JAN 21

Rock your brand with Col Gray at Pixels Ink


Chris Haycock 0:10

So today we're talking about the fundamentals of great design, and the things that you nearly need to think about when you produce in your own designs for your marketing campaigns.

And my word have we got someone special for you today.

He's not just a heavyweight graphic designer. He's a heavy metal weight graphic designer, with no less than 18 years experience in commercial design.

With over over 27,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, including me, he's known worldwide for absolutely rocking your brand. This true design genius has a passion for branding as big as his beard.

So, allow me to introduce you to Col Gray of Pixels Ink

Welcome Col. It's an honour to allow me to rock with you.

Col Gray 1:08

Thanks Chris, what an intro. That didn't sound like me for a bit until you start talking about my beard. But yeah, thanks so much very kind, thanks for having me on.

Chris Haycock 1:19

Excellent, so Col, what we're doing today is we're tapping into just a tiny smidgen of your vast experience in graphic design here.

I've got some great questions that have been asked by our community of Rainmakers. So, are you ready for these questions?

Col Gray 1:36

Fire away, fire away.

Chris Haycock 1:38

Fantastic. So first up, let's talk about logos, which can be a massive headache for many business owners, you've created some truly amazing logos, including ones for Discover Cooking, The Flavour Co, Mackintosh Kitchens, Grow Accounting, Coffee and Co and many, many, many more.

But my favourite, and I believe it's yours too is for your friend and client Kevin Anderson, which is so simple but conveys so much.

So with that in mind, what what basics do you go through to take an initial idea into a head turning logo that manages to say so much?

Col Gray on... Logos

Col Gray 2:24

Well, I think the first thing, the important thing for any business owner to remember is that the logo is not for you, which some business owners struggle with, because they're like "well it's my business", "it's my logo" or "know I have to love it. I have to like it".

The logo is there to act as an identifier for your business and your brand, and it's there to attract the attention of your ideal customers.

So really, the logo is there to attract them, rather than attract yourself, so you have to take yourself out of the equation.

I'm not saying that is a discussion I've had with every business owner, but the question that I will ask a business owner when I come up with a logo design isn't, "do you like this?". The question I will ask them is, "do we feel that this logo represents your brand?"

And that's an entirely different question which will elicit a different response rather than "Well, I don't like purple and I don't like triangles".

If we're trying to give off a luxury feel, then purple's a good colour for that... "high end" and we'll probably touch on that later.

But I have four criteria for my logo designs: 

  • they need to be simple
  • they need to be appropriate
  • they need to be adaptable
  • they need to be distinctive

And I'll just expand on that very quickly. So, simple logos are often the most distinctive. If you think about the Nike "Swoosh" for example, that's a great example of a very simple logo.

If you try to throw everything including the kitchen sink into your logo designed to explain what you do, then it's just going to become messy and busy, especially at very small sizes.  And that's where adaptability comes in, in that it has to be able to be reproduced at very small postage stamp sizes, and also on a massive billboard.

It needs to be clear, and needs to get across you know what you're trying to convey in your messaging, and that's where appropriateness comes in.

So with appropriateness, you want to be using the right colour - again we'll touch on colour theory in a little bit - and you want to be using the right typography.

So you don't want to be using Comic Sans on a neon green if you're a funeral director. That's inappropriate. You want to make sure that you're choosing the right typefaces and the right colours that represent your industry, or what it is that your service or product is conveying to the customer.

And if you can keep it simple, adaptable and appropriate, then it will become memorable, because it's got all the right criteria to stick in people's brains.

And that's the thing with a logo. It's not there to tell people what your business does; it's an identifier. It's there to help people catch a glimpse of it, and have brand recall of an experience they may have had with your brand, or an experience someone else told them about you, "I bought something from this company.  It was amazing.  Customer service was great".

And they tell you the name of the company. And then you see the logo, and that's the company my friend said was amazing.

Now one last point, and this is from the amazing much better designer than me - Sagi Haviv. He said that your logo in the beginning when it's just created is an empty vessel. And over the years of marketing, advertising, contact with customers, and their experiences you fill that vessel with all of that stuff.

