Talkin’ bout an evolution

How subtle design changes can be transformational

Sometimes the biggest favour you can do your brand is not to go all out for a complete overhaul, throwing out the old and rebranding. A brand refresh that reflects how your organisation has evolved can be just as transformational. How far you should go – rebrand or refresh – only becomes clear once you’ve undergone a thorough brand review and clarified your positioning and brand strategy (the discovery stage).

For the purposes of this post we’re assuming that your current brand identity has some more than salvageable good stuff. The following illustrates what can be achieved with a more nuanced approach with reference to two projects we’ve recently completed: travel company, Discover the World’s brand refresh and the journey of brand evolution we took with national addiction services and mental health charity, WithYou.

1. Build on the big idea

Hold onto the conceptual thinking from the original design that still holds true for the newly defined brand strategy and expand on the best bits.

In both WithYou and Discover the World, the existing brand concept still held sway but certain elements needed refining, polishing and drawing out.

WithYou – the original brand concept incorporated a subtle nod to the name and the core organisational values of working alongside their clients. We ran with this idea, incorporating it as part of the wider brand system and drawing more attention to this values-led concept.

WithYou ligature


WithYou’s wordmark had been designed to represent unity and connection. The concept worked well but needed to be further emphasised in its application. We did this by taking the ligature (or linking path) between the ‘h’ and the ‘y’ letters, and using it as a visual device to frame and add dynamism to WithYou’s communications. We named this evolution of the existing concept, ‘the WithYou Pathway’. It demonstrates how WithYou works with their clients and partners – side by side, on a pathway to recovery.

Discover the World – during a discovery workshop the founder of the travel company mentioned that the bird in their logo was an Arctic tern, chosen because it flies from the North to the South Pole. It reflects the company’s origins and how they started out offering trips to the Arctic and Antarctic. We ‘brought the bird to life’ by freeing it from the constraints of the logo and bringing in a trailing flight path device. This conveys dynamism and draws the viewer’s eye to focal points in photography.

Flight path


2. Take care of the details

Refine and improve the existing branding to better reflect the organisation’s present situation and future aspirations.

It’s always good to remind ourselves that brand identities help people navigate choices. As it takes time to build brand recognition – rebranding and rebadging is risky. If you change everything too fast (particularly with B2C brands) you risk losing that hard-earned brand equity. Sometimes a tweak is all that’s needed to reinvigorate and improve on the recognisable assets you already have.

Discover the World – our customer interviews highlighted an affection for the logomark (the ‘D’ motif): “the logo to me is very distinctive” “I love the Discover the World logo”. The original designers had cleverly used the Arctic tern in the logo to form the negative space in the ‘D’ letterform. We saw an opportunity to refine this idea, giving the bird a more dynamic look whilst making the link to the negative space in the ‘D’ more legible.

WithYou – we wanted to make it easier for the in-house design team to use the distinctive wordmark in sentences. They would have previously had to position the wordmark and then add type around it, something which proved difficult to get right and time-consuming so we took DM Sans (their off-the-shelf brand typeface) and customised it so that they could instantly create the wordmark and chosen typeface.

3. Re-evaluate colour and typography

Fashions change and trends come and go but some become embedded as the ‘new normal’. As brands become increasingly digital-first with less commitment to print, there are opportunities to be freer and zingier with colour.

Discover the world – the marketing team were naturally following the guidelines they’d been provided with but could see that their ‘new kids on the block’ competitors seemed to be bolder and more confident in their use of colour. We saw this as an opportunity to refresh the Discover the World palette and increase their appeal to a younger generation.

WithYou – during extensive brand perception research we found that people found the overall aesthetic of the brand to be cold – a far cry from the reality of their work and the hope, warmth and positivity they bring to the people they help. We warmed the palette subtly, introducing a buff colour to reduce the amount of white and introducing a more varied colour palette for use in illustrations.

Discover the World – the choice of a typeface says far more about a brand than we may consciously realise. The typefaces chosen in the original brand system were classic but static and we saw an opportunity to replace the primary typeface Melior with Buenos Aires whose round letterforms and quirky serifs give the identity a friendlier, more contemporary feel.


Typography update


Their given body copy typeface was utilitarian so we replaced it with a more editorial face, a contemporary serif face: Span.


Typography update



4. Reimagine use of photography and imagery

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and both photography and imagery are powerful ways of communicating meaning and brand essence. Once you find or determine a style or set of parameters when commissioning photography and choosing images for your brand, it’s important that everyone sticks to it, to ensure brand consistency.

WithYou – the original brand identity incorporated line drawings and gave free reign to the national offices to commission their own illustrations. The result was a smörgåsbord of styles, with no way of recognising these as illustrations from the same brand, something which weakened brand recognition. We created a library of illustrations, primarily for their social media activity.


WithYou – using real photography of WithYou’s clients had been actively avoided, meaning the brand had ended up with a somewhat faceless and cold identity. Recognising that there is so much power in the human stories and lived experiences of their clients and team members, we took time to define and test how people felt about different styles of photography, and provided clear guidance on commissioning and selecting such photographs.

5. Rearticulate your tone of voice and messaging

A brand identity is never just visual; how you speak, what you say and how consistent you are, are critical elements too.

Discover the World – so that it could truly reflect the values, mission and vision the brand was founded on and lives by, we ran a comprehensive research and discovery stage that saw the teams getting more specific about what makes Discover the World special. Through this we identified and articulated the tagline, Always exploring. These stages also helped us tease out the company values and develop tone of voice guidance that better reflected the brand’s playful spirit of adventure. A series of Values in Action workshops for all 80 members of the Discover the World team helped ensure these were embedded across the business.

Discover the World brand refresh

WithYou – the warmth and sense of familiarity we’d harnessed through refining the brand’s visual elements were further enhanced by capturing WithYou’s brand essence in their new messaging. This focuses on how WithYou is: ‘On a journey, side by side: with their clients, supporters, colleagues and commissioners’. A distillation of their mission, purpose and vision, it serves as a guiding concept, underpinning how WithYou uses the brand and intends for it to be experienced.

WithYou tagline


Although a brand refresh may seem less wholesale in the first instance, the subtlety and nuance that can be brought to bear is no less transformational. Far from being an ‘easy’ option it requires just as much commitment and digging deep.

Start with a comprehensive brand review and set your strategy in the discovery stage to see if it might be the right path for your brand. If you home in on the five elements identified, you’ll have all the brand touchpoint bases covered and a powerful new brand identity that will support your business or organisation going forward.

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