Brief vs. expectations

waves_smallI’ve written on the subject of briefing a designer before, but the recent extreme example below that I’ve come across shows that it’s probably worth mentioning again…

“So, what exactly is a brief?” I hear some of you ask. Well, the simplest explanation is this: it’s the description that you give to a designer of what you want them to do for you.

If it’s a branding job, it’ll be an explanation of what you were imagining for your company image – even if it’s no more than the ‘feel’ – what you like, what you don’t want and what you hope your business to reflect through it. If it’s a print job, it’ll contain information about the number of pages, size/shape and intended audience, number of colours and content etc. For a website, you would expect to share your branding guidelines if you have them and any existing materials so that your website can reflect you and your business. You’ll also need to have thought of a list of the pages and their likely content and whether you want an online shop, booking form or other elements… That’s an outline brief and it will go on to form the basis of the contract that both parties (should) sign.

Beyond this list of specifications, there are lots of subjective opinions, expectations and other factors that require absolute clarity at the outset – for the protection of both the client and the designer. Most of us have been in positions where we have realised too late that what we thought we had asked someone to do for us is not actually what they thought we were asking. Usually, after a brief exchange, these things can be adjusted and everyone is back on the same wavelength.

Occasionally, people encounter customer service brick walls, leaving clients with a bad taste in their mouth and a reticence to go ‘through that again’. Even more disappointing is the fact that graphic and web designers seem to be embroiled in their fair share of these types of disputes.

In terms of the look and feel, we know that many people come to a designer and have no real idea what they want something to look like and they are expecting inspiration from a designer’s eye. After all, it’s a designer’s job to interpret the brief, right? That’s absolutely correct and a perfectly reasonable expectation. We love to be given that freedom and trust. After some discussion it’s usually easy to pin down what a client wants as long as they are honest in what they say they want and expect.

So, with this in mind, the website example I came across recently had me a little open-mouthed. The site was built but didn’t reflect the wishes of the client. A half-hearted attempt to put it right didn’t go any way to achieving that. The site was made live with ‘lorem ipsum’ (placeholder) text still visible; worse still, the actual text contained typos, grammatical errors and the like. The client had expected this to be corrected as part of the contract, although in fairness, it wasn’t specified. That said, it’s rare to come across a designer who resolutely won’t fix a typo that they can plainly see because they weren’t contracted to.

What’s (thankfully) even rarer is one who says that they won’t fix it without being paid a substantial premium and uses their contract as their only defence. The client believed that although it hadn’t been included in the contract, it was part of the overall service being offered as it had been discussed at meetings and the client was prepared to pay for the help. It sounds like client attempts to reconcile seemingly failed and in the end the designer started suing the client for breach of contract! The site was no longer live at this point.

Two questions spring to mind:

  • Why on earth did the designer think it ok to make a site go live knowing there were so many errors that would damage the client’s reputation? We would expect someone to go back to the client and at least explain that there was need for work, but that it wasn’t included in the contract so there would be an additional charge of X.
  • Who in their right mind would spend money on unnecessary legal fees to pursue a claim for such a smaller amount than the likely fees, especially when their own reputation is at stake? People talk to each other – and upset people can harm any business…

So, the morals of the story are:

Read your contract thoroughly and don’t expect something to be included if it’s not mentioned, even if you have had a discussion about it and thought you had been understood. Ask for anything missing to be quoted for/included before work starts

  • Don’t be afraid to ask ALL the things that come to your mind at the time, however silly they may sound. We love questions before a contract is signed. It shows a client has read it and wants to have a two-way partnership with us, with no nasty surprises. If your designer belittles you for asking those questions, you need to consider whether you should quit while you’re ahead and look for someone else. If they’re defensive now, what will they be like if you don’t like what they’ve done?
  • It’s ok not to like something (but also helpful to a designer if you explain what isn’t working for you)
  • Only sign off on a job and pay the final instalment when you are completely happy with everything about it. Final payment and/or signature constitutes acceptance of the work

If you have a situation that you’d like a new perspective on, please feel free to give us a call for our (free) evaluation and guidance on what you could do about it.

An interesting encounter

waves_smallA little while back, I was at a Friday lunchtime business networking event (which just happened to be in a ‘licensed establishment’). At the end of the event, a slightly surreal thing happened that relates nicely to my thoughts on how reputation and branding are not just about a logo.

