Branding and Marketing tips for Schools and Colleges

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The branding and marketing of schools and colleges is yet another thing that’s been added to an ever increasing list of things that Headteachers and Principals now have to manage. Chances are that it is not a specialist area for most people in these roles, so where do you start?

Howdy work with organisations, including schools and educational establishments, to create and build strong, distinctive brands and effective marketing materials. We realise that most schools don’t have in-house communications specialists so we help with all aspects of the marketing and communications planning through to the execution and delivery.

We’ve put together some simple tips below to help guide you through the process.

Compass Schools website designed by Howdy

Compass Schools website designed by Howdy

1. Why?
It’s important to think carefully about the reason behind the decision to review the branding or marketing materials.Do you need a new brand, maybe to shift perceptions following a change in the organisation, or is it simply that your existing communications are looking tired and in need of a refresh? It may sound obvious but this initial goal is often forgotten in the process resulting in the project drifting away from the original aim. This should dictate the nature and scope of the project.

2. Identify the scope of the project
Look at what you already have, if anything, and how much needs to change. Do you need a revolution or an evolution of your branding and marketing communications? A rebrand doesn’t have to mean throwing everything that you have in place away and starting from scratch. What are the positives and the negatives of your current materials? An audit of existing materials and their effectiveness is an important starting point.

3. Identify your objectives
What are the outcomes that you need to achieve? Decide on the key messages you need to communicate and who with? This may need to be segmented into slightly different messages for different audiences. What is the purpose of your communications? These will form the core of your design and marketing brief to ensure that you end up with an appropriate communications plan and deliverables. See our five tips for writing a design brief for more help and advice.

4. Identify the challenges and issues
The diverse audience you need to communicate with is a challenge in itself. Engaging parents, students, trustees, governors and sponsors, each with their own priorities, is difficult. Throw in other issues, like social challenges – maybe literacy levels or language barriers – and you have a challenging brief that will need to be taken into consideration and addressed in the design.

Compass School reception signage

Compass School reception signage

5. Get feedback
The best way to find out what people do and don’t like is to ask them. Why try and second guess how parents would prefer to receive information when you can ask them? A small amount of basic research before the project begins can save a lot of wasted time and money developing something that people won’t use. This could be a few questions on your website or an email survey, or simply asking people in the playground face to face.

6. Identify the resources available
By this we mean both time and money. It’s important that you have an idea of how much time staff can realistically commit to updating a website, social media, writing copy for newsletters, etc. This will ensure that your communications plan is appropriate and achievable. Of course it’s important to have a ballpark budget in mind. You’ll need to get quotes from companies to help guide this figure but don’t get sucked in by unnecessary whistles and bells that blow your budget without adding real value and benefits. Having clearly identified the scope, objectives and challenges first, it will be easier to stick to clear parameters.

7. Identify the deliverables
Before anything, you need a clear mission/vision statement, agreed by all stakeholders. This, no doubt, exists in your’s, and your colleagues’, heads, and will have been voiced at many meetings, but it needs to be pared down to a succinct written statement against which every aspect of your brand is measured. The brand is the embodiment of your mission so, without a clear statement, any investment in branding and marketing will be wasted.

As well as the logo/badge, branding includes the colour palette, typefaces, tone of voice, style of photography, illustration, etc. which need to be consistently used across everything. Of course there are all the standard day to day applications such as stationery, signage, uniforms, etc. and, without exception, all schools and colleges need a website and prospectus which form your primary marketing materials. In addition, there is an almost infinite list of things that you can brand with your school badge or logo for marketing purposes, such as bags, pens, badges, etc. and it’s important to ensure that the things you choose, if any, are appropriate to your audience in terms of suitability, budget and effectiveness.

Compass School 2014-15 prospectus

Compass School 2014-15 prospectus

8. Find the right design/marketing company
It’s important that you work with someone that you feel is a good match for you and you’ll enjoy working with. There are many companies who design exclusively for the education sector who may feel like a safe pair of hands, but beware of template based design solutions. The whole point of design and branding is to differentiate and address your specific requirements and brief, rather than deliver a formulaic solution.

The image below, from one such company’s web portfolio, shows a selection of their ‘tailor-made’ designs for schools. No matter what your brief, I wouldn’t mind betting that at least one concept they present would contain a ribbon-like swoosh device on the prospectus cover and website. Having removed all the names from these there’s little to differentiate one from another. Of course there will be a number of commonalities across all school briefs, but the purpose of design is to make you stand out from, rather than merge into, the crowd.

Some 'specialists' offer formulaic, templated solutions offering little or no differentiation

Some specialists offer formulaic, templated solutions resulting in little or no differentiation

Our blog on choosing the right design partner offers more advice on this.

You might also be interested in our Compass School case study.

We hope you found this useful but if you need any further help or advice feel free to get in touch.

What type of client are you?

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By Neil Smith

Over the past 30 years, 15 of them as Howdy, I have worked for a diverse range of clients, from incontinence pad manufacturers to major banks. I’ve visited laboratories in Germany and international news agencies in New York, I’ve had meetings at 10 Downing Street and in offices above kebab shops in Finchley. This experience has enabled me, very unscientifically, to identify a number of client types. Obviously I haven’t bothered with the ‘friendly’, ‘efficient’ and ‘reasonable’ clients, as I couldn’t think of anything funny to say about them. New clients are very hard to come by, and we’d be happy to work with any of the following client types. And I’d just like to add that at Howdy we love all our clients, especially our current ones, most of whom fall into the final category.

