Website and graphic designer speak

5 simple steps to a good brief

Many times we receive calls from clients in need of a variety of services ranging from logo design to web app development. One thing I have observed that is consistent in 90% of such clients is that they most often have not thought through their expectations of the project.

Just like a suit or a tie, any functional design project makes a statement about your Company or project, it therefore needs to fit right, look right and feel right. Here are 5 simple steps that will help you achieve that:

1. Describe the project – Describe the why of your design requirement in simple layman’s terms to enable anyone who reads it to understand exactly what it is you want. Avoid using marketing language that is often used wrong such as ‘branding for my company’ simple language like ‘ our logo needs a fresh new look because our company was set up 20 years ago and our logo feels dated’ works better because it is specific and clear. Here you can provide list of colors you want used and reasons why or list of colors you don’t want used with reasons why, you can indicate specific fonts to be used or not used with reasons why.

2. Describe the company’s key business – This will assist mainly with associations and brand placement. To ensure that the end product matches up to industry standards or is even better. Here you can provide the company tagline/slogan or request that one be worked on by the copywriters.

3. List your immediate competition – This helps with product and brand differentiation. Ensuring you are able to give the difference between your product or brand and that of your competition and get it reflected in the design/ copy or both.

4. Describe your target market clearly – This will enable the design company to conceptualize a design that fits in with your target market i.e. young working mothers, busy executives, housewives, affluent greys, students, health conscious demographic etc All these varying demographics will help provide the much needed specificity to your design project to enable it to speak the right language to its intended target.

5. Provide a deadline if there is one – This will enable your designers to prioritize their projects and provide you with timelines that are realistic and deliverable.

10 design trends of 2013

Graphic design is like fashion, there will always be new trends. This is because both industries are inspired by art; art is inspired by different cultures and people and can therefore never be the same.

Though trends are important to know, you don’t have to follow them to the letter, as a good graphic designer, it’s important to always put your own twist into the trend and reinvent it to your best ability.


Flat design is simply 2D art that is quite reminiscent of pop art-full of colour and clearly defined. This trend is mainly characterized by shapes, bright colours and minimalism.



At a time where designers can easily copy each other’s design techniques, it has become important for designers who want to set their designs apart to get their hands dirty and hands on with their designs using simple tools and media such as stencil, potato cut outs, paints and brushes in order to achieve designs that are 100% original and unique to the designer, yes-unique-I know people say that there is nothing new under the sun but you do a paint splatter on a surface, no one can do it the same way.



More and more designers today are realizing the importance of minimalism when it comes to relaying information in print and web design; this is because basic design allows the message to be refined rather than distract the reader from it by over using elements of art and design.

Basic design is mainly characterized by the use of very few colours or even text to clearly and fully communicate the message or context as per the design brief.



• Slab- this architecture inspired element is playing a clever role in making layouts look sophisticated and chic. When used creatively, the slab gives an art work an essence of laid back luxury.



• Line- you’ve probably come across this trend- a line over or below text. This simple element does the trick that colour and bold strokes have been doing in typography over the past years, which is to creatively bring the desired attention to the typography; the beautiful thing about using line is that it does this in a very subtle manner.



• Distorted Text- this technique is about cleverly cutting up text to create a kind of puzzle that leads the viewers eyes around; it’s fun and most importantly, its trending.



When designing with typography, the further apart the type faces the better the composition. It takes great understanding of design to pair contrasting type faces to create illustrations that look incredible.



This trend not only takes great understanding of the concept to be relayed but it also takes great confidence because without the right amount of distortion, your final artwork can end up looking like a mess or unfinished therefore it has to be executed cleverly.



The textures and colours of paper can not only compliment the quality of a designers work but can also compliment the concept of the design.



Let’s take the example of the Absolut vodka bottle – no one bottle is the same; this offers the consumer a unique exclusive experience.

Playful designs are characterized by vibrant colours, abstraction and distortion of elements beautifully to create an incredible composition.


This technique has been catching on for some time with some designers going monochromatic while others use a variety of colours. This simple technique can add playfulness and visual appeal to the composition.



Colour combinations have been evolving from pop culture to fashion and all industries that leverage on colour for creative expression.

Designers now are either going back to the basic black and white or pastel palettes that are sometimes creatively combined with more serious, somber colours like grey, black, rusty greens – colours that are nostalgic.

The colour palettes now are mainly romantic and sensual rather than bold and loud.

To wrap it up, follow trends to keep up or create trends to set yourself apart.

– Aina Kiwelu

Branding for real estate developments

Real estate branding from a design and marketing firm like AKSENT is about creatively packaging all the entities of the real estate company with the aim of communicating the benefits and identity associated with the brand thereby successfully positioning it to consumers.

