Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 23:40

Big businesses are heavily invested in their brand or brands, and the visual images people associated with the brand.  Few consumers would fail to recognise the Apple Inc. logo.  Within the UK Easyjet push that further and the airline is intimately associated with its somewhat garish orange.  Garish maybe, but recognisably Easyjet.  It is a colour which suggests young and energetic - ideal branding.  Most companies rely on a somewhat larger colour palette.

Companies invest small fortunes in getting their brand image right.  I do wonder how successful some branding consultants are though.  I have worked in organisations which paid consultants for what turned our to be a clashing colour combination that was almost impossible to use in marketing documents.  Not surprisingly it was quickly dropped.  Often it goes further to specify font face and size, how large margins should be, how lists are punctuated.  It often seems that the more detailed a style manual becomes that the more fanatically some within the company will promote it so that slavish compliance to a long list of rules is expected with near religious fervour.  Effort which could go into improving customer service or greater efficiency is side-tracked into ensuring detailed visual compliance.  Mishandled a corporate style can become a cost millstone.

Mishandled because customers, prospects and most especially the public are unlikely to make any connection with the company and minutiae of a corporate style guide.  It is forgotten that consistency is not a particularly valuable goal in itself, what matters is that customers and contacts immediately associate material with the company.  That is why the Apple Inc logo is such an asset.  Easyjet can brand anything simply by using the orange and remembering the brand image it evokes.  So the use of an antique font face would immediately be wrong, but in all honesty whether Verdana or Trebuchet or any other modern font was used would probably be irrelevant, so long as any publication or document was consistent within itself, although using a consistent font for the company name is commonplace.  In fact the Easy Group does have preferred fonts.  They use Copper Black for the company name, and Futura for general text.  This is what they say about their choice of Copper Black:

Its bold, confident and distinct appearance has made it recognisable and associated with ’easy’. Its soft friendly curves have given a warm personality to the ’easy’ businesses.
Notice how the font has been chosen to fit the image.

We took these principles to heart when designing Egyptological, our new Ancient Egypt Magazine and Journal.  We picked stars from an astronomical ceiling.  The web site used a modern Photoshop essence because that gives a compact image for use online, but in some of our paper material we use a photographic image instead of an actual ancient tomb ceiling.  It is an image that is immediately associated with Ancient Egypt by any Egyptologist.  That gave us the start of a colour palette.  For the web site we then added a gold for the richness of tombs like that of Tutankhamun.  Minor colours were added on practical, aesthetic grounds.  The lavender we use as no counterpart in Ancient Egyptian art.  Nonetheless, we have incorporated Ancient Egypt into our brand.

We looked at things like font and found that it didn't really make much difference.  We also intended to have a logo but in the end have found we don't need one.  Where a logo might be needed, a clip from the astronomical ceiling serves us instead.  That has the huge advantage that it can be whatever size and shape we need.  We don't even always use exactly the same blue - any colour which fits the concept of midnight blue works. 

The result is a very simple and flexible style palette which is immediately recognisable but which really only has to components:
  • midnight blue
  • astronomical ceiling
They are used within the overall concept of the brand as a publication which spans both a magazine and academic journal so nothing too modern, nor anything too stuffy.  Stylish (and relatively minimalist) conservatism.

If you are building a business, there is no need to pay style consultants a fortune.  The process isn't much different to decorating a house or assembling a wardrobe (for a woman).  It is about trying a range of ideas and seeing which feel comfortable and what don't.  It can take time but my advice would be to keep it simple because a simple scheme is much cheaper and more flexible in day to day use and the visual brand the public will remember is likely to be only the bare essentials.  If you need a formal style guide you can circulate to staff, then draft it within the style.

There are a couple of style guides to take a look at, Easy Group and Heineken International.  Easy Group is a much simpler, compact style and my preference on those grounds alone.  Both though demonstrate how different sub-brands can be created, or the detail allowed to evolve overtime, if the key constituents have been identified.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 18:36

If you are interested in following the details of the headlining privacy cases and injunctions then many of them are on Bailii but can be hard to find unless you know your way around the search system.  Newspaper coverage is all but useless as they have a vested interest - indeed newspapers are often a party to the case.