The well informed client
Not to be confused with the client who thinks they know it all, this client actually does. One particular client’s knowledge of typography, design history and print technology put us to shame. She took a sadistic pleasure in getting us to re-kern lines of text with a scalpel often late into the night (this was pre- Macintosh) and was an intimidating presence whenever she visited the studio. We produced some of our best work for this client.

The randy client
This group of clients doesn’t exist, until you give them alcohol. You’re more likely to encounter this client at a Christmas party or a company launch than in the board room. I encountered one at a party as a young designer, and felt terror and confusion in equal measure as the company’s biggest client tore my favourite shirt off my back and ran her clammy drunk hands across my naked chest. I think she might have even snarled a playful ‘Grrrrrr’ in the process. It still sends shivers down my spine after all these years. I’ve blanked the rest from my memory.

The ‘more is more’ client
This client doesn’t really get Swiss typography or Nordic minimalism. They’d rather buy design by the square metre. A client once phoned and asked if they could have a ‘bit more design’ on the cover of their insurance policy document cover. We argued that the white space was working as hard as the text and imagery. They didn’t buy it.

The deluded entrepreneur
The most troublesome of the client groups. They lure you in with promises of fame and riches, of shares in their new Google / new Amazon / new Starbucks venture (delete where applicable). You commit totally, you submit to their infectious passion and before long you are an enthusiastic ambassador, telling anyone who will listen that this is the next big thing and that by this time next year you’ll be sunning yourself in the Bahamas. Then you get the phone call: ‘The backers have pulled out’ or ‘We have patent issues’. Six months (unpaid) work down the pan and you swear you’ll never be seduced again. The phone rings… ‘Hi, we’ve got this idea for a new range of oxygenated fruit drinks’… ‘Great, when do we start!’.

The ‘more money than sense’ client
Not sure that this ‘type’ exists outside the 1980s. We once worked for a City chap who was setting up his own trading firm. After briefing us on his branding project he took us to his basement to show us his Ferraris (yes, that’s plural). We figured that this gentleman would be happier paying over the odds for this design work so that he could brag to his chums about how much he’d spent on his new logo. Our hunch paid off, our client was as happy as Larry with the estimate and with the finished project, and we were able to fund an extension to our studio Scalextric track (well, this was the eighties).

The ‘design is for girls’ client
Thankfully not so common these days. We presented to the Chairman of a large textile company and his board of directors, who seemed preoccupied by our funny haircuts and blouson jackets. At the end of the presentation the Chairman seemed slightly non-plussed, saying that he thought he liked it, but he would have to show his wife before he could make a decision. We also encountered the following, from a CEO at another presentation: ‘Purple? it can’t be purple – my wife hates purple!’.

The ‘I’ll know what I want when I see it’ client
The presentation went well, everyone’s happy and excited then suddenly you find yourself producing endless variations and colour combinations of the ‘approved’ design because, apparently, its not quite right. The client can’t quite put their finger on what they don’t like, but of course ‘They’ll know what they want when they see it’. These projects can seem infinitely long, but unfortunately not infinitely well paid.

The frustrated designer
The only reason this client doesn’t design it themselves is because they don’t have the time or the software (or the talent). Ideally they’d like to sit next to you listening to your Smiths CDs, drinking espressos and offering handy suggestions on what typeface to use.

The ‘play it safe’ client
This is the client whose logo and pithy strap line gradually morphs into a Novella as they desperately try to keep their bosses and ‘stakeholders’ happy.

The bad driver
You’re collected from a rural railway station and driven at terrifying speeds, in an executive saloon, through narrow lanes to an out of town business park. I’m not sure, but they seem to be saying ‘I’m the client, i’m in control, and I’m going to drive really, really fast and scare the shit out of your trendy, fixed wheel riding, London arse’, or something.

The perfect client
This client is a careful driver. But more importantly, they’re open to ideas and trust your skills and advice as a designer. They provide a comprehensive brief, or enough information for you to be able to write the brief with them. They have an understanding and appreciation of the benefits of design, a realistic budget and realistic expectations. They also don’t leave things to the last minute. They’re pleasant and friendly to work with. That’s about 10 points I reckon. If a client can fulfil six or more of these, I think they’re pretty perfect.

Here we are having fun with some of our perfect clients
Here we are having fun with some of our perfect clients

Howdy celebrates 15 years

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On 1 June 1999 Neil and Sharon launched Howdy.

During those 15 years we have had the pleasure of working with many great clients and staff and we would like to thank them all for their support. Throughout June we’re going to be showcasing some of the great work that we’ve produced during that time so we hope you’ll enjoy our nostalgic trip down memory lane and check out our daily updates.

Howdy

We moved into our freshly painted studio in Battersea and are still here today.

1999

Labour Party ARWorking on the Labour Party Centennial Report was particularly interesting as we researched and sourced all the archive material for inclusion in the report looking back over the past 100 years. We also directed a photoshoot with Tony Blair at Downing Street.

M&S ShowWe worked with Camron PR on the design and branding for the Marks & Spencer, ‘Time to Celebrate’ roadshow celebrating the millennium. The Show travelled to different stores around the country showcasing products as well as featuring catwalks, food demonstrations and workshops. We produced signage, brochures, carrier bags and promotional materials for the event.

2000

UIP_GuidelinesSo 2000 was upon us – the world hadn’t come to an end and our computers hadn’t ground to a halt – and we did the new corporate identity (as they were known in those days) and identity guidelines for the film company, United International Pictures, dragging their brutal dated 70’s logo into the noughties.

