Archive for the 'Branding' Category


On believing things – and having the courage to say them (or, Why Design Manifestos are a Good Idea)

design manifesto

Something about design – graphic, typographic, product, architectural – brings out the evangelist in people. There are numerous excellent blogs on design; there are (still) innumerable dead tree press magazines; every college, let alone university, worth its salt has some courses which seek to identify and promote good practice.

All too often, though, the focus is on what design is; not what it could be. Evangelising good design is a whole other thing than thinking, deeply, about what it could be.

We like to think about what we do. That’s not just about the selection of the right typeface, or making sure that what our clients are saying to the world is what our clients want to say in a way that their customers want to receive it. But it’s about what we could be doing better, or different, or how radical we can be.

This is not true blue-sky work, of course – we still live in the real, concrete world and have to interact with it – but the determination to think, and hard, about what we do is important. We enforce that importance through our seminar working style; we enforce it too, by taking on bright people to think and study for us. (Lucy Young, who’s with us for a few months, will be doing exactly this for social media – thinking hard, examining deeply, and hopefully producing original and useful work. Look for her updates on this blog.)

So we like what we saw at the Danish Design Centre last month. A design manifesto. On a wall, like all good manifestos should be (or nailed to the door of a high street retail furniture store, perhaps).  The Preconditions for Good Design (on their website at lists ten attributes of good design, which,the Danes being practical, includes “Good Business”.

They’re following a noble path: John Emerson’s excellent post in Social Design Notes of last year lists 100 manifestos (including the DDC one), starting with William Morris’ The Ideal Book in 1883. (

We need more of these. We need more thinking, whether informed by practicality or not, not just about what we do – but what we could do. Look for a little of it here.


Stendhal Moments

Industrial DesignCreative businesses are naturally emotional environments. We deal every day with the science of marketing and media, of ROI and metrics, of rather dense and impenetrable models. But ultimately, we’re about offering people the option to think differently about a product, a service, a person – and that means getting into their heads, and that’s an emotional process.

Just sometimes, though, that emotion creeps up on you entirely unexpected. Two recent examples, of when the whole thing got really rather overwhelming and where, were I Henri-Marie Beyle, I would have had a Stendhal moment.

The Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum are astonishing. Choir screens from Belgium; a house frontage from Bishopsgate in London, statues, stained glass, caskets and chalices ad what seems almost infinitum. When one visits a church in Italy, all of which seem like little museums in their own right, usually there is one piece of staggering beauty. Two if you’re lucky. But this is like someone’s backed up the European Renaissance and dumped it into the Museum, where it has been carefully, beautifully and lovingly arranged with the sole intention of overwhelming you.

There’s two floors of this. And a mezzanine. And just as you think you’re coping, you come round a corner and walk past an inconspicuous little brown thing in a case stood by the back wall of something utterly glorious. And you’re about to go past when you think, “I wonder what that is?”.

It’s the Codex Forster. The Codex-bloody-Forster. It’s one of Leonardo da Vinci’s own notebooks, in his own hand, with his own… you get the idea.

It was at this point that I went outside to calm down. Any gallery – and this is the permanent exhibition, not a special, only-open-for-a-month thing – that can hide the Forster Codex behind a wall as if it’s just another thing, creates Stendhal moments all the time.

And more prosaically, walking down a street in Copenhagen, I stumbled across the Danish Design Centre. And had another moment in front of, of all things, a set of tables. The “Little Friend, 2005” by Kaspar Salto, produced by Fritz Hansen, to be exact. It just works. It is beautiful, functional, the lines are perfect, every part of it thought out to within an inch of its life (but not so far that it has lost its essential delight).

This, I have to say, came on the back of design manifestos for Danish design on the walls, clear and thought through, video interviews of clarity and perspicacity, a standing exhibition of beautiful objects. I have a nasty feeling that the Danes are probably better at product design than anyone else, and the exhibitions – and the thinking underlying them – at the DDC just reinforces this. I mean, even their ‘you’ve paid, here’s your little badge to prove it’ is a lovely little clip, with their website address on it, not some little sticky thing that destroys clothing.

Anyhow. Two moments when design becomes beauty, and when that beauty becomes overwhelming. Is it any wonder that we get emotional when we create, when we stand – however slightly – in the same light that creates Stendhal moments?


Somewhere over the Rainbow

Conservative PRs couldn’t have planned it any better: As the sun set on Gordon Brown’s premiership, a rainbow appeared in the skies over Westminster. All talk of a possible ‘rainbow coalition’ ended as David Cameron stood on the steps of No 10 to announce a Liberal-Conservative coalition government.

Soon after Mr Cameron’s speech, discussions of a very different rainbow were underway in Westminster.When Michael Gove joined the cabinet the next day, he became the Shadow Secretary of State for Education; unlike his predecessor, Ed Balls, who had been in charge of ‘Children, Schools, and Families’.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families, with its ‘massage room’ and ‘contemplation suite’, had already featured prominently in the election campaign. Its overnight rebrand to the ‘Department for Education’ may be a sign of things to come, both for educators and marketeers.

