Designing for digital
Digital-first branding has finally overtaken offline brand design
Andy Culbert, cofounder of digital-first branding agency MERÓ, talks about change in design.
The world is finally switching on to the fact that designing for digital channels is an essential way to future-proof a business. Digital-first design is ‘second-nature’ to designers who have come from a digital background; we know we have to create something that works even on the smallest screens, yet up until now, designers – including ourselves – have still experienced being handed a brand identity or design that simply doesn’t work in some digital channels and has to be totally recreated. Part of the problem is shaking off old ways of thinking and approaching design. Sometimes, it’s communicating the importance of digital to a wider organisation, or gaining senior level buy-in that can be the problem. But what about historic brands created before the digital age? Well Coca-cola and Audi are just some of the household names rethinking their branding from a digital-first perspective – because going forward, they need to.
Legacy branding that was designed prior to today’s ‘digital world’ can be problematic. As to be expected, where the predominant representation of the brand (and audience’s experience) was offline, assets and identities were designed to best cater for these channels to market. Then as new digital channels emerged, the branding was ‘shoehorned’ into online environments. Many are now finding that, as they expand their digital activities, their brand is actually not fit for purpose. It simply doesn’t ‘work’ digitally. The problem with designing for offline first is that digital branding has a different set of considerations versus print. Fonts need to be available for digital and legible at all sizes, colours need to be accessible (we aim for anything between AA and AAA compliant) and images, logos and other design components need to be carefully considered. Overly complicated elements get lost when scaled down to the smallest spaces. Something that looks amazing in print might not be usable or functional when applied to a website or app. And it’s easier to scale a brand upwards and out if you have considered the smallest first rather than vice versa.
Video is another consideration and an increasingly important tool to engage with consumers. By 2020, it’s predicted that online videos will make up more than 80% of all consumer internet traffic, yet many organisations give little or no thought to how their brand will move when animated.
And on top this, digital experiences are constantly evolving. There are more channels than ever before, each with different requirements that can alter overnight. A brand identity needs to perform in a multi-screen, multi-channel world, where each device and platform requires different sizes, fonts and image specifications. Even tone of voice needs are different for online audiences and in different channels; think of the vastly different way brands need to be represented on Instagram vs Twitter – it’s similar to how you alter your behaviour when visiting an art gallery compared to a nightclub.
The digital landscape is prompting a need for brands to be much more versatile. Yet many brands still have a set of static, offline brand guidelines that leave digital teams scratching their heads! One way that marketing teams and designers can better prove the worth of digital-first design is by getting to know the needs and reactions of the customer better and using this to prove effectiveness. Digital-design allows this to happen much more easily. It’s more effective to test a brand online than offline. We can use a variety of tools to help make some really informed decisions. Digital design means we can look beyond whether the majority, or even one person, has a preference to the overall look and feel. It has to be tested to ensure ‘it works’ and resonates with the end user. Tangible and measurable results will drive the end product rather than opinions of few.
A digital-first approach is also vital for those brands wanting to future-proof their business by connecting with the next generation of consumers. Millenials and their Gen Z successors have high standards when it comes to the digital expectations they put on brands. Gen Z especially have been raised by the internet. They’re multi-taskers, sometimes juggling up to five screens at a time, which means they’re easily distracted. A brand’s online experience needs to be slick and seamless across all touch points. And above all it needs to be flexible to stay relevant to their audience. Digital-first is the only approach that can achieve this.
Coca-cola and Audi are just some of the household names rethinking their branding from a digitalfirst perspective