Businesses that are planning to be in real estate development for a long period of time should always build a strong master brand and not only projects. The master brand is where the value resides and travels once projects are finished and sold out. The gain in equity and value every time the brand has a successful project will feed the image of the project and the image of the master brand simultaneously.

Branding basics in real estate are no different from other sectors; what’s different is the special dynamics of the business. Before beginning any brand project though, one needs to understand why it is needful to do so.


• Identification- in that the buyer is identifying with a certain lifestyle and taste associated with the brand. With that, a design firm needs to develop a consistent real estate brand in terms of colour palettes, logo, font styles that can define corporate identity and allow the brand to stand out from the competition.
• To establish credibility and a record of accountability- Knight Frank researched branded and non-branded property developments in 17 global cities and found that developments linked to well-known designers or labels were around a third more valuable that similar plots nearby.
• High Clientele-With a trusted credible brand comes a high clientele not just in numbers but in quality; credible clients deal with credible brands.
• Citing innovation in the property market-a real estate brand is able to come up with unique concepts that distinguish it from its competitors.
Questions To Ask Before Beginning A Brand Project For Real Estate

1. What are the consumers buying into? Consumers are buying into the sense of the place and the feeling of the community. Once you understand your consumer you are able to develop a connection and trust in them that the brand can grow upon and establish.
2. What are the consumer’s expectations? Whether its luxury or affordable living, the brand image is a silent promise to consumers on what they are going to receive from the brand, therefore it is paramount that the brand delivers what they promise in order to develop trust with their clients and establish brand equity.
3. How is the brand positioning itself differently from others?
This is where creativity and concept are born. Let’s take the case scenario of a real estate development company that values the natural flora; the favorable theme to run with when branding such a company is an ‘eco friendly’ theme.



In order to create brand identity, one must understand the core concept that sets the brand apart from its competitors. For example as previously described, a real estate development company that values the natural flora can be branded with an eco friendly theme that revolves around green palettes and imagery from nature.


This is the stage whereby concept materializes creatively into stationery, websites, Flyers, Brochures to position the brand image to its consumers.


Elements used to identify the brand materials such as colours, logo, shapes, and font styles should be repeated throughout all branding materials to create familiarity for the brand in the consumers mind and for easy identification.


The brand materials are key to making the brand stand out and since mediocrity won’t do the trick, exceptional and innovative design will help position the brand to stand out from its competitors.

NOTE- Avoid over-branding by keeping branding efforts to key developments which have the potential to become lifetime brands i.e. Destinations, Communities and Icons – Smaller developments would fall under these 3 groups, possibly as a sub-brand because people and customers will not remember several individual brands and will not be able to have meaningful relationships or even perceptions about a growing number of projects and developments.



• A real estate developer in the process of establishing a brand name will make his presence felt at major real estate events such as property exhibitions, and will regularly offer new projects to buyers at such events. He thus puts his company into the limelight.
• Projects that are prominently advertised in leading property-related publications and other periodicals create interest with consumers. With repetitive exposure by such media, a brand name gets firmly imprinted in the minds of property buyers.
• A branded developer is aware of having a reputation to protect and live up to. This is evident in conscientious choice of location, superior amenities and quality of construction.
• A branded builder is a trend-setter on the property market – in other words, the rates he charges in his projects will often decide the rates that other projects of similar configurations in the same locality will charge.
• Make sure that all projects are successful in their own areas and for their specific target groups so the master brand value will keep growing.
•Always build a master brand not only project brands.

To conclude, behind all propositions such as all-in-one place”, “waterfront living”, “themed communities”, “good investment” we can find one Core Promise that real estate brands should be offering, it is the promise of a “better life” – If you want to build a brand in real estate, never break that promise.

Finally, a respected brand image is a developer’s most valuable asset.

– Aina Kiwelu

The chair

Timeless Design

So far, no one has put a number on timeless design as far as years are concerned; how long does a design have to last to be called timeless? For this reason I don’t believe in timeless design rather I believe that design can be timely. Sure, a good design can last for three generations but I believe that one day or time it will fade into the background and transition gracefully into vintage. Examples of industrial designs that have stood the test of time so far are: the piano(300 years and counting), the rounded clock, the fork and knife and even the mundane plate; In graphic design we have a number of logos that are no competition to the industrial designs but have lasted long enough to be considered `timeless’. Such examples are: Coca cola, Apple, BMW, Nike, Addidas, Mc Donald’s so on and so forth.


