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The Ups and Downs of Fixing a Brand

While working on an update to my portfolio and this website, I happened to go back and count how many logos I’ve designed over the years. Just to remind myself where I’ve been, I guess. (The number is somewhere around 60.) A bunch were created from scratch for newly branded companies, but most were redos of existing logos.

It’s always a thrill to try to distill the ambitions of an enterprise into a tiny piece of art that will represent them wherever they go. And redesigning an existing brand has its own special set of challenges.

Veritable Vegetable Logo & Branding

Before & After: Veritable Vegetable

The Ups

There are a number of ways fixing an existing brand can be a little easier than starting from scratch. Here are a few:

  1. We learn from the mistakes of the past — what is not working is glaringly obvious.
  2. Leadership has the benefit of knowing the ins and outs of their business strategy, audiences, and marketing smarts, which paves the road to a solid creative strategy.
  3. There is actual marketing collateral to work with, so the proof of concept just got easier.
  4. There can be existing elements we can salvaged — sometimes it’s good to keep some bathwater.
  5. If the project is definitely moving forward, there is probably strong agreement that it needs fixing!

The Downs

Of course, when some things are easy, others are hard:

  1. Some individuals inside and outside the company may be very attached to the existing brand, possibly creating roadblocks.
  2. Once the new brand is done, it can be difficult to get everyone on board with making the switch and using it correctly.
  3. Along the same vein, it can be difficult to get some team members on board to see the brand in a new way, especially during concept development.
  4. A rebrand requires a total re-do of all of the company’s collateral with the new look and feel, and the new approach to the copy.
  5. There is a bit of work required with thoughtfully rolling out a new logo and identity to your audiences to help them with the transition.

Of course, the company’s leadership needs to decide whether the benefits of a fresh brand outweigh the challenges that lie ahead for their team (usually “Yes!”). We do the heavy lifting to make the process seamless, enjoyable even. Click here for examples of brands we’ve face-lifted.

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The Workshop Workshop: “Facilitation by Design”

Facilitation by Design Workshop

This week I attended a workshop on…workshops. A part of AIGA‘s Design for Good initiative, “Facilitation by Design” was led by service design superstar Renna Al-Yassini of user experience firm Adaptive Path. With loads of experience under her belt leading diverse groups to successful solutions, Renna led us through her process of how to prepare and execute a productive collaborative session.

Workshops can help with…

…gathering information
…making decisions
…clarifying direction
…generating new ideas
…building consensus
…creating compromise
…making a plan
…gleaning knowledge
…engaging teams
…boosting morale

Why a Workshop?

Collaboration. Workshops (like designers!) are by nature collaborative. As opposed to a regular old sit-down meeting where people may discuss a topic, a workshop is designed to resolve a specific challenge question by engaging invested participants. Problem-solving is approached with pre-conceived activities designed to gain perspective from diverse participants. It’s the perspective of the participants that brings the most value to the session. Whether it’s designed for morale-building or to conceptualize improvements for the staff onboarding process, getting the right people in the room who can speak to the details of the problem and offer constructive insight toward a solution is key.

Problem-solving. Workshops solve problems, or at least one specific part of a bigger problem. They can be used to bring different community groups together for consensus-building and planning (like building a local dog park), or strategic planning for companies or nonprofit organizations. They can be used in the very beginnings of a project, such as the start of a new design initiative, or checking in on the progress of a longer-term project to see if the roadmap is on track. Or it can be used at the end of a project to set final deliverables and a launch plan.

Flexibility. The beauty of the workshop is its flexibility of application. Once you get that the collaboration can be designed to target any specific challenge question (that is, what do we want to accomplish by coming together?), you can see that it can be used to approach any business problem…or community or organizational challenge, for that matter. The problem can be big or small, involving many participants or just a few. Which brings us to…

Who Needs a Workshop?

Workshops are not limited to launching a new design initiative. Here are just a few examples of who can benefit from a workshop:

  • Nonprofit organizations for strategic planning
  • Banks for new line of business ideation
  • Community coalitions for creating a roadmap
  • Marketing departments for successful brand rollout
  • Corporate mergers for information gathering
  • HR departments for troubleshooting internal processes
  • Product development teams to review & refine product design

What’s your main business challenge right now? Maybe it’s time to reach out to an objective facilitator to create some structure and collaboration around tackling it.

For more information:

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Step 3: Translating Brand into Visual Identity

Here we are at the point where the rubber hits the road in the brand development process. We’ve learned all about your company and described your brand in detail. This is the arty part: creating an identity that reflects all the chatter.

Between the core values and the personality we’ve defined for your brand, we usually have an idea of the general direction the creative needs to go. In the case of Green Jay below, we knew we wanted to do something very specific — utilize a bird, which reflected the company name as well as the concept of “ecological landscaping” from the brand frame. We offered one option that diverged from this idea, if only to show that our concept was the right direction. And we wanted to use green to reflect the sustainability value of the company. Anything else felt “off-brand.” In the case below, we nailed the logo on the first round and were able to complete the identity design very quickly.

