For the uninitiated:
zine (n): a noncommercial (often homemade or online) publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter.
The noble ‘zine has been experiencing something of a renaissance in recent years. DIY print publishing all but died out for a decade or so there; with many of the “usual suspects” one would expect to see making zines favouring to the internet as a more exciting and flexible platform for their ramblings. As we see resurgence in the popularity of more tactile media, the production of real life, honest-to-goodness paper zines is picking up again. Now is as good a time as any to ask, “what can publications put together by amateurs teach “real designers” about design?
Get off your high horse
The triumph of zines as a medium lies in the fact that anyone can make one, about anything. While that level of freedom can be invigorating, it’s also intimidating for a designer with years of training to let go of THE PROCESS and just make something. Approaching a commercial design project from the perspective of a beginner is risky (and not necessarily the best fit for every job) but it can have amazing results.
To see what this approach can do for a brand, look no further than Wolff Olins’ rebrand of Virgin Media – a fun, organic, almost TOO simple concept that made waves in the global industry when it was launched. Their whole concept focused on the idea that a brand is for everyone, to the extent that CEO Ije Nwokorie was wholeheartedly agreed when a critic commented that “the logo looks like it was designed by a child.”
A brand that meets its consumers at their level is a brand that they can really relate to and believe in.
Work with what you have
Want to make a viral video that sweeps the globe and gets a bajillion hits, just like Coca-Cola? Too bad.
That’s not to say that smaller or emerging brands can’t capitalise on that kind of media (they can, and have, sometimes to great success) but generally speaking these lucky brands are the exception, not the rule. The companies that consistently “go viral” are the ones who can afford to support their content with massive social and traditional marketing campaigns. It’s not unheard of for an Average Joe to go viral, but it sure does help if you’re Coke.
With this in mind, working within the limits of what your brand and budget can do is often a far more prudent way to go – and a more exciting creative exercise to boot. Accepting the reality of your budget and timeline forces you to think harder about what your brand is capable of.
Consider the go-to case study for viral campaigns – The Blair Witch Project. A team of indie filmmakers set out to promote their low budget indie flick, armed only with internet access and next to no money. What did they do? Reject the usual marketing tactics, push the limits of what they could do with what they had, and pull off such a wildly successful campaign that it has been aped more or less constantly by horror filmmakers since its release. Just goes to show what can be done with a tiny budget and a big idea.
Reject rigidity, embrace chaos
The word “chaos” might be a tad too strong. What you SHOULD embrace is the fact that once you send your brand out into the world, it doesn’t belong to you anymore – it is owned by your audience and your consumers. The traditional brand bible will soon be no longer. More and more, designers are choosing to accept that the brands we design will be refined and re-formed with every interaction. We’re approaching branding as a holistic system of suggestions and guidelines, rather than a rigid rulebook with no room to play.
Experimental Jetset accomplished this to great success with with rebrand of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City – their solution was simple, elegant and downright fantastic. If you’re intrigued, you can check out the video below.
Whitney Graphic Identity by Experimental Jetset from Dezeen on Vimeo.
Create in real life
The hallmark of a great zine is that rustic, thrown-together sort of look – there should be no doubt in a reader’s mind that it was made by hand, with love (or some other equally strong emotion). While the handmade aesthetic doesn’t necessarily fit the vibe of every brand, starting off with pen and paper before you jump into computer rendering is always a good idea. It allows for a more natural, fluid design process and keeps you from getting wrapped up in the little details of a design and lets you experiment quickly with multiple iterations of an idea before picking a final direction.
Not convinced? Don’t take my word for it – have a look at this fancy pants article from Web Marketing Today.
All in all, any designer can benefit from a little more fun and flexibility. When in doubt, toss the mouse and whip out the Sharpies and photocopier.
To read more about the logistics of creating a holistic, living brand, make sure you download our handy whitepaper on that very subject.