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The 2015 thoughts archive

Honest Branding

Designer, Adele Littler, looks at the value of brand for small businesses retaining traditional craftsmanship in a mass-produced world. 

Once upon a time the power of a small business was limited. Primarily because of reach but also because of a culture built around association. There was an idea that by wearing or owning a particular brand you would have an instant association with it’s gravitas or values. Today, however, the lines have blurred and the scales have tipped from the importance of a logo to the integrity and quality of product. It is here where small businesses come in. They’ve always been around, producing thoughtful and unique products but they were often handicapped by a poorly crafted identity produced quickly in word or at the local printers. 

In recent years, the gap between the brand of a multimillion-pound organisation and that of a few person strong business has started to close. Perhaps this is to do with small business owners wising up to the value of branding or maybe it’s to do with the design community championing like-minded craftsmen. It’s becoming more common for agencies and designers to take on jobs that have little financial benefit in favour of creativity. When working with established brands there’s normally a large portion of the process that’s set aside for insight. Time to delve into a brand and try and understand what’s at its core. With small business that never gets lost, that integrity and belief is already there so the branding becomes a personal process. Some of my favourite brands are no bigger than a single shop but with the help of honest branding and affordable platforms such as square space they have the power to cross oceans.

With that in mind, I’ve chosen a few retailers that are all about craft, the brands that drive these business are in my opinion what good branding should be: it’s simply a vehicle to tell the world about what they’re made of. There is an association or even a culture around these brands but it’s no longer about owning something because of its logo it’s about owning a lovely hand crafted piece of design that will last a lifetime.


Raleigh Denim

Raleigh Denim is a Jeans retailer based in New York. These guys and girls are very passionate about jeans. All of the jeans are hand crafted using old school machinery. Just watch some of their videos and you will quickly come to appreciate the thought that goes into their products.



Shinola was created for much the same reason as all my examples, to bring back hand crafted manufacturing. Specifically to it’s home town of Detroit, where it has a factory employing a full fleet of makers and doers. Much like Raleigh Denim the branding is used as a platform to showcase their  crafted wares through a series of short films. 


Best Made

Best Made started out with the sole purpose of making design conscious axes. After only a year of trading they branched out and took everyday outdoor items and re-imagined them. The branding again is all about championing the quality and beauty of the products.



Finisterre is a slightly different example in that it’s taken what could been seen as a negative and turned it into something desirable. They specialise in cold weather surfing and outdoor apparel. They are a British based company that collaborate with home grown manufacturers to create products that combine traditional techniques with innovative technology to create desirable necessities. There brand film is one of my favourite brand videos, some how they’ve taken the cold British weather and made it desirable.


Hard Graft

Hard Graft is another British based company. They specialise in leather and felt goods from key belts to travel bags. Again all there products are designed with thought and made to withstand the everyday wear and tear they were intended for. The branding in a way reflects this it’s tough and robust but at the same time crafted.

Five of our favourite: Charitable Campaigns

Last week we published an article about not-for-profits surviving in a competitive sector. This week, Designer Sarah Hardman, looks at five diverse examples of charities who have used innovative methods to communicate a message and stand out from the crowd.


SCOPE ‘100 days 100 stories’

Scope is a charity that exists to improve the lives of disabled people and make the UK a place where there is equal opportunity for everyone. Their ‘100 days 100 stories’ campaign focused on getting people thinking differently about disability, understanding better the big and varied issues disabled people face. Each day for 100 days, across digital platforms, Scope shared stories from disabled people and their families. The service user was at the forefront of the campaign, empowered to tell their own story, in their own words, rather than someone speaking on their behalf. Hearing fascinating, moving, yet quite often distressing stories directly from those effected resonated far more with people, provoking an overwhelming response and surge in public support. I loved how the campaign gave a voice that hasn’t previously been heard…and people listened! Connecting to people in a direct and personal way the stories challenged attitudes and perceptions in regards to physical disability and people not only engaged with it, but shared it. The campaign was a huge success and a powerful example of how a charity can raise awareness, communicate need and change attitudes through firsthand, authentic storytelling.