And that builds meaning around the logo.

So in the early days, don't expect your logo to do all of the work because you have to instil meaning into that logo.

And over the years, it will start to mean things to people, and they will connect with it more closely. When the Nike swoosh was created in the late 70s, people didn't know that it means sportswear, but now everyone does. 

And the only reason is because they filled it with meaning over the past four decades.

Chris Haycock 6:38

That brings me on to the next question really, and it's about about white space.

One of the many temptations for people that aren't natural designers, and I've done this myself many times, is to take an empty canvas ready for design and fill every bit of white space with logos and text and images and call outs, until every square inch has got something in it.

Surely though, white space is dead space, and there's no harm in filling it.  Is there?

Col Gray on... White Space

Col Gray 7:17

You're trying to get value for money, aren't you? You want to make sure that you cram as much of your messaging into that area as you can!

Or if, you know, there's a bit of white space and my logos over here "Hey, stretch my logo. Now my logo is important, fill all that space out".

White space is actually great to have, because what it does is it lets people breathe when they're looking at something; it helps them to take in the message which is there.

It also allows for unique hierarchy in design; your eye needs to be able to read the most important thing, then the next important thing and then the next, and so on and so on. If you cram a page full of pictures and text and logos and headlines and sub headlines all together, your eye doesn't know where to look.

But by using whitespace, you can actually control how someone works their way through a page, and it doesn't necessarily have to be top to bottom.

I've got a video on my YouTube channel, and you'll hear me talk about white space a lot.

And because of whitespace and hierarchy, you can actually have someone read the most important thing at the bottom.

Then jump to the top, and then go to the middle. You can actually lead someone's eye through using white space.

When you hire a designer and they come back to you and they've got lots of white space, they're not trying to pull the wool over your eyes and make more money out of you! They've actually designed it really well, because they're trying to help you convey your message in the most succinct clear way they can, by taking the viewers eye around the page in the correct order of things.

Chris Haycock 9:18

Fantastic. So let's say that you've got your perfect Canvas perfect design. You've got lots of white space and it all flows really nice, but here's something I hear quite a lot: once people have got an overall idea of what they are including in the design how its laid out, they often struggle with typography, especially when it comes to choosing the right combination of fonts.

Have you got any tips or advice on how to use fonts in a way that doesn't look as if the final design has been created by a six year old maybe?

Col Gray on... Typography

Col Gray 10:01

Yeah, this is tough one on this interview because it's quite short, and typography is a whole design field in itself.

We just need to remember that typefaces have personality and character.

It's like the logo design issue - they all relate to one another, especially in design about appropriateness.

I was watching a programme the other day with my partner, and it was a history programme and a sign came up on screen: a warning sign, and it was in Comic Sans.

I have no problem with Comic Sans. A lot of people you know designers are like "oh, it's Comic Sans" but Comic Sans used in the right appropriate place for children's stuff or fun events and fetes is fine.

But you shouldn't use Comic Sans for an important message or a warning because it's not designed for that. It's designed to be kind of fun and welcoming.

So, a basic understanding of the different types of fonts and what they mean can be useful.

There are four basic font types you can break them down into. 

There are serifs, which are more traditional looking. I think Times New Roman which is I think is a basic typeface on most computers. And this gives a more classic look to things.

Then you have a sans serif, which basically means it's a font without the little decorative bits that you have on serifs, so they're more straight, which means they look a little bit more modern in their use. So if you're trying to be modern then use a sans serif.

Then you've got script, which is like handwriting, and you get all different styles of that. There's a big trend on Etsy and things like that for very brush script type typography.

And then you have decorative, and that lumps in a lot of the ones that are grungy, or horror - you know - with blood dripping rain them, and they're designed for that.

And I suppose I should touch on the difference between typeface, and font.

They're used interchangeably by a lot of people, and I am absolutely fine with that. Technically a typeface like Helvetica, or Times New Roman contains different weights of fonts, so a font is a specific weight, inside a typeface family, and I've got a video on that [on my Youtube channel].

But generally in terms of design, if you're going to be designing something, I personally try to limit myself to a maximum of two different typefaces: one for the headlines, and one for the body copy.

