Arek Dvornechuck: What's up branding experts?—Arek here at Ebaqdesign. And in this episode I interview Kevin Budelmann and we talked about the process of brand building. And Kevin is the co-founder and president of People Design, which is a strategic design firm based in Michigan, United States. He works in business brand and service design for over 30 years on, and Kevin is focused on building brands since his first job at Herman Miller, which is the iconic global design brand based in Michigan as well. So in addition to that, Kevin also co-wrote “Brand Identity Essentials—100 principles for building brands” and this is the book that we're going to talk about today. This book is for designers and educators worldwide, and the first edition, I think, was released in 2010 and the second edition just last year 2019. So Kevin also teaches classes and speaks on design, brand and innovation, at different universities and design schools. So Kevin is obviously an expert in brand building. And that's why I really wanted to have him on our podcast today to talk more about the process of brand building. Hello, Kevin. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us on our podcast.
Kevin Budelmann: Thank you so much for having me.
Arek Dvornechuck: So in your book Bent Identity Essentials, you lay a foundation for brand building. And I really like how you give a ton of examples, really world class design examples. And you really organized all this information into a clear framework, because there's so many different terms and aspect, uh, when it comes to brand building. So basically your book in your book, you divide brand building into three steps essential tools, essential decisions and essential strategies. So in the first part, you talk about brand expression. So for designers, this would be like an overview of the creative tools that at your disposal and for our listeners who are leaders, you can just make better decisions. When once you understand the palate of those creative tools that you can use to build your brand. So I wanted to start… Can you just walk us through some of those essential tools for brand expression that we should leverage when it comes to designing a brand identity system.
Kevin Budelmann: Absolutely. And thank you for that introduction. Uh, yes…So our work on brand identity essentials and are trying to identify principles that designers and marketing people can use to construct brands was really generated by sort of the idea that though a lot of people talk about brand building, but not everyone has the right vocabulary, or the way to think about it. So the structure that we’ve created as a way to sort of walk through this. So as you described, we have we talked about is tools, decisions and strategies. So starting with starting with tools, it's kind of the basic layer of things that we might in the most conventional way think about building brands. The things that are sometimes the most tangible expressions. So we walk through things like: color, imagery, typography, shape, contrast, dimension. The kind of physical dimensions that are the ways of constructing kind of an expression. And for each of these layers, we actually walk through kind of the basic use, but then also how they're used and patterns and how kind of ladders up to kind of a philosophy.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right, So basically in your book, you talk about things like: image, color, typography, shape, contrast, dimension, symbols, voice, consistency, story and time. I just wanted to read through those key subjects, so just to give our listeners ab idea of what's in the book? So basically, in the first chapter you talk about those different essential tools. And you give examples of how you can use them. Right? Uh, can you can you just give us some perhaps some of the examples of famous brands so that we can all relate and understand?
Kevin Budelmann: Absolutely. So we, as we work through a certain.. there are things like… especially if you think about logos and one of the premises of the book. In fact, we have a new image of an iceberg on the front because we think about… eventually we think about brand is kind of the things that you see the most the tip of the iceberg, if you will. But there's a lot more underneath. But the things that you see are these ideas of color image typography. So everything about… there are very famous brands, of course, that are that use very clear sort of color designations. I mean, the sort of iconic brands… whether it's, IBM or BP or brands that we all conventionally know that that use color in a very identifying kind of a way. Similarly images—so we think about the Starbucks logo, or you think about logos that use imagery in a way that is very recognizable, these are cues for indicating kind of the brand in a way just to move toward the kind of physical expressions of the brand. And that they are, in our minds, expressions of the strategic direction. But these are kind of the guesses we see the kind of these essential tools or building blocks from a visual standpoint…
2. Brand Decisions
Arek Dvornechuck: So, basically, the first chapter is all about the aesthetics. How we.. all the visuals, right?! What we see on and I like also this metaphor that you use this iceberg metaphor. I think this is really clever. And, uh, and you guys, so if you want to check out the book, because going to see it on the cover. So as Kevin describes, everything that is above the water, like if you look at the icebergs—only a small part sticks out above the water—and this is what we can see. But actually, there is a big part of the iceberg below the water, which is, brand strategy and all the decisions that you make, right?! Or the research that you do. So this brings us closer to the second chapter. And so the first is the essential tools and the second is essential decisions. So can you give us just an overview of what we can expect from this part of the book and what's that all about?
