Martine Warburton and Andy Broughton formed Huskii Studio after running successful design businesses individually. Both have young families and after evaluating and discussing their ideal work-life balance, they realised that they would be stronger as a pack and Huskii was born!
Both talented designers, they each bring their own strengths to the table and with over 40 years of combined experience, they seem to have the knack for understanding the bigger picture - always seeking to delve deeper into the task at hand and offer their expertise. We invited them onto the podcast to discuss their brand discovery process - the magic ingredient to every project they take on.
Before we get stuck into the juicy topic of branding, could you tell us a little more about Huskii Studio and how you both met?
(M) We met at a networking event and initially Andy was freelancing for my previous agency - Puree Design. When I went on maternity leave he covered some of my clients. When I returned to work we then we started talking about setting up Huskii together, after making sure our work/life visions aligned!
A question I love to ask people in digital is - how would your parents describe what you do for a living?
(M) I actually called my mum to see what she’d say for this. She said that I was a designer and that I design a lot of websites, but I like doing other work like pamphlets as it stretches me more creatively! My Dad has a pretty good idea of what we do as his company is one of our clients. He would probably talk more about UI and logo design. I think what they probably don’t realise is that what we do stretches a lot beyond ‘making things look nice’ in terms of brand discovery, understanding business goals and user behaviours etc.
(A) Mine both say website designer, which is kind of what I was originally 20 years ago. It's kind of niched down a bit since then!
When a project comes in, how do you decide who should work on it?
(A) We've got quite a good overlapping skill set. It means whoever's got the capacity in their schedule will work on the project. We tend to divvy it out as evenly as possible. I tend to enjoy untangling knotty UX problems, promotional videos and animation and Martine enjoys the juicy branding projects, running brand discovery workshops and creating custom illustrations.
(M) I’ve also completed a couple of projects where I’ve been able to get creative with custom textures using real analogue (!) paints and inks.
How have things been for you both since Covid hit? Have you seen any noticeable changes in the way you work?
(M) Luckily, we’ve never been busier! I think a difference from previous recessions is that people now realise that marketing should not be the first thing to get the chop - it’s a vital tool to stay engaged with your audiences, and of course, we’re a big part of that. A lot of our clients are facing a challenging landscape but have been pivoting to stay relevant or capture new markets. We feel quite privileged to be a part of helping those companies get the word out and reshape their businesses. We’ve also been working from home a lot more and video conferencing is a part of everyday life now. We’ve been putting extra thought into how we do brand discovery workshops online - something we’d normally prefer to do face to face.
Defining a strong brand is what seems to light your collective fires - but how does a company know when it is time to rebrand and how should they begin the process?
(A) This is a great question - I think sometimes the companies we work with don’t know it themselves to begin with. I think there are some telltale signs for when a rebrand is needed. Sometimes it’s a lack of pride from people within the company; it might be being used really inconsistently, or even ignored because people are bored with the brand or are embarrassed by it. Sometimes if the original brand guidelines are too restrictive or impractical we work with companies to expand their brand assets which can really help give a brand new life without necessarily starting from scratch.
Occasionally a company may have pivoted or evolved over time to serve a different audience or offer a different sort of product or service. Sometimes they just outgrow a brand or it doesn’t reflect the service or doesn’t speak to the right audience anymore. I think in an increasingly digital marketplace some brands realise that their brand isn't fit for purpose for the digital environment in terms of responsiveness - perhaps it don’t work well on small sizes e.g. a phone or tablet, or these mediums haven’t been considered when the brand was developed online.
Do you have any examples of recent rebrand projects you can share with us?
(M) We have two great examples to share, UnderTheDoormat and Truthpaste. UnderTheDoormat is a client I’ve been working with for over six years - right from the beginning of their startup journey working directly with the founder.
