In an era when designers sometimes devote years to client research and talk enthusiastically about "distilling the core values" of their brand, is it possible to design an effective brand identity before a client even enters the picture?
Designer (and cofounder of social shopping site Svpply) Ben Pieratt thinks so, and he’s testing his hunch by selling a "brand without a product," called Hessian, for a single flat fee. $18,000 will get you Hessian’s URL, Twitter and Tumblr accounts, fully fleshed-out batch of image assets, an app interface, and more. Pieratt will even include 30 hours of design time to customize Hessian to the buyer’s needs. "The Hessian could be a restaurant, a startup, a clothing brand, or more," goes the pitch. "It fights for life by building meme-hooks through studies in contrasts, nostalgia, repetition and confusion."
Hessian comes from a simple insight into the strengths and weaknesses of designers. To Pieratt, the conventional workflow of brand research, design development, client review, and launch is backwards. "As designers, we naturally see solutions to problems and opportunities we can’t help but notice in the market," he writes. "We instinctually know how [concepts] should be launched, how they should look, how they should work, and who their target audience should be."
The problem is that not all designers have MBAs, and the process of launching and managing a company isn’t always suited to their skill set. At the same time, not every entrepreneur or business manager is great at knowing how their company should be marketed. So we’ve got one party that knows how to create effective brands, and the other party that knows how to manage effective companies. On his blog, Pieratt explains this idea with a quote from Walter Landor, the legendary designer behind the Coca-Cola script, who said that "products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind." Putting the product before the brand is like putting the cart before the horse. "So it seems to me that in today’s connected environment, there’s no reason designers shouldn’t be able to create designed product packages, and then sell them to entrepreneurs," Pieratt writes.
It might seem as if Pieratt is advocating for designers to take a step back from the market, to cloister themselves from reality. But in a way, his goal is to put designers on equal ground with clients. Pieratt is suggesting that designers should become entrepreneurs in their own right, selling a product to their clients rather than providing a service. It’s an idea that he believes could extend outside of design to include all types of creatives, from filmmakers to musicians. Look out for more on that within the next few months, as Pieratt launches Mined, a marketplace that will help creative professionals sell their work to clients.