Interview with Designers: Higher
We introduced Higher – a Slovakian design studio, international brand consultancy, Behance rock star and just a nice team of creative minds – when presented our new identity and website. Their corporate identity, packaging and web design projects are published on hundreds design blogs and inspire thousands of designers in a day.
We recently chatted with founder and chief creative officer Victor Novak and chief operational officer Kostadin Kostadinov about actual questions the guys receive regularly about their work and agency.
Hello! Can you please introduce yourself and perhaps tell a bit about how Higher agency was formed?
Kostadin: Hello, my name is Kostadin Kostadinov, I’ve been working with Higher for almost three years as an independent designer/consultant at first, but Victor has won me over and now I’m dedicated and working with him for the “higher” goal of offering innovative and tasteful designs to our clients. Currently, I occupy the position of COO in the company. But Higher is his baby and he can describe the formation and goal of the agency best.
Victor: Hello, my name is Victor Novak. After about five to six years working in the design industry I started to look for something bigger, something more meaningful, I interested in psychology, philosophy, marketing, even law. Finally I found right mix for myself all of that disciplines in branding and found own branding agency Higher in 2009 and not be limited by design work, but provide business and legal services as well.
About Higher Branding Agency, can you tell me who else working there and anyone who joined your team?
Victor: Our main approach is the flexibility which modern lifestyle provides. We have a strong core of creatives which can be supported with necessary resources in as little as 8 hours. But this doesn’t mean outsourcing of our work and projects.
Kostadin: It’s an open working environment that combines the best of what a traditional office space and the modern internet based communication tools can offer. This allows me to work with Higher’s office from my own which is kilometers away in Bulgaria. Also allows Higher to collaborate with designers from the rest of the world and take up both big and small projects, because its workforce is solid yet flexible. A good designer can be called at any time to provide his skill and knowledge if a project requires it.
How important is the visual identity for you?
Victor: We’ve been too long in this area and it affects our everyday living experience – we tend to analyze anything we see around us, even on subliminal level. And this processes never stops and helps us to stay on the edge. So I can say, visual identity is significant part of our life, I guess, yes – it is very important for us.
As for how important it must be to others? We are surrounded by offers, services and products and most of them almost similar. The brand identity becomes almost solely thing that can differentiate offers and affect the customer’s choice.
Kostadin: The goal of every business is to make a profit, no matter if you set to achieve a difference in your market or you are a non-profit organization, there are always funds to be accumulated in order for the business model to function in time. Visual identity is one of the most powerful tools you can use to get and noticed to make a good impression, to show that you’re professional without needing to explain this in tiresome presentations. Say for example that you’ve made the most delicious chocolate on earth, how is anybody going to know unless they notice your brand on the shelf and inviting packaging and then make the first purchase of your product in order to try it.
So we believe visual identity is of great importance for any business, we wouldn’t do what we do so well if we didn’t believe it strongly.
How can you say what logo will be “successful” and what is not?
Kostadin: There is only one way a logo can become successful and this is by being attached to a great product that in time will become popular. No matter how good a logo can be designed if the product (or service) doesn’t take off, it’s doomed to be unnoticed and forgotten. So it’s in our best interest to help our client to become successful however we can, because that’s the best way our work can become noticed.
Victor: A logo always must be considered in context. Context of brand’s communication, promises, products and client’s experience. If a brand’s promises are broken and clients have negative experiences, even the most powerful neurobranding techniques will not save the brand.
In result “successful” logo for us is logo that unique enough for fast recognition and simple enough for fast memorize.
Can you tell us about your process of visual identity creation?
Victor: Sometimes process can looks like a total mess with chaotic repetitions of different stages. The more people involved in process the more unpredictable it can be. And we like it, because creative process must not become a routine addiction that can be done within strict scenario. Must admit sometimes it’s a quite painful grind at the start and great pleasure of nice result in the end.
Kostadin: Well “steps” are something we are most often asked about, it seems like everybody is looking for some kind of working formula to making good designs. The truth is there are no solid steps in creating a visual identity. There are phases which you must do and there is no getting around, like a good market research and a look into the competitors, also an exhausting brainstorming and sketching process. But there is no formula, if there was a one true way to make visual identity I think all identities would look the same as they are part of the same process. And we wouldn’t what that would we?
You worked for many clients, is there any particular way a designer can communicate understand the client better?
Kostadin: It goes without saying that a good designer/client communication is the most essential ingredient in forming a great project and working relationship. Sure but how you do that? I say it’s as simple as listening carefully. Clients are more than often very passionate about their business. They’ve invested a lot of time money and sleepless nights into what they’re doing and they love talking about it. So best thing to do is to let them talk and listen carefully what they have to say, after all they know most about their business and their own brand than anybody.
Victor: I agree with Kostadin, but at the same time we have many clients where communication handled by marketing staff, which are quite busy and much less passionate. In this case I try to extract as much useful information as I can to outline the tasks to our team correctly. And I always keep in mind dialog of Alice with The Cat about which way to go. :)
Some readers may not be too familiar with you and your portfolio, so can you tell me what clients have worked with you?
Victor: Well, we have served almost every part of this world, we worked with USA, Canada, Paraguay, Australia, Bahrain, Singapore, India. It is really nice to work with people with different cultures and religious. The most significant clients are Hewlett-Packard, Endemol, Domino’s Pizza, 2Way Traffic, Zivelo and Jumbo UGG Boots.
We are still growing and I am sure this list will grow, too.
Of all the awards and publications, what and where are the most memorable?
Kostadin: It isn’t he highest achievements we’ve had, but for me personally there was a very important moment in our collaboration. This was when the work we had done for “Monza” started getting featured all over the Internet. It was a good sign that our collaboration was a good choice and Higher started getting traction.
Victor: We have a separate budget for participation in different competitions and awards. We already have a lot of nominees and awards, but most memorable for me is Pixel Award 2010.
Last question, what’s the best branding advice you could give to new brand/identity designers?
Victor: When design is ready just put it next to the designs that inspired you and see how good yours is. It is a good tactic to relatively compare own work with best works in the industry. In this case you always stay focused on the best, see the way and have own, inner objective criteria.
Kostadin: Maybe two things. First is to develop a good taste, fill your head with as many designs as you can find and understand what is good and what isn’t. And be very sure you objectively apply the good and bad criteria mercilessly to your own designs. Second is to learn your craft and know what it’s about, there are a lot of buzz words floating around and many texts with empty meaning trying to give value to claims from agencies and designers to what they do. But one has to know his true place in a business process and believe in it in order to have the clients trust and the confidence in what he’s doing.