Kevin Budelmann: Sure. So the way we think about it is if we think about the essential tools, is being at the things that are, let's say, just above the water line of the iceberg. Carrying that metaphor forward, you can think about these decisions—decisions is maybe just below the water line. So we think about them as…they are decisions that brand builders need to make that would inform some of those aesthetic choices. So the things we list are things like psychology, wit, trends, media, personalization, process, prototyping. There are a number of things that are ways in which that should inform your thinking. It should inform which tools you use. So in our minds, many of these things are kind of like, you can think about it like a dialogue. So we think about wit, the idea of which, for example, is this supposed to be a funny brand or not such a funny brand? Or personalization—are we trying to seek increasing amounts of personalization or we not seeking. Or given things that are a little bit deeper in terms of the role of prototyping and how you think about process, how are you going to get there? So these are kind of decisions that you make along the way that help inform your process and help inform some of those expressions of the brand that you would be using the tools for.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right. So just to sum up for our listeners, so in the second chapter, what you can expect is… once you have an idea about all those different components and the visual building blocks as as you said you mentioned earlier, then you need to focus on the decisions you need to make some that will inform those creative expressions and all those building blocks. So, in terms of the color, typography, whether it is a brand mark or a or a wordmark. So all the decisions that you need to make that will inform the aesthetics of the brands, right?! So including things like as you mentioned: psychology, trends, personalization and also how you approach the process and prototyping. You also mentioned… there is a part that talks about understanding your customers, which I really think is key elements. So can we talk more about that? How do you see understanding target audience in the process of building brands?
Kevin Budelmann: Absolutely. In fact, the name of our firm is People Design and our orientation is to think very much deeply about being user centered on good usability, but also customer-centered in the broader sense. So, so much of brand building is about the customer. We often think about… and exercise in brand building is really fundamentally a communication. And it's a communication between you and your customer. And as with any decent communication, it's it's 50% me, and it's 50% you. So you have to understand your customer thoroughly in order to communicate with them clearly. So, the importance of doing research and digging deep to understand where your customers coming from is a critical part of this and in fact gets really closer to kind of the strategic thinking that should be the fundamental of the brand building.
3. Brand Strategies
Arek Dvornechuck: Right? And now it's it's a good time to talk about essential strategies. So in the third chapter of your book, you talk about things like, doing research, conducting some research and getting to know your competitors in and out and what they do right and what they do wrong. And so we can see some gaps and and claim that space and position our brands. So can you just give us on an overview of what to expect in the third chapter of your book? And what those essential strategies are all about?
Kevin Budelmann: Absolutely. So the strategies, if we continue with kind of the iceberg metaphor, the strategy might be the deepest part of this, right? So they’re… another way to think about it is kind of these fundamental parts. It's the philosophies that should be kind of governing these choices, that are higher up on the ladder. So there are things like making important strategic choices about things like: What is your attitude toward change? or the competition? or originality? A lot of a lot of designers in particular struggle with being original. What doesn’t originality mean, and how important that is or is not. How at least two things like positioning, market positioning and the company positioning, users and research. Which is to say is we touch down a moment ago—the significance of using research as a tool to better understand your customer and understand the marketplace and understand the business context. Understand other kinds of the social context of what you're doing. Even your commitment to the overall program and how you sort of think about it. Wow do you think about customer touch points and systems of experience and even more kind of aspirational things… what inspires the brand? and what's the brands fundamental purpose.
Arek Dvornechuck: Now we are going to take a quick break here, but we'll be right back. Listen, my mission is to help people design iconic brands. So whether you're a business leader who wants to be more intentional with branding and all of its aspects, or you are a creative who wants to attract powerful clients and truly be able to help them with branding. Then you need to start with a discover session and then develop a strategy that will inform all your creative work. And everything you need to learn how to do that, you can find in my online courses at a ebaqdesign.com/shop where I share with you my worksheets, case studies, video tutorials and other additional resource is to help you feel safe and strong about your process. Now let's get back to our conversation with Kevin Budelmann.
