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Welcome to the inside out design and branding blog

I’m Tim Masters, a graphic designer with over 25 years’ experience working with corporations and SMEs. All through my professional life I have helped clients develop their brands and my work has included the design of logos, identities, literature, websites, exhibitions and all the other elements that combine to create a brand image.

Apart from meeting the challenges of finding good solutions to clients’ communications problems – and convincing them that they are the right ones – I’ve often found it necessary to explain the difference between design and styling.

This is the way I see it; if something is well-engineered or well constructed, its inherent strengths are echoed in its outward appearance. So the design enables it to be used reliably and continuously. This applies equally to a piece of graphic design as it does to anything else. Whether it’s a website, brochure, car, mobile phone or food mixer; if it’s well-considered on the inside, it stands a far better chance of looking good on the outside.

The designer Ray Eames said; “What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.” I would go further and say that working good is only part of the appeal; the thing also has to look good to stand any real chance of commercial success.

Dieter Rams, Braun’s chief designer knew this. So did Steve Jobs, Apple’s late CEO. Braun’s products were beautifully made (and they looked as good as they functioned). Apple’s Mac computers, and iProducts are wonderfully engineered and they look beautiful too. The BBC’s website is another example, so are Audi’s cars. All of these companies offer great services and products which work good and look good. So these products are, in my view, well designed. They work from the inside out.

Styling on the other hand is a cosmetic exercise; something that makes an object (or an organisation) look good irrespective of how well it functions. We’ve all come across businesses selling goods and services which look stylish, but which turn out to be poorly thought out or dysfunctional. And we don’t buy from them again.

How does this apply to brands? Well a brand is far more than a logo, colour scheme and a few nice images. It’s how an organisation represents itself to the outside world in everything it says and does. The most successful brands have firmly-held beliefs and values and a great story to tell. They speak the truth, they behave ethically and don’t make promises they can’t keep. They employ the right people and give them the right training. And, whether knowingly or not, they provide great customer service by following David Ogilvy’s maxim that ‘the customer isn’t a moron.’ In other words, the most appealing brands are authentic. And it’s no coincidence that they put good design at the heart of their operations.

So the inside out concept simply follows one of the laws of nature; if something is unhealthy on the inside, sooner or later the disease becomes visible on the outside. And no amount of cosmetic overlay can disguise it.

The aim of this blog is to take a look at products, marketing communications, brands and other items of interest to see how they fit within the inside out paradigm.

Some people will agree with me, others will not. That’s great because whatever you feel about the examples I talk about I would love to hear from you.

Over to you.

17 Comments

  1. There is depth to your argument. I have long held the view that Branding is in everything that is presented to the outside world. You can see it in anything if you care to look. It was there is the TV debates last week just as it is in the toothpaste you used this morning or the breakfast cereal possibly you had.

    One problem about customers is that they don’t give you much active feedback. As David Ogilvy said they are not stupid but you only have to look at the reasons why businesses fail to get a sense of how badly some businesses are placed, or sometimes how quickly their star falls from on high. Most of the time getting it mostly right passes without undue remark. Getting it wrong is better reported.

    My view is that no aspect of the business sits alone and aloft from the rest of it. I have been shown Marketing and Branding plans before now that the company cannot afford. Not much of a plan then, however attractive. Then again the implementation has to reflect the values of the Brand just as much as the Brand reflects the company values. it all has to fit. If everything is lovely but the receptionist tells everyone to go away it still will not work.

    Good article Tim and I look forward to more insight from The Master.

    • I completely agree with you Tim – it’s a big part of WPA’s induction course that our brand strength isn’t a logo or colour scheme, but rather the very ethos under which the organisation operates – especially as we’re a ‘not for profit’ organisation.

  2. Peter Maynard

    Great blog Tim

    My experience is that getting people within the organisation to actually believe that what you do and how you act has a concrete relationship with your brand (and therefore how you are perceived by the outside world) is the most difficult thing.

    Sadly some only recognise this as the whole thing is going up in smoke πŸ™

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to you about this a few weeks ago Tim and couldn’t agree more with your viewpoint. A great start to the new blog, congratulations. I’m really looking forward to hearing what you have to say in the coming posts.

    So we already know about some of the ‘mega brands’ like Apple who truly apply inside-out engineering and design, but is there anybody new or emerging that’s caught your eye and that we should take a look at?

    • Tim Masters
      Tim Masters

      Gentlemen,

      Sincere thanks to all of you for your comments and encouraging words.

      Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be looking to see who I think fits (and maybe who doesn’t) the inside-out model. I have identified a few already and if I come across an exciting new business or product I’ll definitely write about it.

  4. Having spoken with you a number of times Tim, I can totally understand where you’re coming from. You have a wonderful knack of tuning in when listening to people. How you turn those emotions and pictures into a design is a real gift, y’know!

    Maybe I could model how you do it, and then we could map it out! There’s probably a lot of intuitive stuff going on in your mind that’s worth bottling. I’ll look forward to seeing more of your inside-out productions in due course.

  5. Hi Tim,

    I love your blog. It’s considered, intelligent and honest. Ah, that there were more on the web like this…

    I enjoy working with you because you get the relationship between copy and design, and their place in the business as a whole. It’s a pleasure working with you. So, I shall look forward to reading future posts – and buying a bottle of Masters Pura (better than Timian?) when it goes on sale.

    • Tim Masters
      Tim Masters

      Hi Sarah, that’s praise indeed…thank you so much.

      I love the names you’ve penned for the bottled stuff too btw. I’d better put you in touch with Brendan!

  6. Ah, I love the W1A quote which Sarah has posted! That particular show can be toe-curlingly accurate ;-P

    Superb blog, Tim. You really do have a gift for branding, and it’s such a breath of fresh air to know a creative who appreciates that a brand is so much more than a visual/logo – that actually, it’s the personality of the company; the reputation of the company, as perceived by all its stakeholders.

    Put me down for a bottle of Masters Pura!

    • Tim Masters
      Tim Masters

      Huge thanks for the compliments Jenny.

      There is a band of us who understand what a brand is, and it’s great to hear from, and work with, like-minded people who have the same realisation.

      Your view about creatives is interesting because unlike a marketing or pr professional, there are no formal qualifications necessary to become a designer; nor are there any ‘entrance exams’. This means that anyone can set themselves up. We can choose to join a professional body if we want to, and embark on career-long cpd’s, but a great many don’t. That’s one of the reasons why there is such a wide disparity between designers and, therefore, why many organisations find it hard to distinguish good work from bad and consequently end up taking poor advice. This in turn leads to a failure to fulfill their potential.

      Massimo Vignelli, the brilliant Italian/American designer said: β€œThe life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against the ugliness.” I think he had a point.

  7. Tim

    For me, you have defined the essense of the branding technique. You can hire branding specialists to do stunning colouring in, but first the brand must exist.

    By that I mean simply this. You must be able to define it. To write it down. It must have substance, that flows through into product, into customer experience, into employee behaviour, and so on.

    Of course, if I pursue that, I shall end up saying the same thing as you have said!

    • Tim Masters
      Tim Masters

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. I especially love your second paragraph.
      It seems like we have the stirrings of a nascent movement…

  8. John Taylor

    Tim,

    A finally balanced, thought provoking article on a subject close to your heart. From you I would expect nothing less.

    For me the idea of inside quality with outside attractiveness is essential for a new product to work or at least until the brand is trusted so it has a chance of selling on it’s name alone. Of course there are brands that abuse the trust that they have attained.

    This sometimes happens in the film industry with the awful follow up to the Lord of The Rings Films, especially part 2 of the Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug. Also the music industry, how many times have we rushed out the buy the long-awaited second album only to be disappointed?

    I know Tim mentioned Audi, but the car industry should also take some blame for abusing it’s hard earned trust. Cars that come to mind are Ford’s Scorpio from 1995 and the awful Triumph TR7.

    I believe the inside has to be correct, then put it in the right box, on the eye-level shelf, in the best shop so everyone can see it, then you have a winner. Just don’t cock up the follow up!

  9. Tim Masters
    Tim Masters

    John, your observation on the UK car industry, as it was, is interesting. British cars, especially sports cars, looked beautiful but were invariably unreliable and badly-made; the result of poor management and a belligerent workforce. It took the Japanese to show us how to build cars properly and British-built models now highly regarded. Unfortunately the profits from these well-run auto companies now go to their foreign owners.

  10. Tim- what an amazing blog! Ive signed up to receive more of your thoughts. From a purely personal level, I struggled with my coaching business’s external look until I suddenly found the answer- which was about what was important to me and my life (the inside stuff). Having been a doctor for many years, it might seem obvious to some people that I should call myself Dr Bridget, but for some reason it wasn’t to me. When I thought of it, with the help of my coach, it instantly felt right and I’m looking forward to your help with taking that forward. When we last spoke, I felt very excited about your thoughts so I’m sure we’ll speak soon!!

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