Example of Logo Development

First Round of Logo Concepts for Green Jay Landscaping

How does the design process work? I usually start by writing down keywords that must be incorporated into the design. They will reflect the brand frame, of course, but go a little beyond so they are more aspirational. I will also do some visual research at this point, to get inspiration from images across the Internet (see our post about And then I play around with the typography and experiment with color until it just feels right. Next come sketches of the logo, combined with some vector work in Illustrator until the logo options feel real enough to present to the client. We shoot to present three to five initial logo design options. Sometimes there are more if they are coming very easily. We never want to overwhelm, but we do like to share a variety of looks for our client to react to.

From here, the client chooses one direction. We’ll iterate on that a few times until the logo is finalized. Then it’s time to move on to designing the stationery and marketing collateral. Easy!

See all the posts in this Brand Series »

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Niice: In Search of Inspiration

The very best thing about the Internet? It’s so easy to find inspiration! When beginning a new project, I usually start clicking around to find inspiration around the ‘net. Well now it will be even easier with the launch of “Niice: A search engine with taste.” Instead of Googling a bunch of jimbo-jambo images and endless pages, this site actually curates content from other visual sites on the web. It’s beautiful, and robust…and a little too easy to go down the rabbit hole of endless clicking! If you click on an image, it takes you to the source site (of course), where there is tons more inspiration! Also, it’s always changing, so if you click on one of the sample searches below, yours will look different than mine!

Here are a few searches I just tested:

Niice search: "green"


Niice search: "kitty cat"

“kitty cat”

Niice search: "nature"


Go ahead: try your own. And enjoy!

via DesignTaxi

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Step 2: Creating a Brand Frame

So far in our investigation into your brand, we’ve done a Deep Dive into your company — learning about your core business, mission, vision, and culture. This included our R&D process (reviewing your collateral, conducting interviews with key stakeholders, checking out your competition), and the very interactive Branding Workshop.

Next we move on to creating a “brand frame” for your company. The Brand Frame is a description of the gems we uncovered in our R&D process, distilled into a narrative that’s meant to capture the essence of your brand. This is a simple, internal document to use as a guide for building the brand over time. It’s also a living document, so it can evolve and grow as does the brand. Adherence to this document is what creates a consistent, recognizable, authentic brand.

I’m happy to open the kimono here, and share the Brand Frame I’ve developed for my little company. [Yes, even a teeny little design agency should have a brand frame. It’s how you know what you are all about — not just what you think you are all about.]

1. Mission & Vision

We start with defining the purpose of the company, and your big audacious vision for the future.

2. Core Values

We determine what are the most fundamental guiding principles of the brand. These are distilled down from a much more exhaustive list. The test is this: if you remove one of these values, it will not be the same company. Distilling down to just three is probably the most challenging part of this exercise.

3. Brand Essence

This is probably the most critical part to get right, as everything is built upon these few words. The question is: what does your brand boil down to?


Can you guess which big brands these belong to? (answers at bottom of this post)

Authentic athletic performance = ?

Rewarding everyday moments = ?

Magical fun = ?

4. Brand Promise

This is basically the mission, stated in a more meaningful way. I like to think of starting this statement off with Above all else, we promise to…


5. Strategic Targets

We also like to include the Strategic Targets in the Brand Frame, so we know who we are talking to. These are usually potential (and existing) customers, but they can also be others like press or staff.

In my case, I like to develop brand for small business owners and non-profit organizations, but I also like to work with other marketing consultants to help their clients build brand. So these are who I’ve determined are my targets.


6. Brand Metaphor

This is where the words begin to form into a more creative concept. The brand metaphor is a visual or symbol that captures the essence of the brand. While you should be able to explain why you used this, you also should not have to explain, Caterpillar.

I wanted my metaphor to express beauty, the concept of making perfect sense, and symmetry in good design. I also like the concept of scalability in this image and that it’s “pure” and of nature.


7. Key Brand Attributes

These are more practical adjectives that describe the brand. These are key attributes that draw your Strategic Targets to your brand and thus what the key messaging in your communications will be built on.


8. Code of Conduct

The code of conduct is where the rubber hits the road — where your brand syncs with your company culture. These commitments are a guide for how you and your staff behave to strengthen the perception of the brand internally and externally. It’s sort of the table of contents for your Brand Bible. You should be able to respond to “Why?” for each one. There can be as many of these that make sense.


9. Communication Style

You can see that we are getting into more and more realistic applications for the brand at this point. The further you get into the Brand Frame, the more these tenets can evolve as they are tested and the brand evolves. These guide the tone of the writing and the look and feel of the design for the brand.


10. Proof Points

And finally…why should your Strategic Targets believe all that the brand promises? These are actual “company sparklers” that are measurable and provable. They should support everything you are saying about the brand. This list can also be exhaustive, and can be a resource for your communications content.


You can see that all the parts of the Brand Frame work together to tell the story, so the words should not be re-iterative, but descriptive. We spend a great deal of time mulling over the words that are chosen for these 10 “simple” ideas. You can see how important it is to say more with less, so that deep understanding of your brand can grow from within.

Interested in learning more? Contact me.

Authentic athletic performance = Nike

Rewarding everyday moments = Starbucks

Magical fun = Disney

See all the posts in this Brand Series »

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