I began by studying Dieter Rams, one of the world’s best industrial designers of our times. My research quickly lead me to discover Rams Criteria to good design which he formed after asking himself a very simple straight forward question, is my design good design?

Good design is:
1. Is innovative – The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.

2. Makes a product useful – A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.

3. Is aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

4. Makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self explanatory.

5. Is unobtrusive – Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

6. Is honest – It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

7. Is long-lasting – It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.

8. Is thorough down to the last detail – Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

9. Is environmentally friendly – Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

10. Is as little design as possible – Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.


When I study all the logos mentioned previously and their historic backgrounds, I quickly understand that no good logo is designed vacuously, rather each logo has a strong thought behind it.

One such example is the Apple logo which was referred from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve; the apple represents the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, with a pun on `byte/bite’. Rob Janoff, the logo designer, said in an interview that though he was mindful of the `byte/bite’ pun (Apples slogan back then; Byte into an apple), he designed the logo as such to “prevent it from looking like a cherry tomato.”

Another good example is the BMW logo; its medallion represents a propeller of a plane in motion, and the blue represents the sky. This is because BMW has built engines for the German military in World War 2.

Other than a good thought behind a logo, execution is paramount and so far I have noticed a simplified approach to `timeless’ logo design with all these Key factors in mind:
1. Easily identifiable
2. Can be easily reproduced
3. Visually appealing
4. Target market is in mind
5. Unique

In conclusion, ‘timeless’ design especially industrial is birthed from necessity while `timeless’ graphic design is birthed from concept.

Here at Aksent, we deliver nothing but the best in design, making sure that our clients experience nothing but the best designs, second to none. We make it our mission to take our clients brands to the next level and add some 0’s to their bottom line.

– Aina Kiwelu, Creative, AKSENT Ltd

TYPOGRAPHY – Simply Put – Simply written – Simply Understood

Let me start of by saying that typography is an art – that said – it is the responsibility of every typographer to uphold the aesthetics of the typefaces and not degrade them.

Two responsibilities that we bear as designers when using type are, to make the readers experience pleasurable and lastly we owe a responsibility to the typefaces we employ.



Serifs or San-serifs?

Discussions on which one is better when it comes to extended text has been quite pointless. It’s been said that san serifed type is better for extended text because they lead your eye along…, all I can say is , what is readable is credible! Decide for yourself!


Is It Safe?

In web design and development, this is a matter of whether the font will show up on the users interface. The font that you use on your design projects might not be available on the viewer system. Choosing type for the web is easier owing to fewer choices; however, that’s beginning to change. We now have sIFR and ‘web fonts’, so it’s all the more important to think carefully about the type we use.

Honor Content

Typography is a craft by which the meanings of text (or its absence of meaning) can be clarified, honored and shared…
Robert Bringhurst

If the content is for example about love, your type face should be easy and dreamy with exaggerated curls to express the heights of love and romance – let the type face represent and communicate the content appropriately.

Simply, read it

When you are setting up text and your done, read it – really read it. Ask yourself, is it easy to read? Does it bore you every time you have a fresh look at it? and even when in doubt you can always ask other designers or non designers to give you feedback, after all design is subjective.


If your text’s final destination is paper, then print it and see. Your type might look exquisite on screen, but horrible on paper. There really is no substitute for printing.

If setting for the screen, then check it on both PC and Mac, and at different resolutions (screen sizes).

Mix it Up a Bit

The interplay between text gives them energy. The more distant the typographic palette the more vibrant the final design is.

Choosing type families with different features helps prevent redundancy.

Mix typefaces with similar proportions; the best way of doing so is to assign each a different purpose and limit each to a specific range of sizes.

Note – Titling preserves its spotlight by appearing occasionally and always in large sizes. Example below:



Courtesy of Erik Spiekermann


NEVER use CAPITAL letters to accentuate words in running copy. They STICK OUT far too much spoiling the LOOK of the column or page. Use italics instead. If you have to set words in capitals, use proper small caps with or without initial capitals.



There are three different ways to connect or separate words: the hyphen -, the en dash –, a little wider than the hyphen, and the em dash —, wider still. The regular hyphen is easily accessible on any Mac or PC keyboard, whereas the en dash needs the combination option-hyphen on the Mac. The em dash is accessed by pressing option-shift-hyphen on the Mac. The use of these dashes depends on house styles and tradition. The em dash with no space around it is traditionally used to separate thoughts—like this one—but I think its length is a distraction in running text. Try using the en dash to separate thoughts – like this one – with a character space on either side. En dashes without space on either side are also used between numbers and compound words as in: the shop is open 10–7, while you can take the New York–Kansas City train or the New York–Baltimore train only 8am–3pm.



