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.

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.

What type of client are you?

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 having just won an award for the great annual report we did for them.  

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.