It was the dot com boom and we produced this identity for dig-it.co.uk, an online gardening company and implemented it across the website, marketing materials, ads, packaging and catalogues.

2001

CA_Annual-Report

We gave this Annual Report and Accounts for Christian Aid a magazine style showcasing the great pictures from their picture library.

Kalends_website

In 2001 Reuters launched Kalends, a service that provided notice of future events covering finance, sports, society, conferences and market/public holidays aimed at business customers. Howdy designed their website and office interiors, promotional materials including advertising and Christmas cards.

2002

We designed this press pack promoting the Design Council’s Design Against Crime campaign. A set of case study sheets were sent out in an ‘evidence’ bag. We directed the photoshoots for the project and the photographer even smashed his own car window for one shot. Now that’s dedication!

The prints for these Black & Decker seasonal press packs were made using grass, leaves and flowers from our own gardens.

2003Reuters

We designed this exhibition for the Reuters Journalist of the Year awards ceremony showcasing the finalists.

This brochure for Ulster Carpets was to promote their custom made carpet service.

2004

#2 001These materials promoting Reuters’ Formula 1 sponsorship were based on the layouts of each F1 circuit.

Vega_cardsThis ‘talking’ logo for VegaStream had a warm friendly feel to introduce VoIP to a wider consumer audience rather than just business users.

2005

Reuters-LiteratureWe redesigned the promotional literature for all Reuters products and produced extensive design guidelines and templates for implementation.

#8a 001We designed the identities for four Christian Aid Week campaigns from 2001-05. We implemented the designs across a wide range of materials in English and Welsh including posters, worship materials, information leaflets, collection envelopes and schools resources.

2006

howdy_folio 0188This identity for food and drink PR specialists, Phipps, used playful food references chosen by each member of staff on the reverse of business cards as headlines.

howdy_folio2 0002We produced this identity for GuildHE following a name change. They campaign for distinction and diversity in Higher Education.

2007

/Users/ranaldmac/Desktop/howdy_folio2/Output/.howdy_folio2 0011.tifA strong professional identity for executive search organisation, Hoggett Bowers.

OpiniumThis clean and simple identity for research company, Opinium, used a visual play on the periodic table reflecting their strapline, ‘the pure element of opinion’.

MitreThis trade catalogue for sports manufacturer, Mitre, focussed on grass roots sport and we directed the mood photography around that theme, as well as directing the product photography of over 300 boots, balls and accessories.

2008

howdy_folio 0152 UKCISA is the UK’s national advisory body serving the interests of international students and those who work with them. Our brief was to develop the logotype and branding to unify all publications and electronic media. We produced templates and guidelines so that all materials could be produced inhouse.

GA_GuidelinesWe first starting working with Green Alliance in 2008 and they are still a great client of ours today. One of the first projects that we did for them was to review and develop their identity and design guidelines developing a colour palette for each of their six work themes.

2009

IFF-LogoThis identity and branding project began with email and telephone research among IFF’s existing, lapsed and target clients, and staff workshops, to build a clear picture of IFF’s position within the marketplace and any barriers preventing their future growth. This formed the basis of the design brief.

wot_4We designed this book – Window On Teens (WoT) – for marketeers about teenagers based on extensive research conducted by Lowe Advertising. The pictures were all supplied by the teenage participants.

2010

CHPA LogoWe designed this identity and design guidelines for the trade association, Combined Heat and Power Association to help shift the name towards CHPA following a shift of membership to include other sustainable industry and district heating providers.

DUCO_clothingWe designed this identity for a range of site tools and anciliaries for the building and construction industry. The brief called for an identity that shouts ‘strong, tough and reliable’.

smitf_wall_3We produced the identity and brand guidelines for St Martin-in-the Fields church in Trafalgar Square. The logo was based on the story of St Martin cutting his red cloak in two and giving half to a poor beggar on a snowy night. The logo launched at a special service on St Martin’s day and featured a hymn specially written about the new brand. The identity received a Highly Commended in the Third Sector Excellence Awards beaten by our identity for the QNI featured below.

Qni_guidelinesThe Queen’s Nursing Institute is a charity dedicated to improving the nursing care of people within their own homes. They wanted a new modern and distinctive identity to  engage a wider audience beyond the nursing community following a shift in mission and focus. This won best brand in the Third Sector Excellence Awards.

lifehouse_bagThis droplet logo for Lifehouse – a spa in Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex – reflected both the beautiful gardens and lake as well as the significance of water within the spa. The droplets were then also used in a fun illustrative way throughout the signage and across the communications. Further examples of this can be seen on our website at http://www.howdy-pardners.com/portfolio_identity_lifehouse.php

2011

Marlborough clinicThis marketing campaign for the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust was to promote their sexual health clinic, primarily to a younger audience. It appeared on buses, bus stops, tube posters and in doctors surgeries.

LBF_1

We have been working with London Business Forum since 2003 designing a wide range of marketing materials for them promoting their business events. In 2011 we redesigned their website. You can see more examples of our work for LBF at http://www.howdy-pardners.com/portfolio_print_lbf.php

2012

Reform_book_1To celebrate their tenth birthday, the independent think tank, Reform produced this collection of essays. You can see more of our work for Reform at http://www.howdy-pardners.com/portfolio_print_reform.php

BIICL2We produced this identity for the independent legal research institute, British Institute for International and Comparative Law (BIICL), and associate organisation, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law delivering design guidelines and templates for inhouse implementation across all print materials. We designed all templates for the website http://www.biicl.org/

2013

GA_UKsuccessstory_infoWe turn the raw data from Green Alliance research into infographics to help convey their research in a more immediate and engaging way. These work well both in printed form and online but are also extremely successful for use across social media.

