Five overlooked great brand names and one rubbish one.

A thought

It’s not that a bad name can ruin a brand. It’s just that a great brand name takes a brand further. When it comes to seeking out the word or two that will make your fortune, it’s easy to go to the classics for inspiration – Google, Apple, Twitter etc – the fantastic names that have boosted the successes of amazing companies, people, products and services. They all hit the great name criteria: memorable, distinctive, easy to say, ownable, loved by employees and internal stakeholders.

But there are so many other great names to learn from. From the top of our Lawless heads, here are five such less lauded examples…

What an awesome name. The enemy is already trembling by the very sound of it. In a warring sky full of meaningless serial numbers and banal metaphors for flight or strength, here comes a made-up word that barrel rolls its way through the clouds. The RAF’s Hurricane fighter claimed way more successes, but it’s the Spitfire that captured the hearts. So much of this is down to the impact of its name – inspired by the spirited daughter of the Head of Vickers Aviation.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, was always going to inspire a generation of wannabe soccer players. What sealed his deserved place on the podium of the most popular sport in the world is his four-letter moniker. Pele, a name that seems to have emerged organically out of the dusty backstreets of Brazil, is globally inclusive – geographically, culturally, demographically. It’s a nice word to say. It sounds magically effortless.

Ask any Brit about the number 99 and they will smile, look wistfully into the distance and go silent as they try and make out the distant melody of an approaching ice cream van. A 99 is classic British treat. An average quality swirl of ice cream in a cone with a chocolate stick wedged into it. Actually, no, a 99 is summertime by the beach, or a welcome cooling break during an afternoon of kids’ fun on the local playing field. A great name wraps rationality into something evocative and inspiring. It’s wonderfully alliterative and pleasing to say. No one is quite sure how it gained its name or where it came from. We do love a mystery.

What sunk this massive ship? An iceberg? Wrong. The boat’s ego sent it to the bottom of the Atlantic. What an amazing name and encapsulation of bold imperialism and self-belief. What a promise. This name makes the boat sound unsinkable. Which may well have been a factor in the inert response and subsequent reaction to the floating peril it scraped along. Complete maritime disaster aside, here’s a name of literal monolithic confidence you seldom see today. A knockout word that its sister ships, the Olympic and Britannic just didn’t have.

Flavor Flav
Hip-hop and Rap is full of brilliant MC and DJ names. It’s a separate name analysis discussion to itself. The playfulness of Eminem (Marshall Mathers = MM = M and M. Geddit?) and De La Soul’s Trugoy (yogurt, backwards). The crunch downs of Eric B, MCA, Heavy D, Ice T. The abstracts of 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg. The standout ordinariness of Travis Scott. There is much to learn about brilliant brand naming just by reaching into many a DJ’s record bag. To highlight one name though, we choose Flavor Flav. He’s not just a guy who has flavour. He has flavour twice. He definitely knows what time it is.

And one rubbish brand name?

The International Space Station is a miraculous symbol of humanity’s endeavour. If you download one of the apps that tells you where and when it’s coming, you can marvel at the brightest light in the night sky, after the Moon, as the multibillion-dollar ship silently sweeps above the Earth, 250 miles high, knowing there are real people inside the proverbial tin can, singing ‘Starman’ and doing that comedy drinking-blobs-of-water trick from the weightless air.

What an awe-inspiring thing. What a shame it has a totally nothing name.

Be more B Corp

A thought

B Corp is big news. Certified B Corporation businesses, like Patagonia and Lawless client Bikmo, meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

Make no mistake, embracing standards like B Corp is the only future for every brand. ‘Purpose’ is the new battleground for hearts and minds and it’s the new line on your brand’s Top-Trumps card that can make you the winner among the outdated, indifferent, single-use, non-recyclable, non-diverse competition.

We either give up or do the things we need to do to make the world a better place. B Corp gives us a damn good roadmap to a brighter future.

Three things your brand can do right now to be more B Corp…

1. Review your identity elements.
Look at everything. Did you know some fonts can save 30-40% more space than other typefaces? That’s fewer pages in a brochure to produce and put into the system. And what about your tone of voice guidelines? Can we do more, by saying less?

Is your imagery inclusive? In diversity, social aspiration, concept?

Your logo? What is it saying, what does it mean, does it link to your purpose? Could it be redesigned to be more meaningful?

2. Challenge your brand’s purpose.
Is profit-making at your heart? Then look deeper. Does it enrich the world? Does it show you care? If it doesn’t, let’s make it – and the world – better.

3. Spread the word.
You’re doing things right? Let everyone know about it. Create a campaign. Encourage people internally, motivate your clients to do better. Inspire. Energise. Smile.


5 reasons why you need a new brand identity

A thought

  1. The world has changed. Your business needs to change too.

‘Return to normal’? Fuhgeddaboudit. The world has just fast-forwarded by about five years and many aspects of life are not coming back. Sure, there’s disruption and short-term pain. But every business and organisation now needs to focus on the good news about what’s in front of them. The process to a new identity gives a client a golden opportunity for some introspection and thought about what the business wants to be - and it really helps to galvanise staff and partners who will need reassurance and focus now more than ever.


  1. You need a new website - so you might as well get a refreshed brand in there too

The chances are, your website needs to be more futureproof too. The slump in face-to-face meetings, conferences, get-togethers and all those olde-worlde ways to tell everyone about your services has put a lot of pressure on websites to do the heavy lifting in client conversion. Websites need to be extra clear on what your business does, compelling and likeable too.


