What do you do when a client is asking you to copy another brand’s identity… entirely!?

As a graphic and web designer I have to face a lot of challenges on a daily basis.
But this time the challenge was extraordinary: I was asked to design a blatant copy of another company’s brand (name included!).

My client was absolutely in love with this particular brand and (probably out of  a tremendous admiration -and a little bit of envy – or perhaps out of fear of failing if he builds his own brand) he wanted me (the designer, the creative) to make the “reconstruction”, thing that – if you just stop and think about it  for a second – is exactly the opposite of creating.

Now what’s to be done? one might ask. I asked myself the same question over and over again, and despite the fact that I cannot comprehend why would someone want to have no business personality and simply steal another’s concept, I still had to satisfy my client’s requests and stay legal at the same time!

So… How DID I satisfy my client’s needs without copy/paste-ing?

After a lot of brainstorming (don’t you just dislike this word? It makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, to be honest!) thinking about ideas, asking around and surfing the net, I came up with a series of steps that I should follow in order to get it over with in a less overwhelming (and more successful) way, being as ethical and original as one can be under the given circumstances.
I hope these steps also help you at some point with your graphic design business, when you are going to be confronted with the same situation. (Note I didn’t say “if”, but when!)

OBCA9W0.jpgDesigned by Freepik

Let’s dive into it, shall we?

Step 1: Getting to know the other brand

This was my main purpose. The “others” are a well known food chain and they use their unique design in their restaurants all over the world. They have a strong identity and they were pretty original in designing not only their logo, website and other graphics, but also the interior of their establishments.
With this in mind, I had to come up with something pretty interesting to keep the focus still there but at the same time completely out of there (if you know what I mean!).

Step 2: Finding out the reason why my client wants to be like them

That was not as obvious at the beginning, but as I was talking to my client I was getting the idea that they want – at some point – to compete with these people. My immediate questions were:

  1. How would you compete with someone if you want to look exactly the same?
  2. How would you stand out from the crowd – and, of course, differentiate yourself from the others – if all you want is to look the same?

(Questions 1 and 2 are actually the same question, but in order to make my point, I had to put it like that. See what I did right there? Smarts!

which leads to the next step:

Step 3: Portraying and expressing the same concept, but with a different design

Here’s where years of practice (ehm, not only talent) come into play. I developed a custom typeface, which was what the others also had. Like this I could be similar in concept, but not in design, since the typeface was exclusively designed for them. Handwritten, that is!

Step 4: Allowing myself (and my client) to use the same color scheme

Since color is not something that is illegal or immoral to “copy”, I could allow myself to go with the flow, so to speak, and do it their way. I checked the other’s color scheme and I used the main color in my lettering and throughout the whole branding process, of course. Client satisfied, designer satisfied!

Step 5: Focusing on keeping it the same with a bit (or a lot) of a twist.

Here I am mainly talking  again about keeping the feeling that the original concept is delivering to my client. Keeping it the same in concept DOES NOT have to mean almost seeing the same final result.

The logo is completely different and it does not even go close to resembling the other brand’s identity, but the feeling that you’d get if you’d see them both together would be one of a high quality brand. That’s exactly what my client actually wanted, but could not verbalize it in any other way than :

See this? I want it the same in name, color, typography and interior design of their chain if possible.

Step 6: Talking to my client…

…about the importance of being original not only for their image and authenticity, but for legal matters. This was the turning point when they finally agreed that it is better to be just, than to look like a fraud. Duh!

Step 7: Letting my client know who is the professional

This is when you, the designer, have to be very centered and with a lot of self-confidence. You expose your ideas and make the client believe that you are the authority, not just because you are, but because THEY ARE NOT!

Now let’s get this straight: don’t get me wrong, they might be the authority in their own field – I am not questioning that – but when it comes to who is who in design matters, since they picked you… you must be the authority and not them (for their own good!).

Most of the time they have no clue about what’s good for them, so you have to have the guts to guide them. If you are “soft” and take advice from them literally , you might end up making some huge design mistakes.

Step 8: Showing off

Or in other words, showing them how I will make their brand even better than the original. And, in fact I did succeed in doing just that. Their restaurant ranked number one in Copenhagen in 2015!

Step 9: Trying to talk them into giving up on the idea of being just a copy, but rather be something authentic

No need for additional explanations here, but I will leave you with a piece of advice that was extremely important to me at the time I received it, and I still guide my whole business with that piece of advice in mind. You know how they say that:

Even if you are cleaning toilets, be the best toilet cleaner there is?

Well the advice I have received sounded like that:

but if you are not one, do not pretend to be better at it than the one who is!

So no matter if you are a designer or a business in need for one, have in mind that being the best at what you do is the best that you CAN do, and being humble enough to let the professional in their field do their job, may bring you the awesome results that you have not even dreamt about!

Have you had any similar experiences? Are you a business owner that had similar ideas and then recognized that they were, in fact, not as bright as you once thought? I’d love to hear your input on this one here.

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