Tackling a brand refresh w/ Brenton Craig

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Brenton Craig, Design Lead at Focus shares his learnings when it comes to approaching a brand refresh. An awesome watch/listen for any marketers tasked with undertaking a brand project. 

Within 15mins, Brenton takes us through five clear and easy to adopt design principles, what to watch out for, finally how mastery is actually making the process ongoing.  

Bonus resources from Brenton: 

  1. If you’re interested in Flags (Watch): Why city flags may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed — Roman Mars 99% Invisible.
  2. More relevant to SaaS (Read): Building Minimum Viable Brand for Startups.
  3. If you want to keep up on recent Brand Identities (Follow): @thebrandidentity. 4. If you need to get through a full day brand identity workshop with your team (Drink): non.world

Thank you, Brenton! 🤩

AT: Hi team. Welcome to another episode of Munch and Learn. At some point in your career as a Marketer there’s a strong chance you’ll get dragged into a brand conversation. So how do you handle yourself, better yet, how do you handle your team? The secret is bringing together opinions and preferences to ensure you create something that’s cohesive, purposeful, and stress-free.

AT: Today, I am joined by Brenton Craig, Design Lead at focus. And before moving into Product Design, Brenton spent a chunk of his career, helping teams and businesses create compelling and memorable brand identities. I’ve personally observed Brenton, not only turn a disastrous brand into something incredible, though, with Jedi like skills, bring teams together around a concept or direction. These are real skills. 

AT: So without any further delay, let’s dive into, today’s mentioned, learn how to tackle a brand refresh. Brenton, welcome to the show. Cool. It’s awesome to be here and thanks for having me. So Brenton, we’re going to dive into the principles to keep in mind what goes wrong and mastery.

AT: Are you ready to do Munch & Learn? 

BC: Yeah, cool. Hard and fast. Let’s hit it. 

AT: First one was principles to keep in mind when tackling a brand refresh. 

BC: So I felt like the first thing to consider was that not everybody involved in the process is going to necessarily be a designer, right? And so there’s many ways you can approach and there’s many perspectives that can be had in the room.

And so this principles in mind moment, I felt like let’s just think of something that everyone can relate to and have a set of / kind of principles you can audit against that. Feel like they don’t touch anyone’s realm too closely and too personally in a way so that everyone can kind of look at this in a sense.

So looking at the five principles of flag design, which seems super random, right? But if you think about it, flags are literally the logos of countries. It’s like countries are the ultimate organisation. And they’re these tiny three by five rectangles that represent so many values or, or so, so much culture and heritage and people rally around flags. That’s the power of them but they’re also, I guess, can cause conflict too. So they’re really powerful symbols. So yeah, lots of draw from the principles of flag designs. Remembering these are discussion points. So again, not everyone’s a designer, not everyone’s a brand identity expert in the room. And so these are ways that people can start discussing really simple principles. How’s our brand performing against them? 

AT: Yeah, that’s great. It just gives you somewhat of a framework and structure that teams can sort of base everything upon? 

BC: Yeah, totally. So to dive into them, the first principle of good flag design is to keep it simple.

So the flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory. Which is an interesting challenge, you know, could, could a child draw your logo? Which is a cool thing to have a crack at, maybe bring the kids in and get them drawing. But the thing to think about there is like, is our mark that’s being used or the device that gets used to represent us similar enough that it can be an app icon or a favicon that sits on a website. You know, it’s a real utility moment of like, can our Logomark be simplified? And that really helps with communication and really helps with comprehension as well when people engage with, you know, I guess the hero of an identity system, is the mark so to speak.

So keep it simple. It’s the first one that we can draw from, which is ultimate simplicity. And how can we move toward it or and that pressure test is really the app icon these days. Even if you don’t have an app as a business, it’s just a good pressure test for simplicity’s sake. 

AT: Okay, cool. That makes sense. 

BC: The next one is to use meaningful symbolism. So the flag’s image, colours or patterns should relate to what it symbolises. Which makes a lot of sense from a brand perspective and a brand identity perspective when you’re utilising graphic elements or when you’re utilising different components or elements within your brand, do they have meaning or is it just purely trend-based or is it purely aesthetic based or is it just, you know, someone in the room that has an overpowering voice gets something in, right? 