  1. Carpe diem

Disruption polarises opportunity. There are many winners and losers when times get turbulent. One consistent trait among the ones in the winning divide is that they reacted. They did not wait and see. They took advantage of the spaces that have been made. Fast-track that marketing budget conversation… like your competitor just did.


  1. You gotta look totally socially media savvy

Hey. It’s time to stop squashing your super-long logotype into that tiny box on LinkedIn. It looks like you’re in the 1990s.


  1. You’re still reading this text after four quite long bulletpoints

Your company tone of voice now more than ever needs to shift. Empathy and openness are key factors to all businesses now. We ‘buy’ emotionally. We warm to brands with a candid, believable, human way of communicating - especially ones who feel like they’ll be there for you when you’re feeling vulnerable. Be honest with yourself and with others - as you are away from the ‘professional world’. In a world going at lightspeed towards digital, the equity of a human touch is rocketing.



Killer logo? Or dead logo?

A thought

Do you have a killer logo? Or, have you got one of the other four logo subspecies…

A Lono, also known as a logotype, is the invisible variety of logo. There simply is no symbol. The business relies on a simple or tricksy render of its name to support its brand. There is no problem in that, but increasingly, as brands need to summarise themselves more and more into little app icons and social media roundels, you will see many Lonos squished into small boxes, so that they become just a few indecipherable pixels. Or, they chop off an initial letter from the Lono and run with that, sometimes slicing off the personality or recognisable element in the process.

You may well have a Lono. Enjoy it, but just think carefully about how your brand is represented online.

There are many SoSo logos in the world. That’s in large part because, like bacteria, they take milliseconds to breed. They are multiplying by the million on those 1-Hour-Logo sites and other Logo-Instamatic-Generatotron services. Others are done quickly because the designer is given a good five minutes to come up with a work of art.

Well, what’s wrong with a quickly cooked SoSo? They’re all too often vanilla, generic and uninspiring. Without time and thought applied to get under the skin of what the brand is all about, you can only expect a shell of an idea.

What’s interesting is that you don’t just find SoSos on the sides of cheapskate plumber vans and the homepages of too many start-up tech brands. You will find a SoSo, lit up by lights, on the top of successful, large corporate HQs. Imagine how much further they’d go with an icon people could engage with more.

Every now and then, you stumble across a kind of logo that is so awful it breaks all known laws of the design universe and ignites a creative wormhole. Stand too close to it and there is a danger of being pulled into its gravity-well to find yourself in a different plain of existence ruled by the font Comic Sans.

Ohno logos are at their peak/lowest ebb when they mangle a terrible concept together with awful styling. Too clunky, too willowy, too badly proportioned, too wibbly, too wobbly, too designed-by-committee… take your pick.

You’ll find Locos in more places than just Acapulco. These kinds of logo got to that fork in the road that asked them to pick brave or stupid and they skipped happily down Krazy Boulevard. Like supernovas, Locos tend to burst into brilliant light for the briefest of moments across media channels. They’re easy to bump into with their ’$1m dollars for this?!’ headlines and a brand launch video that goes viral, featuring the CEO explaining how their entire business is brilliantly expressed by a silhouette of a break-dancing badger. Within weeks, they disappear, the new vinyls are removed from the livery and the old business cards are taken back out of the recycling bin, as the previous logo returns.

‘A brand is not (just) a logo’ goes the much wafted line in many high-brow consultancies. That’s absolutely true. But the phrase does tend to undermine a fundamental truth: that a good logo can make a brand truly rock. They are often at the front of a brand experience: be that a top left-hand corner of a homepage, a paper napkin, back of a laptop, or giveaway mobile phone energy charger. And, their importance seems to be rising now more than ever in an increasingly virtual world, when we tend to interact with brands as digitally-first.

Do you need a killer logo? If that’s a hard question to answer, ask yourself: ‘Would my brand be happy to settle with a Lono, SoSo, Ohno or Loco?’


Rebranding? Aim for the moon

A thought

Here’s a playful question that shows the power of branding… It’s a particularly good one to ask when a clear, night sky is forecasted.

What round object, held at arm’s length, will perfectly eclipse the full moon?

As people consider the possibilities, they will reach into their mind to recall all the moments they’ve experienced the moon. It will require an answer based on ‘perception’ – the invisible, magic, brand stuff that makes us decide on one fizzy drink, laptop, insurance policy, place to live, life partner, app, cat, dog, movie – over another.

The thing about the moon is, its perception is super positive. It has been built up over the years. We each recall those gorgeous evenings where the moon has wowed us when it has just appeared over the horizon. We’ve marvelled at the Apollo moon landings and what a symbol of achievement it was to let people play golf and drive beach buggies on it. Children of the 80s will remember ET with Elliott and his flying BMX being silhouetted by the moon. Children of the 70s will remember the drama of Moonbase Alpha having a bit of a nightmare as an errant nuclear stockpile blows the moon clean out of orbit and into a galaxy of great visual effects and terribly scripted English-speaking aliens, usually played by Brian Blessed, in sci-fi TV’s Space 1999.

For us all, in different ways, the moon is a big deal. But, what round thing will perfectly blanket it?

A dinner plate? Don’t be silly. A tennis ball? Interesting. A golf ball? Hmmm. A low value coin? A penny? Or, maybe a plump juicy cherry?

It’s none of these.

