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Brand perspectives

13 Nov 2018 by Brian Slade

An early brand project risk analysis on all possible perspectives can save a bunch of rework, awkward pauses and electrical appliance analogies! (Keep reading and all that will make sense!) Working with a regional...

brand perspectives brian slade

an early brand project risk analysis on all possible perspectives can save a bunch of rework, awkward pauses and electrical appliance analogies! (keep reading and all that will make sense!)

working with a regional council a few years ago, we were commissioned to develop an inbound tourism and economic development identity. as part of this we were asked to reconsider the existing council identity that had been untouched for quite a few years.

after appropriate due diligence, briefing, creative exploration on multiple perspectives, and consultation, we arrived at a solution that was ready to present back to an array of councillors in their regional chambers. in slightly unfamiliar surroundings i pitched the concepts, with the occasional side-ways glance to our direct client to ensure i was on the right path and when finished, opened the floor up for questions.

there was general agreement that the conceptual thinking and ideas were a great leap forward, moving them from a decade or two ago into the future. they could clearly understand and see the visual improvements to a rather dated identity. however one rather mature gentleman took us all back to my opening rationale and challenged the ‘why’?

thinking on my feet and after an awkward pause, i used the analogy of progressively upgrading an electrical appliance that’s been reasonably reliable but some of the functions have started to not perform at 100%. the once white lustre had gone a bit yellow and the seal had started to go around the doors. what was once top of the line was now not so flash. the councillor didn’t quite grasp the concept and still disagreed. his perspective was fixed and firm.

the updated visual identity was by no means a radical solution in my eyes. it aligned to the desired outcomes in the brief, yet still this gentleman objects. yes, it was a departure from the existing identity. but while i saw evolution, he saw something of a revolution.

his objections were dutifully heard and considered, worked through at length within the consultation process and we ended up with something ever so slightly modified. so, what was the issue? 

so, what was the issue?


regardless of how strong or positive the new visual identity was; regardless of how well it was embraced by local iwi, hapu and the wider community, this gentleman’s perspective was fixed on fiscal responsibility, roi value and ‘why fix what isn’t broken’ (in his view).

what i had failed to do in my opening address was answer his deep-rooted question of value and benefit. and to be honest, i’m not sure i should have had to. not at this stage in the process. this should have been addressed a lot earlier by the management team. if this councillor had been engaged enough in the earlier consultations or identified as a potential risk and spoken to one-on-one, his comments may well have been cut off at the pass and less of a distraction to the rest of the presentation.  

at the post presentation debrief, our client informed us that the gentleman in questioned drove a car that was pretty much clapped out, bought decades earlier and was likely to drive it until it collapsed on him! his ‘why?’ question was clearly less about the council identity and more about his own very deep rooted and personal perspectives on the world in general. valid, but not identified early enough.

with both the council identity and the new economic/inbound tourism identity still hard at work for the council today, the lesson i’ve had reinforced by this experience is that it pays to scope all risks and listen to all perspectives to form appropriate responses as early as possible - saving a bunch of rework, awkward pauses and electrical appliance analogies!

branding, stakeholder perspectives, insight creative

Meet Sarah

11 Sep 2018 by Brian Slade

A new design face at Insight, here's a sneak peek into Sarah Turner's creativity and innovation. Sarah has only been with Insight for a short time but has made an immediate impact. All very positive too: she's a...

meet sarah brian slade

a new design face at insight, here's a sneak peek into sarah turner's creativity and innovation.

sarah has only been with insight for a short time but has made an immediate impact. all very positive too: she's a strong inquisitive creative thinker and creator. she is also a prolific note taker and great communicator. all the way from palmerston north via taupo, i was keen to share a bit more about this creative talent but forgot to ask about her cat echo!



who has been the biggest creative influence in your career?
i’d have to say my biggest creative influence was very much pre-career! ms wolfsbauer was my high school art teacher and i’m sure it was her forward-thinking and support that lead me towards the design career i have today. every spare period and most lunchtimes we were in the art room with liz, talking design and creativity, as well as discussing the big issues in life. she taught me that art isn’t about being rigid and perfect, just like life isn’t about being rigid and perfect either. she helped me to look at things differently and to always strive to be the best you can be. sure, she hasn’t beaten all the perfectionism out of me (i am a virgo after all), but she was the one who watered the seedling that i call my designer instinct.

"lady gaga. auckland. 2010. where do i even begin?"

most powerful ‘creative’ experience you’ve had?
lady gaga. auckland. 2010. where do i even begin? a glowing deep sea angler the size of a truck. a fibre optic dress. a fountain of blood. the piano slowly catching fire as she sings acoustic. a black and white art film played on a giant led cylinder screen in between songs (which also doubled as a changing room for the lady herself!). leather-clad dancers, so many lights, a pumping bass, and the all-time classic – a metallic sparkler bra. for me the most powerful creative experiences are totally immersive, and this show really saturated all the senses. forever remembered as the best performance i’ve ever seen, i have always admired the way lady gaga mixes art and conceptualism while still reaching the epitome of ‘popular’.

"bloody receipts!"

if you could make one creative or innovative change to a thing what would it be and why?
bloody receipts. with all this talk of reducing plastic waste by turning down a straw or using a fabric tote, surely there is also something that can be done with these little (or sometimes not so little) bits of plasticy paper we get handed every time we purchase something. i get annoyed with them floating around in my bag when i do take one, but also annoyed when i tell the cashier to keep it. either way they all end up in the same place! won’t someone please think of the children…?

sarah turner, insight creative, designer

Shifting creative conventions

04 Sep 2018 by Brian Slade

Christmas day early 1970s, I opened a bag of Lego blocks. Just blocks, no people, characters or wheels. One of my favourite ‘toys’, I loved creating houses, forts and spaceships. Today Lego produces hundreds of...

shifting creative conventions brian slade

christmas day early 1970s, i opened a bag of lego blocks. just blocks, no people, characters or wheels. one of my favourite ‘toys’, i loved creating houses, forts and spaceships. today lego produces hundreds of options, variations and themes and in 2008 it broke with its creative conventions, setting up ‘lego ideas’ as an offshoot of the japanese website cuusoo. it allows users to submit ideas for lego to develop commercially. fans get an opportunity to ‘co-create’ on submissions online and give feedback. if a project gets 10,000 votes, lego reviews the idea and gives the original creator 1% of the commercial sales once in production.

fast company credits this breaking with convention for winding back a decade of sales slumps and putting lego in the same league as apple.

we all have ways of doing stuff. when we’re looking to stretch our creative, digital, and innovative thinking, it’s worth taking a look at our personal conventions and reshaping our thinking.


some tools to reshape your own creative conventions

a bit like therapy, you’ve got to ‘own’ the idea that there’s an opportunity to grow and develop. once this is done you’re on your way.

the next critical step is to move from theory to practice. one of the simplest ways to get tangible is to create a visual trigger. take some post-it notes and write reminders of what it is you're aiming for, such as:

"what’s the creative/innovative opportunity here?” 

"just be creative!"

"listen more."

you’ve just got to remember to refer back to them as you generate ideas!

like lego, you need to continue to develop your strengths, values and desire for co-creation by doing less in isolation in front of the computer. get busy communicating, sharing early and progressively with your project team. your best results will be achieved when you collaborate, value each other’s angle and captain your own specific area of expertise. 

as fast as possible, define clearly the issues and challenges you’re creating for. at the briefing stage, gain personal empathy for the task and ask the ‘dumb’ questions. get what you need to do the job. start with why? work on shared options through discussion then agree on a shortlist. 

agree on a ‘good enough for now’ thought process. this saves time and creates enough to communicate the ideas you most want to progress with. this will mean different things for different organisations obviously. working with each other creates a stronger, unified belief and understanding in the idea and direction, thus making it easier to support.

shape the individual and collaborative design process into four clear steps:

  • explore
  • expand
  • apply your knowledge and insights
  • focus

so that everybody in the team understands where you're at and where you’re going.

make time pressure your friend by using words only to describe an idea and why it works. it’s quicker to come up with the words ‘tomato with an umbrella sticking out of the top with a pink flamingo sitting on top’ than finding visual reference!

apply a bit of this thinking to shift a creative convention or two and you might just start humming the lego movie anthem… everything is awesome… 


credit: magenta lego house by luka hooper

visual design, creative innovation, breaking creative shackles

What makes visual design effective?

21 Aug 2018 by Brian Slade

The surprisingly simple idea of ‘clarity’ will invariably unlock the answer to the question of what makes visual design effective. Clarity of understanding based on the accessibility, usability, and desired...

what makes visual design effective? brian slade

the surprisingly simple idea of ‘clarity’ will invariably unlock the answer to the question of what makes visual design effective. clarity of understanding based on the accessibility, usability, and desired activation for the primary audience that the design is intended for. if clarity doesn’t completely unlock the answer, it will without doubt get the designer in the right space.

this may not sound like a design theory ‘go to’. it almost sounds more like a side step: bounce the problem back to the client or the brief author to provide more information. however, until the designer has clarity on the audience, their ‘profile’, what makes them tick, sit up and take notice, they’re going to be reliant on their own personal bias and preferences. and that’s dangerous because we’re often not the audience. so more than a nominal stab at this, it is essentially going to be the first thing to get right in creating effective design.

beyond the brief, day after day we’re flooded with information, products, services and decisions to be made. effective visual design principles have evolved over time, from the early cave drawings through to today’s virtual realities. the eye and mind need space to work out what’s being communicated.

until the designer has clarity on the audience and what makes them tick, they’re going to be reliant on their own personal bias.

if everything stands out then nothing stands out. as designers, we need to create a visual path and hierarchy based on what we believe will stimulate the audience to be engaged and activated. this doesn’t mean a boring solution. this means we need to think, not only analytically but creatively about what will push the right audience buttons - and not necessarily those of the internal corporate client hierarchy who have their own bias and preference. chances are they’re not the audience either.

scan, weigh up, select, digest. composition is vital.

a designer needs to be a master of information architecture and navigation. if you’re a client assessing a proposed design, think about what the designer has crafted. allow your eye to scan. very few people read all the information you’re providing at first glance, like body text. think smorgasbord. scan, weigh up, select, digest. composition is vital in assisting the primary audience in navigating the information. an underlying grid will create structure and form. 

look for the underlying presence of classic, proven design rules: consider the appropriate application of the rule of thirds where designs are segmented into nine equal sections and key information is clustered into one of the top or bottom left or right segments. balanced ‘golden mean’ mathematical proportions developed by the greeks and used to create the proportions for the credit card just feel ‘right’.

yet, unbalanced visual design that can either break, or appear to ‘randomly’ conform to, underlying grids can also be the right ‘feel’ for the audience. it can work because it creates tension - a totally valid tool in stimulating a response that draws the eye to a specific element of interest or desire.

graphics, colour, images, shapes and text selection will all be based on how the designer wants the audience to feel and assist them in navigating the information. selected audiences will respond to each element based on demographic-specific preferences. 

a designer will often contrast elements to create emphasis, scale and pace and will never ignore the eye’s need for ‘white space’. the eye and mind needs a rest from the flood of information. sometimes you need to create your own white space in a crowded environment, so as designers, we often simplify things to get noticed rather than try to shout louder than the crowd. 

so, next time you’re assessing a piece of design from your agency, look beyond the surface to the considered architecture beneath.

visual design, effective design

Not everything that shines is gold in the world of branding

14 Mar 2018 by Brian Slade

Your brand needs an evolution or a revolution. But how the heck do you choose the right people to work with to develop, evolve and roll out you brand identity? There’s a fine balance to be struck between...

not everything that shines is gold in the world of branding brian slade

your brand needs an evolution or a revolution.

but how the heck do you choose the right people to work with to develop, evolve and roll out you brand identity? there’s a fine balance to be struck between ‘contemporary’, ‘trendy’ and something that’s going to 'last the test of time’. 

with regards to trends, by nature they come and go, right? some stick around and morph from one thing to next. 

the contemporary ‘now’ creative air is filled with minimalist logos, geometric shapes, bold and playful typography, a touch of whimsical illustration and digital movement. not too much but just enough: to catch the eye, keep the file size down and not distract you from the content. the 'test of time’ approach though, may take a little more time, funnily enough, but will be worth it. 

