Branding and Chekov's Gun

As I often do, I recently fell down a hole on YouTube and discovered the channel of Lindsey Ellis, who disects popular movies and musicals and tells you why they work, or why they don’t. This is an entire genre on youtube, with popular channels such as FilmTheory even making it to the trending page quite often, but one thing that Ellis mentions in one of her reviews stands out to me. She mentions a quote by Anton Chekhov who says,

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.”

By this he means that, when writing, there should never be any superfluous information. You shouldn’t describe the character’s home if it isn’t relevant. You shouldn’t describe the character at all if they don’t add anything to the story.

If there isn’t a solid reason behind why something has been used in your design then it shouldn’t be there.

But, you ask, why on earth are you writing about writing in a blog post about branding? I am bringing up the idea known as “Chekov’s gun” because I believe the same thing extends to design and branding. If there isn’t a solid reason behind why something has been used in your design then it shouldn’t be there.

When looking at a company’s existing branding I often find that the reasoning behind the choice of colors for a particular item boils down to “because I like it.” When it comes to branding, ‘because I like it’ is not a good enough reason. Everything in a brand is saying something about who your company is, from the colors you use to the fonts and imagery you put on your annual reports. If it has your brand’s name on it, it is telling people who your brand is for.

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There are often branding ideas that most consumers recognize but don’t even realize is true. For instance, if you see a red pop can anyone will say that it belongs to Coca-cola, because Coca-cola is red. If you hear the phrase “You’ve got mail” a certain subset of the population (well, those old enough to remember it as more than a Meg Ryan movie) will think of AOL, even if they haven’t heard the sound in over a decade. Good brands resonate with a consumer long-term, and in order to do that difficult task you must think about why you are choosing every item that goes into your brand, and how it fits into the overall message you are trying to send.

So, why did you choose magenta as one of your brand colors? Because your printer told you that magenta is cheap to print, or because magenta is a bold color that stands out in a lineup of your competitors? Why did you choose to make your newest product blue? Because you just like blue, or because light blue is a color that is read by consumers as calm and trustworth? Why did you choose a serif font for your primary typeface? Because it was the first option that came up when you set up the document, or because your company is traditional and elegant?

Every choice your brand makes will evoke a reaction from the consumer, so every choice has to be thought of in terms of what reaction you want that consumer to have. At the end of the day you are designing the brand around the consumer base, and if you get to use your favorite shade of teal at the end of the day—well that’s a cherry on top.