Impactive vs. Cathartic

So I was sitting with a client who was attempting to discribe to me the different qualities that they wanted their new identity system to embody. When we work with companies seeking new identities, or upgrades to their existing one, I often tell them that the adjectives they use to describe themselves and their businesses are what they should use to describe their identity. This way, the identity would promote the proper message.

For example, if we are working on an identity system and branding campaign for a bank, clients consistently say that they want their business to be seen as “trusted,” “conservative” and “friendly.” In the same way, their identity should relate those qualities. If we’re working on a web site for a new product for kids, the client could tell us that they want it to be “fun,” “energetic” and “memorable.” Though all sites (in theory) should be memorable, this is the message that should be transmitted visually when someone browses to their site.

Anyway, I asked the client to fill out our ten questions form, which has this as the first question, and they couldn’t think of a third option. But they did write down that they want their identity system to be “impactive” and “cathartic.”

I should say at this time that while I won’t reveal the identity of our client, they were in the business of helping other companies to perform a task in Human Resources. Don’t go trying to scour our portfolio for the client, I assure you they’re not in there.

Well, the literal translation of “impactive” is tied closer to “impacted” (like an impacted bowel) than “impactful” (to fix firmly by or as if packing or wedging). The literal translation of “cathartic” is inducing catharsis; purgative. It is also an agent for purging the bowels, especially a laxative.

So, literally, the client wanted their identity (and the identity of their new company) to be both constipating and a laxative.

Needless to say, I was confused as to whether the logo should hold it in or force it out, and knew that in the end, with this criteria in mind, the identity would come out looking like shit either way.

It wasn’t until I prodded the client to come up with a third adjective that I started to think there was an issue with his psyche. He said “well, I’m pretty meticulous about all the details of my industry, so i guess you could say, I’m anal-retentive.”

At this point, I’m looking for Ashton to pop out and proclaim that I’ve been Punk’d. But he seemed to be quite serious. And whether he’s anal retentive or expulsive, I still have no clue where to start with this logo. I’m imaging that recent ad for Sudden Urinary Incontinence (SUI) that I saw on TV with the walking pipe people chasing butterflies on a picnic and phrases from other freelance rich media gigs (“Sometimes I’m afraid to laugh because I’m worried something may come out…”) come to mind, and then it dawns on me.

This client, who may or may not be stuck in their Freudian Anal Stage, wants to evoke feelings of comfort and safety. They want their clients to feel the gratification that toddlers feel when their 2-3 years old over having control over something (albeit not their sphyncters).

The final identity became something close to a pressure valve constructed creatively by using the client’s initials and company name. They saw the final piece and loved it.

To sum up, the logo ended up (as I suspected) looking like shit. But in a good way.

August 15, 2006—The icing on the proverbial cake. I just received this client’s literature in the mail and had to smile. They added the tagline to the front page of their brochure “Making Human Resources Run Smoothly”.

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