"your creative partner will need to start each project like they’re fresh out of art school… but with at least 10 years solid experience."

each creative brand project should be approached as a unique challenge, so your creative partner will need to have the dexterity to constantly evolve and start each project like they’re fresh out of art school… with at least 10 years solid experience. otherwise you run the risk of buying a ‘style’ without substance and working with a bunch of ‘cool’ people just going through the motions but not quite 'getting' business and strategy. 

so what do you need to be looking for when you go ’surfing’ for a branding consultancy?

the first and most obvious thing to ask before you start, is what kind of partner are you looking for? strategic creative, visual guide or somewhere in between? get this right and your path will be a lot easier. then stay alert, watch, listen and be an active partner in the process.

"what kind of partner are you looking for? strategic creative, visual guide or somewhere in between?"

online, what does their website tell you about their view of user experience or customer journey? did they think about you or themselves when designing their site? are you being forced to read 9pt text? a trend where designers tried to force readers to squint through the pain barrier has surely been and gone. what about navigating from project to project. clear and seamless?

what’s their site's work section telling you about their design approach? can you see a strong 'house' style repeating through their work? or are you seeing unique solutions in their identity work that closely reflects the characteristics of their client rather than themselves? is there a focus on the executions with lots of energy put into the business cards they’ve created or is it clear what the client challenge was and how they solved the communications challenge? 

have you spotted an overuse of drop shadows or gradient effects, typography that’s gratuitously stretched or squeezed or work that is simply unclear? any swoosh in their identities? … great in the late 1990s and keeps on giving for nike.

designers solve problems and very few problems are exactly the same, so it follows the solutions you should expect to see would be different. there’s nothing at all wrong with developing stylistic elements to our work, but if it doesn’t distinguish the client from its peers and represent them individually, then 'bad move'.

"designers solve problems and very few problems are exactly the same, so it follows the solutions should be different."

to sum up… as communicators our job is to walk a fine line in brand communications that create individual, strong, distinct voices for our clients that allow them to evolve over time.

brand, design, choosing a designer

What's going on under there?

24 Oct 2017 by Brian Slade

  Say the word 'strategy' to a lot of designers and a shudder runs up their spine leading to a slightly glazed look. It won’t be because they don’t like to think about what they’re doing or necessarily...

what's going on under there? brian slade
say the word 'strategy' to a lot of designers and a shudder runs up their spine leading to a slightly glazed look. it won’t be because they don’t like to think about what they’re doing or necessarily identifying the long term objectives of their client.
what it could be is that some designers identify strategy being more closely aligned to sales and marketing than creativity. they may also believe that they’re not really part of the sales process, doing everything possible to avoid that reality - the ‘creative heart’ believing 'selling' means 'selling out'. for some this could be code for 'fear of rejection' - a very natural human feeling that cuts across all walks of life. we are all biologically wired with a desire to belong. design and the creative process can be messy as we try new things out, have conflicting ideas to other people and inevitably sometimes fail.
more clearly structured, goal-oriented, process and 'routine’ oriented work requires quite different skills that more often than not require different exposures to this emotional fear. if a designer can overcome this fear or even get it into perspective, you can begin to get a picture of what the strategic creative designer looks like:
  • they have a mind set on understanding the bigger picture; working with strategic territories, insights and research to inform assured bolder design decisions. strategic work helps to channel the client thinking and form a springboard to launch from.
  • they're inquisitive, asking tough questions and looking at the answers from different points of view, which moves their thinking to openly see different possibilities, approaches and potential outcomes. not simply what they personally see.
  • they prioritise and then sequence their thoughts, using design to help the target audience focus on the core message.
  • they keep things simple and succinct, separating the overarching idea from the tactical detail.
  • they try different ways to present background thinking and creative ideas that relate to who they’re talking to.
  • they listen and seek out constructive feedback, first making sure what they're working on is aligned to the brief and strategy but is also powerful, impactful, meaningful, and making a difference for clients and their audiences. engaging hearts and minds, changing perceptions and driving actions. side stepping personal fears and ego.
  • they're openly team focused. ultimately responsible for the solution's visual expression and how it behaves, but recognising that this only happens successfully when the whole team is focused on working hard for each other's success.
  • they understand context, trends, business drivers, organised thinking, planning and have innate creative prowess.
the strategic creative designer never looked better. 
strategic designer, business design,

Space to think and do.

16 Oct 2017 by Brian Slade

To unlock creative ideas most of us need to make space and time to ‘unplug’. To some extent ideas can come from anywhere but in reality a significant factor in unlocking ideas is allowing our subconscious to...

space to think and do. brian slade
to unlock creative ideas most of us need to make space and time to ‘unplug’. to some extent ideas can come from anywhere but in reality a significant factor in unlocking ideas is allowing our subconscious to takeover!
"big ideas come from the unconscious... but your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. you can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath... suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.” david ogilvy.
the most creative people i’ve worked with have a voracious appetite to ‘digest' an eclectic array of information. this then allows their subconscious the opportunity to mix, match and mingle. percolating ideas and merging seemingly unrelated concepts. then through their rational thought process they order, disorder, construct and deconstruct.
so how does it work? the creative process isn't a linear activity. it works through aptitude, attitude and a desire to be inquisitive about information and solving problems. ideas can and do pop up in the middle of a walk, driving or thinking about something completely unrelated to a brief or problem: our subconscious at work, but it can only get creative once we’ve put in a problem, a challenge and information - both related and unrelated. 
in an increasingly ‘plugged in' world, it can feel like an impossible task to ‘unplug’, especially when the meter's running in a commercial environment. it takes a bit of mental effort and sometimes courage when others around you may not immediately appreciate you taking off for another walk or hot bath!
as a designer, when i’ve been briefed on a project i try to get started as soon as i can. not physically 'designing' but reading, researching, thinking and debating the challenge with the rest of the team; clarifying the challenge and testing out thinking - way before i eventually start scratching out some visual thoughts and ‘designing’. 
depending on the scale of the project this can range from a few short conversations to a few hours mulling things over. then i’m keen to leave it for a bit if i can and ‘unplug'. if i need to have something for the next day i'll try short sprints — fail fast style — and try to put a bit of space between the sprints. 'unplugging' but coming back to the problem fresh each time.
for most creative people it's never a 9-5 occupation, you never switch off thinking creatively but in reality you may need to make space to ‘unplug’. for me this means scheduling time in my diary ahead of time when i know a job needs to be looked at, and honour this time like any other meeting time. 
i make daily lists of priorities, each day moving tasks across to a fresh list. post it notes, printouts, note books - basically what ever it takes to make space to ‘unplug’, think and do.
creativity, space to think, big ideas

The 2017 NZSO Season hits the streets with an ‘expected, unexpected’ conviction

21 Aug 2017 by Brian Slade

Creating a campaign months ahead of it appearing in public is always an interesting exercise. Not only is there the delayed creative gratification but also trying to gauge how effective the idea will be in reality....

the 2017 nzso season hits the streets with an ‘expected, unexpected’ conviction brian slade

creating a campaign months ahead of it appearing in public is always an interesting exercise. not only is there the delayed creative gratification but also trying to gauge how effective the idea will be in reality. this year, it’s been exciting watching our new zealand symphony orchestra (nzso) ‘expect the unexpected’ creative platform gradually unfold. the cumulative impact of the visually distinctive campaign has definitely been building momentum as it has hit the streets with our striking posters and social media alignment.

we're now midway through the 2017 nzso season and are now starting to see some of the stronger campaign images popping up across our main centres.

this time last year we did a three day shoot of the some of the orchestra members dressed in ‘civvies’ to strategically break down a few barriers and challenge misconceptions about the orchestra. one in particular is bridget douglas, section principal - flute. our ‘expect the unexpected’ theme was totally reinforced at the shoot when bridget stepped in front of the camera. she needed little art direction to physically embody the idea and like a true professional got straight into the right head space. she’s perfectly paired with hector berlioz’s fantastical metaphysical drama ‘the damnation of faust’ concert (wellington 25 august, auckland 27 august) and so creates great alignment to the concept.

malaviya gopal, 1st violinist, was also great to work with. paired with the schuman and barber concert, she really breaks down preconceptions that orchestra music isn’t relevant and could actually be worth a go. in her leather jacket she’s very natural, real and very much aligned to the target audience of the arts crowd.

nzso, 2017 season, marketing campaign, insight creative

Giving a little back

08 May 2017 by Brian Slade

Time’s precious right? So getting the ‘opportunity’ to be part of Massey’s CoCA (College of Creative Arts) image and identity class yesterday was both a thrill and a challenge, in amongst meetings,...

giving a little back brian slade
time’s precious right? so getting the ‘opportunity’ to be part of massey’s coca (college of creative arts) image and identity class yesterday was both a thrill and a challenge, in amongst meetings, presentations and the general business of studio life.
but worth every minute and the feedback was great from the passionate note taking students as we waded through campaigns, identities, environmental installations and thoughts that were part-boiled and well formed.
steve jobs said “it’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time”. i’d be keen to add to that and suggest it’s not only time but the next generation. that’s one of the primary reasons we’ve been running our designer internship programme and making sure we give a little back.
brian slade, coca

Leading a positive work culture

16 Mar 2017 by Brian Slade

Ask most New Zealanders “what sort of culture does our capital city have?” or "describe our teenage drinking culture” and you’ll probably get pretty clear answers. Cafe and binge. However, ask many...

leading a positive work culture brian slade

ask most new zealanders “what sort of culture does our capital city have?” or "describe our teenage drinking culture” and you’ll probably get pretty clear answers. cafe and binge. however, ask many businesses what sort of culture they have and the answers can get a bit vague, woolly and glib.

why is this? and why are we only now starting to be aware of the value of a healthy and positive working culture?

usually because of a lack of appreciation of the value of workplace culture.

in an age when companies are experiencing growing competition for both employees and customers, we’re realising that retaining and attracting the best people – and ensuring they’re focused on being the best they can be – is a key competitive advantage.

employee retention is a significant challenge facing all businesses today. as the economy continues to look up, employees, who are connected like never before with the linkedin and social media networks, have more opportunity to ‘shop’. if you’re a great place to work with a healthy culture, everyone can find that out pretty quickly - and vice versa.

and gaining a competitive advantage from a positive culture is born of clarity and congruity – having everybody rowing in the same direction with clarity of purpose; and in perfect synchronicity, everybody behaving consistently from the top down.

with so much to gain, no company can really afford to be vague and woolly about its culture.

think about what the value proposition is here: when you have a positive work culture, it follows that you have a higher performing and strongly productive, engaged team. for longer.

what to do?

recognising the value to be unlocked is key to embarking on a positive work culture journey.

organisations need to move past the ‘vague and woolly’ gut feel assessment of their culture and systematically and objectively research the groundswell of opinion on the ‘shop floor’. the immediate value to you will be an increased sense of understanding and appreciation of real perceptions. actively value this feedback. this, in itself, has to become part of your culture if you are to really move into a new gear.  

but be careful not to simply paper over the cracks of what your internal study finds. authenticity is the only way to succeed in today’s environment. and don’t think of ‘culture’ as a programme, but more a way of being - your way of being. embed and amplify your genuine positive qualities, and create systems and environments that say "it’s the way we do things around here”. don’t simply put up a few words on some walls, put in a new kitchen and go back to business as usual. 

culture is the sum total of the embodied behaviors, values, environments, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organisation. you can "feel” culture, through the enthusiasm that people exhibit and in a workspace itself.

we often have to say to a client “until you get this part of the organisation sorted, sure we can implement this internal fitout or leadership programme, but what has really changed?” it’s most likely going to feel like spin. we’ll only be solving part of the picture.

it’s up to the organisation to know clearly what it wants to be. yes, we can help you discover, distill and articulate that. and we can help you identify what needs to change internally. but we can’t impose a culture from the outside. if it’s not genuine and embedded in reality, it will never be believable nor effective, to your people or your customers.

leadership is key

once you’ve implemented the changes collectively agreed and that make sense to your business, leaders need to lead and this is defiantly an area where the implementation of any changes needs to be strongly led.

so, look closely at yourself as potentially someone who sets the tone. measure how strong your culture is by getting to grips with understanding how things are working or not. be consistent. lead the relevant changes. simple, right?