There were just two of us left finishing our coffees, when a man who had been sitting at a table for about an hour and a half approached us. He asked if we were part of the business group, which we said we were. He then proceeded to ask us for some advice on how to promote his business. Now, as you can imagine, we regularly get asked ‘what we think’ of a website, design, logo, or other marketing collateral, but his was slightly unusual and it was quite difficult to know what to say…

This chap produced a tiny piece of photocopier paper, maybe half the size of a business card, on which he had typed his name and mobile number; he had cut it out roughly with a pair of scissors. There was no email address or web address for his ‘Man and Van Removal Service’. It’s probably now time to mention too that we had seen him and his friend steadily consume several beers and whiskys during the previous hour or so. Even though he was slurring his words, he seemed genuinely baffled as to why business was slow.

So, what can you do or say? The best answer we could come up with was to make a few general suggestions and wish him luck with his venture. We were in a much bigger dilemma though when we saw him outside getting his keys from his pocket to drive off…

The moral of the story: A good brand is not solely about ‘a nice business card’. People buy from people they can trust and brand reputation flows through everything you do.

Are mailshots dead?

This morning, the postman came. Which is not unusual.

What was unusual was that instead of only bills, unsolicited credit card application forms and catalogues we’ve never signed up for (Mail Preference Service?), it contained 3 things I was actually pleased to receive: a wristband for a conference I’ve been looking forward to for a year, free tickets for a balloted event and a mystery blue box that I’d had an email about. Plus another credit card application form–you can’t win ’em all!

The first two were things I had instigated. The third and fourth I hadn’t, although I had arranged some print from the third company last year. They regularly send me pens, post-its and notebooks, so I haven’t unsubscribed. This blue box was bigger than normal and contained a sports water bottle, insulated lunch bag, key ring beer bottle opener, a pen and a coaster. All were branded with their web address and had their item number printed on them, with a flyer telling you exactly how much each of the five items cost in various quantities. This is useful to designers who like to show samples to their clients—and printers know it.

Blue box from 4 Imprint
The box of goodies

The reason I’m telling you about this is simple: the stuff in the blue box is not going straight in the bin. The items were good enough quality and useful enough for school, for me to find them a home. The timing was right too—just as the temperature rises and we start to think ‘outdoorsy thoughts’. They also knew that—the enclosed letter said ‘Summer is approaching’.

So, useful, clever or targeted mailshots CAN still work—even if they don’t have a freebie enclosed! They just need to stand out and be appropriate to the target audience.

Of course, everyone likes something for nothing, but that’s really isn’t the whole story.
Nicely printed, lower print-run catalogues, leaflets and flyers on paper that feels and smells nice still get looked at and admired.

The recipient standing next to their recycling bin will say ‘no, actually, I’ll hold onto that one—you never know when we might need them’. That’s when mailshots work.

So, as we enter a new tax year, what ideas and/or messages could you share with your existing and potential clients and customers? If you need some help with forming your ideas and getting an idea of the cost, you know where we are.

Work experience

At Grafica, we’re keen to encourage the next generation of designers and so we were pleased to welcome Shola Kanmi-Jones for a week to show her what we do and how we do it. We asked her to explain here why she wants to be a graphic designer. During the week, we also set her a project based on a mock design brief. We love what she’s done and think you’ll agree that her design is pretty cool. Please click on the link below to see the end result, presented in the way we show our clients real projects.


Why I want to be a graphic designer:

I want to be a graphic designer because I enjoy graphic design as a subject which is why I am doing it for my GCSE. I am doing it because I enjoy designing things because it’s free spirited – you just put pen to a piece of paper and pouf! we have a master piece! Well, I have one, I don’t know if you like it! And graphic design needs so much thinking – once you’ve done all the writing bit you need to remember the important bits, like the target markets, why you’re doing it and what the purpose of it is. Then you can run with your ideas.

A new logo case study

Case study: Why a new logo is unlikely to be ready by tomorrow

Untapped Life logo
Final logotype and mark for The Untapped Life


There are a few people out there who wonder what we do to ‘just’ come up with a logo—and why it sometimes takes a while. Often, the first idea a designer comes up with will be the best, but there is more to it than drawing a symbol or worrying about the spacing between the letters on a logotype. It’s also important to make sure that the logo and brand will work in every place it is needed (think of those funny images you’ve seen on social media of inappropriate breaks and folds in posters, vehicle wraps and signage).

Late last year, we created a brand for Emma Leach’s new business, Live the Untapped Life, and have Emma’s permission to share the story of how her new identity came into being here. Thank you Emma! It was a true partnership between Emma and Grafica that produced a result we are all proud of. We hope you enjoy the story and find the insight into the process helpful.

Emma has set up her own consultancy business which helps her clients to realise the potential that is buried under their everyday busy lives. She works with them to reach for their dreams – and come up with some new ones!

During our initial conversations, Emma conveyed that she really liked an emerald green colour and that she wanted her logo mark to convey the energy of water as it bubbles up through the ground for the very first time at a spring.