So you can really start to question the devices or graphics or ways, or even tone of voice that you’re using. Is it meaningful and does it connect back to a value system? And so that’s a really good one to test. You know, just simply ask that question, but what does that mean? Visually what does it represent? That can be a really good way of getting some subtle communication into all of the various elements of a brand. 

AT: I love this because it can sound like you’re challenging that person by asking what, what does that mean? It can also unlock really what they’re thinking or what they’re trying to communicate obviously, but it does seem like a very healthy anchor to ask stakeholders? 

BC: Look, they may not necessarily know initially. And so the question, cause it might be an intuitive thing or it might’ve been a reactive thing. And so that could have all been subconscious, some of the meaning that’s occurring. And so when you ask the question, you draw it out. Yeah. So that’s really good and the third principle for good design is, you know, it’s pretty obvious to use two to three basic colors otherwise it’s going to get too overwhelming as a flag which is not to say that a brand should only use two or three basic colors. It’s more, what does that really saying that?

And the thing that to keep in mind is do you have a clear system or a utility-based library of resources? That can aid in content creation. So looking at that principle, three, three basic colors, that’s, that’s a system, right? That’s something that allows you to draw from and utilise when you do start to create content. So when you do start to put out there in the world as a brand. And so that system allows you to maintain consistency across all those different media touchpoints and comms touch points. So that’s a really interesting one to draw from two or three colors. Yeah, that doesn’t work for a brand. No, it’s the principle of a system in place.

AT: I love that. That gives back, right? It may seem initially like you’re giving up or you’re sacrificing, but having that simplicity around your systems actually makes future decisions a lot easier and guides a lot of decisions I imagine? 

BC: Yeah, well, guide is the word because it can feel restrictive, but it’s really the river banks, right. That allow the river to flow and you have to think of it like that. A system is, is guide rails or river banks that allow momentum and progress, not, not restrict it. If that makes sense as a metaphor. 

AT: Yeah, I like it. Awesome. 

BC: The next one is no lettering or seals. So you should never use wording on a flag as a bit of a principle.

It can over-complicate it. It has to fly in the wind, obviously. So a word can kind of get you know, jangle up a little bit there, so that makes sense for flag, but what does that mean from a, from a brand perspective? I think in clarity is the real thing when it comes to what’s, what’s the underlying meaning of that there.

Often it’s not what you put in, but what you take out of a composition, a layout or a way of doing things. And that clarity can sometimes be the difference between effectiveness and noise in a way. And so looking at all of your touch points and understanding, okay, let’s dissect it and break them down and try and remove the superfluous and arrive at a place of calm and clarity in each of those different touchpoints and again can be a layout that can be even the typographic system that you’re using, the fonts that you’re using, the color palette that you’re using. That principle can be applied to a lot of those different areas. The principle is to avoid duplicating other flags. It’s like don’t copy, but use similarities, right.

To show connections. So if you think of all of Scandinavia, their flags are identical apart from color variations, which is intentional, and there’s a good system of identification going on there. But I think the real question is or the real kind of value there is context, right? Like, often people feel, or brands feel the need to be super unique or inventive or smash the wheel, right? But it’s about understanding the context of who your audience is and what you’re selling. Do you need to even be unique? Maybe what the consumer really wants is familiarity, or to get them engaging they kind of need to have quick comprehension and so anything that’s too distinct or too inventive doesn’t work with them. So that was really about the context and just remembering, okay, okay, okay. When we’re talking about our brand identity and the system that surrounds it. How does that relate to our consumer, to our audience or to people that regularly engage with our brand and think about that context and that can really help either simplify or help you inject a meaning or just determine how all these components should come together when communicating to your audience.

AT: Yeah, this is great. And as you say, these five principles are very much guiding principles and play with each other. So listening to what you’re saying there often I can imagine people would bring you some inspiration and they would say, Hey, we really liked this. But then from experience, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this is that you then have to guide them to sort of create their own distinction against that. But, then not also go too far the other way, which is pioneering and trying to create something, as you say, that’s unique for the sake of being unique, it’s sort of like finding. You know, some way that plays something that’s familiar. Yeah. But not yet. 