Those like me who wish to follow along and to have a reasonable sense of what is going on, then I recommend the One Brick Court website.

Obviously the super injunctions aren't listed!

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 03:11

I have been quiet because it was nose to the grindstone to launch Egyptological our new website.  I doubt the specifics will interest this audience but it demonstrated again that first impressions count.  I talk a lot about marketing but its limitations need to be understood - unless one is lucky enough to have enormous resources.

Marketing encourages people to make one specific interaction maybe to visit your site or store, arrange a test drive or attend a presentation.  Then conversion is what matters. An immediate sale helps because it established a clear relationship but in areas like professional services, an immediate sale is rare.  Conversion in that context is often about moving people from a cold state to one in which they will consider future invitations positively and without a large marketing push. In short, at the least you need to generate an ongoing interest.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 00:16

Many in business seem to conflate these two strangths.  They are closely allied but subtly different.  In the UK the contrast can perhaps best be explained by comparing Gordon Brown with Tony Blair. 

Brown can certainly be said to have gravitas.  It goes with his catchphrase of "prudence".  If somebody needed to give a speech to steady City nerves, then Brown was always a better choice than Brown.  But did he have presence?  I think not.  Certainly he lacked the presence and charisma of Blair.  There was never the sense of engagment with Brown that we came to expect from Blair - and ultimately it was that lack of charisma and presence that we his political downfall.  Gravitas is important; but it is neither the same as presence and charisma, nor indeed sufficient without them.

I have written before about developing presence.  It is certainly something that can be learned.  People say that gravitas can also be learned - starting with simple things like a slower pace of delivery, concentrating only on the key points and generally adpoting some of the traits seen in people with gravitas.  It may help.  I may try it.  I have doubts however as very few women I have known have really had very strong gravitas - and those that do seem to have lost somethimg of their openess and approachability.  Hilary Clinton is perhaps a good example of a woman with gravitas - but it seems to me that it has been achieved at the price of some of the brightness she displayed earlier in her career.  I do wonder whether many women might be better working on presence and being engaging rather than striving for gravitas.  Maybe there is a gener difference?

There certainly are physical factors.  We tend to associate physical stolidity with gravitas.  Could a size zero model develop gravitas?  Maybe, but I think it would be hard.  Indeed, going back to our orginal comparison I think a part of the reason why Gordon Brown displays more gravitas than Tony Blair has something to do with his physique. 

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 15:15

My first software was published 25 years ago. Off an on I have been designing software ever since, or sometimes acting as the design guru in a broader development team.

One thing I have learned well is that some things are easy to change later; some are really hard.  A real design master might cost you 10% more upfront, but save you a fortune in the long term.  Badly designed software may need to be scrapped in 5 years; software with a great design may be useful for 20 or 30 years while you amend it to your changing needs.  The financial impact can be major.

A crystal ball would help.  Few of us have one.  Instead it's a case of understanding the key assumptions built in to the software and either eliminating them or being certain they are assumptions which will stand the test of time.

Platform or language is a common assumption for example.  Some Cobol programs from the 70s lasted well in to the 21st century because they were modular and key modules could be retained and wrapped in something else.  The assumption of Cobol Forever had been resisted in the original design and the possibility of change allowed for.

All too often senior management doesn't understand software development. Their focus is on meeting budget now.  It's the ultimate in short-termism.  It's likely possible but the long-term costs to the business could be huge. A skilled designer should be able to swap between technical meetings and the board room where she can explain the trade off between modest savings today and massive additional cost five years down the track.

The rest of the board needs to find such an expert ... And then listen to her.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 23:20

I have written before about presentation skills and presence and how to improve one's abilities.  A further suggestion is to read directors' commentaries on DVDs.  For instance I have recently watched and listened to many of Joss Whedon's commentaries on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It's interesting how he sets up shots, creates a mode, draws viewers attention to various points.  Now lightng schemes might not have much relevance to business presentations, but the discipline of thinking about how you wish the audience to react is transferrable.


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