Communication design trends 2016

01 Jun 2016 by Brian Slade

Creative Director, Brian Slade, looks forward to see what we’re likely to see emerging in our industry in the next 12 months. “A trend never simply emerges for a single year and then disappears in a puff of...

communication design trends 2016 brian slade

creative director, brian slade, looks forward to see what we’re likely to see emerging in our industry in the next 12 months.

“a trend never simply emerges for a single year and then disappears in a puff of smoke. instead, an aesthetic becomes popular gradually, even mysteriously, over time before fizzling out slowly without much notice at all.”  madeleine morley, the american institute for graphic arts.

forecasting trends with any certainty is tricky but here are ten possible aesthetic design trends to keep an eye out for and a few trends that may particularly impact us through this busier part of the year. given that brands are about creating and maintaining competitive differential, following trends that dilute competitive distance can be counter-productive. the trick for a design agency like ours, is knowing when following such trends is ‘right’ for our clients. as usual, being true to the brand essence is the first priority. at the same time, being relevant, contemporary and appropriate to the business communication imperative is also at the top of our list. a healthy tension . . .

01. “modern” retro style. stylistic influences from more recent decades, the late 1970s through the 90s. think early pcs and video games, pixel art, and space themes.

02. material (flat) design. bold flat, graphic look.

03. bright, bold colors. fitting in with both 80s/90s styles, vibrant hues should continue to prove popular picks into 2016. colors that transport us to a happier, sunnier place where we feel free to express a wittier version of our real selves.

04. geometric shapes. geometric shapes, stipes and patterns applied in all sorts of ways. also keep an eye out for a style known as “low poly,” which got its start as a 3d modeling technique for video games.

05. negative space negative and/or white space is an essential part of any good design. but used strategically, negative space can be a clever way to add deeper or double meaning to designs, particularly for logo and branding projects.

06. grids. modular, card-based (grid) layouts have been adopted by some of the biggest brands for their websites and mobile apps.

07. dramatic typography. according to this trend, typography isn’t just for reading, the message is the medium. look out for big, bold type that’s the center of attention.

08. abstract, minimalistic style. this trend relies on less being more and deconstructing or distorting recognizable forms. elements are picked apart and put back together in a unique way and a seemingly random layout.

09. serifs get their due. while sans serif designs continually dominate the lists of top-selling typefaces in popular font marketplaces the serif can more than ever be reproduced with dignity and not degraded. higher resolution screens becoming more prevalent increasingly they can handle the more delicate, refined nuances of serif typefaces and smaller sizes.

10. prominent custom type and type awareness continue. whether consciously or unconsciously, everybody knows type is everywhere. the san francisco typeface, a design that debuted first for the apple watch, and subsequently rolled out for ios and os x el capitan, continues the trend of the public becoming more aware of the importance (and, indeed, fashionability) of type.

design, trends

Yes. But why?

03 May 2016 by Brian Slade

Clients ostensibly hire creative agencies to produce creative solutions. You think? We prefer to believe that they hire us for effective creative solutions. And effectiveness is what gets us going. It powers up...

yes. but why? brian slade

clients ostensibly hire creative agencies to produce creative solutions.

you think?

we prefer to believe that they hire us for effective creative solutions. and effectiveness is what gets us going. it powers up our brains, focuses our minds and provides purpose for our cerebral wanderings.

however, both in our internal project progress reviews and when clients give us feedback, inevitably a strong element of subjectivity sneaks in.

with any project, once we’ve gone through our internal creative process and filters, powered through those stretch creative visuals and presented sketched ideas or well-honed creative concepts, most clients come back with some version of . . .  ‘can you move this?’, ‘change that’ and (obviously) ‘make the logo bigger’.

faced with this, i’ve learnt that both creativity – and effectiveness - can be really enhanced with a simple question: after a slight pause i’ve found. “yes… but why?” really helpful.

i like to say “yes” because it’s simply a client-focused view. it acknowledges their role and reinforces our service ethic. i’ve always appreciated that we are commercial artists, not bohemian artisans living on the beach with delusions of grandeur. our salaries, after all, come from clients asking for these changes, right? “yes” helps build empathy and understanding, allowing us to remain both informed and professional.

“yes”, is also an exercise in remaining open minded. and when we’re open minded we’re more likely to see opportunities. after all, just because we’ve done it that way doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid for some reason that we’re not fully equipped to see. the client is a key part of the team. they know their environment, product or service infinitely better than we can ever do.

passion and belief in our work is great, but sometimes we can all be guilty of a touch of pride, so i try to apply a little perspective here and respect each individual’s view and consider its merit. the client’s request can often be implemented easily enough. it’s not too hard to move something, change a colour or even make the logo bigger . . .

so “yes, but why?”   

what’s behind the “why?” fundamental to being an effective designer is ownership and understanding. if it’s not obvious and i don’t ask, i’ll never be in a position to understand what the client is thinking.  it’s simply part of being clear about what we’re all doing. if we’ve done our job well internally we will have explained the solution and how it directly solves the client’s problems as understood and expressed in the brief. staying calm, taking ownership and being positive usually helps here – as does not taking it personally!

leading the creative is our job. if, as designers, we abdicate decision-making and responsibility, we’re never going to get the best creative outcome for our client. designing is, in part, being inquisitive, actively engaged and problem solving. it’s impossible to solve problems if you don’t have enough input or knowledge. so by asking “why?”, we leverage views and thoughts that we can then work with to make informed decisions and lead effectively.

finally, there are efficiencies and budgets we all need to consider. by asking “but why?” we can collectively make a call on any scope change or debate whether the change enhances or dilutes the effectiveness or the integrity of the creative.  

clients and agencies enjoy a relationship that, in the best circumstances, creates a positive and focused tension that can result in awesome and effective results. designer, sabo tercero, put it like this, “we are all designers, the difference is that only a few of us do it full time.”  

making the tension healthy and constructive relies on understanding where people are coming from so we can work together, always looking for that win/win to get the most effective creative outcome for everyone.


brian slade
creative director

design, effectiveness, better creative

05. Imagery

04 Apr 2016 by Brian Slade

Creative Director, Brian Slade, concludes his review of Insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season. In the last in this series, we take a look at how a picture can say quite a bit. As designers, we...

05. imagery brian slade

creative director, brian slade, concludes his review of insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season.

in the last in this series, we take a look at how a picture can say quite a bit.

as designers, we use imagery a lot right? it obviously ranges from the well considered, art-directed, idea-based to the sometimes not so much! personally i like to encourage clients to allow us to generate their own imagery, but image libraries have come a long way and definitely can play their part.

precinct decided to go very low key with their report this year, but all it took was the inclusion of one hero image to set the document up to be more than the simple mandatory regulatory document. 


fletcher building fully embraced our art-directed, direct-to-camera approach to show the scale and scope of their operations. with a good mix of detailed ambient imagery and site specific images the reports are high impact and engaging.


a clever use of metaphor imagery was used in this spread for auckland international airport… simple but effective integration and play with the type and messaging.


stock photography that worked well in my view was used on the vital healthcare property trust investor newsletter update. a touch of humour, and it mixed well with the overall graphic direction of this year's report.


the final word goes to the sanford team, the last of this season's reports. with a theme of ‘salt in our veins’ connecting sanford's genuine passion and resolve to achieve a sustainable future, we worked with lush and beauftifully executed ‘brand’ imagery supplied by a third party.


thanks for reading this far… let me know what you think of these creative projects and this review of our reports.

2015 annual reporting season review - imagery

04. Graphics

15 Mar 2016 by Brian Slade

Creative Director, Brian Slade, reviews aspects of Insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season. As designers, it’s what we do. The definition of graphics, from the Greek graphikos, is ‘something...

04. graphics brian slade

creative director, brian slade, reviews aspects of insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season.

as designers, it’s what we do. the definition of graphics, from the greek graphikos, is ‘something written e.g. autograph, visual images or designs on some surface, such as a wall, canvas, screen, paper or stone to inform, illustrate, or entertain…'

vital is a great example of the use of graphics combined with the overall message to communicate with a very positive effect. the target device works well to keep on giving, used on a few spreads and as a cover for the shareholder newsletter - simple, clear and effective.

nati whatua o orakei has this delightful spread in it: a timeline that is a real pleasure to look at. aesthetics are crucial in delivering strong graphics and this spread is confident, bold and assured. giving me a sense that what i’m looking at is controlled and purposeful. i think this is a real win for the report.

in a previous post in this series, we looked at the deconstructed typography in stand children’s services report this year. however this report also illustrates how type can be treated as a graphic element to help tell the story. each deconstructed typo’graphic’ element was balanced and considered in relationship to the image on the spread and the accompanying text.

a strong part of our ports of auckland identity tool kit is the set of icons we use to illustrate the volumes and diversity that come across its wharves each year… 28,349 tonnes of tractors… and how many tonnes of bananas do you think?

steadfast threw up its challenges this year. we were required to explore a very high number of cover options. it was finally resolved with this well-executed graphic cover that draws from the logo shape to house a diverse range of staff and customers linked through the client's logo.

we’ve been working with transpower to graphically illustrate how they are connecting new zealanders through the use of an illustrative image. we’ve been able to use this graphic flexibly across the reports to give the appearance of change without the base document elements changing. this has  allowed for economic production and efficiencies.

if you’ve read this far congratulations… let me know what you think of these creative projects and keep an eye out for the last powerful annual reporting results 05. imagery.

2015 annual reporting season review - graphics

03. Colour

26 Feb 2016 by Brian Slade

Creative Director, Brian Slade, reviews aspects of Insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season. A highly emotive aspect to all graphic communications and subject to trends and association, colour...

03. colour brian slade

creative director, brian slade, reviews aspects of insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season.

a highly emotive aspect to all graphic communications and subject to trends and association, colour throws up challenges that can scare even the most battle-hardened of designers and be an ‘aladdin’s cave’ for others.

ngati whatua’s three reports rely on strong colours to distinguish between them, ochre, blood red and green with a healthy dollop of black. this primary colour palette supported by desaturated and well graded full colour imagery has developed over the past three years, creating a very solid and consistent look and feel.


if you're after a colour fest, stand children’s services' report takes it to the next level. the first 27 pages are uncompromisingly full-on colour, multiplied over full colour images that were delicately image-worked to create subtle depth. a brand full of colour, this document is colour central.


soft and muted tones support nz super fund's visual identity. excellently executed, this year's report creates a sense of calm, organisation and thoughtfulness. colour tabbing is cleverly used on the leading edges of the pages to aid navigation between the multitude of financials.


vital’s two primary support colours are used really well in this report to focus the viewer on the graphic message. strong use of ‘controlled’ white space guides you and helps focus the eye on the target. this report feels clean, fresh and clinical.


there are generally two ways to ‘own’ colour in a visual identity. either minimise its use within a communication, using supportive neutral colours for it to be projected off, or minimise the use of other colours in the palette and use it boldly. this year for ports of auckland, we pulled back on the colour usage with a few notable exceptions on the infographics pages, restraining the report to only a couple of colours.

if you’ve read this far, congratulations… let us know what you think of these creative projects and keep an eye out for powerful annual reporting results 04. graphics, coming soon.

2015 annual reporting season review - colour

02. Typography

22 Feb 2016 by Brian Slade

Creative Director, Brian Slade, reviews aspects of Insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season. Typography remains a powerful weapon for any designer to wield in their creative work. In the last few...

