Flexible branding, the concept and the term, is relatively new to the design world. Born out of necessity it offers something that rigid, traditional brand guidelines no longer can. We’ve had to redefine brand consistency for a modern context.
Today a brand needs to work seamlessly across platforms & devices; adapt fluidly regardless of screen size; and transition smoothly from online to off. responsivelogos.co.uk is a fun site demonstrating big brand logos in their various, scalable forms. A good example that, a well designed logo can exist as several versions, simplified for mobile while remaining recognisable and retaining personality.
Google has been breaking the traditional ‘rules’ of branding for years. The Google Doodle, as it’s known, frequently replaces the standard logo with a variation on the theme. Or, more often than not, with something entirely different and (out of context) unrecognisable.Arguably, Google is big enough to break the rules where others cannot. But the principles remain the same. Structure and guidelines are not a thing of the past - but the way we use them can no longer be rooted in rigid discipline and inflexibility. Instead we set the parameters of what creates the ‘familiar’. It’s the designers job to gauge what these parameters are - how far we can push a brand’s flexibility, and how playful we can be along the way.
As Pentagram’s Marina Willer explains ‘We need to create the structures or flexible frameworks that allow things to grow within them in an organic way.’ Willer has worked on several hugely successful ‘branding systems’ over the years. The Tate’s ever morphing ‘living mark’ and the ‘open branding system’ for the Serpentine Galleries.
And yet resizable logos, adjustable design and accommodating guidelines are just the tip of the iceberg. The term ‘flexible branding’ covers far more.
A modern brand must interact with its audience on a level it never had to 20/ 30 years ago. There has been a huge shift in consumer behaviour and what ‘we’ (as consumers) now require. We expect to be able to interact with our brands. And in turn, a brand will invest a great deal of time building a good rapport with us.
Does a brand start conversations? Is it asking the right questions and provide suitable channels for feedback? Does it listen... and is it flexible enough to respond and, quite possibly, adapt?
The ‘experience’ a brand provides and the emotional connection it creates will often determine if it survives. And how well it listens and adapts to the needs of its audience contribute to success or failure. As Marina Willer puts it ‘Design isn’t decoration, it has to reflect the behaviour of it’s users, and our users want to have a voice’.
What the consumer wants and expects is now the driving factor. Were expectations met; was the ‘experience’ an agreeable one? The modern consumer will provide feedback to this question - publicly and with great ease. And in answer a brand must show the flexibility and intuition to adapt and change to suit their consumers needs.
Brand ‘touchpoints’ (all the places we encounter brands) have increased rapidly over the last 10 years. There are still the traditional encounters - a shop environment, company employees, product use, advertising. And then there is Twitter, Instagram, adwords, e-commerce and the online shopping experience, emails, newsletters, apps, environmental graphics, blogs - the list goes on. As touch points have increased, the role of branding has ballooned. It has had to grow, adapt and become more flexible in its thinking.
And for the designer this is great news. With the possibilities of user interaction growing all the time - so have the challenges of problem solving and the freedom to be playful.