There are lots of websites out there that if you type in a typeface that you want to use, let's say Helvetica, and if you went to Google and say Helvetica font pairing it will give you some examples of fonts, which are typefaces which will actually work really well with Helvetica.

You can do that for any font, and that will give you a nice match, sometimes it's good to have a sans serif and a serif as a match. Sometimes you can have the same typeface, but just use the different weights of fonts within that typeface to help you get a little bit of variety around the page.

Variety is key.  You want bolder for headlines and sub headlines, and you want lighter and smaller for your body copy. Again, it's a bit hierarchy and letting people kind of see what's important.

People tend to scan pages really quickly, so if you can help them scan the page and find the section that is most useful to them, then do that and work with the typography.

It's really difficult to fit this into kind of sound bites. I want to talk about it in so much more depth but hopefully, that wasn't too confusing.

Chris Haycock 14:14

No, not at all. I mean, to be honest, I've been in marketing for just over 20 years and there was a lot in there that I didn't know especially about fonts. I've always used the word "font" and "typography" interchangeably myself, so I've learned something today.

So onto the subject of colour. So, let's say that I own a business that's producing craft IPA beer. Yeah, I know you're a fan! And as you know they say that the choice of colour is incredibly important.

But who's to say that I can't use bright pink? Surely colour doesn't have that much of an influence on the perception of a brand... does it?

Col Gray on... Colour

Col Gray 15:01

Colour has a huge, huge influence on the brand, even though you may not personally think so.

When it comes to colour, I recommend that everyone does a quick Google search on colour psychology, or even just a Google image search, and it will bring up some lots of images with colours and it'll tell you all the different psychology that colour has.

It's subconscious, it's not really felt.

Initially, there are some colours people are aware of: blue for cold, or red for hot, but then colours can also mean things that are much more subconscious.

Blue can also mean calm and professional, which is why every accountant under the sun uses blue, and professionals - I work with a lot of accountants through another agency, whose niche is actually they only work with accountants. And it's great working with them because they're all real people, and they all have personalities and they want their brands their personality, so we use colour to help them break out of the cold and blue.

And the thing is, there are there's a huge spectrum of blue. It doesn't always have to be royal blue or navy blue. You can have cyan and you know bluey-greens and blue-yellows works really well.

Or like red can be hot, but red also means passion and energy. It can also mean, anger.   It gives off different feelings.

Every colour has that. Earlier on in our conversation I mentioned purple. Purple tends to be used for creativity, or when you have a high end luxury item, purple will be used.

Cadbury's chocolate uses purple to kind of give the feeling that they're a top-end chocolate maker, even though in terms of how much cocoa was in the chocolate it's probably the low end, but by using purple they circumvent that, and make it feel velvety and just gives off that feeling.

And so you will see that used in a lot of higher end brands.

Going back to your craft beer. If I saw a craft beer can that was pink, then it wouldn't put me off the beer. It would actually kind of attract me, because I'd be like, "this is different. I want to check this out".

And it would mean it was probably targeting a more youthful (I'm not youthful) but a more energetic kind of vibe to it. Something different to really stand out on the shelf.

For the craft beer industry, shelf appeal is a big thing, which is why you'll see many weird and wonderful designs, because it needs to stand out.

It's not your standard Heineken or Carlsberg or Becks. Craft beer is very very competitive. So you could use any colour you want in that industry and it comes down to who you're targeting.

It's the psychographics again - what age group, male or female. OK, so male or female is neither here nor there in some instances for me because you know we all like the same colours and things like that. But age groups is a good one, as you know you're trying to appeal to someone.

You could be a craft beer company that's trying to appeal to people who like science fiction, so your cans are going to be coloured probably black, with splashes of colour for lasers and things. There's so many things you can do with colour that will evoke a feeling. Even if you forgo photography and typography and just use colour, you'll be able to evoke feeling in people.

But you use colour well, with whitespace, and typography, and in your logo. Think about logo design as well, and how colour and your logo will really evoke a feeling.

