Why 2024 is the year of thinking ‘design holistically’ about your business
One of the hardest thing to do in life is step back and evaluate. Those of us who live in cities, especially in marketing or running a business, are constantly on the go, living such busy lives that taking the time to pause, reflect and see things in their totality requires more than just effort, it needs… diarisation. Or, as I would suggest, outsourcing. An external perspective is the way ahead here, which is why I love talking to teams who know things need to change, but are daunted by the scale of the task and don’t know quite where to begin. I believe in an approach where we can ‘design holistically’, thinking about ways that a top-down approach can improve everything you do, in the most efficient way that fits in with your business’s existing processes. It’s our approach, blending the radical and the practical that makes such project viable – and appealing.
This has become our approach to projects, which I’ve set out here in a series of broad themes which make up this process.
The ethos and the visual
Before the design can begin, any brand project requires instinct, direction and ethos. While many larger businesses spend vast sums with swanky agencies who figure out a brand strategy, our client base tends to have entrepreneur founders and marketing directors who have many of these answers. In fact they often form a question in a written brief, usually along the lines of ‘we know who we are, now we want to know what we look like.’ This flies in the face of much conventional thinking which suggests a mission, vision and endless ‘message houses’ are always required in every brand brief.
When I began my career, I remember that brand, icon and logo projects involved the most enormous drama. We would spend weeks working up ideas, polishing them, adding new versions, then creating an entire brand universe around each one. Usually they were presented in a boardroom somewhere in front of senior executives, as a grand reveal. When I started my business I assumed this was the way it was done, and followed this same logic. But, not any more.
In fact we reinvented the entire brand presentation a few years ago – indeed, the idea was to reinvent the entire client relationship. I’ve always disliked being thought of as ‘a supplier’: it sounds like someone dropping off a sack of potatoes. Our goal is to build a relationship by talking and listening, by showing as wide a range of ideas as we possibly can, with the idea of bringing our client along and explaining our thought process, in short, how we might design holistically from the get-go.
I’ve given a few examples of partnerships we’ve built over the years on this post, but one in particular I’d like to highlight was a project we tackled in the context of London law firm brand and web design for Nautica Law, which changed its name in 2022. In that case we worked on rethinking every aspect of their identity, a particularly satisfying piece of work. Some of my favourite pieces of work from that project are below.
Custom brand graphics for Veld Capital adding texture and visual appeal
A theme to back it
It’s always interesting to me how a logo can be such a key focus for a business, but the wider overall look is so often not really a consideration in a design brief. I’d go so far as to say that thinking beyond just the logo from the earliest stage is a really smart move. Sometimes a great logo suggests everything that follows it. It’s these projects that are really enjoyable because there’s a natural flow to everything we do. These tend to be graphic, colourful, more rooted in art forms that have always inspired us such as the De Stijl or other forms of modernism.
Yet, simpler and, yes, less esoteric ideas abound. One thing is clear: the random, contrary or abstract is going out of fashion. The firms we work with, and particularly the financial services design clients I mention on this post, want a flow of thought throughout their media such that one naturally leads to another. However I think there’s still a great deal of appetite for surprise and delight in the midst of this. In projects we work on where easy tropes such as bold use of colour aren’t part of the brand (one of our current clients is completely monochrome!), we have to dig a little deeper to find ways of bringing clients (and more importantly their customers) along for the ride. More often than not, we use an exciting choice of type to do design holistically, as it touches every element of what we do.
I’ve written before about the ways in which type, especially on the web, has been a massive game changer for designers, but I’d say that was true for users too, as an unpredictable and imaginative choice immediately draws the user in. It might even keep them scrolling, too.
Examples of custom photography we've completed for clients
People are everything
I’ve presided over more headshot shoots than I care to think of. It’s always something that nearly every person in an office dreads. On more than one occasion I have wished that I had come along with a full hair and makeup team, plus stylist, to give everyone the confidence and wow-factor they deserve. The best-case scenario is to have a professional photographer, with studio lighting, and a backdrop. An even better situation would be that this custom brand photography would be front-and-centre in the website delivering both people and personality.
This is both the ideal-world scenario and a problem waiting to happen. It’s great because people like people. That helps. Then, most of our clients work in relationship-first businesses where their current workflow and path to new business is linked. Usually that’s based on building and expanding their team and corporate offering.
So, what’s the problem? Teams evolve, people come – and unfortunately go. The end result is that oft-used group shots become out of date suddenly. The timeline to needing new shots shortens. We are faced with this on an ongoing basis and, alas, don’t have good answers to this challenge. The best approach in terms of creating design holistically is to have ways of branding that both use images and don’t. That some of the shots indicate groups working without being face-first every time.
