Design & Creativity
February 14, 2024
7 minute read time

Branding, with an emphasis on branding, by Miguel Lugtu

Andrea Cristobal & Pamella Diegor
Photos by
Illustrations by

If there’s one word to describe Miguel Lugtu, it’s prolific. Beyond his eight-year stint at Rogue Magazine where he started out as a junior graphic designer turned creative director, he designed and art directed the national best-selling book Besties in 2015, an unconventional manifesto for Filipino girls written by Solenn Heussaff and Georgina Wilson. He possesses an endless curiosity and the drive to pursue mastery of his craft, which have been shortlisted for various awards like the AGDA Students Awards in 2017 and Adobo Design Awards Asia in 2018 for his typography work for Salcedo Auctions.

What is branding to you?

Branding, for me, is hands down the best way to communicate the personality of a company, a business, its owners, or even a person (because let’s face it, people are brands nowadays). Obviously, it’s whatever makes me want to buy something or buy into something— whether it’s a movie poster, great packaging, a really sleek logo, or a really well written tagline or catchphrase. It is what ultimately sells a product or a business. I have been fooled by great branding many times and will probably never learn my lesson.

How important is branding when it comes to building a business?I feel that, nowadays, branding has become way more important than it used to be. With social media, where people are just exposed to great looking things, tastes have been elevated. Competition between brands is getting tighter and some markets get saturated quickly, so having better branding might just be the upper hand one can have over the other.

I see this as an interesting development, especially for smaller independent businesses since it feels like personality and creativity share a seemingly equal amount of importance with the actual product itself. Of course, if you don’t have a good product or idea to begin with, branding can only get you so far—so, at the end of the day, the product or idea still has to be the most important thing.

What should people take into consideration when coming up with a brand?I think the most important thing is to be passionate about what you are selling. You have to know your product like the back of your hand and really know its strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your audience is also key and also knowing your competition. Study what’s out there. And even if you think you don’t want to be influenced by how other brands look or speak, it is important to see what you think works and what doesn’t (even in brands not related to what you are selling).

I also feel it’s good to find inspiration from things that are not related to your brand but share the same values or personalities in order to help you in learning and getting to know your brand more.

A designer or agency’s decisions are all informed by the client, so having these in mind are the key things. We are here to articulate and visualize what a client has in mind, so they really have to know their brands and markets. A confused client is one of the biggest hurdles we have in this industry.

Could you run us through your thought process when it comes to creating a brand?I learned that the easiest way to get to know a brand is to talk to the client and come up with keywords that describe their brand values. What they aim to achieve with their brand and what personality they want to convey. There are a lot of exercises online on this and these questionnaires, standard as they may be, are actually very helpful.

My favorite part though is putting a personality to a brand. I love pop culture, so I always go through the whole: “If you were an actor, who would you be? What genre of music would you be into? What types of movies do you watch? Are you a beer person or are you more of a wine person?” These little questions actually help a lot and are always fun to answer. It’s also the easiest way for me and a client to articulate things.

What are things people sometimes forget when creating a brand?

I wouldn’t really use the word “forget” but I’ve had experiences with people who think of the aesthetic and look first before the product—so, in that sense, sometimes people get lost in an image they want to project, what looks cool, what influencer would best represent them, or what the competition is doing, that the product or idea takes a backseat. Basically, some people get their priorities mixed up in the process.

Is it important for designers to create a brand for themselves? Why or why not?

Hahaha—as an older millennial, I was so against this earlier in my work life but have come to terms with the fact that, yes, it is very helpful to treat yourself as a brand nowadays. Even in normal conversations, being “on brand” and “off brand” is already in our jargon when we talk to people. I find it funny but necessary because of social media. In 2017 I took a short design course in Melbourne and this is one of the first things they mentioned.

You have to convince people you can brand well if you brand yourself well. This doesn’t necessarily mean having a logo for yourself or having merch or a really sweet business card (although those are always cool things to have). This is as simple as curating what you post on social media or your website or your portfolio. So even if you do all sorts of branding jobs, putting together work that flows well together and you feel reflects your style and personality the best already counts as creating a brand for yourself without you knowing it.

What advice would you give to aspiring designers?

Just keep on doing your thing and you will figure shit out as you go along. Do not look at other designers and creatives as competition. Get inspired by them (even if sometimes they are so good that you just feel talentless next to them). Get inspiration from things other than design— art, movies, music, fashion, people, nature. All these will inform your work later on. And also don’t be a dick. Don’t think you’re better than others. You can always learn from everyone and everything.

You can’t dictate your clients choices, but how do you manage their decision making process to ensure you’re happy with whatever they choose?

It’s always a good spirited discussion. I’ve been lucky that my clients are open to what I have to say and likewise. I honestly don’t think I’ve had a nightmare client as a freelancer. I think the key also is to not see clients as the enemy—you are there to help them visualize things. At the same time, don’t take yourself and your work too seriously either.

Be open to what the clients have to say because, as designers, we can also get self-indulgent and too much into our ideas that we forget little things and details that the brand actually needs. The world will not end if you don’t get your way. It is all part of the job.

One thing you should make sure of though is that you are happy in some way with everything that you send out. Do not send three options when you only like two of them because, unfortunately, odds are that the one you don’t like will get chosen.

Asking for designers, how do you get your work out there? What has been successful for you?

My personal experience is really word of mouth. I worked at a magazine for eight years and meeting all these people from different types of creative fields are really who I owe my career to as a freelance designer. There are certain things I’ve done where I actually asked/begged to do— I made personal studies and proposals for certain projects that I was really keen on doing just to get the job. Social media, I feel, has helped in the last few years in terms of having an accessible place to see my work, but the bulk of my clients are really from recommendations from people I’ve known and worked with and are familiar with my past work from the magazine.

So in my case, actually getting in touch with other creatives opened doors. It also helps when you talk about your process and not just show finished products in portfolios and social media. It’s my favorite thing to see with all the creatives I follow!