2014

UCLH AppWe worked with UCLH NHS Foundation Trust to create a unified brand that was implemented across all their communications, including phone and tablet apps.

Five tips for writing a design brief

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It goes without saying that the first step to getting the right design solution is writing the right brief. Your designers can help you to write a design brief but the basic information that you need to provide is outlined in the five steps below.

  1. Outline your objectives clearly.
    Why are you commissioning this project? As with any marketing exercise you need to set clear goals outlining what you want to achieve. Typical examples might be to raise awareness, increase sales, reach a new audience, etc.
  2. Give as much background and supporting information as you can.
    No one understands your business as well as you do so make sure you tell your designers about it. Good designers will engage with your business and share your enthusiasm. Tell them about the culture and personality of the organisation as well as a factual overview. Share what’s good and bad, what is and isn’t working. Be honest. Recognising issues and addressing them is key to business success and design can help reflect changes and alter perceptions. Tell them about your competitors, industry and audience.
  3. Clearly state any specific requirements.
    What are the deliverables? Try to give a guide budget and timescales. If you have brand guidelines ensure that you supply them. If this needs to work alongside other marketing materials ensure that you show them.
  4. Don’t be overly prescriptive.
    Try to involve your designers as early as possible in the process before too many decisions have been made. They can recommend formats, distribution methods and production options that you may not have considered. Try not to influence the design solution too strongly with your own ideas at this stage. You’re paying designers for their creativity so don’t stifle them at the start of a project even if you have to rein ideas in at a later stage. This leads to more exciting and innovative design solutions.
  5. Supply any examples of designs that you like or think are effective.
    While you don’t want to copy what others are doing it’s a good starting point to see examples and get an indication of what you do and don’t like. If you have any examples of materials that you have produced previously it is important to show these – even if it’s to show what you want to change or feel isn’t working.

These are all discussion points to develop a dialogue between you and your designer and help them gain a deeper understanding of your organisation and create something that is unique and relevant to you and specific to your brief. The more information you can give the better the outcome.

Choosing the right design partner

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Choosing the right design partner can be a daunting task. There are thousands of design groups out there of all sizes and abilities. Below are five simple tips to help avoid an expensive and disheartening mistake and help you find a company that you will enjoy working with and result in a successful design solution that answers your brief.

  1. Ask for recommendations.
    The easiest starting point is to ask friends and colleagues who they use. Also find examples of designs that you like (not only in your own sector) and find out who designed them. Feel free to ask any design group for references from clients too or ask if you can contact clients directly. Most companies will be happy to let you do this, assuming they have nothing to hide.
  2. Don’t choose someone just because they’ve done a lot of work in your sector.
    It often feels like the safe option to go for someone who has a lot of experience in your sector and therefore ‘specialises’ in that area. If you want something that is truly unique and specific to your brief and objectives it might be better to look elsewhere. You want to stand out rather than look like your competitors and a fresh perspective should offer a refreshing and tailored solution to your brief. With the right brief and a good designer you should get the right design solution. 
  3. Always meet face to face.
    In the digital age it’s all too easy to just communicate through email and phone, but when commissioning a design group for the first time it’s important that you meet in person. Personality plays a big role in design and you need to be sure that you choose someone you can happily work with, and that you feel understands the organisation and shares your enthusiasm for what the organisation does and is trying to achieve. A company website will give an overview of the culture and personality but make sure you meet the people you will actually be working with on your project as design requires a close working, two-way relationship. Always try to visit their workplace before making your final decision. 
  4. Consider the following key points; Personality, Experience, Quality, Culture, Size and, of course, Price.
    As covered above, personality is key. It’s all about a good working relationship.
    Experience speaks for itself – you don’t want someone learning on your job!
    Again – the quality of design and production is obvious right through from the ideas to the execution.
    Company culture and size is about finding someone that is the right fit for you. Make sure you feel confident that your job will be valued and nurtured and not take second place to bigger ‘more valuable’ clients. You’ll know if they feel right culturally – go with your gut instinct.
    Price is obvious – ensure that they can do the job well for your budget. Check there won’t be hidden extras and that their pricing is transparent and upfront.
  5. And finally – don’t get companies to free pitch.
    This is a contentious and much debated subject and we won’t go into a full blown rant about it here, except to say, that no one likes to work for free so what are the chances you’ll get a carefully considered, researched and well executed design solution that effectively answers your brief? Virtually nil. Agencies need to allocate time and resources to produce something that demonstrates their expertise and therefore be a useful guide for you to determine their suitability. You won’t get a carefully selected tailor-made team that’s right for your project – free work will be squeezed in between fee paying jobs and done by whoever is free to work on it. Most design groups refuse to free pitch but there are some who will, begrudgingly.

    If you really feel that you must get a hint of what you’ll get before committing then you can invite companies to take part in a paid pitch in which the unsuccessful companies are paid a nominal fee to cover time and expenses. Never invite more than three companies to take part and always ensure that you are only asking companies who have ticked all your other boxes first. Be very clear about what you want the companies to present to ensure that you are comparing like with like.

We hope that you found this useful and that it will help you find the right design partner with whom you can build a long and rewarding working relationship.

