Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Another day, another launch...


It’s always nice when a brand you have been working on finally gets to launch, but it’s especially nice when the brand that emerges fulfils the promise you saw when you first won the job - and extra extra special when it is a johnson banks design.

It’s a little over a year since I first went to see Debbie Bannigan, the CEO of Swanswell Charitable Trust, a drug and alcohol charity based in the West Midlands, and although she had a number of specific issues about the existing brand image, her main brief to me was ‘give me a brand my people and service users deserve’.

Nice brief eh?

Ones like these don’t come along very often, and true to her word, Debbie set the bar high, but was invariably open and positive as we closed in on our solution. As all our clients will confirm, I never tire of telling them brand development is less about invention, and more about archeology. We know the solution is ‘in there somewhere’, it just has to be revealed.

So we spent a fair amount of time talking to everyone we could; interviews, workshops (I like workshops because someone will usually have the solution without always knowing it!), service users (they swept away a few of my own personal pre-conceptions), in fact anyone who would talk to us.

Debbie also had a compelling vision for where she wanted to take the organisation – expansion of the service, expansion beyond it’s traditional regional base. We got a very enlightened bunch of trustees to buy in to all these new plans and endorse a new vision and mission.

Once we had done our brand strategy ‘thing’ (capabilities, competition, customers, vision and mission etc) we pitched out the visual identity work. We were delighted when our old friend Michael Johnson of johnson banks won the pitch, he impressed everyone with his usual combination of creativity, wit and charm.

Michael and his team did a great job, interpreting our creative brief, and bringing to life a brand idea that is both eye catching and engaging.

So what are the highlights?

1. We got rid of the multi-various names Swanswell had been operating under (and there were quite a few) and re-named everything Swanswell

2. We broke away from the generic market language (which tends to be rather grey and neutral) and adopted a defiantly upbeat message – ‘Change and be Happy’ (no glass half empty here!).

3. Michael came up with a great visual device/metaphor that underpins the identity, something we call ‘crumple’. The logo (and many of the other components of the identity) is a half crumpled piece of paper with the name written on it (see below) – this device illustrates the process service users go through as they change their habits of substance abuse – from crumpled to smooth. We even have business cards that staff have to half crumple before they hand them out, so they have to explain what it means (we’ve had amazing feedback on how well this works, it’s funny, surprising and amazingly touching!).

4. Michael developed an entire visual look and feel that helps to simplify the language and messages for the brand, that is distinctive, fresh and like nothing else in the sector.

5. We have a very hard-hitting photographic route suitable for advertising and promotion, which we are holding back until the right opportunity arrises.

6. Michael and his team have diligently worked through the minutiae of stationary, leaflets, printwork and ‘stuff’ to ensure the brand embeds itself into every nook and cranny of Swanswell (lets face it, designers never make money on this stuff – but it has to be done). They oversaw a quick ‘re-skinning’ of the existing website, which will undergo a more significant upgrade later in the year. Oh, and lets not forget creating a comprehensive visual identity manual, powerpoint templates etc etc.

7. We have taken every staff member through the brand story – ‘the why where what when how what-if’ of their new Swanswell brand.

Well I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture… Why not visit the website?

Thanks to everyone who worked on it – the management team, their clients, the service users, the designers, the trustees, the staff, the printers, the web designers…. I love you all!


Swanswell Charitable Trust - before...


Swanswell - after...


The New England Kit

Now I'm not an all out, rattle-waving football fan, but I do like to watch a good match and I always get a thrill watching England play. And it's been hard not to be aware of the controversy surrounding the new England kit revealed on Saturday at the friendly against Slovakia. 5 Live's Alan Green even went as far as calling it "grotesque".

I think it's fantastic. It has tapped into the mood of a nation. It's reserved retro styling, soft, aertex-like appearance, and neat tailoring sums up beautifully the nostalgia-austerity-mend and make do era that we have now entered. Rather than the gaudy go-faster stripes, chavvish cut and wealth flaunting designs of the past this kit has introduced a bespoke reserve, requiring that, as Simon Mills says in the Guardian today, "every England player's ham-sized thigh and ripped chest was measured for size." Not only is this expression of Brand England hitting the crest of the national mood wave, it's also creating a level of interest and excitement way beyond that of just watching football (if that is possible!)

As a complete sense of Englishness oozes through every fibre the three lions look better than ever and the logo of Umbro proud and relevant. Established in 1924 this English brand has been tailoring kits for the England football team for 85 years. Their approach to this season's kit is refreshing and sensitive, involving the primary customers, the team, and distilling the essence of the brand beautifully. The website announces, "Once again, Umbro brings together the traditional values of classic tailoring with modern fabric technology and a revolutionary design philosophy. The new England kit is the proud result. Honoring the past, looking forward to the future. The right shirt at the right time. Tailored by Umbro. Tailored by England."

If the welling pride and ham-sized thighs and ripped chests haven't made you feel like a lie down, watch this...

Friday, 13 March 2009

Subcultural creatives

Many brands succeed by their attachment to a tribe or their ability to "find a parade", as Marty Neumeier promotes in his excellent little book 'ZAG'. Reading Tom Heuerman's latest pamphlet 'The Cultural Creatives' I see that brand Obama's success was largely due to the wave of Cultural Creatives in the US nurturing the right climate for his optimistic leadership.

Cultural Creatives have a lot of resonance with the Brand Guardians leadership. The basic values of authenticity, engaged action, idealism, globalism and ecology, and the importance of women are close to our hearts and implicit in our work. We are also highly sympathetic to the less than perfect creative process. In the article Heuerman says, "Creativity is messy and inefficient. Mistakes will be made as we move beyond our knowledge. Not all will be done well. Such is the nature of transformational change."

The thought of influential tribes and cultural leaders reminded me of the extraordinary 'Exactitudes' project by Dutch photographer Ari Versluis and profiler Ellie Uyttenbroek. Their work brings a visual analysis to ideas of individualism and identity. They were featured in an episode of 'The Culture Show' last year (which incidentally briefly shows our eldest son as a 'bonkerboy').

Perceptiveness and sensitivity to cultural tides are heightened at the moment, and essential to chart our way to a better future.