I’m often asked how I come up with a new brand identity. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to develop the identity for AgilOne, a leader in predictive customer intelligence that allows companies to turn their raw data into effective marketing programs.

Read on if you’re interested in finding out what steps were involved in the creation of this identity. In a series of posts I’ll describe the process from beginning to end. This one encompasses everything that took place before design actually began.

The RFP

Whether it’s the client who first contacts the designer or vice versa, a negotiation becomes more concrete when the client puts in writing what the company hopes to achieve in a document called the RFP (Request for Proposal). A client may be comparing multiple designers before deciding who to hire, and this document will act as a common reference point.

While not every RFP is alike, they typically include the following:

  • a description of the current situation of the company or brand
  • overall project objectives
  • specific deliverables expected when the project is completed
  • possible timeline or key milestones
  • a questionnaire

Information clearly stated in the RFP allows the designer to respond with a proposal for the client’s consideration. These were the overall objective for AgilOne:

Develop the brand identity system, including creative assets, for the AgilOne master brand. The system must include core signature, look and feel elements such as typography, color palette and imagery style, as well as extend to iconography. The solution must also be flexible and extensible for future growth.

Their RFP also described a list of deliverables in detail, communicating what they considered important benchmarks and their expectations:

Everything about this brand should be approached with a ‘digital-first’ mentality. It will live on the web, but shouldn’t be static. The sheer nature of the offer demands authenticity and dynamism. Prototypes should include:

  • web home and secondary page
  • brochure (downloadable PDF)
  • data sheet (sample attached)
  • PowerPoint® template (intent)
  • business card

Your statement of work should clearly state what will be delivered and in what format. Please be clear what/if assets are included.

The proposal

After carefully considering the RFP’s requirements and contacting the client to clarify any doubts or concerns, if interested the designer responds with a proposal. This document is very important: once signed and approved by the client, it starts the process and binds both parties to comply with its content. As designers we should pay attention to proposals; they say as much about us as the design we produce.

A proposal should include the following:

  • designer’s background and experience
  • detailed description of each phase in the design process proposed
  • estimated timing for each of those phases, and their expected outcomes
  • a definite list of deliverables (specifying filetypes, variations, etc.)
  • overall timing
  • fees and payment terms
  • any legal conditions (e.g., around ownership or trademark)
  • what would be considered out of scope, and ways it would be handled

I usually structure projects like this one around two phases: Briefing and Objectives, and Creating the Identity.

Briefing and Objectives allows me to learn about the company. Through interviews with decision makers and via research, I begin to understand audience needs, particular features and benefits of the offering, its unique strategy and positioning. Out of this phase comes a design brief.

Creating the Identity is when design takes place, and includes multiple rounds of design exploration, presentations, refinements, and creation of deliverables. The AgilOne identity development process lasted six weeks and was structured around six rounds. I’ll go into more detail in a later post.

The design brief

The proposal outlines the overall design process, but how to tell if that process is going in the right direction? The design brief sets boundaries and criteria to judge design success. It may be written by the client or the designer. Design briefs usually include:

  • company background
  • brand positioning
  • brand attributes
  • brand tone
  • key audiences
  • competitors
  • design considerations (e.g., on logo, typography, colour, image style, etc.)

Earlier I mentioned that the outcome of the Briefing and Objectives phase is crafting a design brief. But in some cases, as was with AgilOne, the design brief was provided by the client as part of the proposal. They had crafted it with the help of Kelly Hampton, a strategy consultant who I knew from my Landor times, which proved a valuable way to kickstart the process.

As with the proposal, the design brief’s contents should be agreed upon by both client and designer. Design development shouldn’t start until the brief is approved, and all subsequent design should be judged by it.

I’ll be sharing how design research played out in part 2.