I met Leah Wechsler through the 6-month business program I took this year (It's Business Time), and we've stayed "business buddies" ever since. It's not just because we share a first name, though: she's a warm, down-to-earth creative who works on websites for people, in a number of ways. I find her work to be greatly inspiring and I learn so much from our monthly chats.
I thought she would be the perfect person to kick off a series here on my blog where I'll interview creative friends about the concepts of branding. "Branding" is something I personally want to learn more about, and dig into. I find it can feel like a a buzzword, and I want to get clear on what buzzwords really mean to me.
Leah's answers to my questions were thoughtful and drawn from her career so far. I loved reading about what she learned from designing museum installations (so cool!), being reminded to show a real person is behind the work, and thinking about what goes into the digital experience of a website.
So, without further ado, here goes!
(I've used our last names to mark who is talking, for obvious reasons, LOL.)
The Branding Q+A with Leah Wechsler
Noble: When you hear the word "branding", what comes immediately to mind? How has that understanding of it changed for you over the years, in your career?
Wechsler: I think of meeting a stranger. How they dress; the clothes they’re wearing, how they present themselves, their mannerisms and postures.
My first concept of a brand was visual identity elements, the logo, fonts, colors. As my career has progressed the concept of a brand has gotten more nuanced, more detailed and empathic. When I first started working in design, the way we worked was concept first. (Still true.) Since I started my career by designing museum installations, I thought of design as creating moments, like still lives, and branding as the “business.” The logo, visual identity, fonts were reference items to be applied after I made whatever it is I was making.
Now, I the brand extends throughout my creative work. Each project is akin to crafting chapters of a story for my clients. A website is updated every few years; product and program sites come and go. I think of a brand as a character. I start off now researching the audience, the environment, the ways the audience solves problems and get curious about how they communicate. The importance of consistency has gone up, so has the definition.
Noble: What do you think is key to branding that your/one's customers connect with?
Wechsler: We see things first. What makes a memory is if the experience becomes multi-sensory. Aim for the memorable. Branding is the art of customer impressions. A brand has both visual and non-visual elements, the smells, feelings experience with that brand converts. While there are aspects of you, it’s all about knowing that customer, to support them and talk to them, in their language.
What’s key to connecting with customers will depend on your audience, but largely I think it’s showing them that a real person is behind the work.
Noble: How does the digital experience of a website contribute to the branding of a company?
Wechsler: It’s all in attention to the details. Extending one's brand into various channels makes this more and more complicated. The world is increasingly digital, making the content design more complicated. There are more details to manage. There is probably more weight given to a website because we are increasingly digital beings. A website is a framework for communicating, accessible at anyone’s convenience too, so it acts a 24/7 spokesperson.
A digital experience includes:
- How is the website viewed? By a mobile phone? Tablet? Desktop?
- In what environment? Is it noisy? Quiet?
- How does the customer feel when they start to engage with my website?
- What are they thinking?
- What time of day is it?
I haven’t even talked about elements of visual identity, copy, or technology, but these are all impacted by what I answer to those contextual questions.
Many US government websites are a good example of how digital experiences contribute to the perception of a brand. They tend to be ugly, out-dated and technically lacking. It’s hard to find information, yet on some websites the language is overly simplistic, which in my opinion creates a negative impression. Most of the time I have to use a desktop to access one here in the US, which brings up feelings of inconvenience. Does this do wonders to help the image of a progressive government? No. (PS - the US now has design guidelines, so there is hope, https://playbook.cio.gov/designstandards/)
Leah Wechsler is the content strategist, designer, and writer behind Creative, She Wrote.