Howdy’s guide to planning a new brand identity

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We’ve put together this basic guide to help you prepare and plan a new brand strategy, identity, implementation and management.

1. Why?

Of course if you’re setting up a new organisation then the reason you need a brand identity is straightforward, but if you already have an established identity which you’ve decided to change, or refresh, what’s the reason and intention driving the decision?

Is your current identity out of line with your brand values and mission? Maybe changes within the organisation mean that your existing identity and communications are no longer relevant or is it that your visual branding is tired, outdated and ready for an update?

Whatever the reason, this forms the core of your design brief and should be one of the checkpoints that you later evaluate the proposed strategies and concepts against, asking, ‘Does it meet our original objectives?’. Without referring back to these original objectives, the project can drift, and ultimately fail to do what you set out to.

2. Identify the scope of the project

Consider the full range of applications and environments (current and anticipated) that the visual branding will need to work across from the outset, to ensure an appropriate design solution. Beyond on- and offline, think about different media and environments, as well as specific applications, ie. signage, interiors, liveries, uniforms, products, etc?

Audit current marketing and communications materials. What works and what doesn’t?Do they add value and reflect the brand values? Are some things produced out of habit and due for a rethink?

Be open to new ideas for formats and ways of communicating.

3. Engage and manage stakeholders

A brand identity is a significant investment and there may be some resistance from some stakeholders.

Put together the case for the change explaining the reasons behind the decision. Outline the benefits of a strong, cohesive and well-managed brand. Get feedback from contacts and staff on the existing identity: how effective it is; what it says about the organisation; recognition levels, etc. This helps the decision on whether a change is needed, and provides valuable background for the design brief. Look at what competitors and peers are doing.

Invite stakeholders to contribute thoughts and opinions to the brief. Engage them from the outset and keep them informed throughout the process so they feel involved and support it going forward. Ensure key stakeholders sign off the brief.

Identify who will have final veto on design sign off to avoid stalemate and design by committee. It’s valuable to get wider feedback and opinions but ultimately someone needs to retain overall control and ensure the design answers the mutually agreed brief.

4. Consider the resources available for the project and post-project management

This means both time and money. Consider how much time you, and colleagues, can realistically commit to managing the brand once the new identity is delivered: updating the website, feeding social media, writing copy, etc. This helps ensure your communications plan is appropriate and achievable.

Have a ballpark budget in mind. Get quotes to help guide this figure. Don’t get sucked in by unnecessary whistles and bells that blow your budget without adding real value and benefits. Having already identified the scope, objectives and challenges, it will be easier to stick to clear parameters.

5. These things take time

Allow a realistic timeframe. If you have a specific launch date then discuss this with your designers and put together a detailed schedule broken down into stages. Ensure everyone involved is available when required, for presentations, sign offs and to provide copy and content, etc.

Don’t expect to see your new logo within the first few weeks. The pre-design stage is crucial to getting the right outcome. Research, strategy development and getting the brief right are the key to the success of the whole project.

You may have already done some degree of research, agreed the brand personality and purpose, and developed a brand strategy but this still needs to be tied into a cohesive design and communications strategy and brief by your design and branding specialists.

Ideas need time to develop and evolve beyond the obvious. There’s no short cut command on the keyboard for the creative thought process. You’ve chosen your designers for their creative thinking – hopefully – so  give them the time to develop the best ideas and design solutions.

Allow sufficient time for the implementation and production. It goes without saying, the more this is rushed, the greater the margin for error.

6. Find the right design group

You need to work with someone that you feel is the right match for you, someone you trust to do a great job and that you’ll enjoy working with. We’d like to think that’s us of course, but sadly it isn’t always. There are many many designers out there and finding the right one may seem overwhelming.

Look around, find out who produced other materials you like. Don’t restrict this to your own sector. The point of design and branding is to differentiate and create something unique that’s relevant to your brief. A fresh approach and open mind from someone who may never have worked in your sector can bring a different perspective helping you to stand out from your competitors.

Take time to meet face to face with the people you’ll be working with – those who will actually be doing the project. Ask lots of questions and talk the project through. Make sure they are good listeners! Essential if they are going to get to the heart of your organisation and produce the right solution.

Don’t ask them to free pitch or do any initial rough ‘ideas’. If they offer to, walk away.This issue is a whole other blog in itself, but trust us – free pitching doesn’t benefit clients or designers. These visuals will bypass the pre-design planning, research and strategy stage,  be done in a rush and by whoever happens to be free at that time. At best, you’ll get an ‘it’ll do’ compromise.