02. typography brian slade

creative director, brian slade, reviews aspects of insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season.

typography remains a powerful weapon for any designer to wield in their creative work. in the last few months of 2015, the design team showed their skills and passions to good effect.

david storey and natalie moinfar created a new headline font for nati whatua’s three reports. completely bespoke, this hand crafted font has an authenticity and freshness that uses three parallel lines working in harmony to depict the three areas the iwi are focussed on: governance through the trust; social wellbeing for whai maia; and commercial profitability for whai rawa.


building on the strong visual identity we created for esr, we had the opportunity to showcase its flexibility by creating a type face for their internal team to implement across their report. robust and strong it is powerfully used on the cover and used as initial caps within the document. it seamlessly ties esr’s graphic language to this year's core message.


deconstructed type was used to communicate this year's message in stand children’s services report. fragmentation within the sector is tackled head on with the typography building to the rally cry of ’stand up’. secondary messages of stand strong, stand with purpose, stand with courage, stand as one etc… complement this narrative.


without introducing anything new to the identity guidelines, we created an adaptation of transpower’s corporate font trade gothic. a simple outlining and inlaid chevron created a contemporary and lighter weight version of the typeface that is used as a display face on high level communications.


finally, it’s not all simply about adding more to create impact. edwin hooper’s mastery of white space, scale and expert detailing in fletcher building's report this year showcased the very best of balance. he has managed to create a compelling and engaging feel with the use of font weights and the introduction of a stencil display font fit for purpose.


if you’ve read this far, congratulations… let us know what you think of these creative projects and keep an eye out for powerful annual reporting results 03. colour, coming soon.

2015 annual reporting season review - typography

01. Messaging

19 Jan 2016 by Brian Slade

Creative Director, Brian Slade , reviews aspects of Insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season. Meet Lulu and Rufus/  Over the past six months, in one of our busiest periods, we’ve managed...

01. messaging brian slade

creative director, brian slade, reviews aspects of insight's body of work over the 2015 annual reporting season.

meet lulu and rufus/ over the past six months, in one of our busiest periods, we’ve managed to create some really powerful work. one of the key aspects for the reports we do is the messages they communicate.

some of the highlights for me this year included the very ‘real family’ used to illustrate the human reason for being for nz super fund. beautifully balanced in this massive document is the narrative of lulu, rufus (the dog), dean and tamara that we created. large format imagery powerfully punctuates the document and pullouts help substantiate the long game perspective that epitomises the very ethos of nz super fund.
vector boldly used their electric vehicle (evs) initiative to illustrate their strategic aim of transforming the business by creating a new energy future, by leveraging new technologies. the message was directly extracted from their new vision. each initiative that feeds into this overarching concept is supported by ‘pop up’ iconography and short hand messaging. easy to skim read and extract key messages.

we created ‘we are here’ to cleverly play on mighty river power’s maturing and ‘arrival’ as a publicly listed company, while also clearly positioning them in the heartland of new zealand, focusing on our natural renewable energy resources. this message of ‘we are…’ was picked up for the chairperson’s message to deliver an affirming foundational message and also followed up through focusing on sponsorship and evs.

the creative for new client, fletcher building, built on a values and messaging initiative that they had implemented internally. the messaging idea was given extra authenticity by having the workforce themselves articulate fletcher's values and proposition. delicately executed, this report and review is deep and rich.

finally, spark took three spreads and the cover to mark their territory and clearly inform the reader what they are about. human benefits and warm fuzzies are depicted as technologies expand into every corner of our lives, accompanied by an affirmingly positive ‘on track’ message.

if you’ve read this far, congratulations… and keep an eye out for powerful annual reporting results 02. typography.
messaging, annual report

The power of the strong visual continuum

13 Oct 2015 by Brian Slade

Line of sight When you're talking to customers, community groups, suppliers and shareholders the length and breadth of the country, and an internal audience the size of a small town, the best...

the power of the strong visual continuum brian slade

line of sight

when you're talking to customers, community groups, suppliers and shareholders the length and breadth of the country, and an internal audience the size of a small town, the best advice your design company can give you is create a ‘line of sight’ into your visual identity.

i always enjoy working through the challenges of an identity system that is segmented by key audience groups. it helps you really focus on each identity element and its flexibility to communicate in different ways to different audiences. a ‘line of sight’ is an approach where you create a visual set of cues that you can dial up or down to pre-determined levels dependent on the audience you are talking to. it allows the viewer to get a sense of who you are, with enough rigidity to maintain the integrity of the visual identity but with enough flexibility to allow for agile interpretation. on the flip side, if left until ‘later’ to organically evolve, you can end up leaving budget-shy aspects of the business or under represented areas lagging behind, playing brand and visual identity catch up.

it takes a bit of focus and commitment, with the biggest hurdle getting everyone holistically appreciating the value in creating a line of sight. so who should consider this and why? first, think about the various audiences who interact with your organisation. typically this could be staff, contractors, suppliers, customers, investors, government, media and community groups. they’re all after something slightly different. chances are you’ll want to speak to them in the most relevant way that resonates with them. the next consideration is consistency. you may operate in a marketing or communications team where interpretation may be an issue, and if you're looking to guide a consistent approach, think ‘line of sight’.

we’ve worked with mighty river power (mrp) for a good few years now and when we first started the relationship we realised creating a strong visual line of sight was going to help us. fundamentally we stripped the visual identity back to simply the logo and began to build from there. first we developed their brand positioning and then their visual identity in order to tell an integrated story from generation to supply. our brief was initially focused around a corporate audience, however we knew their audiences were more far reaching. this is where the line of sight kicked in.

without a visual or brand audit or strategically mapping out the full landscape, we could quickly have come unstuck as the relationship evolved. we created three core landing stages that looked, respectively, at a corporate, community and an internal audience. each landing stage has unique elements that build into one visual identity palette. there’s a strong visual continuum that allows for responsive and agile creative design, creating really positive results and continuity.

we defined the tone of voice and personality of mrp. then agreed a framework for managing different types of communications to different audiences. the primary colours used in all communications are the same regardless of audience, although we do use a broader and more vibrant colour palette for internal communications. community communications use a variety of clear cut imagery that reflect the human aspects of mrp, supported by an additional typographic treatment. corporate communications that focus on assets and process have more solid, confident, bold features in the palette.

the internal palette has helped unite all employees as ‘one team’ with a common voice and clear understanding of the company’s external brand story. within the line of sight, the strong overlapping visual elements express unity and collaboration.

this simple but effective approach has allowed us to create a cohesive visual language that clearly speaks to all of mrp’s audiences. the rollout of the identity has been an exercise in logistics management, from environmental experiences in their corporate offices to hard working hydro facilities. internal communications, health and safety programmes, shareholder reports, sponsorships, electric car initiatives, online, profiles, presentations… the list goes on, as do the benefits of the early decision to develop the flexibility of a ‘line of sight’ and not rely on ‘she’ll be right’ or ‘later’.

design, visual identity, mighty river power

Type design to make a point

12 Oct 2015 by Brian Slade

What the type? The familiar quote that the pen is mightier than the sword has endured for generations and defended, with rightful eloquence, the intellectual ‘content is king’ premise. However when it comes to the...

type design to make a point brian slade

what the type?

the familiar quote that the pen is mightier than the sword has endured for generations and defended, with rightful eloquence, the intellectual ‘content is king’ premise. however when it comes to the question of what typeface it should be in, the debate between client and designer can often be surprisingly subjective.

for some, if it’s not available in powerpoint, part of the system fonts or in the identity guidelines, it’s simply design affectation. others stand back, open the floodgates and try a whole bunch of things… just because. so why do we have this hotly debated issue?

if we go back to basics we start to get some clues. the four building blocks of virtually all visual communications are typography, colour, imagery (photography/illustration) and the intellectual content. these obviously also form a significant part of any visual identity guidelines and by their very nature these tend to be about creating consistency, ruling out any debate or subjectivity. but should it?

as all things evolve and tastes change, advertising agencies often refer to the need to speak specifically to a need or audience. think about furniture, architecture or fashion. even the classic black dress or jeans are reinterpreted time and time again to keep up with contemporary and evolving tastes. typography is subject to these same forces of fashion, evolution and purpose – but should always be considered in the widest spectrum of impact and implications on the visual identity and extended communications. never in isolation as a one off or just because.

working with type is quite an art form. the mere fact that it’s on the page doesn’t mean it’s easy to read (assuming that’s what you want to happen) or that it effectively connects with the overall idea of the communication. it’s often undervalued, but if ignored it can be horribly hard on the eye - forming an obstructive barrier between you and your audience. whether it’s basic layout that is easily digested or headlines that capture the essence of the communication, having a client that appreciates typography is really liberating and allows it to be a powerful feature of their communications.

we’ve worked with stand children’s services, tū māia whānau, over a number of years. last year they commissioned us to work on a communication aimed at funders (government agencies), staff, and key partner organisations as a positioning and marketing tool. the messaging theme was ‘renew.’

to clearly connect with the concept, we introduced a bespoke display typeface that visually captured and expressed the lead statement ‘wave upon wave of evidence tells us that one of the most crucial ways of changing the end result is address the main cause - child poverty.’

we referenced all aspects of their visual identity in the communication. however, to ensure the strongest possible connection to the overall concept, we identified the communication need to introduce a bespoke display typeface that also acts as a metaphoric and illustrative element.

drawing on waveforms in a graphic and linear way, we abstracted these ‘waves’ that appear relentless in their endeavors. as these waves hit the beach there is a ‘reflected wave’ that is also picked up within the type forms, creating light yet bonded characters. there is a meshed quality in the overlaps yet each strand appears independent.

stand support and lead collaborative inter-agency work to find the best solutions for children, whānau and families. agencies have to interlink and this purpose-specific typeface captured this notion of working together for the same end goal.

the client’s feedback was incredibly positive. ”it’s fabulously beautiful, very classy, sophisticated and grown up!” feedback from key audiences suggests the overall design delivered strong cut through for the powerful messages that underline this work. this simply wouldn’t have been achieved without the introduction of a display typeface that connected directly to the business purpose of the communication.

as one of the building blocks of visual communications, typography should be considered a powerful tool to not only deliver the intellectual content but if used well, capture more emotive qualities that connect the reader to aspects of the overall idea that ultimately gain cut through and enhance communication.

this article appeared in the november/december issue of nz marketing magazine


design, typography

Discard the cookie cutter

29 Jun 2015 by Brian Slade

What might at first seem a familiar creative challenge often requires a different solution from the one used before, writes Brian Slade. And that is certainly the case for city identities. You can easily make...

discard the cookie cutter brian slade

what might at first seem a familiar creative challenge often requires a different solution from the one used before, writes brian slade. and that is certainly the case for city identities.

you can easily make the mistake of assuming that once you have solved a particular problem, you have the answer to how to solve it again and again. sure it gives you an insight into potentially how you might tackle it again but be careful of the cookie cutter solution. it can lead you up the expensive, unrewarding or ineffective garden path.

one of the great aspects of being a designer is the insight you get into organisations - quickly needing to assess the problems they face and understanding how you can apply your knowledge. past experience is a great framework for assessing a problem or opportunity but, as our experience with city identities has taught us, it doesn’t instantly provide us with the right solution.

over recent years we’ve worked with a number of local councils and government agencies to create city visual identities, brand tool boxes and communications platforms that fundamentally serve to engage in dialogue with local residents, inbound tourism or investment audiences.

the first question to ask is ‘where is the organisation in its visual identity evolution?’ tararua district council was new, created through boundary changes. i worked with them to develop two identites that were visually linked but quite independent. the first, a council one that residents payed rates to and identified services. the second, a tourism/investment identity that leveraged off the first but was much more expressive. this clear line allowed the two to talk to distinctly different audiences and worked really well. this second identity was later evolved further to include a more regional focus. tamaki, auckland, although very early on in their visual identity development, has a long proud history. this was captured in a poem ‘we are tamaki’ which we used to form a unified voice aimed at getting both local community and government to support the vision for tamaki transformation. this objective meant the approach was quite different from tararua although both had been in a similar stage in the life cycle.

