Endless and taste. Strategy and design.

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Image: from Endless Studios’ case study.

Last week I went to Christmas drinks with Brilliant Noise’s design partners, Endless Studios, in their new Brighton offices.

When I go somewhere like Endless, I realise my own taste is largely of the know-it-when-I-see-it variety, and that the creation of beautiful things – from spaces to typefaces to whole brand schemas – is of a whole order of magnitude beyond mine. I know and like stylish, well-designed things – for them it’s a full time job.

If there’s one thing we need from our partnership with Endless it is their taste – they have it by the barrow-load.

The most cutting remark Steve Jobs ever made about the Apple’s great rival of the time was that they had no taste. Yes, they could produce brilliant technology, code by the milliion-lines, but when it comes to taste, he said, they were nowhere.

Taste happens by seeking out beautiful, brilliant things, said Jobs:

“It comes down to exposing yourself to the best things humans have done and then trying to bring the same things into what you are doing.”

Good design creates beautiful things. Deeply beautiful – beyond the first impressions, beyond the surface, because good design means that someone has thought deeply about the created object, space or experience in every aspect. You feel the outcome, you see some of the outcome of a successful design process, but you may never see or understand all of it. Good design has depth and substance.

I recently finished Leander Kahney’s biography of Jonathan Ive. A recurring theme is the design of the inside of the machines by Ive’s team – sometimes to the consternation of their engineering colleagues – so that the circuit boards and innards of the computers were as elegant, in their own way, as the exteriors. That’s deep attention to detail.

When Endless designed the Brilliant Noise brand a couple of years ago, they made physical stencils of some of the shapes they’d created as part of the brand’s system. The shapes were made from the negative space between the letters of the logo and they began to develop them as a set of abstract icons. They also pored over photos and filters and ways of framing images – the right grid that things should align to, the right weight of Gotham for different documents.

I learned two things from them. First, the way that creating a visual brand is about looking at a system, a “kit of parts” that works with a steady logic – not just something that looks good. Second, that you need to go deep and explore an idea, a system of ideas, until you know you have the right answer.

I think I’d heard these things before, in relation to branding – but it wasn’t until I was part of the process of building a brand with design experts like Colin and Ben, the founders of Endless, that I grasped this as a threshold concept.

There’s a love affair between strategy and design. At least there should be. The processes are in parallel and can teach each other so much.