WATER AID ‘The Big Dig’

Water Aid is an international charity that transforms lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation. A testament to how social media has revolutionized the way a charity can connect with their supporters, Water Aid’s campaign ‘The Big Dig’ used these platforms to help raise money and bring clean water to thousands of people in Malawi. To communicate the impact of donations, supports could follow progress of the well in real time on the blog, instagram and twitter. Having access to true stories, first hand from the frontline meant supporters could ‘be there’, connected and close to the community, following day by day and seeing progress. People gave their socks off in response to seeing where their money was being spent and the positive, immediate impact it was having. The donor was connected to their donation, increasing supporter empathy and engagement, building trust and impacting loyalty in the long term. A beautiful example of communication and how it can, if done well, build a lifetime of engagement.



International women’s day was the optimum time for Amnesty International to launch a takeover ‘Make the choice’ campaign on the Tinder app, explicitly highlighting their work for women’s rights. Many women across the world don’t have the power to choose how they live their lives and Amnesty International wanted to communicate this issue in a modern, relevant way to gain support of women. Amnesty recognised that Tinder was a fantastic platform to communicate their message, it’s one of the most popular social sites amongst 18 to 34 year olds, with a growing user base of over 600 million people, and a place where millions of women engage and make their choices every day. Amnesty shared profile pictures displaying messages such as, “Not all women have the power to choose like you do” and “You pick your partner. Many women aren’t given the choice.” As females flicked through they were presented with the profile to the website and asked to sign up and show support. It was a campaign with impact, connecting directly with individuals. It’s interesting to see how Amnesty engaged with an audience they don’t often capture the attention of. Although not a traditional medium or marketing tool, this relevant, brave and poignant campaign reached far and wide, stirring up, generating engagement and encouraging action.



Charity Miles is a free app that allows you to earn money for charity whilst you run, cycle or walk. As you exercise the app tracks your distance and for every mile Charity Miles donates money to the charity of your choice. You, the user, become a sponsored athlete by simply sharing your achievements on social media. You won’t change the world with the amount you’ll earn (just a few pence per mile - probably equates to the calories burnt off...or lack of), but if you exercise anyway, you may as well help charities along the way. It is a simple app with a simple idea that can be easily integrated into your usual daily routine.


ALZHEIMER’S AUSTRALIA ‘Courageous Conversations’

Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, which probably adds to our tendency to avoid the subject. Alzheimer’s Australia have done a huge work in raising awareness and making dementia a national health priority. As part of that work they have released a new short film series featuring people living with dementia, talking frankly about their own experience. They talk about the good, the bad and everything in between, educating people and hopefully throwing any misguided perceptions out the window. In a similar way to the scope campaign, it has a power in that it lets those with first hand experiences speak for themselves. Reading some of the responses to these videos it becomes clear that people have been moved to address the issue, successfully starting conversations and opening the doors to talk about a subject previously so under the radar.

Brand and the music industry

In honour of the latest album release from New Order, Strategy and Communications Placement Zak Boukerrou, explores the difference between brand and bands. 

Last month, New Order released their tenth album Music Complete, which was met with critical and commercial success despite the absence of arguably one of the most recognisable members, bassist Peter Hook.  In spite of this, the album stayed true to form in every other way, with a cover composed of vivid arrangements of sharp lines and bright colors, designed, as per, by Peter Saville.

It is not the first time New Order has had to cope with a loss of a band member. When Ian Curtis died during their days as Joy Division, the band re-invented itself. New Order, with their new dance-orientated sound, pushed their music in a different direction.  They rebranded with a new sound and identity.

In most cases bands chose not to change after experiencing a loss. The Who, Pink Floyd and Queen have all lost key members who have helped shape their sound but are still selling-out stadiums to this day.  This raises a question about brand being bigger than the band.

One brand that remains particularly strong, despite the band breaking up in 1970 along with the loss of two members, is The Beatles. The simplistic but highly recognisable logo, originally appearing on Ringo Starr’s drum kit during live performances, still endures. Now, however, it has become part of a musical experience, contributing to Liverpool’s tourist economy and the pockets of memorabilia manufacturers.

