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Siobhan Kennedy
Siobhan Kennedy

Design Director

How to navigate a Design project when the branding is outdated

You have a great client, you’ve signed on to work together on an inspiring project, but it turns out they have an outdated or unrealized brand. It’s a challenge we’re often faced with and although the client is usually the first to share that they are in need of a brand refresh, they aren’t always considering the implication this situation can have on their project.

The Ideal Scenario

In a perfect world, organizations would make sure to address the state of their brand ahead of undertaking any sort of large scale project. Better yet, they would consistently be evolving their identity using a UX process (stay tuned for a blog post about the UX of Branding coming soon!). Having a solid brand identity brings focus and common intent. This serves to create a cohesive experience across all communications and products, and also helps to align stakeholders to a common vision.

Reality Check

The reality is that many organizations are in a state of brand transition. Perhaps they haven’t been able to assign time and/or funding to a full rebranding project as of yet. Despite this, they often need to move forward with their current project.

To navigate these waters there are a few things designers can do…

Talk Brand Early in a Project

Don’t wait until you are fully immersed in a project to learn about the state of the brand. It’s easy to get excited about the details and vision of a new website, intranet or software but make sure to have a conversation with key stakeholders very early on in the process to understand the state of the organization’s identity and make a game plan together to move forward.

Here are some good questions to ask:

Do you have any brand standards that we can consult in the process of designing this project?

This question is great as it will surely instigate any existing frustrations or gaps with the current branding. We often hear that either there are no brand standards or someone will chime in with the very important information that there is a rebranding project currently underway. When this is the case, a larger discussion will help to ensure you are moving in the right direction and potentially align the design teams to work together. Simply swapping out the logo later on is not a viable option, this is what we are trying to avoid.

What is the vision of the organization and how does this project fit into that vision?

Uncovering this high level of thinking is so helpful to the creative process. The idea is that the answer you receive is very focussed even if the current branding is not.

Seize the Opportunity

When a client is suffering from outdated branding, they often see the project at hand as an opportunity to start modernizing. This situation can be a good opportunity for the design team too as it opens up many more avenues of exploration. Having a client with an open mind is invigorating. As a designer you want to rise to the challenge and aim to make progress on their quest to update their identity. This starts with an excellent creative brief that captures both the vision for the particular project and the vision of the organization.

In the process of conceptualizing ideas and generating design iterations, we continuously think about what the organization aspires to become and use that as the foundation for our design decisions so that the outcome is a design with a much longer shelf life. One that inspires the client to get moving on their full rebrand so that they can unify the voice and image they portray across all channels.

Mixing the Old with the New

Working with a less-than-stellar logo can be quite tricky, especially when you are trying to implement it into a design that has a different aesthetic approach. When this is the case, it is sometimes possible to suggest some colour or font updates that retain the integrity of the logo but bring it up a notch. This is something you will want to discuss with your client beforehand to determine their comfort level. It’s important that you don’t try to create a completely new logo but rather make small tweaks that allow the existing one to sing in a modernized context.

Using carefully crafted language in your designs will also help to shape the brand. For example, if the organization wants to be seen as friendly and supportive, you might opt to add helpful tips throughout the design.

The Big Picture

A brand is so much more than a logo, it’s the face and voice of the organization. Although designers strive to create brands that are somewhat timeless, the truth is that a brand will need to evolve in order to stay relevant in the ever shifting landscape of where it lives and breathes. We need to support those clients who are in a brand transition and take them a step closer towards their vision.

Siobhan Kennedy
Siobhan Kennedy

Design Director

Siobhan is a passionate advocate for clean, effective designs that speak clearly and with gusto. Through the Akendi blog, Siobhan shares inspirations, tips, and resources for developing clean, harmonious design systems that are a joy to use.

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