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Crafted by Rule29

Superhero Branding

How Research Informs the Creative Process

At Rule29, we receive requests weekly to help write strategic story and messaging, develop brands, redefine logos, plan and launch websites, or collaborate on brand strategy. Since we are passionate about Making Creative Matter (Rule #29 – check out Rules 1–28 here), we want to ensure that our engagement resonates with our clients and helps them achieve their goals.

So, how do we move from a phone call or the proverbial “sketch on a cocktail napkin”  to launching or re-launching a successful brand, website, new product, or revised brand initiative?


First, let’s establish the value of design. From industrial design to branding, design-centric companies have outperformed the S&P by 228%1. McKinsey & Company notes that the best design performers increase their revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry counterparts.2

The market seems to empirically value those companies that are design-centered. But what is design?

Tim Brown, the CEO at IDEO, defines design as a way of thinking: “…design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.”

That’s great, but if design is based on “what is desirable from a human point of view,” that’s personal preference, right? Like why I like the way my Keen loafers look versus how other brands do. Or why people prefer the Android OS and some prefer Apple’s IOS.

If our team is designing a package for a battery charger or a brand for an organic food company, how do we know it will appeal to that human point of view?

In their book called “Building Design Strategy: Using Design to Achieve Key Business Objectives,” Thomas Lockwood and Thomas Walton observe that “Design may enhance performance but unless there are metrics to gauge that benefit, the difference it makes depends on conjecture and faith.

So, design appeal needs to be measured. Otherwise it’s simply a gamble left to the opinion of others. This naturally leads to the question if design needs to be measured, what is the method to which it is evaluated?

The answer is research.

Research is Clark Kent to Creative’s Superman. It collects the relevant facts, assets, and stakeholder interviews, identifies the goals of the project, evaluates the competitive landscape, analyzes and interprets the data, and then writes a summary to hand off to the creative team.

The type of research needed for creative projects may vary, but it must result in brief that is interpretive and actionable for your creative team. A story & messaging project may require multiple in-person interviews with different stakeholders. A logo refresh may only need a brand audit sent via email to a small list of internal stakeholders and a collection of clients. A branding re-launch could require many months of interviews, market analysis, and refinement.

Any creative project must reflect the goals and aspirations of the client and align those with their targeted personas, and the research conducted on these projects needs to allow the creative team to conceptually move a project towards those goals. The interpreted research outlined in the creative brief should allow your creative team to help them make that move.

In essence, the creative brief activates the creative team, and is the foundation for the success or failure of the project. Theoretically, you could have great research, but if the interpretation is off, your creative team is out of alignment when they start the project and has a better chance of being off course.

If you were to create a formula for this, it would look like (Research + Interpretation) + Creative = Brand-aligned success.  

Oversimplified? Definitely. But you can see if any of those variables are missing or off, chances of success are limited.

At Rule29, our creative team is a Justice League of talent (no offense, MCU fans). For every Wonder Woman, Batman, and Flash here, we have a Diana Prince, Bruce Wayne, and Barry Allen doing the research and interpretation to inform the creative process and ultimately make it successful.


1Dunne, Cary. “Study: Good Design Is Good For Business”  www.fastcompany.com, 13 Feb. 2014.

2Sheppard, Benedict. The Business Value of Design, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-design/our-insights/the-business-value-of-design, Dore, Fabricio, Kouyoumjian, Garen and Sarrazin, Hugo.