At arm’s length, the moon can be entirely eclipsed by a small garden pea.

You’re surprised. You don’t believe it. You’re going to try it tonight and check.

You’ll see the reality of the moon is somewhat less impressive than the perception. It’s really quite tiny. Therein lies a message about the value of good branding. It can fuel positive perception and build magnificence. A damn good logo, wrapped in a true and compelling story generates gravity. And, if you want to increase the positive perception of your business, we can give your brand identity a rocket.

Build a better brand, with beer cans

A thought

'Use the force, Luke. Let go.’
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars

We applaud the bold branding approaches taken by the independent craft ale market. Upsetting every brand identity principle in their sector, beer can and bottle graphics feel wild, eclectic and confident. There’s a lot of lawlessness going on. The only rule seems to be: no rules.

Where did all this come from? And, what can other budding businesses and organisations who are looking for refreshment, learn?

Firstly, craft ale brands have completely cut themselves free from the heritage of what’s gone before. Historically, beer branding got lazy: full of design clichés and rear-view mirror nostalgia. Independent brewing brands sprang up and simply rejected the whole scene. They embraced a blank canvas. Lawlessly. This freedom has let them speak uncompromisingly from the heart: the very essence of what makes the best brands successful.

What can other brands learn from this? Unless there’s a very strategic reason not to: let go of your sector’s brand identity ‘heritage’. Don’t limit your story. Don’t conform. Don’t undermine confidence in your business and blot out the light from the enthusiasm and energy that’s fuelling your brand. In simple terms, if you like: make your identity lawless.

We’ve worked in the fascinating (legalised!) medical and pharmaceutical cannabis brand world. Essentially, cannabis is a brand that’s seeing radical and rapid perception shift. The products and services that are appearing in this early stage of the market’s development are interesting to note. Unlike craft ale, there is a lack of confidence in their identities. Brands often think cannabis leaf motif first: and we’re not sure that heritage is always helping. Other brands try and look ultra-pharmaceutical and ice-cold to front legitimacy. But this can seem insecure. Some adopt a rustic, hokey feel. Warm, independent, cosy and reassuring in intent. But possibly too mawkish for today’s marketing aware consumers.

Few brands in this sector, so far, are just letting go, standing back, perhaps cracking open a craft beer and challenging themselves deeply enough with their identity.

What do you really want to be? And, what’s your true story? These are the blank-canvas questions every business and brand need to answer honestly, when creating their identity.

Let go and let’s go.



A thought

Wherever you are in central London, you are never more than 6ft away from the proposal headline classic, 'Define. Design. Deliver.'


A thought

Why are blogs so full of sense? If it’s to inspire and invigorate the mind: what’s wrong with nonsense?


Nonsense is brilliant. Nonsense derails normality and gets you into exciting, unchartered mental territory. If clever-clever writers really wanted to get us to think of new ideas and help us be more creative and capable in our lives, stop being so linear and meaningful.


In fact, bing bong ding dong monkey monopoly tooth floss banana. Hyper book car plant tomato. Champagne shoe cheese iceberg pret box, table namely jam never done: football flake bag gym kit. Pink green purple paperweight oblique road verge mother, bird box wall. Cutting mat photocopier, kidney beans rug TV Banksy chewing gum. Affirmative plank. Rose leaf lines castle. Whiteboard!


Cobble bobbins flat cap sea! Cotton fruit fly moon owl lake field, baked bananas domino, rally tin can alley battleships. Holly mount pleasantly flexed bruised yet hockey river duck egg blue. Elastic candle pen, ruled by and with so many trunk call reversed tumble gold: lead-out train. Big ring crank cable nimbus pavement hood tap trainer sneaker Idaho potatoes.


Little sister jack in the box of run forest run. Precisely because we flounder quadrillion onion, town square horse water fountain. Maybe, just pigeon widget margarine that’s gaul folks. Sixpence donut cup of tea, slice of cake aunt Sallie.


We told you. Where’s your head now? In a very different and interesting place than it was three paragraphs ago.

Top tips for a tip-top creative workshop

A thought

Creative workshops are our favourite kind of meeting. We tune them to all sorts of client needs: a brand definition workshop being our most favourite kind. Below are just a few things to do and consider if you want to make the most of these sessions.


Get the right day and time

Monday mornings can be surprisingly lively and energised. Thursday is probably the best day for people’s clear headedness. Friday might seem like a good idea: but people can be a bit distracted with work they’ve got to finish before the end of the week, or they're already thinking about their weekend bike ride. The very beginning and towards the very end of the day are the best times.


Ban sweets

Providing energy for a workshop is good. But ban sweets and nice looking biscuits. They are bright, shiny and like eye magnets. They fog and cloud the brain. They are very distracting. They also cause spikes in brain activity and sharp drops too. Stick to a bit of coffee, enthusiasm, positivity and maybe little else.


Get a comfy chair, but stand up a lot too

A relaxed posture will relax the mind. Better still, walk around, stand up, go for a stroll together. An active workshop will activate the mind. Disrupt the routine of office life.


Take lots of breaks

You will say that they can go to the loo at any time. But they won’t. You will ask them to turn off their mobile phones, but they would feel more comfortable checking in online now and then. That’s fair enough. But keep breaks short. Like five minutes at a time.


Less than three hours

A good session generates a lot of wattage. After three hours, everyone will be cooked. All you’ll get thereafter are exhaust fumes.