the next question is ‘what equity has the organisation already built?’ albury city in nsw, australia was much more evolved as an identity. they had established their logo some time ago, representing the council but also the city. what they lacked were the tools to communicate, under one identity, to multiple audiences. we achieved this by developing a core brand story and visual idea for the city that was then able to be expressed into a flexible tool kit that could be dialled up or down depending on the audience they were speaking to. this  gave them complete flexibility. quite different from tararua or tamaki because of the much earlier strategic decision to represent the city and council under one identity.

after the 2011 earthquake in christchurch the answer to the question of visual identity life cycle was obviously quite different. the  ‘garden city identity’ was in quite a different place. with so much equity lost and subsequent identity ‘noise’, the question was ‘what do local residents need?’ part of the solution was  the development of a vibrant, optimistic and very much independent vehicle to engage locals about what was happening in their city, quite different from tararua, tamaki or albury city.

we inherited a fledgling future christchurch website and identity. the first thing we did was to develop a strategic framework unique for its purpose, giving the work that followed the foundation it needed. we took the bare essentials of the existing creative and stripped these back to a point where all that was left was the core existing name and the idea of using a broad colour palette - the key attributes that spoke to the strategic intent.

working closely with a very positive client we were able to evolve the name to be more regionally inclusive, and give the identity generous stretch. we consolidated this into a practical design system, adding a typographic set, an independent logotype, new visual language and distinctive tone of voice messaging. the new identity sytem allowed for broader communication and stretch across multiple channels. packaging it up into a set of guidelines, with examples of how it worked, we then shared it with the various internal and external design teams to implement.

we’ve managed this collaborative brand rollout process with a few clients, finding the best way is open honest dialogue, working out strengths and weaknesses early on and being honest about them.

it’s one of the most positive experiences contributing to a city that is grappling with how to visually represent and express itself to its audiences. it’s very tangible and ‘real’. you get to walk around and see your work in action. a uniquely special city required a unique solution that was right for them. obviously having that background knowledge to city identities really helped us offer up, not a cookie cutter solution, but an approach right for christchurch at their stage of the identity life cycle.

- published in nz marketing magazine, july/august 2015







marketing magazine, design, brand, city brand

Trending away from Trends

11 Mar 2015 by Brian Slade

A well designed future may be informed by trends but shouldn’t be slavish to them says Brian Slade.   At the start of each year, just as are getting back from that glorious summer break, there seems to be an...

trending away from trends brian slade

a well designed future may be informed by trends but shouldn’t be slavish to them says brian slade.


at the start of each year, just as are getting back from that glorious summer break, there seems to be an ever increasing array of trend predictions - from retail trends, to sports, oscars, careers, celebrities, cars, the work place, sharemarkets, technologies, the list goes on. i find these lists really interesting, as i’m sure half the things on them wouldn’t stand a chance of getting anywhere without these trend predictions and then our own innate human curiosity. interestingly self-fulfilling!

the design industry isn’t without its own predictions. these need to be navigated carefully in order not to simply fall into the trap of being relevant one minute and not the next.

until last year, some marketers had considered cross-device optimisation as a fringe benefit. no more. “mobile first” is the catch cry for online design now. agility marketing (likes and tweets) looks to increase as marketers and audiences talk ‘face to face’ more online than ever before and rich media and video become more commonplace. there’s a growing desire for simplicity and cleanliness in communications with flat simple graphics continuing to lead the way. countering this desire for clarity is a resurgence of crafted typography with an expressive personality and humanity. the colour for the year is apparently masala (pms 18-1438), with pantone claiming it is appealing to both male and female, hearty, yet stylish, universally appealing and translating to fashion, beauty, industrial design, home furnishings and interiors.

i think part of the trick is knowing when a trend is relevant to your communications task and when it’s not, but more importantly understanding what’s behind the trend and relevantly applying this to a project. as a rule of thumb it’s safe to say that if you’re working on a one-off campaign or communication that speaks to a more youthful audience you’ll want to be employing visual elements and language that resonate as being ‘on trend’. having said that, part of a designer’s role is always going to be ensuring that the visual language they are using resonates with their primary audience.

our work on the nz super fund’s website is an example of this. the nz super fund was set up for the government to save now in order to help pay for the future cost of providing national super to kiwis. they have a clear understanding of what their audiences are looking for and speak to them consistently over a long period of time. our design approach needed to be current but, more importantly, be relevant to many audiences and for a number of years to come. 


their primary external audiences include investment managers that follow them closely with strong relationship-based communications, interested members of the public and international and local media. we’ve worked with the fund for a number of years on visual identity streamlining and various offline communications including their annual report which has achieved international recognition.

the website held quite different challenges, speaking primarily to audiences that look to track the fund’s performance and understand its investment approach. working closely with the client and undertaking user testing, we built on their existing website’s good bones by refining the ia (information architecture). we put a lot of focus on the ux (user experience), looking to optimise intuitive site navigation with an enhanced site search to achieve transparent, clear, accurate information. gaining clarity through clear design thinking.

the design solution involved moving the existing abstract imagery to more human imagery of children, parents and grandparents interacting in natural new zealand environments. once again looking to the trend of connectivity and belonging, these give an essential reality to why the fund exists. this approach also delivered on the inter-generational aspect of the fund – saving now to benefit future generations.

rich content such as video was used to explain more complex content, once again on trend but clearly functional and beneficial to the end user, putting a face to the investments.  the design uses a combination of subtle but important humanist design assets such as soft shadowing in the navigation and layered colour tones. while these go against the flat graphics trend, they create a warmer experience that supports the fund’s purpose. 

the nz super website is a well designed site that, although isn’t slavish to a trend, is clearly informed by them. it just takes a bit of courage and judgement.

- published in nz marketing magazine, march/april 2015

The 5 day Visionarium

20 Feb 2015 by Brian Slade

The challenge was to dress a travelling container, the Visionarium, for Future Christchurch that was approachable and informative. Turnaround was about 5 working days from start to finish. The creative solution was to...

the 5 day visionarium brian slade

the challenge was to dress a travelling container, the visionarium, for future christchurch that was approachable and informative. turnaround was about 5 working days from start to finish. the creative solution was to stretch the more formal aspects of the visual identity we've created; to go bold and visual and get my paints out to create bespoke eclectic typographic elements; and with positive messages that supported the display board content, fly-throughs and website. job done - in 4.5 days.

Branding 360

10 Feb 2015 by Brian Slade

We’ve been working with the New Zealand Drug Foundation for years. We’ve created core brand identity elements, video, web, symposiums, sub-branded initiatives and a whole lot more, including their quarterly 40 page...

branding 360 brian slade

we’ve been working with the new zealand drug foundation for years. we’ve created core brand identity elements, video, web, symposiums, sub-branded initiatives and a whole lot more, including their quarterly 40 page magazine matters of substance. late last year they moved into new offices and we took a look at their environmental branding application to give their brand a full 360 degree visual and messaging alignment.


branding, environmental graphics, nz drug foundation

Human interest

03 Feb 2015 by Brian Slade

You can take all the technology you like but at the end of the day the human interest angle always seems to be a key focus for us… and I think that's a good thing. This was clearly demonstrated earlier this month...

human interest brian slade

you can take all the technology you like but at the end of the day the human interest angle always seems to be a key focus for us… and i think that's a good thing. this was clearly demonstrated earlier this month when the stamps we designed for new zealand post/air new zealand were released and immediately the two stamps that got the focus were the ones that had children on them and the search was on to find them now. personally my favourite was the teal one, what about you?

nz post, postage stamp design

Designed to work

19 Dec 2014 by Brian Slade

Design shouldn’t seek to be creative or effective. It should always strive to be both. Earlier this year we secured the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as a client for the first time. The NZSO is well known for...

designed to work brian slade

design shouldn’t seek to be creative or effective. it should always strive to be both.

earlier this year we secured the new zealand symphony orchestra as a client for the first time. the nzso is well known for their artistic excellence and high standards of creativity. it’s always a great pleasure working with creatively inspired organisations and we’ve been lucky enough to work with a few including the arts foundation and the royal new zealand ballet.

over the years, the nzso has produced a number of stunning season brochures that have been recognised with numerous design awards. fair to say we were pretty excited to be working on the season 15 brochure and its extended communications programme.

at the brochure briefing, the client was very clear about the objective: “more bums on seats.” this was followed by an explanation that they didn’t want an ‘over-designed’ brochure that made them look pretentious and inaccessible. they wanted something that represented their artistic excellence and worked hard to sell more tickets to the season’s individual concerts. by their very nature, the client understands the tension between creative integrity and business reality but even they seemed to imply that creativity needed to be grounded in effectiveness.

for many designers this outwardly expressed desire for a more functional approach could be a bit of a let down and they may feel that it compromise their creativity. in my view, if you approach a job with an attitude that it’s not a creative opportunity then chances are, it won’t be.

unfortunately this ‘creative or effective myth’ is one we seem to reinforce as a wider creative communication industry. we hand out creative awards to design ideas even though they fail to deliver the client’s objectives. we have separate awards to recognise communication effectiveness as if to say “it’s ok that it wasn’t that creative”.

i am a firm believer that in our commercial design industry good creative is only as good as the results it delivers. our clients pay us to design communications that inform, create desire, drive actions or change perceptions. if they don’t do these things then how can they be hailed as good design? a beautiful chair that can’t be sat on is a failed design. equally, a highly creative sales brochure that doesn’t sell is just as much a failed design.

fortunately, creative design and effectiveness do go hand in hand. good creative assists with cut through, engagement and storytelling, allowing audiences to effortlessly move through the stages of awareness, interest, desire and action. a strong creative idea balances rational and emotional appeal allowing the heart to want and the head to turn it into action.

to understand the season 15 offering we set ourselves the homework task of listening and watching the music and guest artists that make up the season’s concerts. for each concert we developed a story capturing the essence of what audiences would see, hear and experience. we also attended nzso performances to immerse ourselves in the concert experience we were promoting. (i’ve got to say what an awesome experience it was!)

the brochure’s cover is a key focus of immersion - losing yourself, or indeed finding yourself, through the music and the experience. the opening spreads tell a high level story of the season and what seeing the nzso live will feel like for audiences. these pages draw readers into the more detailed concert pages that follow. concert spreads provide a mixture of expressive and passionate imagery and factual cues to further involve the reader. to capitalise on the emotional engagement, the booking information was redesigned to aid the reader to take immediate action.

if you’ve read this far then the question you may ask is, did the season 15 brochure deliver both increased sales and high standards of creativity? so far, season sales are over a third higher than they were at the same time last year. we can’t claim it’s all because of our design (the season itself features an amazing line-up of compositions and guest artists) but the client feels that our work has definitely made a big difference. feedback on the brochure design is that it is worthy of awards recognition. we will no doubt enter it and let our creative peers be the judge.


nzso, subscription, 2015 season

24% of New Zealand children are living in poverty

24 Oct 2014 by Brian Slade

Wave upon wave of evidence tells us… 24% of New Zealand children are living in poverty. The longer they live in poverty the greater risk of physical harm, cognitive development and health issues they face. With this...

24% of new zealand children are living in poverty brian slade

wave upon wave of evidence tells us… 24% of new zealand children are living in poverty. the longer they live in poverty the greater risk of physical harm, cognitive development and health issues they face. with this as a background to the brief we approached this years annual report for stand children’s services with a very serious hard hitting visual tone. feedback so far has been very positive, “(i was) very moved by it – loved the theme and the way it was represented with the sea – photographs are amazing and altogether a little gem…” it's good to be making a difference.

30-30-30, the EBOS journey

14 Oct 2014 by Brian Slade

EBOS are on a journey that sees them embarking on a very new chapter this year with a change of leadership. Last year's best awards finalist ‘combined’ report was split into two documents this year. The strong...

