Only after three and a half years as a designer in Repro, I finally gotten around to creating the first version of our brand guidelines. The reasons for needing one became clearer and clearer as time goes by and more people join the company.
If you think creating a consistent brand means simply putting together a guideline and getting everyone to follow it, then you are mistaken. You have to make sure the brand is not only made known, but believed in.
Before I set about to doing this, there wasn’t any real talk within the company about needing guidelines, yet as designers, the team felt a need to create something everyone could follow. In order to make this a reality across the organization, I carried out a lighter and rougher version of Kotter’s 8-Step Model of Change.
John Kotter is a Harvard Business School Professor and a renowned change expert, in his book “Leading Change”, introduced 8 Step Model of Change which he developed on the basis of research of 100 organizations which were going through a process of change. Here are the steps and how it was implemented in our case.
Step 1: Create Urgency
It was important to demonstrate that a lot of marketing that goes out was actually not on brand, and as a result might affect the brand image negatively. To achieve this, the team discovered and discuss problems with the brand materials each time a negative impact can be foreseen.
What I did was consolidate the problems from the marketing and design team, arising from a lack of brand identity, such as miscommunication with vendors or using extremely off-brand colors, and presented it to management to show the need to consolidate the brand identity.
Step 2: Forming Powerful Guiding Coalitions
This basically means to make friends that would help you move towards a common goal. This meant having more conversations about the company’s brand with key stakeholders, requiring their commitment or buy-in of the entire process.
I spoke to almost every one of the board members, discussing the brand and actions that need to be taken and how they could help with the cause.
I also spoke about it with members of different team to get them on board with the idea, even on a casual level. This could be as simple as showing good design as an inspiration to work towards.
As with any change, some stakeholders will be more resistant than others so it’s important for you to explain the benefits to those actions specific to them. It’s sometimes hard to provide data on something like branding, so building an emotional commitment based on ideals and the vision is equally important.
The biggest change agent for us, was gathering all the designers in the company to form a design department, in order to drive key design projects forward as a team and allowing the rest of the company to witness one voice.
Step 3: Developing a Vision and a Strategy
This part included coming up with a hiring plan for the year, in order to hire the right kind of people to steer the design team.
We also created a broad timeline in order to properly implement the guidelines into the company’s brand materials.
It was also important for the other employees to know the kind of design work other companies are doing and be equally inspired by them.
Step 4: Communicate the Vision
Apart from announcing the brand guidelines, we tried to include bigger picture conversations each time we approach even a small task. We would share with requestors where we were trying to take the brand and why some short-term sacrifices, such as the loss of freedom, had to be made to get there. This were chances to communicate the vision to those involved.
We also included an item into the OKRs, where designers has to share about design-related topics and things we were working on, in order to increase the awareness throughout the company.
Step 5: Remove Obstacles
For this project, the biggest obstacle was the lack of proper workflows to make sure the brand guidelines are followed correctly each time, without taking too much additional time and effort. From the beginning , I wanted this to be a project the whole company would take on together, so we set out to sort out the workflows between teams.
This include things like creating a format for the stakeholders to easily request for design and holding a regular meetings with the marketing team to identify possible issues in implementation of the guideline. We even rearrange the seats such that the design team would be between the corporate and marketing teams for ease of communication.
Step 6: Create Short-Term Wins
While the end goal is having an amazing brand identity that’s perfectly carried out, we knew that it would take time. Having short term goals would help keep everyone on track, and the easiest ones that are ones that be implemented without any help from others.
This is why we did small redesign projects like our employees ID card and take employee portraits as a way to discover on-ground problems and to slowly building the momentum for change.
Going for a huge rebranding project that requires almost all teams to put in extra work will be a large investment that a company needs some time to get ready for. So, where possible, start small.
Step 7: Build on the Change
Many changes don’t stick because victories were being declared too quickly.
You only know real change is happening if it keeps on working. The new guidelines should allow us to improve on the standard of design and should be able to apply well on future projects.
Apart from OKR, which is a key method of goal-setting in our company, our design teams use KPT (Keep Problem Try) to discover what works and what doesn’t on a weekly basis.
We also regularly meet with designers from other companies and look for ways we can work on a project together as a way to keep ideas fresh.
Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture
To make the change stick for good, it needs to be one with the company. We need not just the marketing or design team, but every employee to advocate for the brand to be expressed in the right way.
To ensure the change is seen in every part of the organization and that the company’s leaders continue to support the change, here are some of the things that was done:
- Engage in a regular session with the CEO to discusses about the brand positioning and direction
- Include ideals and values during the hiring and on-boarding process of new staff
- Create plans to introduce specialist designers as leaders that will continue the change
There you go, the 8 steps for design change on an organizational level. Depending on the size and the way the company work, you could spend less or more time on each step, or simply skip some steps altogether.
In the end, hard work and careful planning is required to change an organization successfully, and building a proper foundation and staying patient will increase your chance of success. If you do all the above steps, you will significantly improve chances of being able to enjoy the positive change you envisioned.