Howdy nominate their top five Charity identities

mind-logo
We love this logo. It’s a great idea implemented with honesty and energy – it looks like it’s just been scanned from the first ‘back of the envelope’ idea. It communicates what Mind are about in a single blue pencil (or mouse) line. And you can’t say that about many logos. On the down side, Mind use a particularly nasty, scratchy ‘hand written’ typeface on their web site which clashes horribly with the logo. Nice logo, shame about the implementation.

macmillan
Speaking of nasty hand written typefaces take a look at Macmillan’s identity. The intended friendliness of the blobby, hand painted letter forms is tempered by the use of caps which lends a certain toughness to the look. This toughness works well in the context of what Macmillan do – they support and help people stand up to, and fight, the horror that is cancer. The inspired addition of ‘WE ARE’ adds a sense of togetherness and an almost football terrace belligerence to the brand – ‘Oi Cancer! Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. The Identity is implemented consistently, and, though considered, has the look of an identity that hasn’t had loads of money lavished on it – important for a charity. We also love the blanket use of green, green and more green. However, don’t mention any similarity with Greenpeace.

WWF
A beautifully drawn panda that’s more than WWF’s logo – it’s almost become a symbol of our threatened environment. This cuddly logo from the sixties is proof that logos do look better in black and white – although what other colour could it be? However, we’re still not sure what WWF stands for. I know it used to be World Wildlife Fund, then it was changed at some point in the 80s to World Wide Fund for nature, to cover flora as well as fauna, I guess. To some it stands for World Wrestling Federation. But does it matter – anyone know what IBM stands for? (That’s rhetorical by the way, don’t email us the answer.)

Amnesty international
Another one from the early sixties that’s stood the test of time, due to the brilliance of the idea and the simplicity of it’s execution. This, probably more than any of the others, has the ‘I wish I’d done that’ factor. We can but dream.

Prostate-UKWe really like this man of men logo. It suggests unity and the power of working together. It’s a simple idea that’s well executed. The individual figures within the logo give flexibility for implementation as individual icons and use within infographics helping to reinforce the brand. As we like to say, this is a logo with legs – in this case literally!

That’ll be £100,000 please

I recently listened to a podcast of my childhood hero, Pete Townshend, delivering his John Peel lecture on how creativity (in music) has been devalued by the growth in free music downloads. Pete’s beef was that, while lawyers, plumbers, pilots, cleaners and accountants get paid as the clock ticks, ‘creativity has less value than an hour’s work by me as a musician’. The comparison with design isn’t perfect (artwork vs ideas?), as musicians are self motivated artists rather than commissioned ‘professionals’, but the comparison does hold true when it comes to the difficulty we have in putting a value on creativity.

As designers we’re commissioned by small companies, global corporations, charities and individuals, so the value of a great idea to each of these types of client can vary hugely.

We’re currently working on a small project for a sole trader IT specialist. His brand identity will help him communicate his personality and professionalism and will be of huge value to his embryonic business. Ideas may come easy, it may be a tortuous process or inspiration may strike in the middle of the night (it sometimes does). However, having worked on countless identity projects the one thing I can absolutely guarantee is that this project, and the way the creative process develops, will be unique.

One man who had no problem in putting a price on his creativity was Paul Rand (designer of The IBM logo, amongst others) who, when asked to present some design options by Steve Jobs for his new computer business Next said “I will solve your problem and you will pay me. You can use what I produce or not, but I will not do options, and either way you will pay me.” (It would cost $100,000). If I had the ego and arrogance to say that to a client I’d be shown the door, and rightly so. I think that today even a legend like Rand would be out on his ear. Branding is a collaborative process and no designer would expect his client to have zero input into the visual identity of his own brand.

Maybe branding should be an even more collaborative process. If we find it difficult to put a value on creativity maybe more of us could share some of the risk by taking a reduced up-front fee, but charging a ‘royalty’ that’s linked to the clients’ (hopefully) growing profits. This seems to make sense as the value of a brand identity only becomes apparent over time. The problem there is that it takes a lot more than a brilliant piece of graphic design to ensure a company’s success. Management, advertising, PR, quality of product/service, quality of staff, to name just a few, all contribute to the success of a ‘brand’, so we’re still left with the same ‘how much is it worth’ conundrum.

Would it be easier for us, and for our clients, if we simply charged an hourly rate for a transparent process that ran from research and strategic planning, through to implementation and evaluation? The bigger the project, the longer the hours, the bigger the fee. But while the strategic and implementation phases of a branding project can be planned, managed, controlled, estimated and scheduled, that spark of creativity and invention around which any successful design project hinges can still be so slippery and elusive.

So how do we measure the effectiveness of a brand identity so that a client may better value it? Maybe the modern way would be to get the public to vote on it. Do an X factor. Throw your logo to the dogs. In fact, I can remember a new British Airways identity being killed off by the people (and Maggie Thatcher’s handkerchief), and that was pre-internet! And we all know the fate of the new Gap logo when the Twittersphere got its talons on it.

Should it be as simple as measuring sales and awareness before and after a redesign? A rebrand is often only the visual manifestation of more fundamental changes within an organisation, so it would be equally wrong for a new identity to take the credit or the blame for an organisation’s success or failure. What if we’re branding a new organisation or product? What do we measure against?

So where does that leave us? Don’t ask me. But I think at Howdy we’ll carry on as we are at the moment: discussing a client’s needs, expectations and budget limitations and submitting an honest and fair estimate of how much we think he should pay for our work. We won’t be taking Paul Rand’s stance any time soon: “I know best, I’m a designer, and I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. Oh, and it’ll cost you £100,000.”

Buy it cheap, buy it twice

This wise old adage may seem redundant in today’s throwaway society but we think it still offers some valuable lessons in the design and marketing world.

