Branding in an Agency setting
What is it like working on a rebranding process in a professional agency setting? Well, it can be daunting and have numerous aspects such as focus groups, internal board reviews, etc., but that’s a story for another time. Instead, I wish to talk about the more exciting, more fun, more light-hearted rebranding process I worked on in a professional agency this summer, the rebranding for a children’s clinic.
Most importantly, when approaching this topic, I think it is fascinating to notice how much of a big deal process is. When I’m in class, I notice that I rush through projects a lot, and if anything I get extremely annoyed at the tedious act that is documenting process. In fact, I’m probably notorious for this, I always get in a grove of playing music and doing a million things that I get completely lost in the process and never make time to properly document things. It may also be due to the frequency of projects in the classroom in combination with other homework assignments that I just can not nail down process in class. It’s not to say it’s a bad thing, once put into an agency setting where you have a 9-5 to dedicate on projects time seems to be stretched much more differently.
What I learned in my internship is that process is king in figuring everything out. And process is multi-faceted. Everything from concepts, to ideations, to thought bubbles in a chat box, to clean file management. All these things and more are beneficial to a successful work environment.
The second day of work I had a brief demonstration by the head of production over the file management system of the agency I work at and to this day I believe that the brief demonstration has fundamentally changed the way I approach all other projects in school and work simply because of how beneficial it truly was to learn about the process of production in file management.
This story is not about any of the above though, and as I mentioned before, it is the story of a childcare logo…
It was a blisteringly hot mid-summer day, I was minding my own business munching on company provided snackage and slacking away at coworkers when a new email came in from a creative director I had not had the chance to work with alongside an art director a junior designer and a senior designer. Big disclaimer, when you’re in the agency setting, you’re not the only one on a project, and infact, this allows you to get some really interesting work to be created even if you ultimately don’t get your work chosen.
The Brief of the project: A local children’s clinic was going through a rebrand process and had previously gone with a different firm to view a few options. The process had gotten fairly far in the other firm and final identity options had been presented to the client. The client was not impressed with these options and instead had contacted our agency for a second option, knowing they would get a more research-driven, strategic option.
The new identity for this clinic, that had various locations throughout the city, had to face primarily focus on facing professionals in the healthcare industry, potential employees and parents. A secondary focus was children, the identity had to be child-friendly.
The creative director then stepped out after a few more points of discussion and let our art director become our main point of contact. This was where the fun part came in.
The identities that were developed by the previous firm were uninspiring, dull, and extremely corporate. There was little done in the way of research to look for something unique and in the end there were stale things about the identities. Our art director immediately said, ok everyone, let’s not do this. So let’s get rid of these. Let’s make some fun things. Let’s break.
Mind mapping is one of the most interesting activities that one can do in the initial process. During the first day or so of being on this account, I just mind mapped everything I could. I thought- ok children, how about animals, rockets, the colors of crayons, etc., health, ok stethoscopes, blues, hearts etc., In total I ended up with around two pages of words that related to each other and mindless amounts of ideas. In the end I started coming back to things like animals, origami, balloons, and pinwheels; eliminating the dinosaurs, rocket ships and candy options all together.
After this came research to what other people were doing. This was fascinating to see different childcare logos and hospital logos and signage systems for healthcare and more. During this stage I had probably one too many tabs open of inspiration all over.
Later in the first week we had an initial regrouping of what our research found. Despite a generally similar topic, all three of us came in with completely different things to show. One of the designers had been in love with the Children’s Museum logo he had found and the color interaction and the ways the system could work together; the other designer was interested in wonky typography and meanwhile I was infatuated with the origami aesthetic. There was in particular a cihldren’s hospital in London that had done some brilliant work with origami as a system.
In the meeting we were told to follow our gut feelings, follow the children’s museum, follow the origami, follow the fun type, make really cool identity systems that could become potential icons.
On my end of things, I began to play around with origami animals for days, I sketched bears and cubs, I sketched ideas of bears becoming hearts, I played with elephants, elephants holding balloons, elephants holding pinwheels, in the end I amassed a collection of hundreds of sketches of different things and finalized logo concepts of three ideas. The other two designers had looked at pinwheels and dandelions and stethoscopes and giraffes and blocks, it was truly a kid’s wonderland of items.
I think when you’re on the right team you know it simply with how everyone interacts. The team for this project was one that was a pleasure to work with in every step of the way. While we would have meetings every two or so weeks, the in between time was filled with constant check ins and this allowed all of us to stay motivated to refine our projects even more. I think looking back at my working file, I had at least twenty iterations of the same elephant with different curves, different things she was holding and more. At the end of this process we even became attached to the character to even calling her Ella the Elephant.
The fun and games lasted for about a month, during this time we each cranked out three iterations that we could have presented to the client. Coming into our presentation meeting confident and excited to see how to move forward, we were met with a curveball. The client wanted something more corporate. The approaches we were going with, while interesting, were perhaps too happy and playful.
This second stage of the design process meant that we had to look at our more successful iterations, keep some as they were and edit other concepts to become more corporate. Defining “Corporate” meant that it would be an aesthetic that would be better catered to those in the professional healthcare industry than anything else. This was a party-pooper stage, having to look at angular typefaces, reduced color pallets and more, but in the end it opened up interesting doors.
Going with a corporate approach meant that suddenly the idea of a pinwheel that had been prominent in a lot of our designs could suddenly become a corporate pattern across different material. It was in the corporate stage that I developed a series of pinwheel identities that communicated childhood, friendliness and approachability while still leaning more on the side of caution.
When approaching this identity, it meant more to imagine how it could live on in the space it would be displayed, how it could live on in the communications throughout the clinic, and how it could suddenly become a part of the greater brand that was previously never there before. There were fun considerations to consider, how would this play along with the architecture and with scrubs, would the pinwheels start making shapes across the waiting rooms, would the colors suddenly be applied on furniture?
During this final stage that ended up lasting around another three weeks, there came another idea after a casual day of the art director strolling by. What if the elephant that we had fallen in love with before, could take on a new role within a corporate identity?
The already existing elephant had her holding a pinwheel, with a rounded typeface next to her and a small shadow underneath. The suggestion was to make a dual identity with a pinwheel solo identity that would face professionals in healthcare, parents in billing and others and the pinwheel with elephant would face children in waiting rooms, scrubs and other similar instances. This dual-identity system was born, and with it the direness of making something entirely corporate was eliminated.
No matter how old you get, you really can be a little kid at heart at all times, and part of what made a project like this so lovely was that from research to process to final executions, there was a strong playful energy throughout that helped keep the culture of the team alive and more willing to push each other to create refined solutions, even though our solutions were overly playful and intentionally rough.
This laid back attitude even resulted in an ultra casual final presentation This was an interesting process and in the end the final selection was a pinwheel and cube concept, a dandelion concept, the pinwheel identity I had come up with during the corporate phase, and, the favorite among the group, the elephant dual-purpose identity.
Fast forward a few months later and I received the most wonderful email from the creative director, the client had bought the elephant with pinwheel concept alongside the standard pinwheel concept. It was at this moment that I learned that being an intern at this agency was just another part of the team, and that my work would actually live on. It was also at this point that I learned a good lesson in properly packaging extensive files for clients and communicating with them afterwards.
What I learned in this whole process was that, a logo can not and should not just take a day to make with no thought behind it. Collectively for this, relatively small project, all three designers and the art director labored for hundreds of hours developing identity systems that were well thought out, researched, sketched, tinkered with, all to create an identity that would be resonate among both professionals in healthcare, potential employees, parents and even, children.