The DCSF’s brand guidelines, which cost the taxpayer several thousand pounds, called it “A united organisation, working together to ‘build the rainbow’ – the brighter future we want for children and young people”. The new Department for Education doesn’t have brand guidelines or a prominent marque. The iconic rainbow that featured in the department’s atrium has also disappeared. The media was immediately awash with speculation – Did the name change indicate a refocussing of the department?

Terina Keene, CEO of ‘Railway Children’ worried that focussing purely on education would cause very underprivileged young people to ‘fall off the radar’. Mr Gove’s drive to refocus the department on its core purpose of supporting teaching and learning does mean a significant shift in government policy; one that won’t come as a surprise to many commentators.

The Conservatives’ election pledges focussed on the right of parent groups to set up their own schools, with children and families being covered by the Tories’ ‘Big Society’ idea.

The rebranding – done ‘on the cheap’ – reflects a move away from the huge government advertising budgets of previous years. It also reflects a waste of several thousand pounds invested by the previous government in the DCSF brand, which existed for only three years. That’s a better return on investment than the rebrand of the Department for Trade and Industry to the Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry, though – which, at a cost of £30,000, lasted only a week before reversion to the previous moniker.

The lost investment in the DCSF brand is likely to be recouped in the long-run as advertising spend returns to its 1997 level. You’ll probably be hearing a lot less about the Department of Education outside of the press than you did its predecessor.

Will any of this matter to ‘real people’? Probably not – our brand development staff all agree that brands need to be reflected throughout their collateral and messaging; but given the scale of forthcoming budgetary cutbacks, the name change is likely to do just that.

The move is a warning to some in the creative industry. Gone are the large COI contracts of yesteryear. This is a government that wants to be judged by its actions, not its words. That’s a sentiment that we agree with wholeheartedly.


What does your collateral say about you?

What our collateral says about us

What we say about ourselves

It’s easy to get caught up in design. We see it time and time again: beautifully designed collateral (that’s your brochures, menus, business cards, letter heads, signage, and the like) with badly written copy.

Customers will notice bad design immediately: I’m sure that everyone reading this has a shop/salon/cinema/whatever in their neighbourhood whose brand and collateral looks like the owner was left alone with MS Paint and Wordart for an afternoon. Design gives your brand credibility with your market. Even the most boring or run-of-the-mill service can be set apart from its competitors through pleasing design.

But what you say about yourself is equally important. Beautiful design won’t make up for wooly or badly written copy. Sit down and think of what your customers need to make the decision to use your service or buy your product. Are they all intelligently placed in your collateral? Are you sure that this is what your marketplace needs to hear – as opposed to what you want to tell them?

To inspire you, we’ve included the words we use to describe ourselves. If you want some help making your copy as beautiful as your design, talk to us today.


Should news websites be free of charge?

Picking up a newspaper each morning gives you the most essential bits of information about what is happening in the world around you – keeping up with changes in economics, politics, society and culture. But the UK press is changing. With the evolvement of social media and the rising power of the internet it is getting harder for the newspapers to maintain their readership.

Nearly 80% of the UK population now have internet access and use it regularly. Of those, 16 million people use the internet through mobile devices – to update statuses on various social networks or to catch up with the latest news. Twitter and co. make it easy to see what’s happening throughout the world right now – how are the newspapers supposed to keep up?

Over the last decade the newspapers have been engaged in a price war. The Times is a case in point as it has been constantly battling with The Guardian for both price and readership. However, recently The Times bucked this trend by putting its cover price up to £1.00 during the week, £1.50 on saturdays and £2.00 for the Sunday Times.

Furthermore, The Times and its complementary Sunday paper have decided to be the first published papers to charge for their online services with a £2 fee per week from June. This may come as a shock to their readers, and questions are already being raised as to how this will affect readership and if the website will yield a profit.

So, increasing the price for the paper and announcing a pay-per-view arrangement on their website, all within a few months – the stakes are high for The Times. However, they might not have made the worst decision according to a study by Baba Shiv, a marketing professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He argues that prices are changing people’s experiences of a product and therefore the outcomes from consuming this product. Research has shown that people are mentally influenced by the price of a product. For example, Shiv has shown that ‘people who had paid a higher price for an energy drink, such as Red Bull, were able to solve more brain teasers than those who paid a discounted price for the same product.’ Are consumers being psychologically deceived by pricing? If so, how will it affect The Times?

It is well known that people are curious. It’s human nature. But users will ask what is so different about the website, what does it offer that others don’t? This curiosity will drive traffic to both sites during the first few days of launch. After they have experienced the digital presence they will be more likely to consider a repetitive purchase of that service.