As marketing budgets continue to shrink, the temptation to scour the market for a cheap solution is inevitable, but we believe that when it comes to design, working closely with good designers and careful planning, are better ways to maximise your budget…

Know where you’re going
You need to have the internal focus right before you can brief an external supplier. All branding and marketing should be steering an organisation towards its long-term vision rather than just meeting short-term needs. This helps to give branding and marketing communications a longer shelf life and make them more effective. Quick fix solutions are always tempting but are rarely the best way to communicate the bigger picture.

Learn from past mistakes
Plan carefully to ensure that communications tell the right message to the right people at the right time. Regularly audit marketing materials and all manifestations of the brand to assess their effectiveness and value for money. What worked and what didn’t? Don’t just produce things because you always have. Sometimes one new communication can replace three. If you really do need three, can they be printed up together to save on print costs. A few well thought out, targeted, relevant and well designed pieces will be more effective than lots of unfocussed, cheaply produced ones that end up straight in the recycling bin.

Get your designers problem solving
Always ensure that you develop a dialogue with your designers. Tell them what you want to achieve and invite their input on format and content, as well as layout and design. Ask them to suggest smart solutions to save money in production and distribution. Don’t be over prescriptive or limit their creativity at the outset. Rather than tell them that you need an A4 8-page brochure, tell them what information you need to communicate, and who to, and let them propose solutions. Consider new technologies and distribution methods – can it be emailed or available as a PDF download? Does it really need to go into an envelope for mailing or can it be designed to negate that need? Perhaps a powerful single colour piece would have more impact than a 4-colour one? Be open to suggestions and new ideas.

Pick our brains 
Draw on your designer’s industry knowledge. At Howdy we really understand print and production – from presses to paper sizes and how jobs are planned up. This means we can help plan jobs economically to minimise waste. Some papers bulk up more than others so they appear thicker but are lighter in weight – useful to know when considering mailing costs. A few millimetres trimmed off an edge could save a lot on distribution.

And finally, the ultimate false economy…
Free-pitching may seem a good idea – after all you seem to get lots of work for nothing, but do you really get what you didn’t pay for? Putting a job out to many companies as a free pitch may yield lots of exciting glossy options, but will they really reflect your organisation and future vision? Did they spend hours of unpaid time researching your organisation, your marketplace and your target audiences – probably not. The fact is that a free job will always be at the bottom of the pile behind the fee paying jobs in any design studio, so even if you get something you think is OK just imagine how good it could have been if you’d paid them to give it real time and effort. Find a designer or design group you respect and trust enough to pay them for their time and you’ll get the right design solution without the wasted time – after all, time is money.

Election special

Remember when things could only get better? Neil Smith and Sharon Clampin can. They look back at their time working with a relaxed, raven-haired Gordon Brown and a precocious David Milliband at Millbank Tower on Labour’s 1997 election campaign. Below is some of the work we produced (as part of the GIANT team) during the campaign.

downing_st

Mandelson (doesn’t) take the biscuit
We’re in a design studio in Wapping – it’s the early hours of a Tuesday (or was it Wednesday) in 1996. The artwork has to go to print now if we’re to meet the launch deadline. We’ve got Peter Mandelson and Pat McFadden and half a dozen Labour policy wonks in our meeting room, putting the finishing touches to the ‘Road to the Manifesto’ document – Labour’s dry run for the real thing the following year. One of Mandelson’s flunkies appears at the door “Do you have any biscuits? Peter wants biscuits”. “Ok, we’ll see what we can do” I say. Sharon offers to go into the Wapping night to find Custard Creams. Nowhere is open, not even our local garage. She comes back empty handed. “We have a slice of bread left from this morning – we can toast it, although we’ve run out of butter” she says. It’s 1996 and we’re doing our bit to help Labour end 18 years of Tory government.

Pushing Prescott around
It’s now early 1997. We’re in a rented photography studio in Kennington. The Labour Party have hired war photographer Tom Stoddart to shoot portraits of Blair and Prescott. I’m there to direct the shoot, and to make sure we get plenty of usable pictures for the various publications we’re working on. We’ve got 30 minutes. Tom and I are up on a mezzanine shooting down at Blair, who is reaching up to shake my hand. This is the picture I want for the front cover of ‘YOU (deserve better)’ magazine that we are designing for the Party. I get the picture, although most of the pictures on the roll look like Blair is doing a slightly camp Nazi salute. We lock these pictures in a drawer in case the press get hold of them. The second shot involves Blair and Prescott together. They stand facing away from each other. I ask Prescott to turn towards Blair. He turns the other way. I say “No, rotate clockwise, and move closer to Tony”, he says “Bloody ‘ell, just come and put me where you bloody well want me”. I grasp his shoulders and yank him towards Blair. He doesn’t punch me, and we get our picture. I shake Blair’s hand and say “Good luck Tony”. He smiles, and says “Thanks”.

Labour You magazine

Moving to Millbank
In the final couple of months before the May ’97 election we move a small team of designers and artworkers into a corner of Labour’s Millbank HQ. We design the newLabour newBritain logo. We churn out manifestos, leaflets, magazines, flags, badges, stickers, caps and anything else that can be branded New Labour. We get bored of red and start using purple. Everybody loves it. We start work on the main manifesto and they need a family to appear on the (Tory-sounding) ‘We will strengthen family life’ page. I volunteer mine – hoping the press don’t decide to come sniffing around my bins. Our lycra-clad artworker, Alan, points out to David Miliband that there’s no mention of cycling in the transport section of the Manifesto. Miliband says “Well, put it in then”. We did.

