trends, but chasing the latest fashion never ends well. Sometimes great ideas can come from reinterpreting an idea from the past, or looking to adjacent fields, or creating an unexpected combination of elements. I like to encourage young designers to get out of their field and look at fashion, or folk art, or film titles, or video games. Design is everywhere.
Copywriting and messaging is something that is not always part of the design skill set. How do you incorporate these elements into a brand project?
When you're offering a service like architectural design, you have to think about the relationship with your clients. The messaging, the copy, and all communication elements must reflect the personality and tone of this relationship. Many architecture websites come across as somewhat austere and opaque, as if they are the keepers of some arcane knowledge. Craig is an expert in his field, but he's also a down-to-earth and humble person, eager to collaborate with his clients. We liked the idea of building the tone of the website copy around conversation. And so the website features a note from Craig and a very informative FAQ section that answers a lot of questions— with the goal of providing peace of mind to potential clients and describing what the process would be like working with him and what to expect.
Tell me a bit about the website redesign?
These days, all sites need to be flexible for many different devices. The old site was well-designed several years ago but it wasn't responsive and didn't showcase large images. Craig's work has beautiful details, and we were fortunate to have a library of beautiful case study photographs to use. With these kinds of images, we wanted the website to get out of the way. We introduced some very subtle animations, so that the images float into place. You get pulled into the world of Craig's work.
Craig O'Connell Architecture website