Nicklas Haslestad details leading the digital brand guidelines revolution at Brandpad
Norwegian graphic designer Nicklas Haslestad is the Creative Director, as well as a co-founder, at digital brand guidelines platform Brandpad. He’s not only crafted the company’s Vignelli-inspired identity but also defined the rigorous system that allows for the seamless digitisation of brand guidelines. We caught up with him to gain an insight into his ever-evolving world.
EM Hey Nicklas. How did you find working during the lockdown?
NH Hey! Strange to begin with. I have some routines that I’m quite used to, so it took a little time to acclimatise to the ‘new normal’. Always nice to try new things though, and it certainly had its upsides. As graphic designers, we really can’t complain. The biggest pain point was the virtual design workshops. It did work, but that I can live without for a while.
It’s a solid team that can solve any challenge we face.
EM What does a typical day working at Brandpad look like for you?
NH My work varies quite a lot from month-to-month. My role is about maintaining a great brand experience and consistency across all our various applications. Now that more people are getting on the team, I do my best to teach everyone how the identity system works. How to develop a brand that is instantly recognisable, with limited tools. As the identity is quite minimal, all details have to be in order. Brandpad is evolving at the moment – which is great – but also a brutal test on the identity’s scalability. Right now, my prime focus is on our brand new website. It’s going to be an exciting couple of months for sure.
EM Aside from yourself, who else is on the team?
NH The team currently consists of Espen (CEO), Lisa (CMO), Morten (COO), Jørgen (CPO), Mike (DEV), Sam (DEV) and myself. We also have a technical partner and a handful of part-time consultants. It’s a solid team that can solve any challenge we face.
EM How did you guys come together for this project?
NH Back in 2015, we worked together on several different projects. We worked in studios, startups and other miscellaneous side-hustles together. Most of the projects revolved around branding, and they had one thing in common: horrible to manage at times. I remember back-tracking, sending a pdf guidelines and accompanying assets to a client for the fifteenth time (it didn’t stop there). The other guys got those same emails, requesting colour codes, imagery, fonts and templates. It was never-ending. One incident even resulted in a wrong version of a guidelines circulating and I ended up at the print house doing all of the implementations. Guess what happened. Everything had to be redone.
EM How would you describe Brandpad to someone that’s never heard of it before?
NH A digital brand platform. All your brands and their assets in one dedicated place – always up to date. Well designed by you. No more questions, no more emails – it’s always right there.
No more questions, no more emails – it’s always right there.
EM Can the level of organisation provided by using Brandpad actually play a part in the creation of better identity systems?
NH We certainly like to think so. At least it did for me as a designer. When everything is digital, it opens for more living identity systems – that the good old static PDF just doesn’t cater for. Also, if the brand guidelines are crafted well in the system, it’s a lot easier for the client on the other end to use it and implement the brand into the world. The client is often very impressed when delivered digital identity guidelines too, which is nice. We believe that Brandpad is the new standard of designing brand guidelines.
Worth mentioning that before its inception, we carefully considered hundreds of (printed) guidelines to study elements and habits that were repeated consistently from the best of best.
It was important to us that what we created could provide a meaningful addition to the design studio’s set of tools – not just be a product to create brand guidelines every now and then. I guess this is what sets Brandpad apart, as we’re as much a system for studios to efficiently standardise deliveries across an entire portfolio as much as we are ‘just’ a brand guidelines tool. This value has become very clear over the last few months, following the creative industry’s state in and after the COVID outbreak. We’re humbled to have created something that helps design studios build a more sustainable business.
EM How does the guidelines builder work for a user?
NH We built the guidelines builder from the ground up, to cater for both the easy and hassle-free, as well as the flexible and more complex. We offer to either start building your guidelines from a template or from scratch – building it exactly how you want it. You design in your preferred browser – lightning fast with stellar stability. The builder is structured on one-three columns blocks, accompanied by content alignment, padding, margins and block sizing – letting you set your prefered grid system. At first, we thought this would be somewhat limiting, but apparently it isn’t. It’s great to see all the unique guidelines that are created on the same template. The structure is under constant development, to create more fluid, dynamic and seamless experiences for our users.
EM And how did you and the team actually define the user experience? There must have been a lot of different possibilities to consider.
NH Indeed. We still define parts of the user experience to this day. We learn as we go, and we couldn’t have asked for a better user testing group. Some of the world’s leading studios are giving us valuable feedback every single day. We have tried to make it as simple and functional as possible. We strip away everything we don’t find essential – and hopefully, that makes for a good experience. It’s still a long way to go, but based on the feedback we’ve been getting so far, we’ve got good reason to believe we’re on the right track.
Our method primarily revolves around identifying and solving generic and specific problems related to our users practical and creative process. This inductive and deductive process makes the user experience smoother over time, less confusing, and more performant for our clients. Improving on the existing product in this manner makes sure that we don’t slow down or take existing solutions for granted. What this means is that no item is ever really checked off in our backlog. It’s just «this way» for now – until we figure out a better way which more closely fulfils our clients’ needs.
The world’s leading studios are giving us valuable feedback every single day.
EM What were your goals with Brandpad’s own identity?
NH First of all, designing for designers is in the midst of a dream and a nightmare. We visited a ton of identity concepts before landing on something that isn’t really concept-driven. After playing around for a while, we sat down, looked at the main goals with the identity, and the conclusion was something along the lines of: easy-to-use, easy-to-scale and easy-to-interact-with.
Since Brandpad is design software for brand identities, one of our main concerns was to appear as ‘too much’. We dug into the works of Danne & Blackburn, Otl Aicher, Wim Crouwel, Paul Rand, Max Miedinger, Dieter Rams and Peter Saville to name a few. All which are great, and good at creating distinct and unique things, with few elements.
Massimo Vignelli was a particularly big inspiration source for us. We looked at the New York City Transit System for its exceptional ability to first and foremost be functional, while still carry a lot of form and identity. Vignelli’s uncompromising and witty manifests and beliefs also inspired Brandpad as a whole. As a homage, our ‘avatar’ is named Massimo. He works as a PA when you’re building a guidelines, helps out with progressive AI placeholder text, and finds and promotes good work from around the world.
We basically wanted to create an identity that could empower and serve as a backbone for other brand identities. We’ve wanted to craft a kit of parts that easily can be iterated along the way, always making it a brand identity that is fun and refreshing to work with.
EM So much like your recent Brandpad Starter campaign, the identity can easily shape-shift and get a bit weirder when it needs to?
NH Exactly. It should be flexible enough to do bonkers one-offs that still feels very on-brand. Looking at the ‘bigger picture’, we also want our brand to constantly evolve as we evolve as a company.
EM Do you have anything exciting planned for the rest of the year?
NH 2020 and 2021 are big years for us. We have already launched a great amount of new stuff and we’ll consistently keep them coming. We also have some big news coming up later this year, or early next year. Should be a good one!