Festival Hall
The night’s going well. I’m standing in front of a huge screen at the Festival Hall surrounded by party workers and celebrities (although the only one I recognise all evening is John Peel). David Mellor has just lost his seat – look at his face! Portillo loses his seat now! How we laugh and cheer. D:Ream, the second rate dance band with the astrophysicist keyboard player, arrive on stage and remind us again that things can only get better – they certainly do improve when they finish playing. We stagger bleary eyed onto the terrace to greet the dawn and to greet Tony, who’s just flown in from Sedgefield to shake our hands. I cross Waterloo bridge in the sunshine and head for the District line. London has never looked better.

The Honeymoon years
I’m standing in the Lobby of number 10 next to a mountain of photographic equipment. It’s a few months into Blair’s premiership and he’s still popular (he hadn’t declared war on anyone yet). We’ve been retained as Labour’s designers, (originally as GIANT, then as Howdy) and have been asked to produce the centenary brochure for the NEC (Labour’s governing body) which involved getting a portrait of Blair at his desk in Downing Street. While number 10 is surprisingly grand and cavernous, the prime minister’s office is a slightly tatty and disappointing room set just off the main cabinet office. The Oval Office it isn’t, although there is a red telephone on the PM’s desk with ‘Washington Hotline’ dymo labelled onto it (I kid you not). Do you think Clinton had a London Hotline phone on his desk? I think probably not. While Blair is in the next room sorting out the Troubles with David Trimble, I’m doodling a very childish and quite obscene picture half way through his note pad. I often wonder if maybe he was on that Washington Hotline, a few weeks later, when he turned the page to reveal my ‘art’. Maybe it brightened up his day – maybe one of his office cleaners or ‘interns’ got fired. Guess we’ll never know.

The Prime Minister's office in Downing Street

The Prime Minister’s office. Neil and Jocelyn Hillman, Labour’s communications manager

When’s the right time for a new identity?

We’ve created new brand identities for many organisations over the past fifteen years and each of them had different reasons for commissioning a redesign.

The Queen’s Nursing Institute
In 2010 we launched the new Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) identity. QNI was established in 1887 by Royal Charter to train district nurses to treat the sick poor in their own homes. One of the reasons QNI cited for an identity overhaul was that the current logo was ‘dated’.

But how do you know if a logo is dated? Is the Boots logo dated? Is the CocaCola logo dated? Of course they are – they’re both virtually unchanged since they were conceived in the 19th century. But you can’t just throw away this heritage – the Coke script is one of the most recognisable logos on the planet, and stands for much more than just the tooth-rotting drink that it is.

However, QNI didn’t have this issue of being a globally recognised brand, so the decision to replace their ageing logo, which had evolved into a blue and orange hotchpotch of a VRI (Victoria Regina Imperatrix) crest, was a little more straightforward. That, and the fact that QNI’s ‘raison d’être’ has shifted over the years. They no longer train district nurses, but campaign for the improvement of nursing care of people in their own homes. The new QNI has a broader audience, from politicians to nurses and the general public and is very much focussed on the future of district nursing. It’s new identity needed to reflect this change.

We also had the issue of designing a system that could be easily implemented by an inexperienced in-house team at QNI. Here is the result, and the original logo.

QNI

The Combined Heat and Power Association
The brief to redesign the Combined Heat and Power Association’s (CHPA) new identity came about after this trade association had conducted extensive research amongst its members. This research highlighted that the existing, weak and poorly implemented, identity wasn’t helping CHPA promote itself and its members as forward thinking, dynamic, organisations.

Our job was to help present Combined Heat and Power as a relevant cutting edge technology and enable it to compete against ‘sexier’ renewable energy sources such as wind and wave power for government support. With their new identity, website and literature, CHPA had the tools to communicate the benefits of CHP to government and the general public. Here are the new and old logos. Don’t ask which one’s which.

CHPA

St Martin-in-the-Fields
It was a more physical change that was the catalyst for St Martin-in-the-Fields to change their identity. They had just come through a lengthy renovation and rebuilding exercise and decided that a new identity could help reflect the physical changes. They also felt a new look could help re-emphasise their core values of being vibrant, forward thinking, and at the heart of the community. They had a rather nice Brian Grimwood illustrated logo that they felt had run its course.

Again, this was an identity that was going to be implemented in-house, so it needed to be simple, with uncomplicated guidelines. Our solution was based on the story of St Martin and his ‘torn cloak’, an idea that communicated St Martins’ mission to support those whose lives may be similarly frayed. Here’s the new logo, and the original.

St Martin in-the-Fields

The Howdy guide to bikes

Spring is here, Howdy’s bike is out of the shed, and there’s even a few cycle tours in the diary. If you’re thinking of taking up cycling, either to work off a few pounds, reduce your carbon footprint, or to get nicely tanned knees and a calloused backside, then this guide is for you. It lists common bike types and the sort of people you can expect to find riding them*. If you’re after serious advice you’d be better off speaking to someone at Evans (Evans Cycles, not Evans Outsize). This hasn’t got much to do with graphic design either, although it does contain the words ‘logo’ and ‘Helvetica’.

1. The Hybrid
A sort of default bike, for people that aren’t really into cycling but feel they ought to own a bike. Found mostly in sheds. It’s called a hybrid because it’s poor at both going fast on roads and going up and down mountains. Most bike manufacturers produce hybrids, most bike shops are full of them.
What to wear: normal day wear, a high-vis tabard and trousers tucked in socks.