30-30-30, the ebos journey brian slade

ebos are on a journey that sees them embarking on a very new chapter this year with a change of leadership. last year's best awards finalist ‘combined’ report was split into two documents this year. the strong story-telling shareholder review assures shareholders of sound planning around this leadership tranistion, by looking at 30 years of consistent and diversified growth, 30 months of leadership evolution and how the next 30 years begins. the second document is the 'compliance' annual report that provides full disclosure for the audiences that seek this.

ebos, annual report, shareholder review

Vital/ creating capacity to meet demand

09 Oct 2014 by Brian Slade

With a clear eye on future trends within the healthcare sector, this year's annual report focuses on Vital's effective strategies to meet the demand with a strong clear message: Cause/Effect. In line with their visual...

vital/ creating capacity to meet demand brian slade

with a clear eye on future trends within the healthcare sector, this year's annual report focuses on vital's effective strategies to meet the demand with a strong clear message: cause/effect. in line with their visual identity, the bold graphic execution is a signal of confidence in their strategic direction and top line messaging.

Making it Large

13 Sep 2014 by Brian Slade

Published late last year, Lettering Large, the new book by The Monacelli Press NY features our work for AlburyCity Nexus. Celebrating all things internationally typographic on a large scale there are 240 pages of...

making it large brian slade

published late last year, lettering large, the new book by the monacelli press ny features our work for alburycity nexus. celebrating all things internationally typographic on a large scale there are 240 pages of impressive global text and letter forms.

albury, nexus, signage, environmental graphics

Scaling new heights

14 Aug 2014 by Brian Slade

Everyone who picks up our recent IPO document for Scales loves the feel. A high build UV overgloss creates a unique sensory experience that separates this document from other offers. A playful ‘apple sticker’...

scaling new heights brian slade

everyone who picks up our recent ipo document for scales loves the feel. a high build uv overgloss creates a unique sensory experience that separates this document from other offers. a playful ‘apple sticker’ is applied to the cover to add to the pick me up and read me appeal. it can be a juggling act when up against crazy deadlines, but we managed to hold onto a number of the crafted elements like the apple pie graphs and neat flow charts.


ipo, scales

Design as a business enabler

30 Jun 2014 by Brian Slade

Good design thinking brings a great idea to life and increases the chance of a start-up’s success says Brian Slade. I think deep within all of us is a desire to make a difference. It creates a sense of purpose,...

design as a business enabler brian slade

good design thinking brings a great idea to life and increases the chance of a start-up’s success says brian slade.

i think deep within all of us is a desire to make a difference. it creates a sense of purpose, personal pride and self worth when we can reflect on a situation and believe, “i made a difference.” this happens almost every time we work with an individual or small group who have a great idea that establishes a new, or redefines an existing, product or service.

our role as a designer is to bring the great idea to life with passion and focus. it’s a big responsibility. you are acutely aware that often your client is investing everything they have into you getting it right. invariably you invest something of yourself into these projects. i've seen this over the years with the start-ups we’ve been involved with like ecostore,1above and ponoko.

when you consider the huge fail rate of start-ups, and the financial outlay required to get things going, it's no surprise that some cut corners when it comes to design communications. but the right design thinking helps audiences understand an idea and its application to them. this is achieved through a combination of messaging and design working together to bring to life the benefits of the idea for key audiences.

through the design development process, clarity is achieved on the audiences, messages and the sales process. this allows the right communication platform to be established using the channels that are right for each audience at each stage of the purchasing decision. this initial work also sets the tone for the brand and expresses what the start-up wants to stand for. and even if everything isn’t applied on day one, there is value in developing the communication platform with an understanding of where it will go as the business takes off.

done right, a great idea partnered with the right design thinking will help start-ups communicate their idea effectively to attract the right backers, suppliers, distributors, employees and ultimately customers. worth investing in, i think.

over the last few months we’ve been working with the team at savii to launch a new kind of employee benefits programme that delivers savings on everyday living expenses such as power, insurance and mortgage repayments. through an initial workshop, we got a good understanding of the vision for savii and why employees and employers would be attracted to it. we developed a communication plan that defined the messages, by audience, in the awareness, interest, desire and action stages of the sales process.

the next step was to create a communication platform that bought the savii promise to life. we put the emphasis, not on what savii was but, on what audiences could do with it. this strong benefit-focused approach invites audiences to emotional connect with the brand by personalising what savii could mean for them.

through a strong visual application, bold colours and emotive headlines, the concept of ‘more money for living’ emphasises that everyday savings can be used to enjoy everyday living. real life images of surfing, dinner parties, shopping and family time, express savii’s offer of more out of life. 

the positive ‘more’ idea translates to other savii audiences as well. for employers, it encourages them to offer savii to their staff to achieve more staff engagement and retention. for sales consultant, it offers more client leads and engagement and of course more income potential.

the launch programme included employer and employee collateral, sales consultants presentations, website and member’s portal, launch video and a series of environmental graphics for the savii offices. further elements are planned and will be rolled out as required.

it’s still early days but the signs are good for savii, having already started to attract a nationwide network of sales consultants. next step, employers and their staff.   

find out more about savii at

this article appeared in marketing magazine, march 2014


design in business, marketing magazine

Life changing design

01 Jun 2014 by Brian Slade

Design has the power to make a tangible difference to those who really need it writes Brian Slade. I enjoy being a designer and sometimes I love it even more. Intuitively I know that the work we do changes how...

life changing design brian slade

design has the power to make a tangible difference to those who really need it writes brian slade.

i enjoy being a designer and sometimes i love it even more. intuitively i know that the work we do changes how people feel about products, services, companies and even issues. however most of our clients are businesses which means we don’t often get to see the real impact our work has on the end consumer. every so often though you get the chance to work on something so truly transformational that it literally changes lives and reignites your passion for effective design. this recently happened to me.

children’s health camps (chc) work to improve the lives of children, aged 5-12, who are at significant risk of harm as a consequence of the environment they are being raised in and their own complex needs. driven by stakeholder feedback, chc felt their existing name and identity reflected an organisation that may not be so relevant in today’s world. our brief was to develop a name and visual identity that “captures the transformational difference they perform with new zealand’s most vulnerable children and to express the passion and urgency they bring to their work.”

the inspiration for the new name, stand, was tane mahuta, the mighty kauri, which stands tall and proud. standing together, its canopy protects and nurtures its seedlings to grow and reach their full potential. the creative idea for the visual identity ‘a brand of colour’ depicts the journey stand takes children on, from darkness to light. colour transition is a metaphor for bringing hope.

bold colour along with a strong word mark, expressive typography, photography and graphic treatments form the basis of an open and adaptable visual identity framework. this flexibility is highlighted by the multitude of launch executions including a new website, social media pages, stationery, banners, brochures, signage, presentation material and much more.

more recently we developed a series of scalable environmental graphics the stand team could rollout across their seven regional villages. the graphics allow an environment to be created where children and their families can interact in a nourishing, welcoming and safe way. the style is fun and uplifting using a combination of direct and intimate language with playfully but engaging illustrations. the messaging celebrates the children, their families, the staff and the social workers who come into contact with each village. 

we knew this work had the potential to inspire a change in the organisation but none of us foresaw the extent by which the new identity would unite people. the positioning statements ‘stand for children’ and ‘a world strong for children’ have become rallying cries for change, uniting politicians, funders and other child-support agencies. but the most significant change is happening on the ground in the villages themselves.  

last week i was fortunate enough to be invited to the opening of the new facility in christchurch, purpose built following the destruction of the previous facility in the earthquakes. it was incredible to see the reaction of the children as they saw the new environment for the first time. they were surprised and delighted as they engaged with the graphics, joyfully laughing as they followed the characters and the stories around the walls of their new home. the atmosphere quickly manifested itself in an overwhelming sense of optimism. for kids that come from a rough upbringing, hope and pride are some of the best gifts we can give them. 

staff were very quick to thank us for our work and they openly expressed what a difference the new visual identity and environment was making on their lives. i feel immensely proud knowing that our design work has helped to transform an organisation which itself transforms the lives of thousands of children each and every year.

this article appeared in marketing magazine, may/june 2014

design in business, marketing magazine

More Savii

29 Apr 2014 by Brian Slade

Neat little project for an innovative crowd who run an employee benefit programme with a difference. Harnessing collective purchasing power Savii provide big savings on core household items allowing everyone to get...

more savii brian slade

neat little project for an innovative crowd who run an employee benefit programme with a difference. harnessing collective purchasing power savii provide big savings on core household items allowing everyone to get more out of life…


‘Stop Press’ article on our new Stand branding project

28 Apr 2014 by Brian Slade

Stop Press, 5 July 2013 Marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (NFP) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. However, developing a new brand for a...

‘stop press’ article on our new stand branding project brian slade

stop press, 5 july 2013

marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (nfp) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. however, developing a new brand for a long-established nfp organisation has been a salient reminder of the wider, strategic roles that a brand can play.

rebranding is not something that a nfp organisation undertakes easily. there is one school of thought that says not a single dollar raised by the concerned public should be used to build a ‘brand’. whereas anxious nfp chief executives are balancing these concerns with the worry that if they do decide to build their brand, their limited resources won’t cope with increased demand the extra attention could create.

and finally, the commercially-averse nfp leadership team believes that building their brand will diminish their separation from the commercial world, removing the vital essence of the not-for-profit relationship with its sponsors and stakeholders.

for these reasons, when te puna whaiora children’s health camps, one of new zealand’s longest running social services, initiated a brand review, it required complex thinking and an even more intricate process than would potentially be employed for a consumer brand.

first we had to ask “what is the role of brand in the nfp sector?” and the complexity of the answer challenged our consumer brand thinking.

nfp brands are now so much more than fundraising tools. management teams are being asked by their boards how their brand is contributing to their social impact, to their external trust, to partner/sponsorship solidity, to internal unity and to capacity.

an nfp brand also needs to perform numerous roles and appeal to multiple audiences. the brand must help the nfp acquire more financial, human, and social resources, and galvanise and help construct key partnerships.

the visual identity is only the first step in the journey to developing a strong nfp brand. it’s the organisation’s ‘shop front’ and is critical to building its ability to change the world on behalf of their cause. however, it is the brand essence that is the ‘call to action’ and a constant reminder of the nfp organisation’s mandate to do things their way; to be brave, and speak out.

knowing the brand story and buying into it also helps ensure their partners and supporters do things their way too and do nothing to undermine the brand’s integrity. most importantly of all, an nfp brand needs to instill a sense of pride in all who engage with it.

the brand developed for te puna whaiora children’s health camps – stand children’s services (stand) – is no exception. from day one, the rebrand inspired a step change within the organisation. it has given stand the opportunity engage with their stakeholders, tell a fresh story and remind them of how important their work is to the community. in a nutshell, it has reframed their call to action and has reignited passion.

in developing the stand brand, insight had to consider a much larger and more varied group of stakeholders than is usually considered when developing a consumer brand. those making a financial or voluntary contribution (funders) aren’t the ones who will experience the nfp’s core promise. they aren’t necessarily looking for a “what’s in it for me?” and yet, at the same time they have a stake in ensuring the brand represents something they wish to be associated with, is professional and portrays the right image.

secondly, a nfp organisation has to be democratic in its management of its brand; harnessing and providing boundaries for enthusiastic members, volunteers and participants, while ensuring it minimises brand anarchy. te puna whaiora children’s health camps actively engaged with all key stakeholders and their feedback was critical in shaping the final identity.

the response from stand’s stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. positioning statements “stand for children” and “a world strong for children” have become rallying cries for change. the organisation is reinvigorated, with staff operating with stronger pride and an even greater sense of urgency. politicians, funders and other child-support agencies have also noticed the change and are actively asking “what more can we do to stand for children?”

insight also had to be cognisant of the fact that nfps don’t have the level of clarity between brand functions the commercial world does. managing the brand isn’t simply the responsibility of marketing or ommunications. the entire team have to be custodians of their brand’s identity and be budding brand managers and brand builders.

the brand framework also has to be more fluid as often the cause, the organisation and the offering are synonymous. the visual elements must be adaptable to allow tailoring to the need of the audiences and specific messaging, while instilling a level of brand consistency. such adaptability is also essential for the inevitable use of the brand by social media.

stand’s strong visual image with a bold colour transition, a strong word mark, expressive typography, photography and graphic elements allow for this.

the inspiration for the name was new zealand’s totara. the ‘king of tane’s great forest’ stretches high above the dense canopy of broadleaf trees and protects the other trees from storm damage. the inspiration for the bold colour transition was stand taking the children on a journey from darkness to light.

