Updated: May 11, 2022
This is the second post in our “Meet the Bincubators” series, in which we interview notable professionals who are helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow and succeed. Our guest today is Nick Chiechi, Founder and Creative Director of design and integrated marketing firm CS Designworks.
Nick, thanks for joining me today. We’ve worked on a number of projects together over the years, and I appreciate your insights and experience. So, let’s jump in!
I always tell aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners that—while you can perhaps skimp on other things, in the budget-conscious beginning—at the very least you need a name that really fits who you are (and that you have the rights to use), and then you need a professional logo and a website. Would you agree?
Yes. Starting a business is not an easy endeavor and there are so many things/ decisions that can make a difference in success or failure. In fact, according to statistics published in 2019 by the Small Business Administration (SBA), about twenty percent of business startups fail in the first year. About half succumb to business failure within five years. By year 10, only about 33% survive. Those stats are daunting indeed. So, some key decisions early on can increase the odds of success.
The ubiquitous moniker “Hello World” is a great phrase for start-ups. Introducing your company to your potential audience in a positive way and first impressions are paramount. And the first impressions companies make to their audience are typically their logo and their website.
Even if I am “only” doing a single announcement for a new client, I will very often take them through a brief branding exercise, if only to make sure I understand their brand and broader mission/vision/values—because I think everything needs to flow from that place. Do you do the same? When a client comes to you, for help designing a logo or a website, what kind of information do you need before you put pen to paper (or cursor to design software), so that you can create something that truly represents not only who they are, but who they want to be?
Absolutely, a proper branding exercise will provide the designer with the proper guidance necessary to create a successful logo and cross over to a strong visual brand. Establishing client personas is also critical. Knowing who your audience is more important than personal tastes. Not exploring this in depth is a common mistake start-ups make.
Having a strong logo is only the beginning; graphic elements should also include a color scheme as well as a font selection. And consistency is important as well. Given that you are an unknown entity, consistent representation of your visual elements will help create brand awareness.
Getting back to your earlier point, naming is critical too and precedes the logo. One of our client startups made all the classic mistakes discussed. The client, an artisan Gelato purveyor, against advice, insisted on naming his company “Jimmy’s Gelato”. The owner, who was raised in Italy, did everything else right—spent considerable time and expense learning Gelato from the finest Gelato makers; created the perfect product; and even acquired the machinery from Italy. Providing an authentic product that you can only get in Italy was its mission—and the original name, while alliterative and likeable, did not quite match that artisanal mission.
We developed the requested logo and marketing materials for launch. But, after a year, as he would be the first to admit, the client realized he had made a mistake and renamed his company L’Arte Del Gelato, the art of Gelato. And they had to rebrand which was costly and most importantly confusing for its customers.
Of course, small business owners will always be making adjustments along the way—especially those committed to excellence, as this one is. But the more you can ascertain this information early on, and act on it, the better off you will be.
You mention the need to make constant adjustments. Very often, as part of a rebranding or merely as a refresh, over the course of a long history, companies will often change their look and feel, including their logos, correct?
Absolutely, and this can be a great way to refresh or simply to make sure that your logo is continuing to reflect the continuing evolution of your brand, as your business continues to get better and better. For example, as we’ve grown over the past quarter century (we recently celebrated our 25th year anniversary), CS Designworks has had four versions of a logo over the years (see below) which reflected our continuing style evolution. But, because re-doing your logo can be a costly exercise (if you are not a graphic designer, able to design your own), the goal should always be to get your logo right the first time, because it could be yours for a very long time—possibly forever.
It is very cool to see your own logo evolution, thanks! Beyond the branding exercise and ascertaining things like mission and desired ‘look and feel,’ what kinds of questions do need answered, so that you have a sufficient "creative brief" from which to start designing?
In addition to the branding exercise, I ask the client, what logos do they like and why. I also do a deep dive into their competition. I typically provide a mood board and show a dozen or so logos for review. Understanding the competition is critical and I will typically review the more successful competitors communications to glean vital information that will help in the development process. After the due diligence, I will typically show 4-6 designs in the first presentation, and usually in black and white so that color does not influence the logo decision. As the field narrows, we then introduce color to help round out the development process.