But, at the end of the day people photos are so potent, sometimes you just have to go back to the beginning and start again.
Office signage at Alpha Insurance Analysts, Nautica Law and Veld Capital
This one is simple: gorgeous brand signage is wonderful. As it happens we often end up suggesting ways in which signage can appear, but given its the purview of professional manufacturers, often the scaling or materials are chosen at arms-length from the rest of our work. I tend to think this is a slight shame, not least because of the ways in which combinations of materials can enhance both our clients’ offices and the other sub-projects we might be tackling at the same time.
Often the office signage is only part of this picture. The story of a brand literally moves, by being placed on a fleet of vehicles, then as you get closer to the office or facility, there’s a piece of road signage, or it appears large-format on the front of a building, before finally being laser-cut on stainless steel within the office itself. In our work in wine retail design, this sort of project has been a real pleasure to see come to life.
It’s another example of how thinking of design holistically and seeing all these disparate elements as one project, not just the work of potentially four or five specialists, creates harmony and flow.
Examples of our print design work
Paper and touch
From the vantage point of being a print designer here in Chelsea Harbour, it continually staggered me during the pandemic that the idea of a local business, for instance a furniture or lighting designer, delivering a sales message directly to their interior design specifier customers by printing and delivering them to their door didn’t take off. After all, at that time, life was so boring, that the ring of the delivery man (whether supermarket, online-ordered dry goods or take-out) was the only thing that punctured the day. That idea, of putting your messages directly in the hands of your existing and potential clients using a gorgeous printed object, remains as vital today as always.
The best part is just how sustainable using print on paper has become. Creating a useful, beautiful sales message on paper epitomises the circular economy model of make, use, recycle and reuse. Indeed, where we’ve had the autonomy to discuss paper choices with our clients, we’ve long proposed using paper stocks that are combinations of recycled and sustainably-sourced materials. We even like our clients to say this, when they do print, in a short message somewhere on the back. Our clients in the world of luxury hotels use print design that needs constantly refreshing by dint of menus updating, for instance, and with a strict sustainability policy need us to respond with effective answers that can endure.
We consistently see that people love picking up simple, beautiful printed pieces – and your business can look fantastic by using corporate design holistically in every aspect of that line of work, from business cards to a collated booklet of your latest pieces of thought leadership. The best part is just how short print runs can be – perhaps you print twenty copies, perhaps two hundred: with different print formats, anything is possible.
Website homepages for Alpha Insurance Analysts, Nautica Law and Veld Capital
Digital that’s useful
In many ways, ‘the website’ is the cornerstone holding together all of these moving parts, the place where all the elements I’ve been discussing and their iterations meld. With technical quantum leaps and ever-growing innovation of type designers, telling a story whether formal (or sensationally loose) on the web is easier now than it ever was. It just has to fit, first and foremost, on a phone screen. Well, mostly. I like to think that for a business customer, sitting in front of a laptop or office monitor means that gorgeous, roomy, widescreen websites remain a viable design challenge. A great example here is interior design firms, which has been a mainstay of our client base from the start.
Thinking cross-device is the central way of applying design holistically here, and it’s a challenge to explain that to our clients, as to adapt with one site and many devices, creativity has to be contained… or at very least applied considering every aspect of the layout so it works here… and there, all at the same time.
The actual media and content used within a website is the subject of a whole other blog post. My intention here is to cover the tentpoles of a project and how these can be seen as all working together. However, beyond the photography I mentioned, we’d definitely include considering custom video and animation within any digital project, and indeed have partner companies like Horse’s Mouth Media we’ve worked with for some years to offer their expertise in these fields.
As I said at the beginning of this post, considering every aspect of the effective, modern application of your brand means thinking ‘top down’. This is quite appropriate considering digital design means looking from every angle that a device can appear, whether that’s in your hand or on your screen, and sometimes both concurrently! I wonder, is there a better example of how the drawing together a considered visual diversity, where all these creative threads seen together can successfully deliver on the promise of a business?
It’s time to think about design holistically
Ready to re-work your brand top to toe… or just make a start on a rethink by moving around the pieces so they work better? Let us know. We relish an unusual challenge and particularly in an industry we’ve not worked in before. It’s amazing the common threads that permeate our client base.
Wherever you are around the world, we can work on designs from the creative to the corporate, depending on your brief and budget.
Call us on 020 7351 4083 or email us direct