‘stand’ helps explain the organisation’s unique proposition: they stand together to bring hope to new zealand’s most vulnerable children; they help children and families stand up and be strong; they stand against isolation and fear; they take a stand, acting with urgency to deliver solutions that make a child’s world safer, happier and healthier place. and finally, they nurture dreams and aspirations of our nation’s children, allowing them to find their turangawaewae ‘their place to stand’.

Designing for multiple audiences

01 Feb 2014 by Brian Slade

Communications need to be dressed differently to communicate effectively to different audiences however they should clearly come from the same source, writes Brian Slade. Coming into a project with a new client, it...

designing for multiple audiences brian slade

communications need to be dressed differently to communicate effectively to different audiences however they should clearly come from the same source, writes brian slade.

coming into a project with a new client, it can be disarming how ‘off’ you can be with your perceptions of what they do and the people they talk to. i first met ross bell, ceo of the new zealand drug foundation in 2006 at the top of some slightly suspect stairs leading to a mismatched office space in a slightly tired part of wellington. he was dynamic and engaging.

i had headed into our discussions with a somewhat simplistic viewpoint: ‘the law’s the law’. in time, i came to recognise that the drug foundation is a complex and multi faceted organisation with a raft of stakeholders, including government, investors, lobby and interest groups, corporate funders, sponsors, the medical profession, drug users and their families – all of whom must be successfully engaged. even within these groups there are sub-groups. for example, drug users include pot, pill and meth users.

whether we like it or not, new zealanders use drugs and drug use causes social, health and economic harms and costs individuals, families and communities dearly. preventing and reducing harm is a big challenge; one the new zealand drug foundation has successfully taken on.

we knew we needed to get some order and clarity into their brand visual identity and structure. a core strategic intent of the new zealand drug foundation’s brand identity was to establish an authentic voice and position for the foundation as the single authority in evidence based national drug and alcohol policy. this was articulated in a series of ways, including the positioning line ‘at the heart of the matter’.

at the same time, we recognised that we needed an identity that was flexible enough to reach people of very different backgrounds. the politically ‘neutral’ but highly visible colour combination of orange and black formed a solid visual platform for a consistent and considered ‘brand language’ that was bold, clear and single minded with flexibility created in secondary visual executions. for example, it can be combined with evocative textural graphics and typography for conversations with users, or used with restraint for communications targeted at politicians, policy makers and health educators such as the ‘matters of substance’ magazine, website, social media and corporate communications.

“businesses have multiple stakeholders. design applications that appeal to customers may not be right for investors, community groups or other stakeholders.”

understanding audiences, who they are, what they think, what we’d like them to think and what it will take to change their minds and actions is critical to successful design. we often hear of the importance of applying a brand consistently but this can be very difficult when audiences are so varied. what resonates with one audience may not with another. by getting to know the different audiences well you can develop a tool kit of design elements that can be ‘dialed-up or down’ to appeal to specific audiences whilst allowing the brand itself to have consistency.

i love the idea of personas in online design and it has a place with offline design as well. they turn nameless, faceless audience segments into real people, making it easier to keep the audience in mind as you design. we can consider an organisation like a person. we have values and principles and a core visual appearance yet we dress differently for a business meeting, for cheering on the children at saturday morning sports or going out for drinks with friends.

well thought through brands will have audience considerations as part of their dna. their brand guidelines have been designed to allow different core elements to be introduced, removed or applied somewhat differently to allow the design communication to match the audience need.

ross bell says our thinking on how to best apply their brand positioning across the various audiences has helped establish the foundation at the forefront of drug and alcohol policy nationally and internationally. 

this article appeared in marketing magazine, january /february2014

design in business, marketing magazine

The language of feeling

02 Dec 2013 by Brian Slade

Design is a powerful language with a unique ability to convey feelings and to bring words to life writes Brian Slade Design is considered a visual discipline. But what excites me most about being a designer is the...

the language of feeling brian slade

design is a powerful language with a unique ability to convey feelings and to bring words to life writes brian slade

design is considered a visual discipline. but what excites me most about being a designer is the ability to speak to audiences at both a rational and emotional level, appealing to senses way beyond just sight.

individuals engage with information in quite different ways, creating a real need for the designer to understand the answer to the question what do we want the audience to feel?

but ask two people how they feel about something and you'll get very different answers.  whatever creative executions we put in front of our intended audiences we will undoubtedly provoke a feeling. the challenge is conjure up the intended feeling. align this feeling with a desired action and you have a potent formula for successful design.

a combination of colour, graphics, imagery and messaging are the main ingredients we have at our disposal to paint the right picture and evoke the desired feeling. 

at the heart of many design communications is colour. the thing i love about colour is the way it sets a mood. dark colours generally express a more sombre, serious tone; here in new zealand black is obviously a symbol of national pride, mana and quality; bright colours evoke fun and optimism. but i particularly enjoy the transitions: the ways that movement of colours, say from dark to light, can be used to symbolise transformation, direction or the emergence of hope.

a distinctive visual language should render a complete impression. choice of fonts makes a message feel architectural or expressive. photography and other visual graphics can be used to depict literal messages, display concepts or to capture a tone or mood. the growing popularity of infographics helps communicate numbers, proportions and relativity in a highly accessible way. page layout too can be used to change the pace of a communication, further informing a reader’s experience.

add this visual language to powerful words and the right tone of voice and you’ll have a very effective communication.

over the years some of the most enjoyable design projects i've been involved with have looked to express the messages and feelings evoked by music, art or writing. the tamaki project began for us with a poem – and it’s a great example of how design and words complement each other to appeal to audience’s heads and hearts.

tāmaki transformation is the first urban regeneration programme of its kind in new zealand. it aims to transform auckland’s tamaki region by working with the community to improve lives through housing, education, employment, transport and social infrastructure initiatives. imperative to the programme’s success is ensuring a connection by key audiences with the vision for the area.

the poem, “we are tamaki” was created by leading pr firm senateshj to express tamaki’s history, culture and pride in the place and its people. on first hearing it, i immediately felt the power of the words and was able to create a picture in my mind of what the area stood for. our visit to tamaki soon confirmed that image - a community that is strong, vibrant, diverse and proud.

the first step was to develop an overarching visual language that would bring the vision for tamaki to life. the real challenge however was to use this language to speak to a very broad audience set - ranging from the youthful community itself right through to outside partners and politicians. the other challenge was to ensure the vision for tamaki wasn’t lost, buried amongst the high volume of detailed information that needed to be communicated.

our design language says we are tamaki in a similar way to that expressed in the poem. the visual identity focuses heavily on the people of tamaki and the pride they carry. it reflects the colour and energy that cultural diversity brings to the area and is supported by imagery of the area’s natural, historic and cultural assets. a lively colour palette with specific emphasis on yellow seeks to engage with maori and pacific island communities. photography is deliberately eclectic – focused on people and the community. typography is solid and bold, almost icon like, and icons themselves are also used as a positive visual shorthand.

combining the language of words and design has allowed a strong tamaki regeneration story to be communicated to all audiences. did the feeling we created resonate with audiences? the community feedback is clear, with many using the word proud to describe how they felt. i guess the answer is a resounding yes.


this article appeared in marketing magazine, november/december 2013

design in business, marketing magazine

Branding 'Not-for-Profits'

01 Dec 2013 by Brian Slade

What is the role of brand in the not for profit sector? In summary, a good NFP brand: Promotes the Cause/Raises awareness of the issue Attracts funders Attracts the right sort of funders with aligned values ...

branding 'not-for-profits' brian slade

what is the role of brand in the not for profit sector?

in summary, a good nfp brand:

  • promotes the cause/raises awareness of the issue
  • attracts funders
  • attracts the right sort of funders with aligned values
  • attracts partners, suppliers and community engagement allowing better results to be achieved and costs to be managed.
  • ensures those the nfp works to help trust they will get the right sort of assistance from the nfp so fully engage with the organisation. fuller engagement leads to better outcomes.
  • drives a positive internal culture where staff are engaged by the cause and the good the organisation does and are motivated to do more. a positive value aligned culture leads to increased productivity.
  • drives efficiency in decision-making.  a clearly articulated brand which is strongly aligned with the organisations mission and values lays a platform for quicker and better decision-making.  this leads to increased results and reduced costs.

why is branding important in the nfp sector? is it more than simply a tool to improve fundraising power or raise profile?  in what way? how does a strong brand work in the nfp sector?  what can it achieve?

branding is important to all organisations because it represents who they are and what they stand for. 

a brand allows an organisation to make an emotional connection with its key audiences, who develop a level of expectation of their brand experience based on their perceptions of the brand.  effectively, a strong brand builds a level of trust in an organisation.

this is idea applies acutely in the npf sector where the usual market-forces don’t apply in the same way. 

those making a financial contribution (funders) aren’t the ones who will experience the npf’s core brand promise. they aren’t necessarily looking for the ‘what’s in for me?’ that consumers consider when looking at brands. therefore funding is significantly influenced by a belief in the cause and in an emotional connection with a brand’s ability to deliver. a strong, well-considered brand appeals to funders because it is closely linked to a cause they feel connected with and instills a high level of trust that their money will be used well to help the cause.

in many ways the npf and the cause are interchangeable and therefore a npf’s brand must be closely aligned with promoting the cause.

but it’s not just about attracting funders, but the right sort of funders. for many funders the decisions is also about brand equity exchange - what does the npf’s brand add to my own brand. an organisation which is positioning itself as being community-minded, action-orientated and progressive would look to support organisations with similar brand attributes. having a brand which showcases what you stand for attracts the right sort of funders who believe in what you do and how you do it. 

a similar line of thinking applies for npf’s partners. npf’s heavily rely on the support and goodwill of other partner organisations and the community. a clearly-articulated brand attracts partners with similar brand values, making irt easier to work effectively together.

those who receive the benefit from npf often don’t have to pay a consideration for it and therefore don’t make the brand value decision consumers often have to make. their perception of value comes from a belief that the npf will deliver the benefits they need.  for example, families need to trust that stand can help them get out of the situation they are in. if they have a level of trust and fully engage with stand’s programmes then they are more likely to achieve the results. therefore a good brand leads for better outcomes for those a nfp is trying to assist.

an organisation’s culture is an extension of it’s brand and is often called the internal brand. a strong external brand drives a positive internal culture where staff are engaged by the cause and the good the organisation does and are therefore motivated to do more. a brand aligned culture delivers increased productivity and can also drive innovative thinking as staff actively look for new ways to do more.

most not-for-profits operate on tight budgets and therefore have to be very considered in how they spend money. a clearly articulated brand, strongly aligned with the organisations mission and values, lays a platform for quicker and better decision-making. this leads to increased results and reduced costs.

how does the process for creating a nfp sector brand differ from a more commercial proposition?

the process of developing a brand is largely the same across the commercial and nfp sector. it starts with a clear understanding of the organisation’s mission, vision, values and positioning.

the strongest brands are developed in a customer-centric way, telling the organisation’s story with the needs and wants of the end-user in mind. nfp brands need to do the same but at the same time they must appeal to funders. these two audiences often have conflicting needs and, because of their differing profile, have a different way they want to be communicated with.  

all good brands have a strong framework which allow the visual identity to be tailored for the specific audiences. for example, how the brand is applied at corporate level vs at product level or as an employment, community or investor brand. this leads to a structured brand architecture with certain elements ‘dialed’ up or down for specific audiences or markets.

nfps don’t tend to have the same level of layers or clarity between brand functions (nor do they have the funding to develop complex brand architecture) which means that the framework needs to be more fluid. the cause, the organisation and the offering are often synonomis meaning the visual identity elements must be adaptable to allow tailoring the needs of audiences and the specific messaging.  for most corporate brands, the visual and written message is generally made to fit into the brand architecture, allowing a consistent brand identity to be presented. for nfps, the brand framework needs to be developed to be more fluid to adapt to the messages, and its audiences, while still instilling a level of brand consistency.

