Q: My niece is currently doing some work experience at the reception of my hotel, and as part of her duties, I have set her updating the website and marketing materials. She is currently doing a design degree and while the designs are lovely and definitely on-trend, they aren’t strictly my brand. Is there a happy medium to marry brand and trend, or do I have to stomp on her creative flair and pull it back to brand?
A: Hi Richard; absolutely. When it comes to design, there are no hard and fast rules, and as the business owner, it is ultimately your choice. The fact you are asking this question however, means it isn’t sitting well with you for some reason, so here’s my helpful guide to design that can help clarify your thinking.
Brand is really important…
I don’t have to tell you the importance of a brand, and I probably don’t have to tell your niece either; however, strong, consistent branding helps to make the business more memorable and encourages engagement from your customers – either consciously or unconsciously. You absolutely need to establish and protect your brand first, so if you haven’t already got them, you should have brand guidelines in place to formalise the ‘rules’ of your brand. Perhaps your niece can tackle these for you as a starting point for her creative developments.
Good brand guidelines will support your whole brand, dictating the logo, brand fonts and core brand elements, as well as how and where they should be applied; your proposition; your tone of voice; and any other do’s and don’ts which make your brand visually impactful. These guidelines should dictate the core branding for the business; if you like the foundation of your design.
Big brands do this as standard; Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Hilton, Louis Vuitton, all have clear guidelines which have established a definitive look and feel. They then add some flair when they want to – Coca-Cola, Holidays are Coming – but this is an addition to the basics, not in spite of the brand.
Core versus seasonal design…
Your brand can absolutely include current trends in your design, but I always try to steer clients away from actually adopting current design trends within the core foundation brand. What I mean by this is that the core brand and the items to which it is applied, e.g. letterhead, business cards etc., should suit the times – modern, fresh, clean and uncluttered – but should not incorporate drastic design trends which will change within a few months. The reason for this is two-fold; first, you risk your brand dating very quickly, in a matter of months and second, you will then face a choice to be out-of-date, or to redo the brand every few months, which is expensive. Instead, keep the core brand suitable to the times and the applications, with a strong, independent image.
From there, you can then identify ‘seasonal’ or ‘changeable’ marketing materials (your building blocks if I carry on the analogy), which can have the core brand applied, but which can then also include creative flair. As long as the materials have a good foundation/core, then what else is included is entirely up to you.
For example, 2017 spring trends include big, impactful botanicals, retro modern twists, patterned gradients and decorative typography. As long as your niece designs work from the brand guidelines and she establishes a good core brand framework, you can then incorporate some of these trends into designs which are easily changed. For example, your annual brochure could include lots of decorative typography; the Easter break offer on your website could boast big botanicals; the seasonal menus could wow with patterned gradients; as long as it isn’t onerous to ditch them once the trend is out.
Be true to the business…
Whatever you decide to do, ensure that your niece learns the valuable lesson that design doesn’t have to be on-trend to be good; in fact, the most useful talent for a creative designer to have is an ability to create great design, which fits a client brand, and wows in spite of trends. Ultimately, if your hotel has a country-hunting vibe, there is no point adopting vibrant, bold botanicals; if you have a retro Art-Deco building and interior, then curly, delicate fonts just won’t be suitable. Chat to your niece about the importance of design that delivers, and sets an expectation, and set her the challenge of producing a design which a. stays on brand; b. sets the right customer expectation; and c. incorporates current trends. She may fail trying, but she’ll learn some valuable design lessons along the way.
Finally, the last question you should ask yourself is whether you like it. It is your business and your customers, so if it doesn’t switch you on, then it isn’t right for your business either.