Have an agenda

Have a pre-decided plan of action, that's given to everyone way before the session begins. No activity or topic should last longer than 30 minutes. Keep the kettle boiling.


Get ready to ditch the agenda

It’s all about the hunt for insight and ideas. If someone is on to something: throw the roadmap away and go seek it. It may be you discover something really exciting. So just keep on going.


Stick a piece of paper up for ‘issues for another time’

Some avenues of discussion may be interesting… for another day. Stay focused: note what you’re talking about that’s off-topic and get back on track.


Snub out negativity

The best way, the only way, to deal with a workshop that’s going sour is to be radiant. Shine with positivity and keep going forward. Your trump card is that creativity can never be undermined.



Some people haven’t heard their opinion in a room full of people for a long time. Others are afraid of saying silly things or being thought a fool. So begin by hearing each person’s voice, on a topic that’s silly or foolish. See. It’s not so bad after all.



There is a golden moment of collective insight at the end of every creative workshop. Capture it quickly, agree it, write it down. Or it will decay rapidly and you risk that feedback later on of ’Is that what we agreed?’.


Don’t use the term, ‘brain dump’.

This is just a general plea, really. It’s one of the most bilious words in the creative industry. Bleurgh.


A thought

So, Mr Earwig walks into a branding agency.

Bear with me on this.

"You have to help me. I need rebranding.", says Mr Earwig to the bemused designers, with his head in his mandibles.

"People hate me. I look awful - like some kind of depressing, brown coloured mini-scorpion."

"I tend to make people jump because I like to hide in tiny spaces of everyday life, like in between newspaper pages and under shoes – and then leap out when disturbed."

The designers nod and pretend to make notes.

"And worst of all, I'm called an 'earwig' which sounds terrifying and not a little bit sinister:" He gazes out of the crittall windows. "I've never been in an ear. Or a wig." sighed the insect.

The designers patted the depressed Mr Earwig on his shoulder. Well, they would have done if he had any. Instead, they make him a comforting coffee from the trendy, if awkward to pour, coffee pot. 

"We can help. Come back in a week for the concept presentation." smile the designers.

Mr Earwig faintly smiles back. Not least because they didn't mention anything about fees and he wondered if he might get the concepts stage for free.

A week later Mr Earwig returns and sits down expectantly in the all-white meeting room.

'We've cracked it." announce the design team, as they tab through the first slide of the PDF.

"Firstly. The colour and shape thing. We're ditching brown. We're bringing in red: it's far more energetic and fun. It's the colour of success: statistically, football teams that play in red are more likely to win, y'know."

"We're adding pzazz too. We're thinking a nice spotty repeat pattern would work well."

Mr Earwig sits up. He likes the sound of this.

The designers go on, "We're removing all the snakelike spikiness and making you round. Circular things are more cute and appealing."

"We're slowing you down too. No more dashing about. Speed is so over. Noodling about is where the future lies."

Mr Earwig nods slowly, practising what was just preached.

The designers ready themselves for their biggest reveal, 'Finally. We're changing the name. No more "earwig". Instead, we've come up with something… charming. Something cute and delightful that will make people like you. Something that will have small children who ordinarily run away from insects, stop and pick you up. Let you run across their finger."

Mr Earwig furrows his non-existent brow, amazed in semi-disbelief at this claim.

"Mr Earwig. Allow us to present… the Ladybird."

Mr Earwig stares in silence at the stark word on the polyboard. WIth crushing disappointment, he silently gets up to leave. As he gets to the door, the designers pride turns to confusion in an instant. In a tizz, they frantically wonder what's gone wrong. Desperately, they call out of the window as Mr Earwig shuffles down the street,

'Hang on! We've even come up with a nursery rhyme to PR a bit of a sob story!"

The forlorn Mr Earwig doesn't even bother to look back, muttering something about moths and butterflies.

Drawing pin

A thought

Is there a drawing pin on your chair?

If you’re presented with your next big idea and all you feel is mild contentment, it’s too safe.

If you feel an ice cold finger of terror run down the back of your spine, it’s award winning - but you could get fired.

If you feel the sort of sharp but manageable ping of yowch that could equate to sitting on a drawing pin - it’s probably perfect.

It might win an award too.

Circular branding

A thought

"We need a new logo."

Are you sure? A new logo is just one piece of a much bigger brand identity.

"We need a new brand identity."

Are you sure? Does it no longer reflect your brand strategy?

"We need a new brand strategy."

Are you sure? Is your brand strategy out of alignment with your business strategy?

"We need a new business strategy."

Are you sure? To do it properly will require proper time and investment.

"We need a new logo."


A thought

I had the pleasure to work with Alan Rickman a few years ago. I was rebranding RADA - one of the few British brands you’ll find in the dictionary. It was a term that wasn’t always positive. For an amazing, positive brand: that had to be put right. And as a constantly under financial threat academy, done urgently, to help with funding and promoting its virtues more effectively.

So it was, a key person to help develop the brand’s identity, and guided by the robust strategic work done by Jane Wentworth Associates, was Vice Chairman, Alan Rickman. Alan had studied design and even ran his own studio back in today. He was very keen to be involved and it was clear from the start he’d ‘work closely’ with me to get to the right solution.

