Stylescapes can help explore any project’s visual direction.
If you want to establish a solid and future-proof visual identity, style scapes are the place to start; cover creative ground quickly without burning through the budget.
- What is a stylescape
- Different types of stylescape
- What are stylescapes used for?
- What is the difference between a stylescape and a moodboard?
- What are the outcomes of using stylescapes
- Why stylescapes save you money
A stylescape is a collection of images, fonts and colours that aims to demonstrate a potential creative direction for a design project.
They can be used for any project, from designing a brochure to a website.
Stylescapes explore the possible look and feel for the project before anyone commits to a single direction.
The images and content of a stylescape are often part-found, part-designed. So, for example, they may contain some images found online that are edited to fit the creative feel, and other elements may be selected to be added, such as font options.
Stylescapes are really ‘big idea’ visual boards where the design work and ideas are free-flowing and at a very top level based on the project brief.
They are a way of exploring ideas rather than presenting concrete visuals.
Anyone that has worked with an agency before that presents three perfectly polished designs knows that they almost feel obliged to pick the one they hate the least, so stylescapes help to eliminate this problem by involving clients more in the big idea stage, not simply choosing the final idea.
There’s a lot written about stylescapes online, and different agencies use them at different project stages.
If you are starting with just a company name, a stylescape can be used to explore directions for the logo design and show how this could look as part of the broader visual branding.
Should the logo already be in place, a stylescape can then be used to explore the visual branding elements; what could an advert looks like or how your website’s homepage could be designed.
Both types of stylescape are not simply copies of other people’s design work; they are a curated collection of found media that has been worked up to represent the direction for your project.
Image credit: Pablo Rossetti.
Stylescapes are used to explore creative directions without burning through the project budget.
As a client, they will give you several different directions for the visual identity based on the fundamentals outlined in the project brief.
These will include things like:
- Your brand culture
- Attributes of your customers
- The emotions you want to invoke from brand touchpoints
- Your brand’s voice
- And so on
These are the fundamental aspects of your brand, and they all need to be identified before diving into stylescapes; otherwise, you are trying to use creativity to define the brand; the brand attributes should inform the creative, not the other way around.
- A moodboard is simply a collection of ‘stuff’ for inspirational purposes.
- A stylescape is more carefully curated, modified and designed (to some part) in line with the brief.
One main advantage of stylescapes over moodboards is that they are more on-point.
Moodboards are often collected with little thought about the strategy and positioning of a brand; they are simply visual inspiration for one element of the visual identity.
A stylescape is created to convey how things could look as a whole rather than the individual elements.
Stylescapes are designed to involve all the project stakeholders early in the design process.
To this end, the outcome of a set of stylescapes should be approval of the project’s direction.
Creating polished visuals for different aspects of a company’s visual identity can take a lot of time, so having everyone agree about the top-level look and feel means that the following design work hits the mark.
It’s important to remember that stylescapes are about creative ideas and directions, not precisely what the final piece will look like.
Think of stylescapes like a recipe; they identify the ingredients, and the chef (in our case, the designers) can take them and create the final product.
Stylescapes save project budget because the creatives don’t spend hours and hours creating polished visuals for things you simply don’t like.
Design is subjective, and your design team is only working with what they have been able to extract from you through the brief, brand attributes and asking questions.
None is enough to simply go away and ‘design’ the perfect solution.
Seasoned designers have thick skins and appreciate that what they create may not be what the client had in mind.
If what they’ve done took a few hours and is presented as an idea rather than a solution, you, the client, do not feel obliged to ‘choose’, and the designer does not get overly precious about what they have done – it’s all about the process.
This way of working results in better final designs (solutions) for your brief.
Image credit: Rob Robertson
So are stylescapes right for your project?
Stylescapes are suitable for every type of design project, but they may not be the standard way you are used to working with a design team.
One thing that they will undoubtedly bring to your project is a better and more focused understanding of your creative requirements.
You can’t solve design problems by jumping on a Mac.
More than ever, design is seen as something people do rather than think about.
We think stylescapes are a nod in the correct direction to the craft of the designer and the design process, and it can often be something that should influence your decision-making process when choosing a freelancer design or agency to work with.
Design is not about creating something you like; it’s about developing a creative answer to the question posed by the brief.
You simply don’t get this level of experience and clarity from using an online design competition or crowd-sourcing your project.
Design is a process that starts with a brief and goes through rounds of consideration and thinking before anyone should hop into Illustrator and ‘design’ something.
That said, the process you use or the agency you work with does come down a lot to the budget you have for a project, and if there’s simply no time for a proper brief, thinking, and stylescapes, you may be better off with the ‘drive-thru’ design option where you end up with a solution (be that a logo, brochure or website), but one that lacks any soul as there’s no real creative thinking or reason behind it.