Now, there are two main challenges for this, the first being that emerald green tends to signify vegetation and water is most often symbolised by the colour blue. The second is that a one colour flat image has to be carefully drawn to show the energy of a 3D moving liquid.

That said, it’s not impossible and we do love a good challenge!

unused Logo concept for Untapped Life
Initial (and unused) logo concept sketch for The Untapped Life

So, we came up with a couple of initial ideas that we liked and a third that we liked a bit less and sent them over.

Untapped Life logo concepts
Iterations of logo design concepts for The Untapped Life

Emma loved two of them, but it was clear that they didn’t make her shout “Yes!!!” and grin – which is the reaction we always hope for. If we’re really honest, our pride was a teeny bit dented for about 10 minutes. Any designer who tells you otherwise might be fibbing a bit…

What we liked though, is that Emma didn’t accept what she would have considered second best but felt able to come to us and say what she was really thinking. That’s indicative of a healthy partnership.

Against our better judgment, we worked on one of the ideas to try to get it to scream “Wow!”, and thought we might have got there, when we realised two things: it couldn’t always be applied as needed, and, more importantly, that it had evolved so much that it was now too similar to existing images for our liking.

It was back to the drawing board! Emma’s thinking had evolved a bit too, so she explained what wasn’t working for her. Some more ideas came, this time more along the lines of ‘hidden jewels’ – like geodes. We worked up another couple of ideas, but if anything, we liked them less… Our thoughts mirrored Emma’s, so we put those to one side.

The creative process gets nearly everyone thinking and as a client, letting your mind wander is part of the partnership. Even though she’d said she was not creative, Emma was clearly enjoying doing lots of her own research and asked if we would mind holding off a bit while she absorbed it all and honed her ideas. This made perfect sense to us.

A couple of weeks later, Emma called us again and emailed us a sketch she had drawn. Having had space to sift ideas and let them breathe meant that she had been able to pinpoint what it was that wasn’t working for her: Her preferred green colour was just not marrying well enough with the water idea – our biggest initial concern.

The rough drawing now portrayed flowers evolving from buds to blooms. This suddenly brought all the conversations together and we were able to quickly come up with an idea that said it all – and that we all loved!

Untapped Life Flowers iterations
Untapped Life Flowers iterations

So, a design partnership works at its best when everyone says what they think – which can take time. We also find that clients who profess to not being creative can end up enjoying getting in touch with their creative sides.

If you’re interested in seeing how you can release buried potential in your life, Emma Leach can be contacted on 07883 072501.


Reputation isn’t just about branding

When we talk about branding, in large part what we’re actually referring to is how an organisation’s image and reputation are perceived by the outside world. When people see your logo, what is their first reaction?

Most large companies adhere to their brand guidelines quite strictly to make sure that when you think of them, you remember their logo, colours and products accurately. In large businesses, it takes a lot of time (and money) to keep consistency across everything they do. We blogged a while back about the long and arduous project that Facebook had to undertake to bring consistency back to its brand. But there’s also a big question mark around how company representatives can harm all that good work. Grafica is a design and communications agency, so the intrinsic link between logo and reputation is something we care deeply about.

Here’s a little experiment: Below is a list of companies. When you think of them, even though I haven’t included images of them, how many of their logos and the main colours associated with the brand spring instantly to mind? What do they make you feel? Your emotions will vary according to experiences you have had personally and to an extent what the media has said about them. Here they are:

  • BBC
  • John Lewis
  • Apple
  • Tony & Guy
  • Mastercard
  • Nike
  • News International
  • The Body Shop
  • Coca Cola
  • Starbucks
  • FIFA
  • Nestle

Now, some of those companies will provide you with products and services that make you happy, some may have immediate negative connotations and others will leave you ambivalent. A final group may give off confused messages. Take for instance, The Body Shop. At inception, it was the epitome of ethical trading. You knew that your products were responsibly sourced, everyone was paid fairly and even the packaging was recycled. The logo proudly portrayed trustworthiness right through the supply chain. As the company grew, founder Anita Roddick continually lobbied for ethics in cosmetics—and eventually laws about testing on animals were changed. Then, she became ill and sold the business to one of the companies she set out to oppose. Many people immediately lost brand trust, staff in Littlehampton (where we’re based) lost jobs and in some places, the logo no longer has the same clout. No amount of rebrand will hide the fact that the company is not the same as it was.

You may be wondering what that has to do with your business? Everyone can think of examples of stuff that goes wrong. You buy an expensive coat and the seam comes undone, you go out for a meal and hurt your knee falling down some obscured steps or you take your car to be fixed and it comes back with a never before seen warning light on. The issue is usually less about what went wrong than about how it was put right.