I recall meeting him for the first time. Taller than expected. Maybe more imposing. And frankly in full Professor Snape mode. Eyeing me through half-closed curious eyes. Sitting back, head back. Working me out. I was armed with a hatful of questions about the brand that I wanted his view on. Whatever he said was expressed with such eloquence and portent. He probably used the words eloquence and portent a lot. He made a lasting impression. He spoke of his interest in design and keenness to stay close to how the creative would progress. He made the observation that ‘storytelling will save the world’. An enigmatic and grand statement, though in an age of incredible ignorance on so many issues not least religion and politics, one that is absolutely true and much needed. The world needs RADA - who produce the best storytellers in the world.

As we approached the crayons bit of the process back in the studio, I was galvanised into absolutely blasting through every creative angle from the brief that came from our conversations. At the end of the phase, at the presentation of the brand’s new identity concepts, I was armed with 9 options. No stone was unturned here.

After an inevitably long run through of each option and its potential to Alan and a select group of stakeholders, I stood back and opened with, ‘Well folks, anything here you like?’.

Much silence.

In a flash I worked out the group dynamic. Everyone was waiting for Alan to speak first. Fine. Like the fantastic actor he was, delivery is in much of what you don’t do. In this case, he looked at me, indeed through me, with a lolled head. Cogitating, or making me sweat. Or both. The others looked to him in anticipation.

Eventually, he moved. Firstly looking left and right for permission to take control. No one defied.

‘Well. I’ll tell you what I like…’, he announced. Big pause.

He stood up and walk past all the boards and sheets strewn across the room. I was a bit confused. He then picked up… the presentation’s cover page. On it, functionally written: the word RADA, and the obligatory, invisible date, copyright, ‘private and confidential’ blurb. He turned to his colleagues. Alan was now presenting. I backed away.

‘I like this best.’, he declared.

I was thrown by where he was headed. Looking around his shoulder, I could see he was pointing to the RADA word, matter-of-factly written on the title page. Unadorned. Naked. Stark. Direct.

He didn’t need to say anything else. The initial confusion slowly osmosised into enlightenment. He was right. This brief didn’t need any of my fancy pants cleverness at the core of the identity. It needed RADA to be, well, unadorned, Naked. Stark. Direct. RADA is that bold, confident, needed, pronounced. A world away from its association with dahlings and luvvies. I was kicking myself for being distracted into another place - 9 times - when the simplicity was there for the taking and literally staring at me in the face on the cover page.

That was the lightbulb moment. The direction approved, it evolved into the RADA brand identity we see today. And I think of him and this story every morning when I Boris Bike past RADA on the way to work. He left us with many great acting moments and memories, and, as an 80s kid, I’ll continue to quote Hans Gruber at any given opportunity. He made a lasting impression for many people and embedded his clarity and authority into the RADA brand. Thanks Alan. I learned a lot.

Open mind

A thought

I once heard Michael Wolff in a talk say that one of his biggest skills in being successful in the creative world was to be open-minded.

I’m not sure the impact of what he said really hit the room. But, it really stuck with me as it was the first time I’d heard a luminary of the industry be so candid on their own ability and flair. It was, in effect, an admission of pliability in a sector where you’d expect complete forthrightness and knowing; ‘I’ve done this a million times before - this is how to do it…’.

The truth is - he’s absolutely right. And, I’ve tried to apply open-mindedness in my career to be the best I can be too. It invites and encourages opinion. It freely lets in the daftest ideas onto the dancefloor - and, as we have all known, sometimes they walk away with the Disco champion trophy. It cross-pollinates good thinking. It encourages others: as long as they are not afraid to speak their mind.

There is an art to knowing when to stop. You’ll notice when Captain Picard on Star Trek the Next Generation is in a big pickle, he’ll open up the Bridge to suggestions. As they stumble from one side of the studio floor to another, pretending to be hit by phasers, they’ll all offer their view of avoiding obliteration. Having considered everything - Picard will then re-assume command before the shields are destroyed and make the call to save the day. It’s textbook managerial style that works on any problem, be it Klingon or gnarly poster design brief.

Be open minded - or should that be maybe be open minded? - and you’ll do well in the creative industry and Starfleet.

Be human

A thought

When stuck: try humanising it.

There's one powerful direction that every, I think, design and branding project can take that's certain to work. In short, it's to humanise it.

I was drinking a take away coffee once. Its lid said 'Caution, I'm hot'. In a world that has the more often than not legalese along the lines of 'Caution: contents may be hot', this message lodged in my noggin.

Pondering it, I came to the conclusion that it lodged because lids aren't suppose to speak like people. Then I thought, more than that, I liked that it had spoken to me. And I think we all do.

We love it when animals on talent shows and YouTube walk like people, or 'shake hands', or say 'shos-sha-gees'. People name their cars. We refer to boats as 'she'. We have lady luck and old father time. We like to humanise things.

In one respect - this is a big call for humour and wit. Anything humorous is therefore defying logic, mechanics, literal - non-human stuff. Anything funny, is generally, fun, creative, for a laugh - human.

It can also be more literal than that. Logos with people in them - they're appealing. Fun. Product design: in my limited experience, the more rounded, human, face-like the style - the more we find it attractive.

Of course, writing itself can take note. Brands will often begin with Usage Guidelines talking about how important it is to be human, down to earth, peer-to-peer. Which is funny when you think how odd and inhuman a word like Usage is. Does anyone ever use it outside of a 24 page PDF of guidelines?


A thought

To do brilliant creative work: be colourblind.

I meet too many colourblind designers. It's memorable because I'm quite badly colourblind myself - often picking the wrong semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, not really knowing if the Sky box is recording or not and for a while playing football at school in all-pink kit, unaware a pair of red socks had interfered with my once white kit in the wash. 

