Four Design Lessons from Star Wars

Today is May 4, known for nearly forty years as Star Wars Day and celebrated with the corny greeting “May the Fourth be with you!” As both a graphic designer and a diehard Star Wars fan, I thought I’d take the opportunity to observe this sacred holiday by examining four lessons that Star Wars can teach us about branding and graphic design. By this I don’t mean looking at Disney’s unmatched ability to market just about anything, but rather looking to messages within the movies themselves as guides for how to use design to tell your business’ story with clarity, quality, and consistency.


Lesson #1

Find a balance of familiar and unique.

Following the debacle of the Star Wars prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III) which used obnoxious amounts of computer generated imagery, Disney and director J.J. Abrams knew they needed to be precise in how they kicked off a brand new trilogy in 2015. While introducing new plot lines and characters, they also had to reintroduce the original characters and feel from the 1970s and 1980s films. To be direct, Disney and Abrams had to regain the trust of Star Wars fans that this new trilogy was going to be true to the iconic brand of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

As record-breaking crowds flocked to the theaters in December 2015 to see The Force Awakens, they were surprised to find a film that was very familiar.

Perhaps too familiar.

A young force-sensitive teenager is an orphan stranded on a desert planet. The teenager becomes friends with a small droid before a man takes her under his wing and becomes a mentor. Meanwhile a villain wearing shiny black mask wields a planet-sized space station with enough firepower to destroy entire systems. Learning to channel the force, the teenager thwarts the villain’s plans and helps to destroy the planet-sized space station before it can do further damage in the galaxy.

If any of that sounds familiar it is because it is the exact plot of the original Star Wars movie from 1977.

Consistency is a major element of establishing a brand, but the brand must also be able to differentiate itself from the competition. I can help you and your business to get clear on who your target customers are, what makes what you offer unique, and use graphic design to establish a compelling visual identity that reaches more customers.


Lesson #2

Sometimes doing things on your own is brave. Often it's foolish.

In the mold of countless Star Wars heroes that went before him, The Force Awakens introduced us to a brash young fighter pilot who rushed into dangerous situations. Poe Dameron was known as the best pilot in the galaxy, jumping into his ship and blowing things up whenever he had the opportunity. The Last Jedi opens with Poe doing just that, bearing down on a giant dreadnought ship with a tiny bombing squadron to support him. After sustaining a handful of casualties, General Leia Organa orders Poe to turn back. Rather than following orders, Poe leads his crew into further engagement.

Within minutes, Poe is the only member of his crew left alive.

The remainder of the movie sees Poe continuing to rush into dangerous situations — actions that the Star Wars universe traditionally has spun as brave are now recast as reckless stupid.

Sometimes trying to rush in and do something on your own is brave, but often it is foolish, careless, and costly. This is particularly true in shaping your brand’s visual identity. You can try to design your logo, your promotional materials, or your website on your own, but you and your business will be much better off making the investment and having me help you shape your brand with clarity, quality, and consistency.


Lesson #3

Quality branding tells a story and results from a design process.

Think lightsabers have always been reserved for the Jedi and the Sith? Think again. Star Wars creator George Lucas originally envisioned these laser swords as a common weapon used by all soldiers (like the one seen in the concept artwork above). Only later upon developing a lore around the Jedi order were lightsabers reserved within the Star Wars brand for those who are force-sensitive.

Hundreds of millions of people see Star Wars movies each year, and those movies are presented to us as highly polished stories. But there are stories behind the stories of each Star Wars movie, years of tireless concept work done by artists to shape the most iconic characters, scenes, and feelings of the world’s most successful film franchise. Accompanying each film is a The Art of Star Wars book that includes the earliest sketches, paintings, and digital designs that began to bring life to an entire universe that has to this point simply been in someone’s head.

Over a series of months and after dozens of designs, the process gives birth to characters and worlds that perfectly match the story that the producer is seeking to tell.

Designing a brand is not a simple transaction and does not begin and end with a logo. Instead, bringing shape to your brand is a process of carefully shaping the story you want to tell about your business to current and potential customers. With my help, we can begin a process to create a brand and the supporting visual design elements that tells the unique story that is trapped in your head.


Lesson #4

Bigger isn't always better.

For all of the money that Star Wars makes on the actual movies, the real moneymaker is the merchandise. According to Forbes, Star Wars merchandise is a billion dollar industry. Toys, video games, clothing — name a type of product and it’s likely that you can find it with Star Wars logos or characters splashed across it.

But not all Star Wars merchandise is created equal.

Take, for instance, a remote control toy cast after the new trilogy’s favorite droid, BB-8. A company named Spin Master sells the Hero Droid BB-8, a toy that is almost life-size and promises to be lifelike. The Hero Droid BB-8, however, has its drawbacks. In addition to starting at $229 (after lackluster sales, you can now find it for as little as $93), the toy is loud, clunky, and difficult to use. Now compare it to Sphero’s BB-8. While standing only 4.5 inches tall, this BB-8 can be controlled with your smartphone, quickly and quietly moves like the real thing, and starts at only $129.

Bigger is not always better. There are design firms that are much larger and have worked with much larger clients, but they also have much higher fees and cannot possibly be as responsive to their customers’ needs. I work with only a handful of clients at a time so I can keep costs low while delivering high quality service, high quality designs, and high quality brand direction.


Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the rest of your Star Wars day. Better yet, I hope to hear from you about how I can help you shape or reshape your business brand identity!