Presented by Brandpad: how to handover an identity system to your client in the digital world
Welcome to The Finishing Line, a series presented in collaboration with the digital brand guidelines platform Brandpad. Over the course of six articles, we’ll be talking to creative industry leaders about what is often seen as one of the most challenging, fiddly, frustrating and complicated elements of brand design: getting it over the line.
For our maiden issue, we’re looking at the ‘big bad’ of finishing a project, the handover. “When I first entered the industry,” Luke Woodhouse, Creative Director at London-based branding agency Ragged Edge, tells us, “the ultimate goal for a brand designer was to print a beautiful coffee table book, call it brand guidelines, and try and tell everyone it was useful,” discussing how the approach to handing over brands to clients has quite radically changed. “If that document found its way to a designer that had enough respect for the work to actually read it and play by its rules,” he adds, “then maybe it would be useful, but that never really happened,” a sentiment and experience shared by NYC-based design studio PORTO ROCHA.
“Much has changed since Felipe and I started working with design about 15 years ago,” Co-founder & Creative Director Leo Porto explains, recalling the prominence of traditional branding principles, notably consistency, order and control. “The modernist ideal was to raise brand awareness through the repetition of an iconic symbol,” Porto continues, “combined with strict guideline standards and grids,” notions which aren’t quite as prevalent as they once were. “Today, accelerated by the speed at which culture, technology and information move,” he details, “brands need to be more dynamic and multifaceted than ever,” no longer satisfied with “a 30-something-page PDF” or the everyday do’s and don’ts.
“For a brand to make an impact in the real world, it needs to be embraced by the teams implementing the work,” Woodhouse agrees, as the in-house teams are ultimately responsible for how a brand is experienced. “Our job as brand designers is to equip those teams with useful tools to set them up for success,” he adds, “a brand now needs to respond to its audience’s requirements as they occur,” no longer set in stone on a page, but seamlessly flowing from new landing pages. “At PORTO ROCHA, we see the role of branding beyond one of consistency,” Porto expands, opting for developing identity systems that adapt contextually. “This allows our clients’ brands to be in dialogue with culture and the world around them,” he notes, “navigating multiple channels without feeling monotonous, as well as engaging unique audiences without sacrificing familiarity.”
Looking at how branding has developed, Co-founder of Regular Practice Tom Finn suggests that “scale is probably the clearest change, not only in client size but more in deliverables and breadth of scopes,” likewise proposing a shift in the tenacity of brands. “Rigour is potentially another change,” he tells us, “I think the act of building brands makes you realise there’s not a one size fits all approach,” where every visual and conceptual response is tailored to the client and, therefore, so too are the guides which underpin them.
We want our clients to be able to articulate themselves clearly.
“When we hand over a brand now,” he recalls, “we want our clients to be able to take them and be able to articulate themselves clearly,” providing them with the tools to regularly and independently build out deliverables without needing to reinvent the wheel constantly. As such, as Porto details, “we’ve replaced PDFs with comprehensive web-based, motion-friendly systems that are more intuitive to follow,” practically leveraging technology, building tools and templates for the betterment of clientele and the creative studio itself. “Importantly the client has been part of the process throughout so they have a sense of ownership and pride in what they’ve made in the process,” Finn adds, “it’s not a brief and then six months later a guideline pops up.”
Whether this significant development in handing over brands has become more complex, however, is another question entirely – and importantly, depends on what is seen as the most challenging factor in crossing the finishing line. That being said, the necessity for motion and animation in modern guidelines has led to greater content saturation within a brand’s deliverables. “Considering motion is inherently more complex and time-consuming than static deliverables,” Porto explains, with its introduction adding a layer of complexity that traditional guideline books didn’t previously encounter. “That being said, we have invested in building a dedicated motion team within PORTO ROCHA,” he notes, “as motion is now integral to almost every branding project we undertake,” allowing the studio to effortlessly integrate motion into a brand from the very early stages, and often crucially informing the final result.
“Due to online guidelines, like Brandpad, we’re able to embed motion into our guides,” Finn adds, suggesting how the increased popularity, usage and necessity for rigorous digital guidelines has led to services like Brandpad taking care of the issue entirely. “Most of the time, motion behaves purely as an asset so a download works,” he continues, “we’ve also in the past produced our own tools which enable our clients to edit and export motion assets themselves,” giving the studio, and therefore the brand identity, the ability to be as precise as they require. “Handing over motion principles or motion guidelines can be complicated,” Woodhouse outlines, “but clarity of communication has always been a crucial part of handing over brands to anyone to implement, and it’s even more important when it comes to motion design.”
Speaking more with Porto, Finn and Woodhouse, we’ve discussed the anxiety behind handing over brand guidelines, the benefits of contemporary digital services, and how exactly you actually sign a brand off.
Identities are made to be reinterpreted, contextualised, and constantly evolved.
HB Do you ever feel anxious or worried after handing over a brand to the client?
LW I love working in branding for a couple of reasons; the creative opportunity, the chance to create something new, and for the opportunity to use creativity, design and writing to transform a business.
When you hand over a brand to a client, if you’re lucky, you’ve created something you’re proud of, and you’re hopeful that it will have some sort of positive, tangible commercial benefit for your client. Any anxiety or worry comes from the uncertainty behind how the work will show up in the real world. Will the client implement the new brand in the best possible way? Or will the brand die in a PDF? Only to be resurrected as a collection of jpegs in an agency’s case study. Equipping clients with the tools they need to execute to the highest possible standard will only help alleviate any worry or anxiety.