It seems a disaster for design. On the contrary - I think it helps deliver great work. And, in part, explains the propensity of colour blind designers knocking around. Disadvantaged on a personal level makes a subject like colour totally objective. I'm suspicious and indifferent to every colour in the world. A rainbow is like a room full of dull people not doing much to make me like them. If I have to choose one of these colours for a brand or design - it's not going to be personal. It's going to be because they're right for the job.

There's no favouritism with a colourblind person in command.

It's true for all other parts of design too. Designer familiarity has lost me objectivity several times in the past. I've recommended a Lomo imagery style and had it pushed back in my face for being too amateurish… 'Can they not see the spontaneity!!' I've had typeface choices rejected because they looked too basic or jokey, when I've thought them the height of style or coolly ironic.

In theory, an ideal designer will be colourblind, imagery style blind, typeface ignorant, never printed or designed anything before in their life to avoid being prejudiced or scarred or influenced by experience. 

In practice, we show our work to our mothers, grandmothers, receptionists, mate who works in PC World: they'll give you perspectives you could never see, being perfectly blind to all your experience.


A thought

One key skill for anyone in the creative industry is to re-see the ordinary.

Kids do this naturally. It's then squeezed out of them with a decade of education to conform that tells them that it's always cold in Russia [average summer temperature in Moscow, 23˚C/73˚F, nice!] and that when you draw a house, it has two square windows on top, two beneath, a door in the middle and the roof is a triangle but for the square chimney with loopy smoke coming out of it. And so on.

So, let's practice at re-seeing – and boost our creative cognition. Let's simply look down at your keyboard. I know you're at your desk.

Go to the speechmark key, next to the colon key. Hey - it's a startled little man going "Oooh!".

How about the two keys to the right of M. Or, as I like to re-see them: the two blind snowmen who can't stand the sight of each other - even if they had eyes.

Let's push it a little. Look at the V key. Sleeping owl. Sleeping owl. Sleeping owl. Sleeping owl. OK - a bit of stretch - but you got there in the end, yeh?

Let's go to something easier now then. Shift key: a house. Easy.

Now, let's go multi-key… Look at the 6 and 7 keys. Add the Y key below. And G, H, J. Do you see that slightly puzzled monkey, eyebrow raised? Now we're really re-seeing.

That one is tougher than the chirpy Tin-Tinesque face made from keys 9, 0, O and L.

The backward slash key next to the Return key – a broken twig?

Assuming your J key has that bump to help clever-clogs typists who don't need to look down: well look down now. It's a moody jazz musician with long hair over their eyes.

There's endless others. Though, I'm stumped at the space bar. The best I can do is see the doorless, rectangular hangar window from a Death Star that miraculously stops the vacuum of space. Even more so with my laptop's black keyboard. But I feel that's not really a well shared vision.

And, if you didn't see any of the things I've described here, well done for accurately choosing accountancy as a career.


A thought

Come up with a great idea.
Make it happen.
Win an award!
Let doubt creep in.
Begin to feel like you fluked it.
Turn despondency into determination.
Turn the next brief upside down.
Come up with a great idea.
Make it happen.
Win an award!
Let doubt creep in.
Begin to feel like you fluked it.
Turn despondency into determination.
Turn the next brief upside down.
Come up with a great idea.
Make it happen.
Win an award!
Let doubt creep in.
Begin to feel like you fluked it.
Turn despondency into determination.
Turn the next brief upside down.
Come up with a great idea.
Make it happen.
Win an award!
Let doubt creep in.
Begin to feel like you fluked it.
Turn despondency into determination.
Turn the next brief upside down.
Come up with a great idea.
Make it happen.
Win an award!

Begin to believe you might be quite good…

Let doubt creep in.
Begin to feel like you fluked it.


A thought

Every now and then, you'll see a list of essential equipment that designers must have to enjoy a flourishing career. It usually involves an Apple product or three, and a thesaurus or awards book.

I'd like to suggest there's one key item that rules over them all. It's not expensive, difficult to use or need batteries. It's the question, 'Why?'.

'Why?' is the one-word skeleton key for any creative challenge that needs a brilliant response. And, in all honesty, it's the tool I've used to help design my best and favourite work. Specifically, you have to use it several times - sometimes on the same issue, sometimes - like a blunderbuss - lightly all over a thorny problem.

'Why?' is like some kind of antidote to routine. It stifles predictability and helps challenge the norm.

There's been a few historically important projects solved with 'Why?' that I've liked to have witnessed;

'So, this new desktop computer we're designing: we're gonna put it in an emotionless grey box yeh?

'I'm developing your new blogging platform. We're just creating the space for people to write more than 140 characters now.'

'Now all we need to do is put the concentrated lemon juice in this bottle that's very practical and normal looking.'

The best designers are the Kings/Queens of Why. What they show is similar to that nagging a child has when wanting to know more about the world. The best designers don't stop asking Why until they're satisfied they've found themselves in a more interesting place that truly answers a brief.

To that point - asking Why is a brilliant creative brief development tool as much as it works to answer them.

It's something that might need pactice. I recently read some research by the University of Michigan that said that only 37% of children who ask Why get a response from their parents. I wonder that if only a third of Whys get answered, whether it becomes less immediately thought of to use in later life. If anything in life misfires two-thirds of the time, the chances are you'll tend not to bother using it after a while and make do another way.