Brand is not just confined to artists within the music industry but also serve as a tool to help fuel a new music movement. Manchester’s Factory Records, led by the late media broadcaster Tony Wilson and a creative team involving Peter Saville, was one of the first to exploit this in the late 70s, going on to set the tone for the ‘Madchester’ scene in the 80s. By then, Factory Records had helped place Manchester as a cultural music hub, one that produced a distinctive fusion of post-punk, psychedelic rock and electronic dance. The branding that helped convey the style of ‘Madchester’ music ran from the album covers, such as New Order’s Technique, with its psychedelic imagery, through to the iconic Hacienda club, which was promoted by iconic posters harboring yellow and black stripes in accordance to the site’s industrial interior décor.

Despite the changes in the music industry over the last ten years, brand is still as relevant as ever, particularly in a commercial sense. Music artists are increasingly associating themselves with brands. This was the case with Mark Ronson’s partnership with Coca-Cola during the London 2012 Olympics. Coca-Cola has also collaborated with the Universal music label and Spotify in an initiative that uses the soft drinks global reach to connect more people to music.

The role of brand in the music industry should not be underestimated. It can be used as a platform in which to enhance the music experience or help sell a distinctive style of music that can inspire people. Music can move, but it is brand that starts a movement. 

Branding The Experience Economy

When the Harvard Business Review coined the ‘Experience Economy’, it signalled a period of economic transition: the move beyond the ‘Service Economy’. Services had evolved to such an extent they became increasingly indistinct from each other, and thus commoditised.

To this end, the Experience Economy is one in which service providers add value and differentiate themselves once more. They make the transition from selling services to staging and creating memorable ‘events’ for their customers.

The memory of, and association with, that experience, then becomes the product being sold. And critically, customers are willing to pay a premium for it. In this setting, brand is commercially more important than ever.

Why? Because brand strategy is a crucial business transformation tool when making the transition from a brand providing services, to selling experiences of the brand itself…and charging a premium to do so.

For example, Starbucks have managed over recent years to create an ‘experience’ around the everyday coffee. Pizza Express sells ‘conversations’ not pizzas. Manchester United, Disney, the V&A — each of these organisations have recognised the power in identifying, defining and consistently executing the brand experience they are selling, and have experienced the commercial benefits of doing so.

Regardless of which sector they occupy, organisations that have become highly successful brand experiences share some interesting traits. These organisations invariably recognise brand strategy as a boardroom issue, which can genuinely grow the bottom line and improve business value.

As such, brand strategy is no longer confined to the remit of just the Marketing Department, it is recognised as a transformation tool which is integral to the business strategy.

So at Manchester United, Disney, V&A, Starbucks and so on, conversations about business strategy will be in large part conversations about brand strategy, how the brand experience can manifest itself, and how it can influence all aspects of the business. In turn, it will drive revenue, improve business value, engage new audiences and create new revenue streams.

The Experience Economy nevertheless has to contend with other pressures, with the customers being in charge of your brand like never before. Your brand experience must be truthful to the reality, as consumers will communicate their experiences instantly and visibly over social media.

In this environment it has never been more important to reflect an accurate picture of the brand experience you offer — because the truth will out like never before.

Our advice? Invest in identifying, defining, delivering and actively maintaining your ‘true’ (and differentiating) brand. And we mean across the board, in everything you do, to a targeted audience.

Don’t market a loose promise, rather, In the world of branded experiences, coherent, accurate visions are king.

Sometimes you just have to learn the rules and break them

Designer and resident rule breaker, Victoria Pinnington, takes a journey through the world of brand guidelines. 

Brand guidelines, book, manual, toolkit, style sheet, whatever you want to call it as designers we’ve all delved into this meticulous world. Having worked with a number of businesses and organisations to help create guidelines, it can be a bit of a balancing act, putting in enough information so that everyone understands, yet allowing the flexibility to encourage and inspire and not be a straightjacket for creativity. Throw in the blurred definition and expectations of what guidelines are, limited budgets and the mix of skills held by users and it’s quite a challenge.

A World Of Inspiration

It’s a common misconception that the production of guidelines is the completion of a brand, when in fact they are just the start of a journey.

As we’re all experiencing on a daily basis brands are becoming increasingly multidisciplinary and adaptive. No longer is brand application as straightforward as a letterhead or poster.

Whilst it is arguably the most recognisable element, a brand is much more than a logo. A brand must embody the principles of a company and signify a lifestyle choice that users want to be a part of. With this comes increasing demand for brands to be recognised and experienced through colours, fonts and imagery. The personality of a brand must have meaningful impact and has never been more important regardless of the media or outcome.