Kevin Budelmann: So the way the book is arranged, as it moves from kind of these… it moves from the top to the bottom of the iceberg. It's moving from kind of these more… let's say tangible issues to kind of more conceptual ones. In some ways, the actual process for building brands might actually move in the reverse direction. Very often does to the work that we do. But it's just that the book is structured in such a way to try to walk you through these things. So these these essential strategies, in any case are sometimes the hardest, and they might seem the most abstract or esoteric kinds of issues, but really getting clarity there makes the rest of it easier.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right. And this is also something that crossed my mind. So you start with the visuals, and then you moved into decisions and then the strategies. But just because it's easier to understand it this way, right? But when you approach branding projects sometimes it just goes the opposite. You start with the strategies, actually, right? So those strategies, you make some important decisions, and you already know are the tools in your arsenal—What are those building blocks that we can use to build that perception? And in terms of how we can manage that brand perception.
Kevin Budelmann: That's right. Exactly. So important decisions or important work around, research and the market and how that leads to decisions about… for that matter, the purpose of the brand. Why you even exist, and it can lead to decisions about positioning. So these sort of fundamental pieces. Those decisions would inform the next level of decision making, which has to do with things like: personalization or your attitude toward media or trends. So the relationship between how you feel or what is your attitude about change in the competition should inform how you feel about trends, for example. Or how to use media. And do you need to be… are you a brand that changes a lot or a brand that remains fairly static? That would influence your decisions about things like what media you would participate in or how you think about trends. And then those things ladder up to your tone of voice or the way you use even the visual and creative elements kind of in a more tangible way. So you can kind of think about how these decisions are… they’re independent pieces that we've tried to identify in this framework. But they are all, of course, related to one another. As you go through the exercise of building a brand.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right! So each brand is different, right? So every client is different. And I know that you are the expert in in the human centered design. And so just to give us some examples, so for example, there is a new brand, there is a new start up—what would be the process of… Can you just give us step by step process of how do you approach new branding projects?
Kevin Budelmann: Sure. So in the broadest sense, if we're referring to the framework in the book, we started kind of the ones that are at the bottom of the iceberg with the last section of the book and actually move forward. We did it in the reverse order from the book, mostly just to introduce the more simple ideas to the more abstract one. But as a process, we would think about these things they’re most conceptual strategies. First about the positioning of the company and the purpose on how it relates to systems thinking. What’s the organization trying to achieve? Then that should lead to decisions, and so we often think about that is finding focus. From there we might think about how other kinds of decisions align with those those strategies. So decisions you might make about how to invest in, and prototyping in process and personalization and media and so on—these essential decisions, this middle layer— are informed by those initial choices. And then that's a great way to start building, basically, what become more commonly understood as kind of creative briefs. Which is to say, what is the kind of tangible, creative exercise around things like: What’s the story? What level of consistency? what's the tone of voice? what kind of symbols ?and all into those again, those kind of visual building blocks of color and typography and so on, which are all the result of other decisions. So we think about it as how do you start to inspire action using these essential tools. So our process would be to start the deepest kinds of issues and they move up toward the surface.
4. Brand Touchpoints
Arek Dvornechuck: Okay, that makes it clear. So when we talk about things like brand touchpoints, right? And defining the scope of work—Do I understand it well? is it the second step? Is it where decisions are being made about the investment with your clients? Because oftentimes what happens is that clients have some idea of what they expect or what they want. What needs to… What kind of deliverables they're looking for, for example… a new logo, or they need a rebrand. And and they have all those marketing materials they need a new website and things like that. But sometimes they just think they need one thing, but if they truly want to rebrand and grow and expand we as consultants can work with them to just open their eyes and try to show them what other elements we could do in order bring that consistency across all the brand touch points. So just I just wanted to ask you, like, what's your process? And, uh, when those decisions are… When it comes to brand touchpoints—how do you define the scope of work?
