Graphic Design: Not a Superficial Exercise in Looking Good

Kilgour logo - graphic design

Graphic design is like a finely tailored suit. It can give you distinction among your peers. And when you have benefited from good design, it is difficult to go back to the run of the mill.

The approach to a company’s graphic design is usually initiated by change. It could be new blood, expansion, restructuring or a new business focus. Businesses spend time and money planning and implementing change.  Graphic design, to a greater or lesser extent, is used to illustrate change. Often overlooked, graphic design should be an integral part of the plan – and not used as an afterthought.

Graphic Design – Express Yourself

Your company’s aims and personality can be expressed in design. But the foundation of this is honesty – honesty with what the business is and what it strives to achieve. Successful design communicates to the customer but the design has to be correct. Design without thought doesn’t work. Similarly, having a new identity will not improve the organisation by itself. To be effective, they have to work hand in hand.

People are more design savvy these days and will be quick to see through a design that doesn’t feel true. You are doing this for your customer, after all. Integral to the process is discovering what your customer’s perceptions are and that they might actually be different to what you had presumed.

Working closely with graphic design early on, these issues can be identified, understood and then it needs to be expressed at every level of the business, with customers and employees. More than just the obvious website or brochure, it has to be the invoice, the receptionist’s tone of voice and email signatures.

Re-Imagining Kilgour

I was asked to revisit the Kilgour identity after Carlo Brandelli returned to the company in 2013. We overhauled the entire identity system. A fan of Akzidenz Grotesk, Carlo asked me to consider it for the new system. But when I explained that it came from late 19th-century Germany, he understood it didn’t fit his modern aesthetic, despite it being designed at the same time Kilgour was established. Their origination might be a nice link but Akzidenz didn’t reflect the Kilgour of today.

I suggested we find an Akzidenz-inspired typeface that was contemporary. Aldo Novarese’s Recta, designed in the Fifties, had undergone a 21st-century reconstruction by Canada Type, which fitted perfectly. Now we had a typeface that was inspired by a font Carlo admired, that was designed at the time Kilgour was established and had been updated at the same time Carlo returned to Kilgour.

By only using the light weights of the typeface and a non-colour palette of greyscale we are able to reflect Carlo’s precise sense of air and lightness. Layouts are quite stark and minimal, emulating his reductive approach, combined with overlapping angular graphics to reflect the layering of his collections.

Effective Graphic Design

Graphic design is effective when it answers the pertinent questions. But is it asking the right questions? That is the challenge and it is here that sometimes the company itself doesn’t know what it should be asking, other than something must be done.

The combination that gets it right is the designer that listens, challenges and has the commercial acumen to deliver a design that is considered, reasoned, justified and cost effective. All with the ability to follow through to achieve the results you were seeking. For you are the designer’s customer and it is our aim to help you achieve your goal. ML

Howard Wakefield is creative director at Design Dialogue and Studio ParrisWakefield.