As a designer or agency, you spend your working life creating brands for others. First, though, you have to build a brand identity of your own.
Does your own branding say the right things about you? It's important that it does if you're hoping that potential clients are going to commission you to develop or design a brand for them. Your own brand is an intrinsic part of your portfolio. Indeed, if it isn't broadcasting the right signals from the word go, then you may not even get the chance to pitch to someone else.
But branding isn't just about slaving over a hot logotype for weeks on end until the visual recipe is perfect. Good branding is about giving a context, providing a backdrop from which your work can leap into the foreground. It's partly about colour, it's partly about fonts, it's partly about making a bold statement, but it's also about subtlety. Get it right and you'll feel proud leaving your beautiful business card behind after a meeting. Get it wrong and you might never get the chance to hand that card over in the first place.
So, no pressure then! But don't fret. We've spoken to nine of the UK's most innovative graphic design companies about the best way to build your brand. But remember - there's no perfect solution - only the solution that's perfect for you.
Rex Advincula and Joyce Tai, Founders
ALLOW YOUR BRAND TO EVOLVE
"When we were just starting out as Inksurge, we selected colours that we felt comfortable working with, along with a typeface. These remained consistent throughout our website and promotional items. Unconsciously, it began to evolve to the eyes of the public and the clients. We just reinforced what we started and eventually it became a brand."
KEEP IT INFORMAL
"We always wanted to be identified as a small independent studio with an informal environment and, fortunately, most of our clients are on the same wavelength as us. Whenever possible, we try to hold our first meeting outside the work environment."
Matt Powell, Creative Director
"One of our brand values is to be forward-thinking, which we live up to by producing a video blog called Futureproof. Other values are written on pin badges we leave in a bowl by reception. We don't tend to leave anything behind after a pitch, but I once did a joint pitch with a big ATL agency. They arrived on the day with an awesome clear perspex tray of sweets, which they left behind afterwards. I could barely contain my admiration."
BEYOND THE AESTHETIC
"Profero is a latin verb meaning 'giving'. The intention was to set up an agency that never tired of giving ideas to our clients. It was 1998 and we wanted a URL that we could own worldwide. Your own brand is so much more than a logotype though, so I don't lose sleep over it. The things that define you are intangible: the atmosphere in the office, and the enthusiasm you put into presenting are far more important."
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
"I actually try to keep branding to a minimum when I'm in front of clients. I feel that the visual identity of our company is something to use when you aren't there in person, like when you send a letter. And on that point - never compromise on paper quality for your stationery, because it shows."
Laura Jordan Bambach, Head of Art
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
"It's incredibly important that you don't get the company name wrong, but the branding, presentation and quality that goes with it is what really sets you apart from the rest. There are some great names out there, and they all give you a hint of what it might be like to work for or with... but the ones that have the rest of the package are the ones that you remember."
GET INVOLVED IN SIDE-PROJECTS
"We hold a Glue art exhibition annually - anyone from the company can put in a piece - and we make a big thing out of it and invite the clients along. This is the best brand exercise we could possibly run from their point of view, but, more importantly, it allows everyone here to be creative and to share in the spirit that makes us uniquely Glue."
Alun Shooter, Co-founder
TIME TO EXPERIMENT
"It's amazing how many agencies under-invest time and energy in their own brands. An obvious pressure is time, but if you can overcome this hurdle, the blank canvas and freedom offered by branding your own agency is something to grab with both hands. Without the constraints of client briefs and the branding by committee that often exists, it is a time to push boundaries."
A CONSISTENT APPROACH
"We were conscious of following the basic rules of branding, which we would apply to any project, such as consistency and ensuring every communication has the same voice, literally and aesthetically. It's very important you look at branding in a holistic way - a weak language style detracts from great aesthetics, and great design applied across the wrong materials is an opportunity lost."
Mark Graham, Director
A NATURAL FLOW
"We have never sat down and thought of ourselves as a brand as such; I think what reinforces us is our work mentality and, of course, the work itself. We consciously try to make our work the best we can. Lots of fun things come to the surface as we meet new people and work on new projects. We just keep it nice and steady and strong."
WHO ARE YOU AIMING AT?
"You could have a real cool name and do a real shit job, so you live and die on what you put out at the end of the day. Branding yourself is very important, but try to think of how others will perceive you. Designers don't tend to hire other designers, so make sure you design with your audience in mind to some degree."
Carl Rush, Creative Director
MAKE IT COUNT
"We produce a really tasty brochure every couple of years, highlighting our best work, with really clear descriptions of what the project was about: strategy, objectives, results, and so on. We spend as much money on this as possible. These brochures will always pay for themselves many times over if done properly. No matter how tasty your promo is, it's no good unless you have a good database, and are talking to the right people."
THERE'S NO NEED TO SHOUT
"A big tip here is don't shout about your company through branding. Your branding should almost be invisible because your meeting will be about the client not YOU! A good thing to do is really shout about their branding. Make their logo big, because this will put them in their comfort zone."
DON'T OVERDO PROMOTIONS
"We started producing more 'unusual gifts' for clients in the early years of Crush - you know the sort of thing: T-shirts/arty postcard packs/unusual packaging. But the reaction was mixed - a lot of potential clients just didn't 'get' it or thought we were too creative or art led. In retrospect, I think it made us look cheap and studenty."
Anne Brassier, PR and New Business
"We redesigned our letterhead last year and consequently all other associated documents. The one thing we didn't change was our business cards or logo. We were going to do so and then thought they work so well as they are, why mess with them? I think the work that Airside produces does the branding for us. We are careful to maintain our internal values - how we conduct ourselves, and this influences our work."
A BAD NAME CAN BECOME GOOD
"Names grow on you, like when someone has a kid and they choose an unusual name that you hate, but eventually when you know the child it becomes totally normal and suits them. You could call your company Poo and eventually no-one would bat an eyelid."
Angus Mackinnon, Creative Director
PICK UP THE PIECES
"Any creative agency will recognise the quantity of ideas that get abandoned by clients along the way. Some of these ideas are just too good to let go and we make it a mission to rescue them and develop them for ourselves. The NOWWASHYOURHANDS brand is very distinctive and we're ruthlessly strict at preserving its core characteristics. Pushing the brand while maintaining its essence is a delicate balance."
DON'T BE SHY
"Voted number 5 in Design Week's top ten worst agency names, NOWWASHYOURHANDS always creates a stir. When we chose it, we knew that it was the kind of name you were either going to love or hate but never forget. At the time, there were so many agencies with snappy single syllable names that we wanted something different - a real mouthful. It also fitted into our collective love of information and instructional graphics."
Tom Muller, Creative Director
"Most of our pitches happen online, meaning that the majority of our liaising with (potential) clients happens via email and over the phone. We therefore use a customised/branded environment for people to view our work at various stages of development. We don't always leave something physical behind, but we always follow up with phone calls or email conversations. This is more useful and longer lasting than using a compliment slip or business card."
BUILD A REPUTATION
"A name alone is nothing. A good brand or company is something that is reinforced by the quality of work you do. Certain company names are well known, not because they have a cool-sounding name or a funky logo (although that certainly can help make a good first impression), but because those businesses produce consistently interesting and innovative work. The name is synonymous with the work."