Kevin Budelmann: Yeah, the truth is, I mean so one of the things that we kind of described in the introduction is, let's say, sitting on top of all of these things, so this this book outlines these three sections and we have 100 principles. There's basically 33 in each of the sections and it’s all very kind of structured and neat, neatly packaged in a way to try to make it into sort of bite size pieces that are comprehensible. I think at the highest level, though, brand building is about creating meaningful experiences, so there's meaning and then there's experience. So the first part, from our perspective, is to try to go after meaning. Meaning is relative to the audience you're trying to reach, to the business you're working with, to what is the things.. deeper sort of sense of what it is intended to mean. And then building the experience—is this is a second step to answer your question specifically. But the truth is, building experiences is a very iterative kind of a process. It happens on a macro level, meaning the experience of various players in the marketplace, influencers, different kinds of customers. How… the value chain, that kind of thing, all the way down to very micro decisions about like the user experience on an application or a package or a printed piece or an environment. Each of these things are part of a broader experience. So experience… the idea of designing for experience or sometimes is described as service design. Today we think about service design is kind of this… it’s a time based media—meaning customers interact with the brand along the way through kind of a customer journey. And there are many, many kinds of touchpoints, many kinds of interactions. And so much of what we're trying to advocate in the book here and for brand builders is to increase the level of intentionality of those interactions. And this is what something that often clients don't always understand. Really, there's this famous quote that says “You cannot not communicate”—so every interaction your customer has with an organization is a reflection of the brand. And that’s a touch point, and that's an interaction. And as we talk about in the book, every interaction is kind of an opportunity. It's an opportunity to build towards something positive for the brand or it could be something that it would erode the perception of the brand. So being clear about things like the brand meaning and sometimes we think about it as the perception goal. What is it you want the customer to think about the brand? And then how does that strategic decision inform what actions you take to affect the experience. And the experiences is articulated… many of the things in the first couple of chapters of the book where we get into individual decisions and tools that help to construct an experience that has the desired effect.
5. Brand Standards
Arek Dvornechuck: Sure, and the last thing I wanted to talk about, which is also very important, I think… and you talk about this in the book quite a lot is… brand standards, right? So what’s the… because I'm talking just from my own experience. Small businesses and start ups sometimes don't realize the importance of having a brand guidelines document, or style guide. Can you talk about that? And the importance of having those rules and principles in place so that everyone who is working on the brand… I’m not just talking about when it comes to brand identity, but also when it comes to designing other marketing materials further down the road. Everyone who is going to work on the brand, whether it is in-house or this business hires other agencies, other contractors, so can we talk about the importance of having those guidelines in place. So that everyone who is working on a band can ensure that consistency and that clarity. So we can build that perception in the customers’ minds.
Kevin Budelmann: Absolutely. So I think it is one of the.. It’s a critical piece of this. So consistency… and we have about a few chapters that are specifically about consistency. It’s one of the things that is sometimes overlooked. It's you think that it would be well understood. I mean, most of us who walk around and kind of in most environments and experienced brands on a daily basis are familiar with certain brands that we may interact with regularly: retail brands, even some B2B brands, depending on kind of where you work and live. And one of the things that brands that you may admire, you admire them in part because of what they… the products, their services, what that they offer and the way they express themselves. But a lot of it is—they are recognizable because they are consistent. And because I think the question of consistency, to some degree it's a choice. There's some brands to choose to be very, very consistent. It's always this particular way. Other brands are consistent in other ways. They might look different or sound. They might sound a little different, but it seems like the underlying, kind of meaning of the brand is more stable. The way to evangelized consistency is through standards, usually. So standards are one… and it's sort of fundamental ways. It's a way to execute on programs and in a way to ensure that the basics… and you could even walk through some of these three kind of sections of the book as we have today, you could think about in terms of fundamental creative building blocks—are the colors the same? Is the logo the same? Does it have the same treatment of the same distance from the edge of the screen or the paper? Are there certain visual elements that remind you and help you evoke the same kind of memory you're trying to create? A kind of a consistent and memorable perception in the mind of the customer. But then ultimately, you can walk into these deeper issues, too. Because on some level the brand standard can help document kind of the specifications of implementation so that advertising programs and websites and applications and things look the same on some surface level. But then it often also gets into increasingly deeper issues. We even get into into this idea of almost like a Brand Bible. Many, many organizations have started to see real value and starting to produce a narrative that helps to, not just make it relevant for people who implement marketing materials, let's say. But also is helpful for recruiting and helpful for other people in the organization to understand, especially as you get closer to this idea of organizational purpose. These purpose statements can be very meaningful for literally anybody in the company. So the idea of a standard and the idea of what a brand is—that meaning can be valuable for customers. And a way to keep kind of the outward facing presents the same. But it also could be kind of, kind of a center of gravity for an organization that could be very helpful to help move toward greater internal alignment and kind of adherence to a strategic direction.