One thing that will happen is that the changes will reposition the newspaper in the marketplace. The Times has been known as qualitative paper and it will continue to create qualitative content. It promises to increase the engagement of its online users by offering the opportunity to talk to staff, writers and experts to create deep and intelligent conversation.

Should others follow in The Times footsteps? Only time will tell, the battle of gaining and maintaining both paper and digital readership will continue to change the landscape of the UK press as we have known it.

Lisa Beck


Success is not a ‘sugar rush’

Saturday mornings are hardly the prime time TV spot for hard-hitting journalism or insightful commentary. They tend to be more a bedfellow of the 16-25 range of students and hangover victims. This ‘youth TV’, as it exists today, is more occupied with a heady mix of the sickly sweet and the deliciously bitter.

This past Saturday was no different. A whole 90 minutes was dedicated to the masterful career and body of work from the one and only Leona Lewis. Yes, the 2006 X-Factor winner.

Watching it with one disinterested eye, it became clear that the success of reality TV contestants, of which Leona is one of the ‘top’, are usually based more on the successes of hype machines and the dreaded media moguls. Paging Mr. Cowell.

This isn’t a criticism of reality TV music shows, nor the talent that it discovers. Clearly people like Leona do have the real talent that these shows auspiciously hunt for. This is more a reaction to the ominous glow of ‘X-Factor USA’, the younger and cooler sibling of the ‘Pop Idol’ family.

Leona Lewis is the epitome of the ‘Cowell Superstar’ – she has the adoration of the public, with global appeal and a media spotlight that other artists would be envious of. But, watching Leona pump out another scripted interview answer, I felt myself asking what her last single was. Or even her last two or three singles. Come to think of it, has she really released another album? Have I been living in a cave?

I like to think that my home isn’t a cave, so there must be some reasoning behind my lack of knowledge. So I’ve come to a conclusion.

‘Perceived Success’ is the name of the game. If the public think you are successful – that is all that matters. It has worked for all of the X-Factor’s stars so far, why won’t it work on the other side of the pond? Simon Cowell lauds his X-Factor finds as being the best in the business – creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. It may seem like a dirty trick, but isn’t it something we’d all do if we had a chance of success?

But what really counts, once the hype has faded and the countless breakfast television appearances are over, is quality.

How many of the X-Factor’s ‘future global superstars’ have fallen at the first hurdle? There is a reason why the icons of the past are regarded as such; there is quality and longevity in their product (in this case, the product being themselves).

So, what does this mean for you? It’s depends on your tastes – or even the tastes of your customers.
Cowell’s brand of ‘perceived success’ may have immediate benefits, but there really isn’t any competition with long term satisfaction and success. Take time building a strong foundation on which a brand can be built upon; and not the haphazard race to the skies that X-Factor promotes.

X-Factor is a sugar rush; a quality product is nourishment, and not some bland nuts and seeds. Be tasty.

Andrew Beedle


Social Media is more than a ‘buzzword’

‘Buzzwords’, ‘all the rage’ and ‘in vogue’ – all fashionable terms that strive to describe a new trend. Their deeper meanings remain obscure for most of us, but anyway, we like using buzzwords because they make us feel really cool when we say them!

Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, is a good example of what a buzzword can be. It’s new, maybe a little bit foggy, but oh so trendy.

The most surprising thing about buzzword phenomena, and especially social media, is the speed with which they spread. Like a virus that spares no-one, it has succeeded in seducing all but the most resistant people in a very short time. Even our parents, who are hardly recovering from sending their first text message now have their own Facebook profiles.

But we all know that fashionable trends tend to have quite a short half life, so should we be waiting for the moment when the pandemic will end? Obviously, it won’t. Then why are we still treating ‘social media’ like a buzzword?

Malcolm Gladwell can give us part of the answer in ‘The Tipping Point’. This is the magic moment when a social behaviour crosses a threshold and begin to spread irreversibly. Because almost everyone now belongs to a social network, the opportunity cost of not being part of the phenomenon is rising.

Just like other new technologies before them (remember the fax machine?), these things gain credibility because of their early adoption rate. This real utility, due to the amount of people interacting with each other, has made social networks invaluable.

Social media’s ‘Tipping Point’ came about when people stopped subconsciously seeing it as a fashionable trend and started using it for intimate communication. Facebook’s own ‘Tipping Point’ came with the development social gaming.

It’s clear that ‘social media’ is no longer a foggy, fashionable buzzword. It’s about business: integrated marketing and communication strategies now need to reach out on these platforms to reach their objectives.

Social media has definitely overtaken the ‘buzzword level’, it helps advertisers to understand customer behaviour like never before. Advertising messages can now be targeted on a much more personal level, making the brand message tailored and relevant for each consumer.

‘Social media’ is ready for the ultimate recognition: an entry in the dictionary.

Camille le Goff

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We can be discreet or highly vocal, stylish but cost-effective. Always fresh and successful, we offer vibrant marcoms solutions.

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