LP There’s no denying that the design industry can be anxiety-inducing. Fueled by the pressure to constantly do great work, to impress our clients and peers, to navigate business politics, to meet every deadline, to wait for client feedback… the list goes on.
When we do the final handoff, there’s, of course, some apprehension that comes with letting go of control over what happens next: will the client do a good job implementing the brand? How soon will it launch? Will it be well received by the public? But on the other hand, the handoff is typically a moment of celebration, an important milestone that concludes months of hard work and marks the beginning of a new life for the brand we designed. And that’s the beauty of the work we create – identities are made to be reinterpreted, contextualised, and constantly evolved. Uncertainty also means there’s room for pleasant surprises.
TF No, they’re never far away. It’s not the first time they’ve seen it, and it generally feels like a large body of work when done right. It’s far more of a relief than anxiety.
HB What’s your process for handing over a brand to a client? What makes things easier, and do you often turn to digital guideline software?
TF In the implementation phase of the project, we talk with the client and their relevant teams – here, we establish the exact needs of the team and build the outputs around that. It’s in these workshops that we understand their specific needs, but they also give stakeholders ownership of what is produced, as well as a feeling that it’s made for them, which makes the rollout of the brand much smoother.
LW I’ve been encouraging every brand we work with to create digital guidelines since 2009. That’s because digital guidelines are accessible wherever you are and serve as an easily navigable resource, with all your digital brand assets available to download anytime, anywhere.
We work very collaboratively with our clients, so there’s never a hard handover. There are no surprises or unanswered questions when it comes to handing over a brand we’ve created with our clients. The guidelines are documentation of all the amazing work we’ve created together, tied up in a neat story, usually in chronological order, and all in one place.
Brand guidelines should be a source of inspiration for creative expression.
HB When handing over a brand, what is the most challenging part and how do you overcome it?
LP Our clients are humans and humans are hardwired to resist change, so the hardest part of handing over a brand is making sure the entire organisation is aligned and excited to embrace the transformation. That also means ensuring they are onboarded, properly equipped, and resourced to run with the new system. It’s especially challenging for bigger brands, or companies that are doing well and don’t see the need to change (‘if it ain't broke, don’t fix it’). To make the transition easier, we often help clients plan launch strategies, host onboarding workshops, and consult on brand reveal campaigns and brand reels to ensure the identity makes its debut in the strongest way possible.
LW When we hand over a brand, the hardest part is editing. We need to give our clients enough information to understand all of the thinking behind everything while maintaining enough brevity so that we don’t overwhelm the recipient. Brand guidelines should be a source of inspiration for creative expression. We aim to provide freedom within a framework so that every expression of the brand is coherent.
TF The handover feels like a milestone that provides a really clear ‘last day of the old, first day of the new’ feeling, so people know, as of this point, that the brand has moved into its new identity. To enable this, we often deliver a presentation to the whole team, walking through the guidelines and demoing templates.
Again some of the team will have seen or been involved in phases of the project, but for others, it’s a really exciting time. It also gives us the ability to explain the conceptual route of the work done, to hopefully also give them something to understand how we’ve arrived where we have for further buy-in. Essentially the life of a brand is in the team executing it after the designers leave, so it’s important it works for them.
HB What’s the greatest benefit of digital guidelines when handing over a brand?
LP We offer two kinds of guidelines at PORTO ROCHA: Figma-based guidelines, or web-based guidelines. “What?! No more PDFs, Google Slides, printed brand books?” Yep. Here’s why.
Navigation – this provides the most intuitive way to navigate and filter information, allowing you to quickly find exactly what you are looking for without being overwhelmed by endless pages or sections that might not be relevant to you.
Ever-evolving – this enables brands to adapt and scale faster. Whether it is adding a new sub-brand, expanding asset libraries or updating seasonal materials.
Version-control – this avoids version-control issues and miscommunication between teams, ensuring that everyone, regardless of location, is accessing the most up-to-date brand guidelines from the same centralised source.
Public-facing – public-facing guidelines are a good way to help brands position themselves as a design-forward company, helping recruit stronger talent and build their company culture.
Motion – motion integration has become a must for most contemporary brands. Figma and web-based guidelines allow for guides, layouts, and applications to be presented in motion seamlessly.
TF Phases/versions – guidelines are a living, breathing document where new templates are added and sub-brands are made, giving them the ability to easily and transparently update, rather than sending V12 of a static guideline. It is really useful.
Downloadable assets – our clients have fed back that being able to download assets has been a huge help, particularly in working remotely, meaning they can access across multiple devices. Even devices that are not necessarily linked to their server can get the assets they need.
Section skipping – PDF guidelines are often hundreds of pages, and on a vertical scroll, it’s a long page, so the ability for a client to jump down to a section they are looking for is a really useful option.
Building and management from our team – building guidelines is a lengthy process from a design perspective, so any tool which aids in this is great. Brandpad for our design team enables them to articulate the elements quickly, as well as additional features like hover functionality for layering to provide extra explanation.
LW One of the greatest benefits of digital brand guidelines is the ability to include motion. Making things move is a powerful storytelling tool. And telling powerful stories is a great way to make a brand memorable and distinctive. As brand designers, it’s our job to inspire internal teams and equip them with everything they need to bring a brand to life. So digital visual guidelines give your work and your brand the best possible start.
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