With this in mind if we are asking our consumers to live and experience the brand - guidelines should only be produced with this in mind. Creating a brand world, rather than guidelines provides a great balance between guiding and proving tools to create and inspire. Should be an extension of the brand.

Rules Are There For A Reason

Yes, rules are there for a reason and no one wants to see their brand pulled apart, however if your guidelines become a never ending list of restrictions, designers will not feel inspired or engaged. When creating guidelines our role as brand guardian should be enough to provide structure and content that includes as much personality as possible. Creative, skilled people want the freedom to design and make so we need to put the excitement into it, using guidelines as a platform to really bring your brand to life and engage the user. Design teams are increasingly working across different sites or even time zones so we need to police it in some way.

For me the ultimate endorsement for successful guidelines has to be seeing what others do with it. The new and innovative things we’d be proud of and the ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ moments. Here are five examples that will have longevity, engage designers to keep producing new and innovative designs.



Comprehensive and of course fun this brand book looks good enough to eat. It’s all about living the brand, with each page carefully considered as a unique way for the personality of the M&M’s brand to have impact.


Norwich Cathedral

Clever, witty, on brand and inspiring, is this the holy grail of brand guidelines? Embracing the move to digital technology and not letting it inhibit creativity. The days of creating the beautifully printed brand guidelines may be long gone but this hasn’t stopped them creating a digital brand guidelines where no hard copies we’re ever produced, however it’s visualised as a pocket bible. Something you just want to pick up.



Actively encouraged to experiment with layouts across applications. Different parties picking this document up due to the diverse nature if whats on display.


Gordon’s Gin

Refreshing to see a brand world that is re-energised for creatives. Mood boards providing a snapshot into this brand world that you can immerse yourself in.



Simple yet effective, MailChimp is a great example of branding being much more than design. They put the user experience at the heart of their brand. As this example from it’s Tone of Voice section of it’s guidelines shows it’s interactive layout gives you a sense of how a user might feel in each scenario and how to speak to the use.

International Day of The Girl

To coincide with The United Nations ‘International Day of The Girl’ which happened on Sunday and the release of the film ‘Suffragette,’ we spent some time thinking about the female focused brands that we can’t help but admire.

Stella McCartney

A recognised and committed advocate for empowering women within the fashion industry, McCartney uses her brand to bring important values to the forefront through collections that champion and empower women from different backgrounds and situations. From the Noemi Tote, a hand bag collection made ethically in Nairobi enabling a female dominant workforce and manufacturers to develop creativity and power. To a mastectomy bra to tackle cancer stigmas and create designer underwear that is available to everyone, McCartney adopts an inspired and inspirational approach to business.

Gentlewoman magazine

A biannual magazine full of style and purpose. Beautifully crafted, each issue feels like your holding a little piece of luxury, making it a far cry from your traditional glossies. The Gentlewoman is an ideal read for women needing empowering inspiration, with each edition featuring interviews with talented, hardworking role models. It celebrates diversity, intelligence and natural beauty and has featured a diverse range of cover girls, from Angela Lansbury to Beyoncé.


A high fashion brand that dares to challenge perceptions of what models should be. With the iconic Phoebe Philo at the helm, Celine has redefined the world of fashion advertising by choosing females with an inspiring background to model their collection. By using Joan Didion as the face of a campaign at the age of 80, Celine tapped into her status as writer and thinker to celebrate timeless style and substance.

Taylor Swift

Look beyond the music and you’ll find a gifted marketer. Not only is she adored by fans but enchants the media. Whether she’s publically challenging Apple on their unfair use of her music or uniting women across the world with her 1989 tour, which saw a host of female idols join her on stage, Swift is a brand that has become increasingly hard to ignore. 

This Girl Can

While Nike and Adidas manage to inspire those already active within sports, they can often alienate those who are yet to get started. This Girl Can (whose foundations lie in our IWIYW Campaign) brought us a portrayal of an active life in all is jiggling glory. Through a simple identity, supported by thought provoking campaign elements it struck a chord with women everywhere who wanted to explore their own potential and get active.

Victoria Pinnington, Senior Designer. 

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