Six years later we’re on our second rebrand as well as having worked on a number of sub-brands and spin-offs. The company offer hotel-quality service stays in the comfort of real homes. A premium, more service-oriented AirBnB if you like. Their current brand has changed a lot from the original one as their service offering and client base has evolved. We began with brand characteristics such as ‘quirky’ and ‘friendly’, with the logo and brand palette and illustration style reflecting this that - jaunty angled illustrations, bright colours, rounded friendly fonts. As the business grew they understood their audience was actually after a more luxury, premium experience. The quality of homes on their books evolved in line with this with some very desirable Mayfair homes and the brand began to feel really incongruous with this.
Evolving branding for UnderTheDoormat
The first rebrand was a small evolution, taking out some of the quirkiness and the second was a total redo - we changed everything. We matured the colour palette, fonts and overall visual language to reflect the new characteristics of quality, premium and luxury. We moved away from bright oranges, teals and yellows to sophisticated navy gold and cream. It gave the brand a whole new lease of life, helping them secure new funding, making them more credible and attracting the right calibre of homeowners and guests.
Truthpaste is an example I’m excited to talk about because it’s been a long time in the making and has just launched their rebrand! We met Marisa who founded Truthpaste - an ethical natural toothpaste company almost a year ago now. In this case, the existing logo was befitting of the company’s roots as a small hand made product. When the time came to scale up and expand the range, the brand just didn’t really reflect who they had become or show where they wanted to go, it didn’t evoke the right feeling about the brand and I think in a sense they needed to be a bit more ‘Instagrammable’.
The job started with just looking at the logo and evolved into a full brand system and redesign of their packaging. Marisa was a great client to work with because she had a very clear idea of brand personality and also who her audience was.
The result of the recent Truthpaste rebrand!
The results of our brand discovery process really inspired us to do something quite brave to set them apart from competitors. One of the questions we asked was ‘How do you want Truthpaste to make people feel?’. Marisa's answer was, ‘lively, confident, fresh, sparkly’. We created a unique texture for each range and bold colour palettes reflecting the flavours. We created the textures by painting with toothbrushes!
You’ve mentioned brand audits being a useful tool - can you explain a little about what these are and how you would implement one?
It’s all about getting to know our clients better and understanding what a rebrand needs to achieve. What is working and not working with the current brand. We need to know if it’s a slight tweak, an evolution or a full start from scratch rebrand. We conduct our own audit of brand assets, assessing them against the stated aims and intended audience. We also do workshop exercises to place the brand on a scale, e.g. fun vs serious along with competitors.
We plot where the brand currently is and where they want to be. This is really useful as it gives us context of how the brand sees itself compared with other players and a sense of what direction we want to move in and how big that shift needs to be. Where budget allows we’d do this with potential audiences too, as the brand’s view of itself can sometimes be quite distorted.
So when you’ve determined a client needs help with a rebrand, what is your process?
(A) We start with our brand questionnaire, this starts the client thinking about their audiences, brand values, characteristics and goals. We tend to then go on to customise and prepare for brand workshop activities. We ask ‘why’ a lot (like a two-year-old!) to really understand what's going on. This helps establish the company's why, how and what, which are key pillars. We have an active exercise where we choose brand archetypes using cards which allows us to really dig deeper into the personality of the brand. We also do the sliding scale exercise if not done already to discuss competitor brand examples.
We look at audience personas and pad these out, thinking about tasks they need to do, reservations they might have, their media habits etc. All of this work is then summarised in a document to agree with the client before any design work even begins!
Who would be your dream client? As there’s two of you I’ll let you choose a couple...
We love working with clients who are super driven and excited about where they are taking their business next. That enthusiasm is really motivating for us and fun to be around. We feed off it! We like clients who are open-minded and trusting enough in our experience to try something really creative and push the envelope. We’d really love to apply our skills to help more ethical brands and services - particularly anything linked to climate change.
Finally, if you could run the Huskii pack anywhere in the world - where would you choose and why?
(M) The pandemic increase in home working really means we don’t need to even choose the same place anymore, do we? For me it’s the mountains hands down, summer or winter, I can see myself working from a log cabin with a mountain view and nipping out for early morning ride or out on the snowboard before work.
(A) Yeah, that does sound fab, but I also need to mix in a bit of Australian beaches. If I could have it my way I’d be surfing in the summer and snowboarding all winter!
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