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.

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.”

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.

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

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.

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.