Design Goes Green – The first of a series of articles by Green Printer on the cross-section between the environment, business and the creative communications industry.
Interview with Studio 7 Designs‘ Aran Down
By Olga Orda
You are an award-winning, environmentally friendly design firm. Tell us what your clients come to your company for and what makes Studio 7 Designs different from other ‘green’ design firms.
We started out about five years ago by providing non-profit groups with free consultation and web design. Originally, we focused on helping out local companies ─ it was our way of giving back to the community. After about two years of helping about 50 non-profit organizations, including many universities and UN chapters, we were getting offers for corporate branding through our contacts. At that time, Studio 7 Designs was run by me and some part-time designers, so it was a natural evolution to move towards being a full-time design and development company. Our roots are based in real ethics. Our site doesn’t have a green theme; we wanted to try to capture the beauty of the natural world and use artistic creativity to show who we are as a whole.
If a client comes to you saying that they want to market themselves as a green company – and they are, in fact, a credible and fast growing green business – what kinds of guidance would you give them in terms of brand identity and design?
Our general focus with all clients is to find out who they are as an organization. We believe it’s essential to extend the personalities of the people involved with the company to the corporate identity. From our experience, authentic is the main keyword for success. People will quickly find out if a company is not really doing what they say they are doing. We do not have a fixed creative development process for our clients. We’re always trying out new ways to visually express each company in a unique way. Our portfolio speaks to how each project is different in look and feel and layout. We start with developing a friendly rapport with our clients. Since we will be working closely with them for many months, it’s essential to develop a friendship with them so that the entire project is a positive and exciting experience. We found that the more we got to know our clients, the more open everyone was to brainstorm sessions. The brainstorm session is one of the most amazing parts of the process ─ it allows us to observe every angle of the project. We have about 100 questions that we usually ask our clients, and most of the time they haven’t thought about the answers to many of them.
Here are a few examples of our questions:
Since we want to build a site layout that can easily be updated in the future, what are your 5 and 10 year expansion goals?
By finding out that a company, for example, is wanting to expand with 20 products and another sub-company, we can develop a wider site with room for 20 products if needed, and a sub-site entrance that is easy for visitors to navigate to and from.
What is the purpose of the company service and product, and will your actions impact the Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, Profit?
We often suggest our clients look into incorporating the Triple Bottom Line ethos into their mission statement. By involving the company in the community, helping to run an environmentally sound company, and treating and helping people well, the company will grow in leaps and bounds faster than not being involved. We believe this is the future of successful business, and we have seen it work every single time a company gets involved with the community and the environment.
What would you advise against?
There are many things a company can avoid in terms of branding that we suggest. One of the main things is to make sure a company is not ‘greenwashing’ just because it’s popular. General greenwashing is quickly becoming an indicator that a company is in fact not an ethical and environmental company ─ just look at BP and Shell for a typical greenwashing branding. People are very quick to see through the bright green and glossy flower designs. There’s no soul in their designs at all.
What cool trends in terms of green branding and design are you seeing now?
We live and breathe design 12 hours a day, and are involved with many top designers. There’s a community of cutting-edge designers that are always pushing the design envelope forward. The future of green branding is going back to the earth. Nature and the photo-realistic incorporation of real elements are coming in the next year or so to the mainstream. We’ve been developing our colour palettes from photographs of nature for a few years. You can read up on that process here.
What corporation would you most want to re-brand and why?
Definitely Kiva.org. We’ve been involved and have donated to almost 50 people via Kiva in the last few years. About 2 per cent of our gross profit goes towards helping other entrepreneurs at Kiva. The main reason that kiva.org needs to be re-branded is that they have kept their original logo and site design, even after they went from a couple of people in an apartment to one of the largest online social micro-lenders in the world. The site needs a solid logo development and usability re-think.
What do you wish more clients were doing in terms of design and branding that was bold and out of the box?
We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to select our clients. We get a lot of requests to design for companies from around the world, but about 90 per cent of them we end up suggesting other design companies that would be a better match. In terms of having the freedom to be bold and out of the box, we have about 20 different websites that we are releasing this year that are eco- and social-focused that we designed and developed ourselves. Our main focus at this point isn’t profit; it’s having the time to develop inspiring projects and realizing them online.
You give away a lot of free resources on your site (e.g. templates, photos) , which is always cool for the entrepreneurial souls among us. What’s up with that?
Studio 7 Designs was originally a non-profit side project, as well as a place to explore inspiration from nature. As we have grown, we’ve always kept that spirit as part of the company. We have about 10 new open source website templates that are coming this year via opensourcetemplates.org and many new stock photos.
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