for nfps, surely the need is simply for a great, attention grabbing visual identity/logo? if not, why not?

a brand is more than just its logo. its visual identity also includes elements like colour, typography, photography, graphics and tone of voice. most brand perceptions are however formed by experience rather than the carefully constructed visual identity. our views of a brand are formed by what we read in the paper, see on tv, hear from our friends and family and from our own experience when we deal direcly with the organisation.

therefore developing a great brand is about thinking about the entire brand experience and in particulr those moment of truth which shape people’s perception of an organisation.

nfp are not exempt from this. the need isn’t only for an identity which grabs the attention of the audiences they are trying to attract but also one which conveys the right brand promise. an effective brand sets the expectations for the brand experience.  expectations are then delivered (and exceeded) leaving the audience with a positive brand experience.

in what ways will the rebrand to stand children’s services help children’s health camps?   how does insight believe the rebrand will help the organisation achieve its mission?

children’s health camp felt their name and identity conjured up images of an organisation not so relevant in today’s world and this hindered their ability to attract funders, discouraged families from fully engaging with them and didn’t get children excited at the prospect of being part of one of their programmes.

the brief was to develop a name and visual identity that “captures the magic we perform with new zealand’s most vulnerable children and to express the passion and urgency we bring to our work.”

the rebrand is very direct in the way it has addressed chc’s concerns and objective.  stand is a brand which is very clear in who it is and what it stands for. it is modern, relevant, engaging to all stakeholders and places its cause – the wellbeing of children- at the heart of its brand promise. these elements combined will attract the right funders and partners and will fully engage staff, parents and children to achieve the best outcomes possible.

what are the risks of rebranding a venerable organisation like children’s health camps? e.g. heritage/reputation vested in the existing brand etc.

children’s health camps have been around for 94 years and have built considerable equity in their name and brand. for their existing funders, partners, parents and children the brand holds meaning and history. change creates the risk that these audiences feel less connected to the brand and therefore may not want to continue their association, or lessen their engagement, with it.

the challenge is to bring the trusted brand elements of chc across to the new identity and to take audiences along on the brand journey. the stand rebrand was initiated by stakeholder feedback. stakeholders were clear in their feedback about what they liked and didn’t like about chc’s brand. the positive elements form the attributes of the new stand identity. 

a key feature of the development of the stand brand was the consultation process. the name and basic visual identity was developed late last year.chc actively engaged in discussing the change with all their key stakeholders and feedback has been critical in shaping the final visual identity. this process has allowed stakeholders to understand the need for change and has allowed them to feel engaged in the new brand by being part of the development process.

design in business, marketing magazine

Storytelling across mediums

01 Oct 2013 by Brian Slade

Good design tells stories that excite, engage and resonate with their audiences – regardless if it’s on or offline, writes Brian Slade. I must admit I am a relative novice when it comes to the digital...

storytelling across mediums brian slade

good design tells stories that excite, engage and resonate with their audiences – regardless if it’s on or offline, writes brian slade.

i must admit i am a relative novice when it comes to the digital environment but always looking to grow and learn, building on my strengths. in the past, i’ve left that to our digital designers. however the world is changing and the line between when to communicate by digital or non-digital means is much less clear. these days, reaching your audiences typically involves an integrated approach that incorporates both on and offline mediums.

everyone says that print and digital design are very different – and they are. what has struck me isn’t the difference but the similarities. essentially, what designers are trying to achieve is the same thing – to tell a clear and compelling story that resonates with their audiences. in both digital and print design we think about how the audiences will interact with our communication and how we can utilise this user experience to tell the most engaging story.

with print, this can seem easier. we think about a page plan and how we pace the story through the document.  we work on the assumption that audiences will interact with the story in a linear way, starting from the cover and working their way sequentially to the end. the story is told largely the way we want to tell it. the story-telling challenge online is a little more complex. each user can start at a different place and their journey through the site will vary based on their own needs and interests or what catches their eye.  on the other hand, you have a whole host of additional tools - like animation, video, audio and social devices - to help you tell a richer story.

i have a lot of respect for information architecture (ia) and those who are expert at it. while fundamentally it’s about making it easy for audiences to navigate through your site, it is also one of the essentials for telling a good story online. firstly, it allows audiences to make the story relevant to them and a relevant story is a more engaging one. secondly, it allows you to direct, or at least encourage, a typical user path ensuring those elements of your story that you want to tell get in front of the user.

telling your story in an online environment can seem more challenging but, done right, it can lead to a much more rewarding experience for both you and your audiences.

many of our clients’ audiences will first experience the organisation through their website and therefore how a brand story will work online is critical in our design thinking. our work in developing maven’s website is a great example of using ia to tailor a brand story to the needs of different audience groups.

maven international is an independent strategy and operations consultancy that helps its clients improve organisational and business performance. they have developed a strong brand reputation for innovative thinking and delivering transformative results. their business has changed significantly in recent years as they’ve expanded across the uk, the middle east and the pacific. they asked us to tell their story online while reflecting the different needs of both their new zealand and international audiences.

maven’s new zealand work provides a perfect starting point for international clients wanting to innovate and transform. we needed to showcase this work in a way that was relevant to how their international clients do business. effectively, we built two views of the same site, driven by a combined base of information. each view of the site was designed with tonal differences to reflect the marketplace and audience while still remaining a true reflection of the maven brand.

the site makes it easy for audience to self-select the journey relevant to them. the interface is different from anything else out there and this further reinforces maven’s innovative positioning. 

maven’s business continues to thrive and they are actively looking at opportunities to expand into new areas. it seems, further tailored on-line perspectives of their story are on the cards.

this article appeared in marketing magazine, september/october 2013

design in business, marketing magazine

It's clear what makes for good design

01 Sep 2013 by Brian Slade

As the media we work with become more sophisticated and diverse, the need to design clearly and deliberately is subject to multiple distractions, writes Brian Slade. Few issues are as simple as they first appear,...

it's clear what makes for good design brian slade

as the media we work with become more sophisticated and diverse, the need to design clearly and deliberately is subject to multiple distractions, writes brian slade.

few issues are as simple as they first appear, and the temptation is always to layer message upon message, visually or verbally, in a bid to provide greater and greater explanation. growing up with dyslexia has given me ultimate respect for the power and the pitfalls of working with the written word, and for what can be accomplished through well-managed design. it continues to drive my passion for clarity in what is said, to whom, how and, most of all, why.

the discipline of effective design lies in being able to sift everything that’s provided down to communications that are clear and compelling to the reader. work we’ve completed for the christchurch central development unit exemplifies this challenge well.

to help attract young people back into the city, we were briefed to develop a competition that asked younger children to develop their vision for the world’s best inner city playground and involved older children working in groups to develop key recovery projects such as the stadium, the convention centre, the avon river precinct and the library.

building clarity into the design process starts with a dissection of the brief. i’ve learnt over the years to take very little at face value – indeed a key contribution that a design agency should make to any project is the ability to objectively and systematically filter fact from opinion, research from impression, realistic goal from unrealistic desire.

at first glance, this particular task seemed straightforward enough. however, on closer examination, there were challenging aspects around pride, ownership and connection. how do you make a competition that is fun for three year olds and hip for teenagers up to 18? how do you ask children to reimagine a place to grow up in that wasn't accessible to them?

we started by determining the name. “the amazing place” captures the aspirations for christchurch and invokes the competitive element through its subtle reference to a well-known reality show. the visual identity was correspondingly flexible: designed to speak to students of all ages and to teachers and school principals whose engagement was critical for incorporating the competition into the school curriculum.

next challenge: does everyone understand exactly what’s required and will they feel excited to be involved? we kept distilling the delivery mechanism … until it was a simple yellow brick. this brick symbolised the building blocks for the city’s recovery while evoking the fun and adventure associated with the ‘yellow brick road’. within the brick were brochures, banners, posters, ‘thinking caps’ and giveaways that schools could use to understand and promote the competition to students. 

the website provided further interest and excitement in the competition and the future vision for the city. it also served a practical function, delivering detailed information for teachers, students and their parents and acting as a cost-effective portal for schools to register and order further materials. facebook and twitter helped generate discussion, encourage collaboration and build ‘buzz’.

the competition has now been running since late january and continues over the first two terms of the school year. ccdu has been delighted with the feedback and support from the local community and the take up from schools and students. my hope is that an amazing place has inspired the children of christchurch to articulate a clear vision for the city they hope to grow up in. through this competition, and all the work going on around christchurch right now, perhaps it will indeed be everything they imagined.

this article appeared in marketing magazine, july/august 2013

design in business, marketing magazine

Anyone can be complex,
clarity is harder

30 Jul 2013 by Brian Slade

Clarity in thinking and design can help unravel the most complex of organisations and aid in cut through communication, writes Brian Slade. I get a real buzz from coaching young designers as they are full of...

anyone can be complex,
clarity is harder brian slade

clarity in thinking and design can help unravel the most complex of organisations and aid in cut through communication, writes brian slade.

i get a real buzz from coaching young designers as they are full of enthusiasm and fresh perspectives. many approach design challenges in ways i would never have thought of which is great for my own learning and development. a common lesson i often have to impart is the importance of simplicity and clarity. often, young designers can over-think a design brief and/or try to apply too many of their newly acquired design skills in one execution.

anyone can use a plethora of bells and whistles to present something eye-catching but rarely does this approach deliver the clarity that one simple and cohesive design idea can achieve. our recent work with wynyard group is a great example of using design to present complex information and tell a compelling and clear organisational story.

wynyard group are specialists in advanced crime analytics and critical threat assessment software that protects companies and countries from global threat, crime and corruption.  it's all very james bond!  they have a strong brand identity within their business circles but very little public recognition.  as part of their 2013 listing on the nzx they needed to create a broader understanding of who they are and what they offer.  prospective investors and media needed to be quickly guided through the complexities of this 'quiet,' under the radar, new zealand global company.

our fascination with international crime, double agents, counter intelligence and the like have been bread and butter for creative authors for decades. the likes of arthur conan doyle, john le carre and agatha christie (my favourite is wilkie collins’ moonstone) have guided us through this mysterious world but even they would struggle to navigate the complex regulation requirement that govern ipos and often result in long, jargon-filled and legalistic offer documents. 

using wynyard’s business as a metaphor, we sought to cut through the prescribed investment information to get to the true wynyard story in a compelling and positive way.

a 3mm hole finely drilled from the cover through the mandatory legal information, takes the reader to the core brand story on page 13. this simple device speaks to the accuracy and precision of wynyard work, cutting through complex information to get to the crux of the matter. the singular black and white colour palette mimics the binary nature of data with small highlights of fluorescent orange drawing attention to a critical piece of information contained in the detail.

reader understanding is heightened through engagement and we challenged readers to explore his or her own perceptions of where crime is being committed.  strong positive and negative photography reinforces that circumstances are not always what you think they are – behind an innocent everyday setting there could be a complex security situation at play. compelling human photography was deliberately used to illustrate the real people behind the data. 

the executive team portraits were shot individually around the world where wynyard has a presence.

a strong visual hierarchy is utilised to structure and connect information, aiding the reader on their journey. within this hierarchy a number of linking devices, such as linear thread lines and elongated em dashes, represent the possible causal relationship between information, people and events.

assurance of stability is expressed in a timeline that again strips any 'noise' to a clear direct path.

to help the document stand out in a crowded investment market, a non-conventional format was used - again positioning wynyard as not simply another organisation. this strong visual story approach extended from the printed document to a dedicated microsite.

wynyard’s listing has been a success with the initial ipo exceeding subscription targets and the ongoing demand for shares seeing the price go from strength to strength.  market feedback suggests the clarity of their communications has been the true hero of this modern day crime story.


this article appeared in marketing magazine, march/april 2013

design in business, marketing magazine
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