As Idean grew from 170 to 750+ people in the space of a year, evolving the story of our brand became crucial to scaling successfully.
But inspiring, driving and owning a brand at scale is no mean feat. Branding agencies will tell you as much — with the eye-watering costs and the odd emerging grey hairs to prove it. We set out on a journey to tackle this head on, by putting our people first and at the heart of our brand.
Living by example
As thinkers, makers and doers, we aim to live by example. So as the company grew into 2018, we were determined to revisit the brand to have a refreshed purpose for our people, old and new, across the globe.
Starting out with hundreds of questions, a Post-it wall of pains, an auditor’s notebook (or two) of past stories and a general sense of positivity, we began our journey of discovery. It was an eye-opener. The findings helped us bring meaning to the journey we were on, began to bring clarity to what we stand for, and belief in where we’re going next. We brought together people from across our network of studios — involving everyone from leadership to fresh starters — with the aim of capturing shared meaning and spirit in our brand.
Global direction. Local flavour.
From the beginning we had a view that a strong brand system is finding a balance of clear rules and creative freedom. For a brand to work at scale, rules are the central pillars for consistency — but for a brand to live, breathe and adapt it needs to be open to evolve. Ultimately, it’s this balance that would promote our culture and give our teams the opportunity for ownership.
This view was (and still is) defined as: Global direction. Local flavour. It’s about giving every Ideanist the ability to play their part and roll their local studio culture and clients into the brand.
Creating a platform for success
When building our brand, it was important to start at the heart of why we exist. This informs everything that comes after. How we work. How we express ourselves. What we do in the world. Our brand platform brings us together around a common purpose, and provides direction and guidance to challenge what’s possible – from values to visuals.
To capture and share this, we borrowed from our experience across brand and design, integrating and combining different models to find one that worked for us. The result is a model that captures the relationship between our smart approach to problem solving and our creative appetite: a bold bunch of people with the ability to think differently and challenge the possibilities in what we do.
We captured this at the centre of our brand platform as our WHY:
We’re fearlessly human and exist to challenge what’s possible
How we express ourselves
The way we share our beliefs and express ourselves through the brand needed to reflect the spirit of our people. It sets out with some clear goals in mind. To grow our culture. To communicate our purpose, our spirit and our personality. To grow our brand and attract new talent. We believe these things will help us achieve excellence everyday.
Embracing human imperfections
Our visual identity is based on ‘human energy’. We wanted it to embrace human imperfections to be authentic to this idea. The flaws, the little details that truly make us who we are and, well, human. It’s an unapologetically bold look that champions who we are and the way we work. The identity captures our fearless expression of human actions, balanced with a foundation of beautiful, considered design.
Making a mark
“Make a mark” is designed as a flexible system that gives our network of studios creative freedom and connects all of us globally. The team created a whole suite of graphic elements using mark-making techniques that enables everyone to creatively express themselves. Add to this new colours, presentation templates and illustrations to play with. To empower our teams to work collaboratively to continue to evolve the brand, we also created custom brushes, an illustration toolkit [see Jess’ post on our brand illustration], and shared working Figma files.
Things we learned along the way
1. Move at speed (but accept some things just take time)
One of our goals was to achieve results quickly and effectively, much like our design approach. This kept energy high and sessions intense. However, there were moments where we simply needed time. This is a requirement of the creative process, so when things aren’t moving swiftly and pressures are mounting, don’t panic. Take a step back and let the ideas percolate.
2. Avoid secrecy (where possible)
Branding projects ask questions of the current existence. It’s a part of the process. It also flirts with the idea of change from an early stage. This is something people naturally react negatively to so make sure you have a clear story of why you’re doing what you’re doing and most importantly, who you’re doing it for.
3. Spend time face to face
It’s difficult (and costly) to get everyone in a room together when you’re working at a global scale. Find some key moments (for us it was the kick off workshop) to get to know each other, socialise, find individual strengths and work out how to work as a team.
4. Stay strong — branding from the inside isn’t easy
You’ll definitely face some tough challenges. It’s the nature of the task. Something that impacts people, culture and our expression can be subjective. Take the feedback on board, understand the perspective and move forward.
5. Get buy-in from above
From the practitioner up to C-suite, it’s important to have a purpose that resonates and works for all. We’re in a fortunate position to have a global CEO who understands the value of brand to the organisation, so we created a simple business case to show the impact of the work we were doing.
6. Hangout regularly
Continuous conversation, critique and course correction is key to success. Even when deep in a problem client-side, taking 15mins to check-in helps keep the team motivated and on track.
7. The collaboration factor
Arguably one of the toughest parts when working with people in different studios and across many time zones. The 4–6pm window is where most chat happened between our US, Europe and Nordic participants.
8. Appoint Ambassadors
Ongoing governance and evolution of the system is important to keep us on track and share our collective findings through something we call Brand Spotting. Our fortnightly catch up invites the brand ambassadors from each studio to discuss their latest design work, ask questions, give feedback or flag an issue.
9. Involve people, make friends and have fun
Don’t forget to have fun together and enjoy the journey! There will be tough moments but you’ll come through it stronger and form better relationships with your team across the world.
The value of brand
The challenges we faced are by no means unique to us. For any business setting out to disrupt an industry, reposition in market, rethink an offering, or refocus on purpose, the role brand plays can determine the success or failure of your strategy. We know customers care ever-increasingly about what you stand for. Don’t ignore the value brand has for your organisation, to your products and services, and, more importantly, in the life of your customer.
If you have a fearlessly human spirit and think you’ve got what it takes to challenge what’s possible, check out our latest job posts.
Want to know more?
Further reading and useful links below:
Bring your brand to life in beta — Ines explains why you should care about your brand
How having +700 illustrators works for our brand — Jess gives you an insight into our global illustration system
The design & brand gap — I explain how design and brand teams can be more effective
A huge thank you to everyone that was involved along the journey. This wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible efforts of the #brand team. All photo credits to Petri Heiskanen.