So, parents: if you what your children to be the next big creative thing, get ready for some exhausting rapport with the little 'uns. Hopefully, asking Why will then become rewarding and a close friend in their vocabulary as the grow up. Clients - get your agencies in and start asking them Why on what they're doing more and test the quality of their Because.

Tools not rules

A thought

Tools not rules.

There is a big skill in guideline writing. Too often it's a skill that isn't applied.

Guidelines need to know when to rule - and when to let go. Common words in guidelines include;

do, do not, must, must not, minimum, maximum, adhere, follow.

What there's rarely enough of includes;

Try, Maybe, how about, be free, flexible, as long as, add.

Some will say it's for good reason. Opening up a rule book to allow for grey areas of interpretation will lead to inconsistency in look and quality. I'd argue that your agencies were perhaps just not good enough, if that was the case. A bad work man and all that.

I've got some evidence to back up the idea of what might be thought of as creating tools - not rules. If I think of the biggest culprits for throwing away the rule book - it would be ad agencies. Oppositely, design agencies are often the goody-two-shoes who are most likely to stick t'road all the way to East Proctor.

Now, flick through the pages of the better creative awards annuals. It's very likely the section on advertising is thicker than design. Often, I hear this is an issue on generosity. I just wonder if its more merited than that. I wonder that ad agencies are begin a bit more Maybe than Must Not.

So, think tools not rules when it comes to implementing a brand. Better still, ditch the word 'implementation'. Nothing that was ever implemented ever set the world alight.


A thought


Schwooop is the sound and sensation you get when you remove an iPhone outer lid from its inner box. In fact, Apple generously apply schwooop to most of their packaging. It's that resistive yaw and anti-gravity pull of vacuum between an inner and outer box.

There's a fair amount of schwooop in the luxury sector. Christmas creates plenty of fragrant schwooops as our loved ones open their perfume packaging. For those that remember them, a lot of board games had mighty fine schwooops too. I seem to remember Operation and Trivial Pursuits being particularly good schwooopers.

Every brand needs a schwooop. It might not literally be in packaging - schwooops can manifest in different ways. A schwooop could broadly be defined as a precise and well crafted, pleasant kick where you didn't expect to find one. Look at the Toblerone logo. See the bear? Schwooop! When i first saw a new VW Beetle - I noticed the cool flower vase. Schwooop! Innocent Smoothies say 'Enjoy by' instead of 'Best before'. Schwooop. Barclays Bank rename their cashpoints as more fun 'Holes in the wall'. Bleuuurrrggh! 

Ah. There is such a thing as over-doing a schwooop.


Idea types

A thought

In physics, there's a not often recognised type of matter called plasma. Most people think matter is liquid, solid or gas. But there, in between, and in things like neon lights and lightning is a fourth type of matter… something else, called plasma.

The definitions of matter have a similarity to definitions of creative ideas. Ideas have a few recognisable types - and one not so often spotted.

You've got an Eureka idea. Generally found in baths and at bus stops or when washing up, these types of ideas are big, revelatory and can defeat the biggest problem in a jot. Lightning style, funnily enough.

Then there's the What-If idea. It's a bit of a shuffler. The What-If idea uses stealth to inch forward a previous What-if idea. In time, like falling dominos, they all add up to solving a problem. You see a lot of What-Ifs in group brainstorms. What-Ifs also spring from design award books, where people sometimes refer to them as an 'Evolved idea' from a previous Eureka idea.

There's also the well-coined Happy-Accident. These ideas are wild and can't really be manufactured or contained. You can encourage their growth though merely by 'having a go', like the mental equivalent of happily driving a dodgem car with a blindfold on. You might just bump the right car at the right time.

The fourth type of idea, less recognised but actually quite prevalent throughout the concept stages of many design projects is the Notion. They're good to look out for because they can play havoc with your design process. The Notion looks an awful lot like the other types of ideas. But, and they're a bit like plasma, there's not really much there when you probe them. You can easily build up a wall of what look like Eurekas and What-Ifs, only to discover - hopefully not too late - that they're all Notions.

A couple of examples;

"My next idea for the brand book is to have a booklet that folds out to be a poster."
"And this idea, will inspire an internal audience how..?"
The idea here is actually just a notion towards a type of format.

"This graphic device idea means the identity is still recognisable even when you cover over the logo."
"Then don't cover over the logo?"
Notions have a clever way of introducing phantom issues that we don't need to hurdle.

Notions may be part of the ideas process, but try and make them something else, if they can be altered. What matters: Eurekas, What-Ifs and Happy Accidents.


A thought

Proper hamburgers. Proper pies. Proper broadband. Proper gym. Proper brew.

Have you noticed the rise of proper within branding? It’s been bubbling through for a while. A lot of coincidence or fashion? Proper fashion being norm core, obvs. Nope. It’s all to do with the continual drive for brands to become utterly authentic. The days of being marketed to are over. We now need to be authentic or be damned by our customers, likely through social media. Embracing proper puts a brand on track for longevity and appeal.

So that’s it then? Make sure your brand does everything in that grounded, slightly Northern England proper way? Nope. There’s something more coming through. Have you also seen the rise of ‘super’?

Super, as delivered in that West Coast American laconic way? Or, like an enthusiastic European pro cyclocross rider. Super is coming through. Super gives proper a benchmark. Your brand will do things properly. It will also be super. Of course. Shruggy shoulders. Tilted head.