“If you don’t understand the issues, you’ll end up creating fantastic solutions for the wrong problems.” Michael Johnson (I think! Apologies if I’ve mis-credited this quote)

7. Protect your investment

Great identities are quickly destroyed by misuse and misrepresentation. The job’s not over when you get your master artworks and guidelines, and everything’s looking beautifully ‘on brand’. The ongoing implementation and brand development needs to be managed and policed to protect everything you’ve carefully crafted and invested in.

Ensure at least one person is responsible for policing the brand and checking that everything adheres to the guidelines. Supply brand guidelines to anyone producing anything related to the brand, and ensure they understand the importance of them.

Familiarise staff with all aspects of the brand identity and explain why it’s important it’s protected and managed. Make it part of the company briefing for new members of staff. Details matter, from email sign offs to the way staff communicate with clients.

Forward planning is key to maintaining and building a strong brand. Communications created as knee jerk reactions to an immediate need tend to serve a short term role and are less likely to be as effective over the longer term and therefore are less cost-effective. Have regular planning meetings to look at forthcoming requirements and marketing opportunities to allow time to plan and schedule projects.

Need any help? 

As well as design, Howdy offers a design planning and management consultancy service for organisations who don’t have in-house communications and design expertise. We help with all aspects of brand strategy development and communications planning including design reviews, communications planning, managing individual projects, budgeting and scheduling, as well as independently helping source designers and suppliers. This can either be on a project-by-project basis or on a regular retainer basis for ongoing planning and support.

If you would be interested in finding out more about this service please contact Sharon by email or call 020 7720 8111.

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 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 the effectiveness and value for money. What works and what doesn’t? Don’t just produce things out of habit. Sometimes one communication can replace three. If you really need three, can they be printed up together to save on print costs. A few well thought out, engaging, relevant and well designed pieces will be more effective than lots of unfocussed, poorly produced ones that end up in the recycling bin.

Get your designers problem solving
Develop a dialogue with your designers. Tell them what you want to achieve and invite their input on format and content, as well as on 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. Tell them what information you need to communicate, and who to, and let them propose solutions. Consider different technologies and distribution methods? Does it really need an envelope for mailing or can it be designed to negate that? Sometimes a powerful single colour piece can have more impact than a  full colour one? Be open to new ideas.

Pick our brains 
Draw on your designer’s industry knowledge. As designers we really understand print and production – from presses to paper sizes and how jobs are planned up. 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 without compromising on quality. A few millimetres trimmed off an edge could save a lot on distribution costs.

And finally, the ultimate false economy…
Free-pitching may seem a good idea – after all, who doesn’t like something for nothing? Putting a job out to many companies as a free pitch may at first appear to 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.

Is bigger always better?

Since setting up Howdy in 1999 we have worked for a wide variety of clients of all types and sizes, from global multi nationals through to lone entrepreneurs. During that time we have never had more than six staff at any one time, yet we have met many crazy deadlines, developed global brand strategies and identities, and produced suites of literature, exhibitions and signage programmes. We have delivered each job within the timescales and budgets agreed at the outset.

We previously worked at some large global branding companies, where we worked in equally small teams. It often appeared to the clients that the entire design department were working on their job, therefore justifying high fees from seemingly endless hours of work having been spent their jobs. Sadly, that often didn’t accurately reflect the reality.

Before client meetings and presentations we would spend an hour updating an extended team of people on the project’s progress since the last meeting so that they could all turn up and appear to have been fully engaged and a productive part of the process throughout. We would then negotiate a tricky path throughout those meetings as the peripheral team agreed to unrealistic deadlines and unachievable deliverables, while we tried to rein in expectations and agree appropriate and realistic goals while still meeting key client deadlines and budgets.

We left that world to set up Howdy, knowing that we would be able to build honest and transparent relationships with our clients, without hidden fees or an illusion of extended teams of people behind the scenes.

Careful planning and preparation, in partnership with our clients, ensure that clear, achievable deadlines and fees are agreed and managed by the people directly involved in the projects. Maintaining a dialogue directly between the client and the designers throughout ensures that there are no chinese whispers, and reduces the risk of things getting missed or overlooked.

We do the work and discuss issues and suggestions directly with the clients, giving them the benefit of our design experience and training. We’re not ‘yes’ men. We explain why we’ve done things a certain way, say when we don’t think something will work, and then discuss the options to reach a mutually agreeable solution. We believe that this direct dialogue between clients and designers makes the process more efficient, less frustrating for both sides and ultimately more cost effective.