2. The Vintage
Traditionally associated with war-time vicars, the vintage, which is either a lady’s bike with a basket on the front, a Dutch bike, or a fifties ‘gentlemans’ racer’ converted to a fixie (see below), is now back in vogue thanks to beardy East London art students who use them as fashion accessories. Pashley will sell you a brand new vintage bike, or you can get a proper one from Ebay and renovate it yourself. Check out the gorgeous Hetchins with its famous curly chain stays and ornate lugs.
What to wear: brogues.

3. The Fixie
Started life on the track, became the cycle couriers’ favourite, then the graphic designers’ favourite. Called a fixie because it has a fixed wheel hub, which means you can’t stop pedalling. On a fixed wheel bike you only need a front brake as the back wheel can be slowed by reducing your pedalling speed. All the big bike manufacturers will now sell you a fixie, usually with fluorescent green wheel rims, a yellow chain and a bit of lower case helvetica somewhere on the frame. Riders of these bikes don’t stop at red lights or zebra crossings, mainly because they can’t. The Charge Plug is one of the most popular off-the-shelf fixies.
What to wear: neck brace and sling.

Bike2

4. The Carbon Fibre Racer With Lots Of Numbers And Italian Words On It.
These are the Formula one cars of the bike world. Light and fast, these bikes can be seen tearing round Richmond Park on Sunday mornings ridden by Mamils (Google it). A carbon framed Colnago, Pinarello or Wilier can set you back anything up to £10,000, which is an absurd amount of money to spend on a bicycle. These bikes are generally owned by well paid corporates working off their business lunches.
What to wear: head to toe lycra printed with the logo of a French bank.

5. The Mountain Bike 
A top end mountain bike such as a Turner Five Spot is a beautifully designed and engineered bit of kit and can cost £4000 plus. A Halfords’ full suspension Trax (see BSO below) isn’t, and will set you back £89.99. Buy something in between, in both quality and price, by Kona or Trek. A good mountain bike is designed specifically for riding off-road and going up and down mountains and is brilliant at it, provided you’ve got the lungs and the nerve. Just don’t try going down the shops on one, all that knobbly rubber means they’re as good as useless on tarmac.
What to wear: baggy shorts and an expression of terror.

6. The BSO
The Bike Shaped Object. It looks like a bike, but handles and rattles like a shopping trolley. Built in the far east with poor quality components and delivered flat-packed most bikes under £150 fall into this category. Buy one from Asda or Halfords if you want to be put off cycling for life.
What to wear: tattoos, no shirt.

7. The Folder
At my local railway station folding bikes are used exclusively by late middle-aged men (never women) in slightly shabby suits, cardigans and identity lanyards. (Ok, so there’s only one person at my local station with a folding bike). Who wouldn’t want a bike you could fold up and take on the train? Saves all that exhausting cycling nonsense. Buy a quirky British Brompton, or an American Dahon.
What to wear: bicycle clips.

8. The Recumbant
A sort of deckchair on wheels, often sporting a flag on a stick so that the rider can be seen by passing cement mixers. To be honest, if you’re thinking of buying a bike you probably won’t be considering one of these unless you enjoy people pointing and laughing at you in the street.
What to wear: Beard and thick skin.

* Note: these people are just convenient stereotypes.

Compass School brand and marketing development case study

Compass School is a free school in Southwark, South East London, which opened in September 2013. Pupils are aged 11-16 and come from a diverse range of social and cultural backgrounds.

The school is temporarily housed in an old college building while a new housing development and school are being built on the site. As a result the school is in a constant state of flux, regularly moving from one area of the site to another, so signage and environmental branding has to be portable.

We started working with the school on their marketing and communications materials in June 2014 in preparation for the 2014-15 school year.

The first step before any design began was to visit the school and explore the surrounding community to get an understanding of the culture, personality and environment. This was followed by a face to face briefing with the Principal. It’s essential to visit any organisation and meet key members of staff before you can create anything that accurately reflects the school and it’s unique characteristics.

The school already has a badge which is used across the uniforms so we didn’t want to change that dramatically and consequently create a need for parents to have to unnecessarily have to buy anything new. We slightly tweaked the badge to refine it and make it a little more graphic and unique, but nothing that would create any continuity issues with existing materials.

In terms of the branding we developed basic design guidelines including a colour palette and typefaces to ensure consistency of brand implementation across all materials.

Basic design guidelines

We presented three concept options for the website and prospectus in response to the brief. Following the presentation they chose their preferred design direction with some tweaks and a bit of ‘cross fertilisation’ between the different concepts. Following our development and sign off we sourced and managed the prospectus printing through to delivery, and the website build and programming. The website is built around a standard WordPress content managed site so that it can easily be updated by the school staff and they are not tied to one website developer in the future.

Compass School 2014-15 prospectus
Compass Prospectus

In addition we produced some portable and temporary signage for the reception area and banner stands for use at open days and events. We focussed all materials on the school’s vision statement – “Everyone in the Compass School Community will confidently reach the destination to which they aspire”.

Compass School reception signage

All materials are designed to feel inclusive and reflect the community with the inclusion of quotes from parents rather than feeling too institutional and cold. The structure and functionality of the website is straightforward and accessible to encourage use by parents. The website and prospectus both work on two levels with key information and statistics pulled out to give an at-a-glance overview with the text providing more in-depth information and details. The website is structured to allow users to easily access the information they are looking for quickly and easily.

website

We will soon be starting work with Compass School on the next phase of their brand development and their new marketing materials for 2015-16.

Further tips and advice on marketing and branding for schools and colleges can be seen here.