[My logo] is red, because I want to get the passion and the energy across in what I have the feeling I have for design and branding, and I'm a big fan of black as well, and that comes from a heavy metal background.

I used to have really really long hair. Now I don't have any as a sign of age! But at least the black I can hold on to!

Red and black gives off a very strong confident vibe, and that's what I wanted, but you may be for example, a logo designer that wants to work with hairdressers, so maybe you would design a brand that was more pastel colours, or more calming, more neutral, because that's how a lot of the salons are branded.

So, by making your brand in line with the niche you're targeting, then you will have a better instant connection, with the salon people who are looking for designers looking "Oh, I like that. I like the colours are kind of aligned with ours I like that I'm gonna have a conversation with them", whereas I'm looking to work with people who want to rock their brand, and get over a strong message and have confidence in their branding, and so I wanted a weighty, strong 'feel'.

And the same with my type. It's a strong bold heavy. It's called Fat Frank, and is the typeface that I'm using.

And also there's a lot of meaning behind it, even though on the surface, it's just colours and words.

Subconsciously it's having an effect on people. And so you can do a lot with colour. Get the colour wrong and it can have a disastrous effect, depending on where you're in. So for example, if you make food you probably don't want to use blue, because there's not many blue foods out there.

So you know, you can go deep, very deep on this, but again hopefully that's a good overview, and I have videos on that on my channel.

Chris Haycock 21:15

Okay, so that's brilliant Col, thank you.

Let's talk about timeless design. Now, you became hooked on design, thanks to your love of American superhero comic books. And those designs still look as good today, as they did a century ago.

And it's the same with the Coca Cola bottle, which is often claimed to be one of the world's best examples of timeless design.

What is it about some designs that just don't age?

Col Gray on... Timeless Design

Col Gray 21:50

You know what I don't know if there's a secret to that or not in. I mean, I love the Coca Cola bottle, I think it's it's perfect. And I love it.

I remember reading about it. The brief that was given to the guy to design a bottle which a person could recognise even in the dark. And I thought that was such a great thing to have and, and if you imagine the coke bottle and how it feels, you know after that said what a brilliant brief that is.

And so, I suppose you know what makes it timeless is if you could feel it in the dark.

Another classic is the is the Mini Cooper, you know if you could feel a car in the dark, you probably know what a Mini Cooper was like, or the Swiss Army knife, you know you'd be right.

So, I mean, I'm just like riffing on now, but I'm trying to think of all the things that I think are classic in terms of product design.

Obviously, if it was like a flattened page you can't tell, but from product design they tend to be tactile in a way that the coke bottle or even the Mini Cooper has. 

The original ones had those straps on the bonnet to hold the straps down, but then such a rounded shape. I've got a BMW Mini, you know it's not quite the original from the 60s, you know, in that it's a bit bigger, and I prefer the comfort of the newer ones, but I've always wanted one again because I've always thought they're great shapes.

But there's something about that brief that was given to the company to design the Coca Cola bottle that people should be able to tell what it is, even in the dark. You know, I think there's another one as well.  There's a famous kind of lemon juicer, and it's like really tall.

Chris Haycock 23:53

Oh I know what you're thinking about.

Col Gray 23:55

Tall legs, you know, and that's the design classic as well [the Alessi Juicer].

And again, I could imagine feeling it in the dark and knowing what it is. So that's probably not a very scientific answer to timeless design, but I'm going to stick with: if you can feel it in the dark.

Chris Haycock 24:12

I love it, and I think that's a fantastic way. I think that really does sum up timeless design.

Now, in terms of overall design itself, not everyone's got the skills to do it themselves. And I find a lot of business owners are putting their hands up and admitting that even with the likes of Canva helping them out, design just isn't their kettle of fish. No matter whatever they do, they just cannot come up with the right kind of design.

So they admit that they need to get in the professionals. So, what do those people need to prepare when approaching a design agency like Pixels Ink to make sure that you end up "rocking their brand"?

Col Gray on... Working with Agencies

Col Gray 25:04

The first thing is to have a have a clear goal.   "What is it that you're trying to achieve? Is it to get more customers? Is it to get more people on your website? Is to get more social media likes"? Because, by giving a designer a goal there's different routes and pathways to doing things.

