This recent client is a user led charity set up to champion, promote and assist disabled people taking control of their own care provision through the adoption of a personal budget.
Prior to personal budgets being made an available option, those requiring care or assistance in the course of their daily lives were at the mercy of the local authority who dictated exactly what care would be provided, and how and when it would be administered. Typically, this arms length approach to care management, based on only a rudimentary assessment of need, leads to a compromised and often infuriatingly impractical solution for the service user.
The introduction of personal budgets were recognition by the state that it can’t apply a one-solution-fits-all approach to care. Individuals are just that, individual, and their care needs differ on a person by person basis. Considered a victory of common sense by many, in effect personal budgets take the money the state would have paid for an individual’s care, and instead hand it directly to the individual. Putting that budget in the control of the end user is a simple way of ensuring the right sort of care is provided, as the decisions are made by the very person who needs it, and they’re free to make whatever decisions they wish by spending the money any way they see fit.
One member of the group I met during the consultation process, a wheelchair user with experience of both the old system and the new system, was very keen to inform me of the life changing effect this switch had brought him.
Prior to the changeover, he had been at the mercy of a twice daily visit from whichever rushed nurse was in the vicinity, who had to hurriedly fit in assisting him bathe and get in and out of bed around a hectic schedule racing around providing similar care to people all over town. His situation highlighted how difficult it is to live any sort of meaningful life when your daily routine has to fit around the inconsistent timetable of a badly overstretched nurse. Having only been able to get out of bed at 11am and put back there again at 4pm, and allowed only the occasional shower, it was clear the system really wasn’t working.
Upon taking control of his own affairs, he was able to employ a regular personal assistant of his choice to be there when his timetable dictated, to provide the exact and consistent assistance he needed. Be it child care, transport, assistance getting to work, assistance with domestic responsibilities, whatever, now he had started calling the shots, his care provision could finally start living up to its name.
For the same cost to the state, personal budgets allow a meaningful and productive life to be lived where before, all too often only mere existence was permitted. A victory for common sense it certainly is. However it’s far from plain sailing.
With all control handed over to you, you have all the responsibility. You’re on your own. The task of employing your own personal assistant might not initially sound that tricky, but when you realise how little you know about advertising for and interviewing staff, employment law, disciplinary procedure and all the things companies employ full time HR departments to deal with, you start to realise how complicated it’s going to be.
Compounding the already terrifying nature of that prospect, typically those choosing to take on a personal budget are those coming from the old regime of day centres and health visitors, entangled in a lowest common denominator, state sanctioned bureaucracy where a culture of reliance and placidity is almost positively encouraged. So overnight, people are propelled from a world where their bedtimes are decided for them by people they’ve never met into one where they’re suddenly faced with such baffling and very serious subjects as the intricacies of employment law.
It’s a massive eye opener, a huge step to take that is both wonderful and terrifying in equal measure. But of course it’s a step very much worth taking, and should you chose to take it, my client is there to provide any help and advice you may need. And being a user led organisation, they can do this because they’ve been through it themselves, so they know the ropes better than anyone.
With that information and more gathered over a number of meetings and conversations, it was time to start working on a new identity for this group before their impending relaunch.
From the information gleaned, it was clear the most vital message this logo had to convey was that of change, of ‘before and after’. We wanted a device that could clearly communicate the confines of the old system and the benefits of the new, whilst addressing the fact that taking such a step can also be a terribly scary prospect.
With those three messages to communicate in one device, the open box was the eventual solution. Not just open though, our box had to be burst wide apart. It needed to show that the walls can come down, and what that means. It had to show that the rules can change, that you can be the master of your own destiny and that you can do whatever you see fit to do.
Funnily, this idea informed not just the actual concept behind my design, but also its delivery. This logo has actually caused me some inner turmoil as it breaks just about every rule I have. Nothing follows a grid, nothing sits level and the type sits at an angle across the box below, with everything existing in pseudo 3D space.
As a result of this haphazard structure, it’s a nightmare to align with anything on a page, it needs a huge exclusion zone and it really doesn’t scale well. It relies on halftoning to properly reproduce in single colour and it uses shading and subtle detail easily lost. It’s more illustration than logo, an aesthetically complicated solution of the kind I generally try to avoid. I was happy that it makes its point with satisfactory concision, it just does so in a slightly untidy way.
But it’s not the result of laziness or lack of care, of me settling for the first composition that came along. Really, that untidiness is the design, informed directly by the message it had to convey.
The game has changed, the walls have come down, the rules have gone; if I couldn’t allow myself to work like this, how could I do justice to the message? If I was to let my preconceived graphic designer idea of what makes a good logo dictate the outcome, then I wasn’t waving goodbye to the rules at all. I was still trapped in the system myself.
So I alone (or rather the brief, using me as its agent) had to be entirely in charge of proceedings. I had to do what felt right. I needed to leave the confines behind; to hell with the so called rules dictated by the design industry, the old regime. We now live in a high-def, digitally printed world so forget self imposed, antiquated one colour plus black limitations, forget convention and classical tradition – if I want to use a full colour illustration as a logo I can, and if it works, then I will.
The very fact that it’s a bit eccentric, informal and ignores the plane of the page it’s on, the very fact that it doesn’t easily slot into a layout like some modular, conformist A-size proportioned, swiss minimalist corporate icon is why and how it feels like it does its job. That’s why it stands out from the other logos it will frequently sit amongst. Every time I tried to tidy it up so it would better pander to my designer’s OCD (and trust me I tried), it felt wrong, it lost something and it stopped communicating its point.
It’s funny. Looking back now the project is over, I’m actually surprised by the extent to which the brief informed the design process. The sentiment of the message became my attitude to its delivery. My commitment to the design process felt like it actually led to me ignoring all the design rules I usually love. I absolutely was not designing to appease myself nor any other designer; not even those specific ones I knew would be judging me when reading the eventual and inevitable blog post. The client’s considerations were the only ones I had, I was designing totally for them. And they were very happy with the result.
There was an extra requirement of the brief that I actually chose not to discuss with the client; a key part of the design process that I decided to keep to myself for fear that my thoughts could have seemed a little grandiose. It felt very important to keep in mind that this organisation is user-led. The story of the individual I shared above, the story told to me during our first briefing session represents not just the experiences of the people this organisation is trying to appeal to, but also those of the people who run it. So I felt that this logo had to be a little more than a simple symbol of identification. It had to face inward as well as outward and perhaps act, however subtly, as a bit of a manifesto. Whether it does this or not I might never know, but hopefully I designed in the potential.
I must apologise if I sound a little self impressed – I really don’t mean to. I’m well aware it’s not the Olympic Rings we’re dealing with here, nor is the end result necessarily a particular favourite of even my own recent output. In fact as is always the case with any completed project, hindsight makes me wonder how far I could have taken it had I the benefits of more time, more bottle and, fundamentally, more talent.
So please don’t assume the apparent enthusiasm you’ve just read has been hubris, and that I’m holding aloft my recent work as the shining proof of an epic new dawn in graphic design. Yes, I’m sufficiently happy with my work done here, but mainly I share this project with such enthusiasm and in such tiresome length because it provides a great example of why I find the creative process such a deeply fascinating journey.