Branding workshops are an essential tool for gathering those requirements and constraints when solving the problem: “why does your company exist?”
I joined This Little Duck last year in the midst of a structural shift at the company. As the direction and makeup of the team changed, and as the dust settled around us it was clear that our old website no longer matched our brand value and was in need of an overhaul.
Brand marketing had never been a priority at the company, This Little Duck had gotten by with our brand identity being supported by successful projects and word-of-mouth. While that was all fine, it also meant that we didn’t have control over how we were being represented. The void in the brand identity meant that in some ways the purpose and the vision of the company was unclear — our brand didn’t accurately reflect who we are or the quality of work we deliver.
A false start
The initial effort to re-brand the company began with a series of conversations with Peter (Co-founder and Director) which involved a lot of hand-waving, a vague list of esoteric goals and complete freedom to create “whatever you think”.
Against my better judgement, I started designing a website for a brand I really knew nothing about. The solutions I came up with were average at best and I wasn’t enthused enough to develop them to a usable point. We tore down our old website in sheer frustration and replaced it with the stripped down version (ed. that stripped down version has since been replaced by our shiny new website).
Beware of your client saying “do whatever you think” or “it’s an open brief” — that’s not a brief!
The problem was I didn’t really understand what problem I was trying to solve. I knew the people, I had my own ideas about the company, but I didn’t know enough of the intangible information about the company: how we saw ourselves as a company; how we understood our purpose. There wasn’t a shared and well understood vision of This Little Duck’s future.
In order to fully understand, we threw away the brief and gathered the team in the meeting room for a Brand Workshop, which was designed to interrogate the core of what the ‘This Little Duck’ brand is and what that means to us, and to facilitate a conversation about where we are going as a company and what this means for the Visual Identity.
Understanding the Problem - The Brand Workshop
I structured the workshop around a central questionnaire. However I wanted the workshop to be a collaborative process rather than interview-style question and answers, so I decided to present it as an interactive presentation. I put the questionnaire into Typeform and put it up on the big screen in the meeting room so we could all follow along and fill it out together.
I found Typeform was particularly effective for presentation purposes as the interface only focuses on the question you are discussing, and so I was able to put in prompts to pause for exercises.
Uncovering and Defining our Voice
It can be hard to put into words what a brand’s voice and style is, especially when you are starting a visual identity from scratch. People struggle with questions like ‘How would you describe the brand’s style?’, ‘What characteristics define your brand?’ and ‘What words would you use to describe your brand’s vibe?’ The following exercises were designed to help answer these questions, to re-imagine the visual identity from a blank slate and to get everyone involved in the process.
In the next phase, the team were able to see how the things we discussed and ideas that came out of the Branding Workshop informed the design concepts and the overall approach to the brand. They felt like they were part of that solution.
Exercise 1: The Branding Deck
Defining the key characteristics which describe This Little Duck as a brand was possibly one of the most informative exercises of the design process. These characteristics describe not only what your brand is, but how you want to be perceived by your audience.
We used a tool called the Brand Deck for this exercise. It’s a deck of 50 cards with contrasting attributes on the front and back. Each of the cards is sorted between 3 categories — ‘You are’, ‘You are not’ and ‘Not Applicable’. The instructions suggest you work with several packs to compare answers, but as a small team we worked with one pack, and collaborated on the decision we made for each card.
Though most of us had different ideas about This Little Duck going into this exercise, we were able to find common ground on the characteristics we felt strongly about. We stripped back our results to this small set of cards that describes who we are to the core:
Exercise 2: The 20 Second Gut Test
The “20 Second Gut Test” is an exercise used to hone in on aesthetic preferences, where the participants are shown a series of images for 20 seconds each and then rate them based on their gut reaction.
I gathered 20 websites with vastly different aesthetic tastes – some I had a pretty good idea would hit the mark, and others I felt would be a complete miss. The idea was to test this hypothesis and to ensure I was on the same page as the rest of the team.
I instructed everyone to rate the website on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being extremely negative and 5 being extremely positive. I left a bit of room on the worksheet for notes for any particular feelings or thoughts they initially had about the design.
Exercise 3: Visual Spectrum Rating
Having done some initial research and development after some informal chats I had previously with Peter, I put together four mood boards based on aesthetic directions I thought we could explore further.
I asked the team to rate each mood board overall on how much they would like the branding to feel or look like each of the boards, and then circle any particular image that especially resonated.
Extracting the Constraints
In conclusion the brand workshop was essential to extracting the constraints for the design brief. Beware of your client (or your boss) saying ‘do whatever you think’ or ‘it’s an open brief’ — that’s not a brief! Good design solves problems and finding solutions begins with a thorough understanding of requirements and constraints. Branding workshops are an essential tool for gathering those requirements and constraints when solving the problem: ‘why does your company exist?’… the real answers to that question make for a proper design brief.
Here are some links to resources which we used for this process:
Stay tuned for part 2: from workshop notes to core identity.