Arek Dvornechuck: Sure. So I think, yeah, this is a good point here. So just to sum up for our listeners—your brand standards or style guide is not just about those essential tools that you describe in the first chapter, which is—how to use the logo, how to use the colors, what kind typeface should you use, what size is the spacing, layout—Things like that and also other graphic elements to ensure the consistency. This is very important. But also it goes beyond that and you can include some of the strategic decisions, right? So you mentioned things like your purpose statements, perhaps core values or other brand strategy components that will just help you with align your team internally.. and I actually also like a collective collective purpose and collective goal as a brand and just go beyond visuals and aesthetics and define our culture, band culture.
Kevin Budelmann: That's right, it really does. It's interesting how branding as an exercise has become on some level… again there’s kind of more straightforward marketing concerns, and the way many people might think about it. But it definitely has become increasingly kind of a way to think about organizing around the purpose and kind of a belief system and how are businesses ultimately adding value to its customers—is all sort of the fundamental part of what a brand is. And all the rest of these individual decisions, they all should be informed by that. And certainly, well it's a philosophy that we and evangelized with our clients and, a lot of organizations that we've had the privilege of working with that we admire. And a lot of leaders, they seem to embody these ideas. And I think that the companies, often the brands that we admire, often they seem to have these kinds of internal understanding of these concepts. And really the book is trying to give brand builder is kind of a scaffolding, a way to kind of put a finger hold or toe hold to help build a vocabulary, to construct meaningful brands.
Arek Dvornechuck: Right. So we are approaching the end of our episode. I just wanted to sum-up for our listeners—So basically what we were talking about is the different components and concepts behind brand building. But just to give our listeners an overview of what to expect from the book, so basically in your book you bring all those different branding concepts and terms together and you provide structure. So that you can just talk about brand building like a pro and just organize your framework and organize your work. And it's both for the leaders (for business owners) on also for designers who want to get better, who wanna be better designers. And, yes. So we talked about things like brand touchpoints, creative tools that you can use, brand psychology and brand standards, or style guides. So as we're approaching the end about episode I just wanted to ask you about how our listeners can find more about you and the work you do and how to get in touch with you. A, now we include those links in the description.
Kevin Budelmann: Well, thank you very much. So again, the book is “Brand Identity Essentials” and as we've been discussing, it has this this framework and the book is organized into these chapters and into these framework. The framework itself is part of the book, and we've also included in the book in fact, um, some additional materials that have been helpful for brand managers as well as educators and so on, because we've constructed basically tools that are brand audit, audits that you can use. A brand fundamentals course, so people can use for teaching brands and the framework itself. So all of these things as well as links to how you can get the book are available from the website brand-identity-essentials.com. It's also available through all the usual booksellers, Amazon and so on. It's actually been translated into six languages at this point. And so it's been… so from the first edition to the second, which just came out this past year, and you can find out information about me at my company's website—it's peopledesign.com, and in fact, there's a lot of information about the book as well and kind of our philosophy about how we pursue these things. And yeah, so the book has been well received and it's been I was joy to work on, and it's been helpful for us even today, as we you seem to pursue with our clients.
Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you Kevin so much for coming on the show—I really appreciate that.
Kevin Budelmann: Thank you very much for the invitation. I really appreciate being able to talk about my work and the book.
Arek Dvornechuck: So this is it for today's episode and make sure to go and check out the Kevin's website and follow him on social media. And you can find all the links on this episode’s page at ebaqdesign.com/podcast/8 — So thanks for tuning in... and if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to my podcast for more tips on branding, strategy and design. This was Arek Dvornechuck from Ebaqdesign.
Arek Dvornechuck is a strategist and designer who helps brands grow by crafting distinctive brand identities, backed by strategy. Need help with your project?—Get in touch
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