Michael Johnson is one of the world’s leading graphic designers and brand consultants. His studio, johnson banks, is responsible for the rebranding of many notable clients, including Virgin Atlantic, Think London, BFI, Christian Aid, and MORE TH>N, and he has garnered a plethora of awards in the process.
In early 2014, Michael Johnson started work on a key book he felt was missing from his shelves – a definitive guide to the entire branding process that wasn’t biased to either strategy or design, but treated both as equals. Two and a half years later the project came to fruition in Branding: In Five and Half Steps, published in Autumn 2016 by Thames and Hudson.
In Branding in five and a half steps, Johnson strips some of the world’s most successful brands down to their basic components, enabling readers to understand how their verbal and visual approaches affect our daily choices and decisions.
It shows how branding begins; not by jumping to instant visual solutions but how research, insight and strategic thought can identify the correct place to start. Johnson then analyses all the elements involved in creating a successful brand
The book includes case studies that enable us to further understand why we select one product or service over another and allow us to comprehend how seemingly subtle influences can affect key life decisions.
The first part of the book shows how the birth of a brand begins not with finding a solution but rather with identifying the correct question–the missing gap in the market–to which an answer is needed. Johnson proceeds to unveil hidden elements involved in creating a successful brand–from the strapline that gives the brand a narrative and a purpose to clever uses of typography that unite design and language to reinforce a core message.
With more than 1,000 vibrant illustrations showcasing the world’s most successful corporate identities, as well as generic templates enabling you to create your own brand or ad with ease, Branding in five and a half steps explore every step of the development process required to create the simplest and most immediately compelling brands.
It includes a universal six-question brand model that enables readers to begin to define brands for themselves, Branding is an accessible and authentic guide through a complex process, allowing readers to understand the steps, then create the simplest and most compelling brands for themselves.
Branding: In Five and a Half Steps has become a best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic and sold out in Europe within months. The Observer’s Robert McCrum described it as ‘probably the best thing on its subject – and even a book for civilians, too’. On-line reviewers described it as ‘The best reference on branding I’ve ever seen’ and ‘very straightforward, passionate, concise, with many great case studies and examples’. Johnson toured the world in 2017 talking about the book, including speaking at the Edinburgh Festival,and has started work on his next book, for publication in 2019.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Johnson in our designer interview. We took this oopportunityto ask him some question about his new book “Branding in five and a half steps”
The Logo Creative – What inspired you to write the book “Branding in five and a half steps”?
Michael Johnson – For my first book, Problem Solved, I’d spent almost two decades solving all kinds of communication problems and wanted to write about what I’d learned and applied. Since the early noughties, I’ve been concentrating on branding, often from the ground up. This has been an extraordinary learning curve, but one I wanted to share, not keep to myself. So another book seemed the best way to record it.
The Logo Creative – There are so many books available about branding, What gap is it trying to fill?
Michael Johnson – You say that, but there are really two distinct types. On one side, the books biased heavily to strategy and management, often high on diagrams and low on creativity. And on the other, endless books full of logos, with very little insight, process or explanation. There are hardly any which look at the whole process, from initial research to implementation – possibly because very few people work across the entirety of the branding process. It began to occur to me that this book didn’t really exist – and I waited for someone else to write it. Then I realised that it had to be me, and then lost two years of my life doing it (but that’s another story). I guess my hope is that those interested in the first stages might keep reading – and conversely, those interested in the later stages might get something out of the early ones too.
The Logo Creative – There are five and a half steps in the book. From my understanding it’s a key half step between the strategy and design, could you explain the importance of this crucial step?
Michael Johnson – I added the ‘half-step’ in my first synopsis as a kind of ‘added extra’, but the team at Thames Hudson found this idea very intriguing. It forced me to do more work and analysis of precisely how, when and where the creativity involved in strategy, narrative, naming and brand architecture interfaces with the more traditional aspect of ‘designing the logo’.
In my case, I do both, often simultaneously, but for others, it’s more linear. So the point of that chapter is to show that stages ‘2’ and ‘3’ (ie strategy and design) CAN interface much more than many people think. Either a key creative insight is had in the writing process, or something happens within the design stages which makes us go back and amend the narrative. I think this ‘blur’ between phases is going to occur far more in the future.
The Logo Creative – When a major company rebrands, there seems to be a huge outburst from the public with little or no knowledge of why the rebrand has happened – how can we improve the public’s perception of the values of rebranding?
Michael Johnson – Part of it actually begins with the design and communications community, who are still fixated with ‘logos’ themselves. Designers often quiz me about ‘logo design’ and clearly have either no idea or even interest in the strategic work. I say this because if a branding, or rebranding project, has its basis in logic, fact – and makes strategic sense – it’s much easier for different audiences to understand why something has changed. There’s a reason why we carefully explain the reasons for change behind a new project such as Historic Houses – yet how many design companies still launch a rebrand just with a few pictures and some live surface mock-ups?
In a more general sense, it is still frustrating how often a rebrand is met with future, not fanfare. I fear design must put its head above the parapet and explain itself a little more.