Can you possibly share a case study—including what a client told you about themselves during the intake process, and then showing the design options that you presented them with based on that information?
Of course. White Wolf Capital (originally called Black Wolf) is a good example of logo development for a startup. White Wolf is a private equity firm, originally from Manhattan and now in Miami. Elie, the founder was transitioning from a very large PE firm in Manhattan. Elie approached us through a referral—a logo we had developed for an asset management firm called Owl Creek. As with most new clients, we met, presented our agency capabilities, made an instant connection and were engaged to develop the logo.
While the name was eventually changed to White Wolf Capital because of trademark issues, we went through the full design exercise. In discovery, Elie was direct and knew what he wanted. Our first presentation was exploratory (see examples below) and included the requested characteristics of a black wolf, a competitor study and type options. As mentioned above, this is a key development process, and the various stages of development allow you to solidify the relationship. Our initial design presentation included four variations (see below), one of which was ultimately used for the final iteration.
The design process is fluid and allow the client to engage in and really become a contributor in the pipeline. We take a funnel approach which narrows down and refines with each version. It’s always interesting, as a designer, to go back and see the evolution of a logo.
What do you think are some of the coolest corporate logos out there and why?
There are so many great logos out there. The ones that are the most successful typically do not need any type. For example, Apple, Nike, Twitter, Target, etc. Two of my favorite logos are Fed Ex and NBC. Both incorporate an element that might get unnoticed, such as the arrow that is in between the "E" and "X" in the Fed Ex logo and the Peacock in between the yellow and green graphic in the NBC logo. Of course, these companies spend a great deal of money to ensure exposure, which clearly helps build recognition. Startups and smaller companies do not have this luxury, which confirms the importance of getting it right from the start.
There are some online sites out there that allow you to "build your own logo." Do you have an opinion about these and why a client might instead want to invest in something completely original?
The design world has changed over the years. When I started in graphic design, we used to hand ink logos. So, coming from this background, I am indifferent to “logo-builder” or “DIY” sites. Again, going back to the importance of logos, I would steer away from automated sites and hire a professional. The shelf life of a logo is many years—in some cases it never changes—so try to get it as good as it can be, up front.
Straying a bit off topic here, but do you have similar feelings about free image sites? Are they ever worthwhile?
We use stock images all the time; they have great value and are sometimes free or subscription based. Of course, subscription sites like Getty, or Adobe Stock, have much better images and if you intend on using a lot of stock, they are worth the investment. The danger of stock photography is that anyone can use those images, which can then potentially dilute your brand. Also, there are a lot of very poor images out there. Choosing the wrong image can have an adverse effect on your brand. Again, coming from a background of hiring and art directing photographers, a designer typically has a good eye when it comes to choosing the right image. One other note to startups is that they should never use images from a Google search. This is illegal and unethical and can result in being sued by the photographer or illustrator.
As a final takeaway during these "Meet the Bincubator" conversations, we like to ask everyone for some "tips" for small business owners and entrepreneurs. As this interview already provided suggestions that specifically covered logos and design, and I know you do much more than that, please feel free to offer more general tips as well.
Sure. Here are a few suggestions to consider:
Consider hiring a small design and marketing firm and engage them from day one. This is what they do for a living and the results will show over time. A good firm will be an invaluable asset to your growth. They will become intimately familiar with your company, its challenges and be able to track your progress in terms of analytics.
Be consistent in messaging and realize that success and recognition happen over time.
Establish a budget and be transparent with your partner. A design firm wants you to succeed and will maximize your marketing spend.
For B2B firms, be active on LinkedIn. Continually grow your audience, post consistently and engage with your contacts.
Once your initial branding and website is developed, work towards creating at least one content article once a month, which you will then promote via blog post, email blast, social media, etc. Commit to this for a year. Measure the results and do more of what is working and less of what is not working.
*This interview is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended to offer either an endorsement or legal/business advice.