Branding our studio from scratch
How we created the first iteration of our design studio's brand, website and design system.
“Life's too short to build something no one wants.”
- Ash Maurya (Author of Running Lean and Creator of Lean Canvas)
Equipped with an urge to negate some of the gripes we'd had in our previous workplaces, Matt and I decided to form our own digital design studio. We suddenly found ourselves on the side of the table that our clients have historically sat on; wanting to launch a successful product and needing to figure out how our aims could translate into services that could give value to customers.
We started by defining our process
One of our biggest reasons for wanting to start our own agency was that we both craved a way of working that was efficient, creative and scalable. We discussed our aspirations and values at length with the view to then begin figuring out how they could power a successful working process. Here's where we got to:
- Our process should be efficient. Client work must be able to be done quickly and without doubt or distraction.
- Our process should allow for creativity. Our process will foster curiosity and allow for experimentation.
- Our process should be human centred. Research, collaboration, testing and iteration will help us to ensure our work is as good in reality as it was in our heads.
- Our process should be accessible. We have nothing to hide and are keen to learn from our successes and mistakes and share them with anyone who is interested.
With the principles about the way that we want to work in mind, two things seemed obvious:
- Our agency’s identity and working process must be informed by our client’s needs and continually shaped by what we learn and discover as we progress. It doesn't need to be perfect from the outset as we'll use our experiences to make it better.
- Our agency should be transparent, because this holds us to our value of honesty and provides a natural proof of concept.
What does all this mean for customers?
Whilst we knew we wanted to be open about our aspirations, we also realised of course that this alone wouldn't be enough to win us some clients.. To do that, whatever we launched with needed to demonstrate what we do, who we do it for and the value we can offer them.
After some discussion, we made some assumptions about how we could best focus the services that we offer around a specific target audience.
- Our services: Brand development, modular websites, digital tools, optimisation and hosting.
- What we offer: Helping start-ups and creative entities to establish themselves on the web, successfully launch products and connect with audiences.
Of course, we will closely monitor whether once launched we actually attract the potential clients that we are targeting. It's unlikely we'll manage to do this perfectly from the outset and imagine that we'll always be adjusting and refining our message to try and improve it.
We’d thrown around a number of different ideas about names, but quickly sided with ‘To Be Defined’ for a few reasons:
- It came to us quickly.
- We believe all work should continuously be in a process of definition and evolution.
- Our agency’s identity and process should too develop as we learn things.
- Given this, if our brand doesn’t appear to be working well in real life we can change it.
- tobedefined.studio was available
- Many social handles were available
To begin understanding the surrounding landscape, we looked for inspiration in other companies that share similarities with both sides of our mission:
- Our client-facing mission of being a digital agency for startups
- Our industry-facing mission of being a transparent company.
I began to realise that whilst both of these things exist, a design agency that works transparently is actually quite a niche thing.
A logical starting point was to draw on visual assets that suggested ‘construction’ ‘definition’ and ‘ideation’. So I started looking at paper textures, collages, scribbles and began assembling them into a logo and suite of digital assets that we could use to begin communicating our mission. I’ve added to this as a need for more visual assets has required.
There wasn’t anything particularly profound about this, other than it was literally appropriate, and seemed to sit in-line with both transparent companies and digital agencies in a way that didn’t feel out of place in the marketplace. I also felt that there was no point in labouring over the visual direction too much as it can all be crafted, refined and developed later.
To draw a line under it for iteration number 1, I created a set of brand guidelines.
Putting our identity into use:
Shortly after we named ourselves we launched with a very simple single page website, stating our mission and values, a mailing list sign up, some links to social networks, using the most basic elements of our brand look and feel.
We’ve already iterated the design of our landing page once, as we realised that we needed to be more attractive and welcoming to potential clients. We also created a PDF portfolio which could communicate some of the work we had previously done which shared the same messaging.
We have longer term plans to expand and refine our Craft CMS powered website - ultimately by using a modular design system, and adding case studies. We have recently added a History page, which (although very basic) begins the start of our transparent communication.
Although we've planned a site map to work towards, we’re also happy to add things to the site as need dictates and we get time to review how people are using the site.
We realised that we needed a way of explaining what it is we do, and show some of the work that we have recently done to potential clients, so we made a quick PDF Portfolio.
As we're still very new, the truth is that we don't have very much agency work to showcase just yet! However, we do have a healthy portfolio of collaborative work which has been undertaken at other workplaces. It's this work that we wanted to showcase, whilst also being representative and honest about the circumstances surrounding where we undertook each project.
We launched our website, twitter, Instagram and linked in profiles at the simultaneously, with extended brand assets used to support each message. We also are keen to share content which inspires us and reflects our values to make things a bit more interesting as we scramble to create stuff, so this remains part of our strategy.
➡️Our next challenge
As we begin working more with clients, or challenge will be allowing our brand to be shaped by the positive and negative things we learn along the way. We’re hoping that by being open about these successes and failures and remaining un-precious over the way we put ourselves forward, we can remain malleable and strengthen our brand as we go.