As you can probably tell, these stories come from personal experiences. A retailer who worries about an undone seam will quickly apologise and replace it, thereby guaranteeing that you go there first next time. The restaurant apologised and offered my friend a free return meal while everyone in the crowded room was watching. But the garage owner who argued that his team couldn’t possibly have fitted a faulty part and damaged something that was attached to the part they had just replaced was asking for reputation trouble. In this case, it took 14 weeks, many letters and arguments, Trading Standards, and the threat of legal action to get a refund on the work and compensation for the damage.

As a communications professional, I find it astounding that it got this far, especially as in the end, the garage had no choice but to pay. It’s often said that if someone receives good service, they tell one person, but if they receive bad service they tell 10. It’s also much easier to keep a client than to find a new one.

A week after this was finally resolved, ironically, we made a mistake. Well, two actually. The first was not to follow our own signing off process (yes, the one we wrote about here not so long ago) so we could have a business card print job waiting for our client when she got back from her holiday. The second was to not notice something on the cards before we sent them to print… Had we followed our usual process and asked her to sign it off, it would have delayed the job about 2 weeks, but our mistake would have been picked up on – and the job was needed urgently. We made a judgement call and got it wrong. This is the first time this has ever happened and thankfully it was a small job.

Remember what I said about it being how you put it right? We have a responsibility to practice what we preach! As soon as we heard, we immediately apologised for our mistake, recreated the artwork and sent the job off for sign off. When it was signed off, we sent it to the printer and paid for an express service so that the job was turned around in 24 hours. Yes, we ended up a bit out of pocket, but we received an email thanking us for sorting it so promptly – the new cards arrived within 48 hours of the old ones. And this isn’t us saying ‘didn’t we handle that well?’, it’s about us saying ‘our clients matter’ and ‘we won’t be making that mistake again!’

I guess the moral of this story is to say that putting a new logo on a damaged brand is a bit like wallpapering over a damp wall – it doesn’t last for long… Or, look after your clients on the small jobs and they’ll think of you for the big ones!


Why do I need a Brand/Corporate Identity?

What is a Corporate Identity?

Branding and Corporate Identity (CI) are terms you hear bandied about a lot, but what exactly do they mean? Basically, they refer to the image or persona that an organisation wants to portray to the world. Your brand or logo is a very important component of how you are perceived, but CI is really the face and reputation that you want to present to the world. Whilst they need to blend together, CI covers more than just the logo. It does not mean though that everything you have on show in your office or workshop needs to have your logo on it. You may choose a different colour scheme for your lobby next time you redecorate, perhaps though: a pale blue identity probably wouldn’t sit well with a bright red reception desk, for instance.

How does this affect me?

Corporate Identity/branding is something every business needs to think about, whether large or small. Making sure that you have a consistent and memorable brand is increasingly important in today’s business culture – your identity is the first point of contact between you and your customers and it defines your integrity. Just think how many times a day you use your phone to surf the net – and how frustrated you get when the site doesn’t work or takes an age to load? Or how you feel when a customer complains about bad customer service they have received from your staff? Or when someone hands you a screwed up leaflet to promote their business that is in a different style to the business card they gave you at the same time? These are all examples of reputation damage; potential customers might think “if they aren’t worried about that, what else aren’t they worried about?”

Where do I go from here?

If you’re finding the thought of this all a bit overwhelming, don’t worry you’re not alone! Most businesses need at least a mobile phone friendly website, letterhead/email template and business cards, so if you haven’t got them, it probably is something you should at least start thinking about. Although you will need to invest a little, with careful planning and the right design partner and printer, you can make your budget go further than you might think – and should bring you a return on your investment.

Thinking out loud with someone you trust is a good first step. Most agencies are happy to meet for a chat to see where you’re at and if they can help. Not all agencies suit all clients, so this is a good way to see if you think you can work together. It helps everyone if you have a bit of an idea of the image you want to portray, what you think you need, what you don’t like and when you want it all by. Of course, you also need to have an idea of how much you are willing to spend; remember, digital print makes smaller print runs economically viable and not everyone needs a content management system (CMS) website. We’ll be blogging about budgets and the different types of website soon, so come back for some more pointers.

An extreme example of managers not keeping an eye on how their identity was represented: Facebook

About a month ago, we posted this Ben Barry blogpost on our Facebook page. We thought you might like to read it here because it’s a good example:

“Facebook’s own internal (salaried) team didn’t keep an eye on how their logo, branding and other icons were being used and doctored during a time of furious exponential growth.”

This article shows a fantastic (and quite extreme) example of how much work is involved to bring everything back into line if you don’t keep those checks as you go along. Brand guidelines are issued for a reason! Thankfully, few companies would have such a large net to reel in…

Be warned, this is a long methodical case study, but it does have lots of illustrations and is well worth a read if you run a company of any size.