Finding Brand True North

When a sailor is navigating by the stars they need a celestial constant — a star to reference all the other stars by, a key to unlock and understand the rest of the map.

As the Earth spins, the constellations in the northern hemisphere sky currently revolve around a single star called Polaris. It’s a “Pole Star,” a near foolproof way for sailors to find their bearings on a clear night.

Annapurna Star Trails  Credit & Copyright: Wang Jinglei, Jia Hao

A brand’s mission is no different. Every decision, every nook, cranny, fringe, and faction in the organization should revolve around their mission — spinning ’round the thing the organization exists to make happen. Defining that constant is literally mission critical.

I run a design studio, but our mission isn’t design, brand identity, or websites — those are just tactics. The tactics should never become the mission. When we work with new businesses and established organizations, first we have to understand their version of Polaris, then we can plot a course from where the brand is, over the visible horizon, to where it needs to be.

Design isn’t magic; it’s the disciplined process of changing existing situations to ideal ones. But to do that well, we need a destination beyond the craft. Without a shared destination, we lack shared mission. Arguing about taking a left or a right at the fork doesn’t matter if the designer and the client are operating off of two different maps.

Define what’s true, first. Then you can start your journey.

Amateur Celestial Navigation Tips

If you don’t know how to find Polaris, two constellations will help you see it—Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (aka The Big Dipper and The Little Dipper). Look at the front edge of The Big Dipper’s ladle, follow the path like you’re liquid being poured out, and you’ll run right in to Polaris, the last star in the handle of The Little Dipper.