We only need a logo…

We were asked to put together a proposal and costs to design a logo for a Tudor stately home. Our proposal was rejected immediately on receipt because we used the term ‘brand identity’. They didn’t want a ‘brand’, they just wanted a logo.

This raises the question: can any business, even one rooted in Tudor history, decide it doesn’t want a brand? By wanting a logo they are acknowledging that they need an identifier of some kind? If it wasn’t required to do anything more than signpost, why wasn’t just writing the name sufficient? Perhaps they thought that a ‘logo’ would be cheaper than a ‘brand’.

Every company and organisation – even individuals in some cases – have a brand, whether they choose to manage it or not.

The logo is the visual representation of the organisation – an identifier – and once used on a website, visitor leaflets, merchandise and signage it builds a bigger visual picture that further develops the perception and, dare I say it, builds the brand.

Businesses with a clear vision of what they are and what they want to be, who choose to manage how they are perceived through their visual branding, are the most likely to succeed and build a memorable, cohesive brand aligned to their vision and future ambitions.

A logo used without control and consistency and without considering the bigger picture, quickly becomes devalued and can, potentially, drag the rest of the organisation with it.

I hope they end up with a well thought through, appropriate logo that’s aligned to their future plans as well as being rooted in their Tudor history. You don’t have to use the word brand to create one but whatever label you put on it, without careful management you’ll probably end up wasting your groats.

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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.”

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.

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.

Branding and Marketing tips for Schools and Colleges

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.

Design trends – how much should they influence branding decisions?

It’s the time of year when annual trend forecasts are published and magazines are full of news on what colours and shapes are ‘in’ and what will dictate 2016’s ‘style’.

This year Pantone have selected two ‘colours of the year’: Rose Quartz and Serenity. According to Pantone’s Executive Director, Leatrice Eiseman: “These colours demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.”

What does this mean to us, as branding and communications specialists, in our day to day marketing and design decisions? Probably not a lot in all honesty. Identity and communication design needs to reflect, enhance and communicate a brand and its values on a longer term basis.

Fast changing trends are essential in fashion, an industry built around seasonal, short term collections fuelling our desire to update our wardrobes every few months, but it’s no accident that most fashion brands’ corporate identities are black and white or neutral, giving them the flexibility to work with and sit above each season’s changing trends. Brands like Chanel, Burberry, YSL, Gucci and Fred Perry, are iconic and have changed very little, if at all, in the past 20+ years, maintaining consistent, well managed and instantly recognisable brand identities.

A brand identity is not a short term investment and, as such, should not be subject to seasonal whims and fancies. Longer term trends do occur and brand identities can become tired and outdated and in need of a revamp, but this should be after years not months.

The key to a successful and long lasting corporate identity is to get the brief right and find a design partner you feel is right for you (see our blog ‘Choosing the right design partner’).

Ensure you end up with an identity that accurately reflects your brand values and personality. Be ambitious and look to the future. Think about where you want the organisation to be in five years and aim for an identity that reflects that vision. Don’t be swayed by this season’s style ‘must haves’. Don’t end up with a logo that’s ‘so last season’ in 12 months time.

 

 

 

 

 

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 getting the brief right. 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.