In my local area, an Estate Agent (or Realtor, depending on your background) has undergone a re-badging exercise.

Nothing much remarkable in that, except in my opinion, the staggeringly awful result of getting the wrong visual properties working for your products or services.
Now, whenever I see their sale-boards on my local travels I grit my teeth (do we really need more dumb/ugly signs?).
But, more critically’ what is so wrong with this piece of ‘ersatz’ identity work?
Why did they decide to change?
Why to this?
And why ‘ersatz’?

My dictionary defines ersatz as something “made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else”.
 In this instance, I can’t think of a better term for a change in identity design being used instead of addressing a bigger issue, that of the projecting the idea of a better experience as the advantage.

In the UK, investment – in both the style and substance – for the domestic property marketing has taken a while to catch-up with the costs associated with the service and purchase price. While marketing and identity design for property development works much harder in this respect, in the domestic/vendor territory service levels and the general buying or letting experience have gradually begun to recognise the emotional and rational investment.

The quality of marketing materials have noticeably improved in some cases, Hamptons being a good example with its use of QR’s on sign-boards and tone of voice and language (‘Sale agreed’ as opposed to ‘Sold subject to contract’ being a nice example).
All this bodes well for the industry, and then something like the Nicholas example arrives.

Now, I’m judging without being in full possession of the facts.
I don’t know what drove them down this route and any investment in design – even ersatz design, while less welcome – can have its uses. Certainly ‘new’ Nicholas will have got noticed, or rather not gone un-noticed.
But is that change for the better?

Who in the team that worked on this took a step back and thought about;
“Creativity is… connecting things”

If the marketing objective for the business in question was to draw associations with a local used-car dealer, then connecting with that visually would appear to be a success.

If the brief demanded a solution that was almost entirely unoriginal, then mission accomplished. If you subscribe to the idea that all ideas are second-hand anyway (an idea worth exploring in itself, here), then this level of unoriginality or mediocrity would be acceptable.
But here the problem is not one of taste, but of appropriately recognising the ‘connected-ness’ of design executions. And if you’re not going to try to be ‘original’ then at least you need to be thinking ‘connectedly’, asking if this (or that) solution for the client to decide on would make the right connections with it’s audience. I wonder if in that conversation, anyone asked if the direction under scrutiny would “exceed the expectations of our clients…” (The clients’ mission statement, after all).

The acid test of course will be in judging whether the project was ‘effective’ – rather than ‘cool’ – and if the business sticks to its guns.

The result of this albeit local situation neatly presented the challenging question of the designers’ agenda – or selflessness, depending on your perspective – bringing into sharp relief the problem of not taking time enough to think about our role in connectedness of ideas and executions – especially in property marketing and making sure your get the visual properties spot on.

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

Latest Posts By Richard Hill


Design, Experiences, Re-thinking


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