BC: And they can anchor it back to each other as well. Like you might get this really. Something gets put forward and then you, you question it and you know, it might bring out value. It might bring up meaning. And so that could lead to other discoveries or other ways of doing things, but it could also help you drawing back on something like, how do we systemise this? Or, or how do we simplify this? Or how do we get better clarity when using this? And those things can really help evolve into the right thing. If it is the wrong thing or be ruled out because collectively you’ve assessed it. Yeah. That, that they can sort of aid in that sense. Okay. This is great.

AT: I always love something that’s guiding. These principles I think are very much guiding, though I’m sure there are unfortunately occasions when things go wrong. What are the ugly bits? 

BC: Yeah, I was thinking about this and I’ve got some. Experience that I can draw from because of myself, I feel like in many situations it’s ego that makes a project go awry.

And so that’s why these guiding principles first of all, that the separate from an typical fields that you would work within in a room. Right? And so no one feels like, you know, their skillset is being. Discredited or attacked or whatever, when someone starts to ask questions around these principles it’s just about looking at what’s the.

What do we think the pinnacle of a brand identity system is, and, and, you know, maybe that’s flags and lets draw out the principles and see how we stack up against them. And so you’re not jarring with anyone you know, or their skills or, or the personality that they’re bringing and designers in particular can get really close to things, right.

Because they deep dive, they get invested in building something meaningful and important.

AT: So with those egos come preference and opinion things that are often subjective. So yeah. What, what have you found work or helps with that situation? 

BC: Well, look, you’re dealing with humans. Hey, so you have to remember that they have a lens that they’re looking at this through, or they have a perspective that they’re looking at this through. And as soon as you genuinely try and engage with that, people feel understood and they’re not defensive. And you know, that’s a much more conducive environment for collaboration. And so I feel like, yeah, you’ve got to pivot. And not be on the attack with the defense yourself and really just try and be curious and understand what it is that you’re trying to say or that you’re trying to achieve through this particular thing that you really, really love.

Like, why is it, why does everything need to be purple? And then you can start to get bitter about those sorts of things when they come in and you can’t avoid them. But if you approach it from that perspective, I feel like humans open up in that way. 

AT: And the principles, right? Keep reconciling with the principles?

Last question was, what are your tips? I know you’ve got something great to share with this, cause I’ve, I’ve seen this in play, but yeah, we did this at focus, so yeah, What’s your recommendation of mastering a brand refresh? 

BC: Well, I feel like there’s so many contexts and so many ways of going about something, but remembering that there literally is no mastery and there is no perfection and it’s the iteration and journey toward mastery that is in a sense, mastery, you know, so it was where you’re at and what you’re able to achieve and what, what you’ve done that is the path to mastery. And it’s a bit of a lens shift that doesn’t know apex or pinnacle, or like 100% perfection when it comes to a refresh or a brand system or evaluating how your brand visuals come together.

It’s not about that. It’s about that journey of iteration because markets change. audiences change, dynamics change and brands can’t be static and locked in perfection. It’s not a thing like that and so they’ve got to be evolving and moving with that.

AT: I love that so you can say, I think the word that you’ve explained, the other label that you use is it. Like a playground that you sort of try and create?

BC: Often it’s just like, that’s the, you know, the, the area that you can begin to explore without limitations, where a project, at some point doesn’t need to start getting limited if there’s deadlines and there’s things that need to stop being achieved. But, that initial playground allows for freedom of thought and freedom of expression.

And that’s what you discover, right? And you get to creative solutions. And then ultimately the challenge is to wrangle all that. Into, yeah, a system and a process of execution. 

AT: Yeah, awesome! Well, Brenton I’m sure if folks want to join the Focus Group Slack Community, or come along to one of the Meetups, they can obviously pick your brain further on this topic. I know it’s something you enjoy chatting about and have so much knowledge to share. So thank you for your time today and joining us on Munch & Learn.

BC: No, man – my pleasure. It’s been awesome! 

AT: And hopefully we can team up sooner and another topic design-related but cheers again, Brenton and thanks to everyone for tuning in.

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