I think Sergey Brin used ‘super’ three times in his recent short Alphabet brand launch announcement. He did that Google thing. Proper good.

Proper and super. Two of the points on your updated brand essence triangle coming soon. The third one? It’s simple. No. I mean…

Made-up brand facts

A thought

Circular logos were found to be 33% less ‘aggressive’ than square ones, in a 2012 survey of US prisoners serving life sentences.

57% of UK designers spell stationery, as stationary.

There is a distinct and direct correlation between award winning brand designers and people who can recall the lyrics to the hit TV series, ‘The Littlest Hobo’. And no one knows why.

23% of all concepts from a survey of top European agencies, were reboots from previously presented ideas elsewhere.

One in every five brand designers is double-jointed.

Brand concept presentations that have the client facing in an easterly direction are more likely to succeed. In the southern hemisphere, the opposite is true. And around the equator, almost 80% of initial concept presentations fail to find a preferred creative direction.

In a recent online poll, 16% of the UK general public were unable to ‘see’ the arrow within the FedEx logo, even after having it pointed out to them.

Coca-Cola’s first ever brand campaign featured the product as Aloc-Acoc, following a mistake as the illustrator worked from the painted logo, reversed in a cafe window.

In 2014, when asked to name a favourite brand, 13% of people in a central London research session said ‘Russell’.

In February 1978, the continual line between the S and T in the Star Wars logo led to a street protest in Chicago by the American Association of Authentic Writing & Literacy. The protest deviated from its approved route to march past the city hall, resulting in an altercation with the police and authorities whereupon two protesters were injured by a police horse. The injured parties successfully sued the Chicago police force for $75,000 [2015 terms: $850,000] each, against claims of trauma and loss of income.

In a survey of top US accountants, the majority of respondents said that the British ‘Union Jack’ flag would smell of lavender.

The most popular letterform from the Helvetica font is the capital R. Meanwhile, the lower-case f and upper-case J shares the honours for New Baskerville, as according to a survey of the top 500 font designers.

In a 2015 survey of the top 50 technology brands. the most popular core brand idea was ‘Disruption’.

In the marketing headquarters of Uber, the main meeting room has a wall entirely taken up by the statement; ‘Uber is the Uber of Uber’.

The man who wrote JFK’s famous ‘We choose to go to the moon…’ speech, also wrote the first ever company manifesto for Tippex correcting fluid, and was a close friend of ‘Monkee' Mike Nesmith’s mother.

Bonus JFK fact: The man with the sweeping brush at NASA who JFK asked ‘What are you doing here?’, who then replied ‘I’m putting man on the moon’, is Howard Kampmann, still alive and residing in a retirement home in Celebration, Florida.

The symbol that pop artist Prince rebranded himself as in 1993, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Inuit symbol that is carved into snow to warn others of nearby polar bears.

Although its origin has never been confirmed, sound engineers have discovered that the sonic mnemonic ‘boot up’ sound an Apple computer makes when starting-up perfectly mirrors the wavelengths of the sound of a grapefruit rolling down a metal 30ft playground slide, when slowed down eight times.

Only four people in the world know the precise colour specification for the Tiffany Blue.

In North Korea, it is illegal to have an orange coloured logo.

The far right tip of the Nike logo points exactly 64 degrees to the horizontal baseline, in acknowledgment of 1964, the year it was founded.

Musician Morrissey was once approached to be a brand ambassador for Marmite.

Zoologists have discovered that lemur communities 'experience communication and co-habiting disruption between the dominant alpha male and alpha females’, if their enclosures are in sight of the Colonel Saunders graphic from the KFC brand.

84% of internet users who consider themselves ‘avid brand forum readers’ said they didn’t care if what they were reading was 'true or not'.

Create a Story

A thought

You hear a lot in the branding and rebranding process about the search for the ‘brand truth’. It’s articulated in various ways, but is essentially all about distilling the organisation into a thimbleful of honesty that give it a pure and neat foundation for the brand’s direction. 

Of course, this process is essential to the integrity of ensuring what is generated thereafter is valid. Know the truth about a brand and it provides a robust checklist for how good your ideas are.

But it is also potentially misguided. And, if not a carefully managed process, could deny a brand something of greater value.

Consider this: the things you upload on to Facebook. Truth, or some kind of vignette of the truth? Your Instagram images: raw, or filtered? Sure: it’s all true. But what you’re putting out there is more than just that.

It’s a story.

We create stories with our social media. A narrative. Truth that's often moulded into something instantly magnetic and likeable. Something that smoothly generates thumbs-ups inside and out.

The same applies to brands. Brands need stories at their heart. A story supported by the truth of what they are all about, but shaped into a narrative that’s compelling, attractive, appealing, memorable, that will generate the proverbial bucket load of ‘likes’.

To not focus on this risks pulling the plug on invention and creativity - the magic fuel source behind every successful brand. Bypass the idea that in defining a brand you need to make it a creative process and risk providing the worst kind of brand platform to launch a brand strategy from. The sort of which we hear about too often...

‘We went through a definition process a year or two ago, but the Board never bought into it, really. HR ignored it. Staff didn’t know what to do with it. Our agency responded with this rebooted vanillery meh thing, and here’s the blunt identity solution from it Our customers haven’t really engaged with it since.’

Focus your brand definition on creating a story. Make it exciting. Believable. Achievable. From truth: a perfect fit with your business, to write the next amazing chapter of your business.

Brand transformation

A thought


workLink1 contactLink workLink thoughtsLink