Articulation before Visuals

To create a strong concept, all you need is words

29 November 2022

Articulation before Visuals Image

by Clint Tabone Founder & Creative Director

Articulation before Visuals Image

Before we started working on the actual design of the visual identity for Tacct, we had the direction already laid out in front of us. In words.

This allowed us to develop a concept where the visuals are directly inspired by spreadsheets. A novel way of using a familiar visual, that of spreadsheets, in a surprising place, which rewarded us with interesting results. This wouldn’t have been possible had we not written it down, discussed it, tested its viability and read it over and over again before we presented it to the client.

We call this articulation. The articulation allows us to discuss a concept with the client and understand whether there would be any resistance that we should be aware of before moving on to the Creative phase.

Just like a script is first written and the characters are defined before the first scene is shot, the articulation works in a similar way.

It is our scrap book that opens up the conversation on the project direction and there’s no better way to communicate it with clients than to use words. Clients are experts in their own field and will have a limited understanding of design. Presenting a visual concept before you actually write it may be premature for some.

It eliminates subjective topics such as “I don’t like green” early on and focuses on the concept and how it relates to the business since visuals are not presented yet — we do include some rough sketches or images from our previous Discovery phase in some cases but these rough sketches are nothing more than illustrations assisting the concept and not a presentation of the final outcome.

We include this step in our process whether we’re working on product design or visual identity and we introduced it in its current form just over two years ago. This is a step out of many that we take when working on a project and it has become one of the most direction-defining ones. It is the foundation of the Application Phase from our 4-Phase Design Method Process and the outcome is very simple. It’s a one-pager document outlining how we came about the concept, why we think this will work and how it relates to external factors such as competition or customer perception.

As we are working on the articulation, we run a small exercise to test the concept’s viability. Starting with a long page, we then summarise it in a paragraph, then in one phrase. This is how we test whether the concept holds. Is it strong enough that it can be easily understood in a few words? A few sentences? Is it memorable enough? If it fails the test then we know that it will be hard to explain to the client and even harder when applied to the visual identity.

From a logical point of view, the reason we started doing this is that we believe that if you can’t put down something in words, you won’t be able to execute it visually. It’s about laying it open so that we can find holes in the concept and fix them as we go along.

From a designer’s point of view, this is where we dump our thoughts. It shouldn’t be clean or perfect, the messier it starts, the better it is. There will be time to refine it later, but the idea is to actually write as many thoughts, rationales and findings without the concern that we will be judged for it.

For the client, this is an easy to comprehend and more approachable step where they can give feedback on the concept itself rather than its interpretation. If the concept works, then it’s just a matter of applying a suitable style and aesthetic.

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