So that's very clear, because sometimes you know the customer will come to me and they don't know what they need or like.

Or they will come and say "we need a new logo". And I'll ask "why do you need a new logo?"

"Well, we're not getting many customers and we think that the logo is not working for us", and I'm like "okay, well it's probably not your logo. Your logo seems fine. Let's take a look at your marketing materials", or "let's take a look at your website", and then we'll find through looking, and [we say] "Well, actually your marketing materials are very clear, but not very persuasive. They're very generic. There's no call to action on here."

And so it would help if you if you have an understanding, or if you don't know why, then just say. It's much better to be honest and say, "we're just wanting to get more customers, we don't know why".

Then you can have a discussion.

If you say to the designer, "we want this, because we know that this is the thing that will help us"... if you go down that route the designer will take your lead on that, because you know your business better than they do.

But then you may find that this is the wrong way to go, and a lot of time has been wasted. So try to be as open as possible with the designer.

In terms of hiring the right designer, then you want to look at if possible if they've got case studies on the website. Testimonials are great, but they don't really tell you a lot about how that designer works with a client.

Good case studies will show their process, and how they work through things. Are they problem solvers, or are they just order takers?

There are many different types of designers, I'm definitely not an order taker. I like to think of myself as a problem solver, so I will listen to the client and then we will look at different ways of doing things.

And I mean no disrespect to any client, but often what the client wants isn't what the client needs, so it's my job to make sure that I give the client what they need, rather than what they want, because they can be spending money with me and not really getting the results that they deserve.

And so by listening and understanding them a lot more, I can give them a good return on the investment that they that they spend with me.

If they don't have any case studies but you like their work, ask them about their process. 

  • Do they have a strong process? 
  • What happens at this stage? 
  • What if you don't like it? 
  • What if something happens? 

You need to know all of these things, to get a good sense of trust with the designer.

You want to make sure that they're going to do right by you, as much as you know you're doing right by them by becoming one of their customers. And for me, I do this a lot when I'm looking for new suppliers and stuff. I ask if I can speak to one of their existing or two of their existing clients.

And if they're doing a good job with these clients and they should be more than happy, then they should be fine with that.  I've got many clients that have asked in advance if I have someone who needs to speak to an existing client you're cool to do that, then most will be okay with that.

So, those are some key criteria to a good relationship with a designer so hopefully that'll help you. If you do kind of get a bit stuck with Canva, and you need just that little bit more expert help to push things forward for you.

Chris Haycock 29:07

I love the way that you said that "the client gets what they need, and not what they want", because so often, clients will have some kind of expectation, and that they will want certain things done their way, but it's clear that you're going out of your way to actually achieve what they need to achieve for their business and not what they want to achieve for themselves.

So that's absolutely fantastic.

Thank you so much, it's been brilliant. The advice that you've given will be a massive massive help to so many business owners who often struggle to convert an idea into something that resonates with the target market.

And now for all you fellow Rainmakers out there who want to enhance your design and branding skills, Col has put together Rock Your Brand.

Rock Your Brand sends you monthly brand strategy techniques, guidance, reviews of the best brand related books apps, software, productivity, tips, the lot, to help you rock your brand. You get it on the first Monday of each month. Here's the website address (www.rockyourbrand.co.uk). So please sign up.

And for anyone wanting to chat with Col to discuss what Pixels Ink can do for your brand, I'll give you all the details below as well as how to subscribe to Col's YouTube channel.

Col, again, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with The Rainmakers, and a wish you and your team a very Merry Christmas, and I hope 2021, absolutely Rocks Your World. Thank you.

Col Gray 33:53

Thank you very much Chris.

Contact Col at Pixels Ink

Get in touch with Pixels Ink to discuss your brand strategy.

Web: www.pixelsink.com

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Chris Haycock



Chris has more than 20 years experience in marketing, working at both blue-chip companies and start-ups across the UK. His particular expertise is digital marketing, and has run a successful digital media company since 2011, with a portfolio of businesses that reach 1 in 7 of the UK population.

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