A logo neither creates a brand nor defines it. But when it comes time to establish design elements which refer to your brand—like a logo, a business card, or print materials—the creative process can be tricky.

Paola Diaz

We talked to Paola Diaz, founder and designer of Maas Studio. Based in Miami, her crew helps companies with brand identity, creative consulting, art direction and more.

As fans of her work, we thought Paola could answer a few questions about brand design. How should one navigate the conversation between designers and marketers? Is a brand defined by the product or the target audience? Should marketers be skeptical of the massive increase of so-called “branding experts”?

Let’s jump to the interview:

‘Simplicity’ seems to be the hallmark of Maas Studio, and it shows in your work. What is it about simplicity that makes it so worthy of a design philosophy? Has this always been the case for you guys?

From day one, “simplicity” was written on every wall in our studio. Our name, Maas, comes from the belief that “menos es mas” (less is more). We believe there is more value in simplicity. Something can be simple yet captivating.

And that’s exactly what we want. We want to hear someone say, “Wow, so simple, yet so powerful.” Believe it or not, simplicity can sometimes be challenging because it involves breaking down elements to their core and manipulating them into a concept.

I wanted to highlight a couple examples of your work that caught my attention. The Picón & Co. logo and the Molieri & Co. logo. These logos go beyond just simplicity—a part of each symbol is intentionally omitted. You're gutting the damn alphabet!

The Picón & Co. website is a very minimalist experience as well. Why is this hyper-simplicity good for branding? Are these choices insight-driven?

We prefer to say we are simplifying the alphabet! Simplicity does away with all the distractions and engages the user directly. Companies communicate with their customers or potential customers through branding. Why complicate the communication process when you can simplify it?

These choices are absolutely insight-driven. Our clients share our passion of all things simple. It comes from within. From within the person and from within the company.

What's the process like for reaching design decisions?

Grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting down with our client. We love small talk. There is no better way to get to know them. We usually follow this with a meeting at the client’s office to see in person what they do. Each project can vary depending on the needs of the client. We prepare a list of questions to gather information. Then we research, research, research. Their company, their products, their competitors—we research everything. When we feel like we’ve researched enough, we start sketching concepts. We narrow the focus. We then finalize the concepts we like the most and present them to the client for feedback.

“We believe there is more value in simplicity. Something can be simple yet captivating.”

What sort of questions are you asking clients?

Coffee or tea?

The questions depend on the type of project. For example, we have had clients that wanted to completely rebrand. We must ask why. What’s wrong with your current logo?

The questions get deep. What are the emotional benefits that only you can deliver to your customers? What kind of personality will your brand have?

I assume not every client comes to you for the ‘simplicity’ approach. Do you have a hard time persuading some of them toward your design philosophy? How do those conversations go?
Thankfully most clients have come to us because they like our work. Sometimes they might be a little hesitant. In that case, we let the design do the persuading. Throwing together a couple of rough sketches might be exactly what is needed to convince them.

We like to be transparent about our design approach and have had to turn down clients. It’s not to say we pick and choose who our clients are, but we prefer to say we probably aren’t going to be the best fit for you rather than drag you through the process only for you to be unhappy at the end. While the conversation might be a little awkward, I think people appreciate the honesty.

You guys are brand consultants and designers, but your work plays a long-term role in how your clients can market themselves. Do you make design choices based on a company's services, or do you also consider how the brand is defined by the target audience? I know there's overlap there, but everyone leans closer to one side or the other. What’s your philosophy?

There is absolutely overlap. I think you have to take both into consideration when branding. That said, our philosophy tends to lean towards the target audience. We simplify the communication process, remember?

So we definitely have to consider the target audience. If the brand can’t communicate with its potential audience, then the brand has failed.

Maas Studio’s self-branding is a powerful representation of Paola’s design philosophy. Simple yet depictive.

We interviewed an accomplished designer several months ago. She argued that a logo is not a personal decision, but a business decision that is aimed at your target audience. Then you've got people like Seth Godin who think that brands bring meaning to their logos, not the other way around. What's your take?

A logo is just an element in the branding. So we’ll side with Seth Godin on this one. What good is a logo without a brand to give it meaning? As Michael Bierut argues: “A lot of what we see when we’re looking at the logo isn’t really happening in the logo; it happens in our own mind.” The brand is what puts our minds to work. This has been the case with Apple, Google, and Nike, just to name a few.

For a business that’s just starting out, how much time and resources should be spent on crafting a brand image? What level of effort should precede the launch?

In today’s society, I think the time and resources spent on a brand image is just as important as the product or service being launched. Startups don’t have to go through another funding round to pay for their branding either. While there isn’t a formula to figure out how much should be spent on each, you can create a simple, cost-effective design that works on multiple mediums. You can also go all out and create engraved plastic bottles for your coconut water.

I say that branding is just as important because consumers today are very hands-on. They want to feel connected to the products they buy or the services they use. Considerable effort should be put into having the branding down before the launch. You want a bang! at launch right? The success or failure of the branding can have a big effect on that bang.

Nowadays, everyone and their mother is calling themselves a “branding expert.” Your field has become enormously crowded, both design-wise and marketing-wise. Is your job really that easy, or has something been lost with the increased presence of these so-called experts?

You have no idea. We’ve had people come up to us and request a $20 logo. Twenty bucks for a logo? That’s how much people pay for their coffee order at Starbucks! The sad truth is that someone, somewhere in Miami is offering logos, albeit bad ones, for $20.

Unfortunately, too many people are calling themselves branding experts and devaluing the art of design. Generally, people underestimate the amount of time it takes to create a design. Yes, some logos can take shape quickly out of a wild idea. However, for others you have to explore the concept and do the research. That alone can take several weeks! So it’s really not that easy.

And these marketing companies aren’t helping either. I can rant all day. They sell their clients marketing packages that further devalue good design. Can they really be marketing and design experts? Unless you are a predominant marketing company with actual designers, I don’t think so.

There is no other way to explain it, but there has been a loss for good taste in design. But the tides turn! Things are slowly changing. Hopefully, within a few years, good design will once again have the respect it deserves.

Last question. Is there something important you think marketers ought to understand about brand design—something they might be missing?

Brand design focuses on a completely different perspective. While brand design is focused on the emotion and experience, marketers are focused on conversion and churn rate. But at the end of the day, they both share the same goal: to bring a product to life and display it to the masses.

Collaboration! This will contribute to the success of both marketers and designers. We don’t have to hate each other. Let’s sit down and talk. But remember we both speak different languages.

Thanks to Paola for answering our questions! You can learn more about Maas Studio here. Follow us on Twitter to get updates on future Kitchen interviews.