A ligature is defined as the visual or formal combination of two or three letters into a single character. They consist of letter combinations such as ff, fi, fl, ffi. Ligatures keep letters from overlapping and improve legibility. For example: affluence, configure, deflate, affinity.



Avoid flush settings! Most applications create justified text by hideously stretching and squishing words and spaces. Note that it takes many hours of tedious work to typeset justified text that is truly well-proportioned and legible. For this reason, professionals prefer to use ragged-right composition, either with or without hyphenation, depending on how much line-length variation they wish to allow. This gives the text a more harmonious appearance and makes it easier to read, since all word spaces have the same width.


Use bullets or centered points instead of hyphens (-) when you list items. Bullets are part of the standard character set.

Note: Terminologies

glyph is an element of writing: an individual mark on a written medium that contributes to the meaning of what is written. So, for example “fi” comprises two glyphs, namely “f” and “i”; however, they can be combined into a single “fi” glyph (in this instance the combination of “f” + “i” to form a single glyph, is known as a ligature).

Finally, always seek out great typographic examples and keep on learning because the art of typography is ever evolving just like any other field in the arts.

– Aina Kiwelu, Designer at AKSENT

Logo Design in Nairobi: The Lamp Shade Company

Designing a logo in Nairobi is always good fun, mainly because of the amount of inspiration you have to draw from. We are currently going through one of the more rainy seasons I remember and I got a brief to design a logo for The Lamp Shade Company in Nairobi.

As I said earlier, logos are good fun because Nairobi is full of inspiration. Usually all I need is a walk in the Toi Market just a few minuted from our office and I have a few ideas. The walk is full of inspiration from the way you hear and smell Fish being fried somewhere but can only see fresh fruit around you.

The experience plays with your senses sometimes it encourages you to work up ideas that are not necessarily only seen, they are also processed and makes one feel like perhaps they should be using more senses.

Anyway, back to the logo at hand. Nairobi’s The Lamp Shade Company has asked AKSENT to come up with a logo for them and it is dark and rainy, so, there will be no running around in Toi Market looking for inspiration.

Well actually, I am kind of glad that it is so dull. This brief is all about beautifully lighting up areas. The Company is based in Nairobi and want this reflected int heir logo somehow.

So I figure, as always, keep it simple and stick to the brief. I have the basic theme for my logo but cannot decide what is more Nairobi than the other, the buildings, the crooks, the Nairobians themselves…

We had a quick conversation in the office about how due to the lack of transport, some guys can’t make it in. Wangui mentions that people in personal cars offering walking Kenyans a ride are being harassed by matatu operators, being asked “Lipeni shimo!!!!” (pay for the collection point – english does this no justice BTW.) When the drivers refuse, the operators pull Kenyans out of cars.

What Wangui is not understanding is this, She offers a Kenyan a ride to the furthest common point along the route and the guy who needs the lift agrees to be harassed out of a ride!!!! Timid Kenyans!

Anyway, I go back to my Lamp Shade Company logo… How can I apply this interesting story to the logo? A story about how many Kenyans allow themselves to be screwed out of their rights?

Well, in my logo, I have cut the power to the lights so the light itself would never actually work. That is how I applied that bit of inspiration that Wangui brought to me today.

Client loves it and thinks it is a quiet protest and wonders if we can always have a quiet protest on all her artwork in future.

Aaaaaah Nairobi, City of inspiration….

04 business-card-stack

Why Amazon should make a phone.

Amazon should admit they made a very good product and attack apple while they are at it… The original Kindle could last upto a month with daily usage. Can you imagine what that would turn into if it was a phone?

They have a screen that is not juice hungry and that can be used in direct sunlight with no quality loss. This alone would be of great interest to me. Next the novelty of a smart phone that is black and white would be very interesting for business people and would present app developers with an interesting challenge with regards to making involving apps that worked off a black and white screen.

The main reason this would appeal to me is that I am android fan and love my phone syncing with my gmail account, I love kindle books and love the accessories people have developed for them. I love the crazy battery life the devices have and wonder if this could all be rolled up into a tidy power pack that I could call people on as well.

To be perfectly honest I think the biggest virtue this device would have would be the price. Apple, HTC and Samsung devices are now becoming ridiculously expensive, they are more toy than function anyway and to be honest I don’t do much on my android phone beyond check mail and call folks.

The main reason we have the big 4 – 5 inch screens is we love the size. We love the way the devices fit in our pockets but still give us big screens to see our emails and text messages on.

So, here is my point, turn the kindle into a phone! Give us a nice 4.5inch “Patented built-in light evenly illuminated screen” with 63% more pixels.

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