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10 things to consider when creating engaging office environments.

28 Jul 2020 by Steven Giannoulis

Moving into a new space or renovating an existing one is a fantastic opportunity to consider how to use the environment to engage key audiences like customers and important stakeholders. Their experience at your office...

10 things to consider when creating engaging office environments. steven giannoulis

moving into a new space or renovating an existing one is a fantastic opportunity to consider how to use the environment to engage key audiences like customers and important stakeholders. their experience at your office will help reinforce what they know about you and how they feel about your brand. just as importantly, office environments play an important role in shaping culture, strategic alignment and effective communication with your people. the environment becomes the canvas for working more effectively as an organisation. 

the following are 10 starters we often talk about with clients when planning the brand and staff engagement layer of their office fit-out. 

1. user journey 

start by identifying the key journeys through your space. where will visitors enter? what will they see first? do they go to reception and then a waiting area before being taken to a meeting room? what are the opportunities along this journey to tell your story? 

the same questions apply to staff. when they come out of the lift, where will they go? lockers? kitchen? their desk? what will they walk past? what are the places they will visit during the day? most people will visit the photocopier, the kitchen, the watercooler and the toilets. these spaces are all opportunities to tell and reinforce your story. 

stand children's services, wellington 

2. your brand story

for external audiences the public facing side of your office environment is a great place to tell your story. this could be information about your history and evolution, your business, your purpose, your brand promise, your products, your customers and your service proposition. use the journey identified above to layer your story so that each one builds and reinforces the earlier one. 

transpower head office, wellington 

3. strategy & culture 

the office space is also a great way to engage your staff in the business. visually express key culture messages that reflect what matters around here. demonstrate and reinforce your values in bold and proud ways. reinforce diversity, inclusiveness and other elements that are core to who you are. use the environment to reinforce who the customer is, key products and customer touchpoints. demonstrate the important things everyone needs to do to deliver to customers. show your people in action, especially when your team is located in many places and/or where the core business is conducted elsewhere.

mercury head office, auckland

4. navigation & safety

don’t forget the importance of helping everyone in the business know where to find things – bathrooms, kitchens, elevators and exits. create a system around naming meeting rooms and congregation spaces that make it easy for people to find and remember them. use the environment to communicate core health and safety messages in ways that relate to how people use the space. for example, wellbeing messages about looking out for each other in spaces where people meet. 

mercury head office, auckland 

5. multi-experience

some messages are about reminding people about the things that matter and we use the space for regular repetition. other messages require more engagement. these may require digital experiences – like video and animation - where sound and movement help increase engagement and memorability. others involve audiences doing and experiencing things to become more involved. this is where interactive displays, ar and vr could come into play. and while you’re at it, think about places for staff to engage back – things to comment on; places to write, draw and express themselves; even places for them to take photos to post on instagram. an engaging office environment will have a mix of these. 

mercury head office, auckland

6. personality

most office fit-outs use neutral colours generally for hard (and expensive) surfaces like walls and floors. use colour, texture, movement, typography, photography, art, plants, soft furnishings and interesting objects to bring the space to life. the office environment should reflect your personality, your energy and the people who work there. while there is an overall personality, also think about zones where the tone may need to change; for example, quiet reading and working areas vs active socialising spaces. 

lion, olympic park, sydney

7. use what’s available

most modern office spaces are open plan and are surrounded by a bank of glass. the available walls for communicating are limited. you have to use what you have and this includes ceilings, floors, stairwells, pillars, lockers, partitions, meeting rooms and even the bathrooms. there’s always a clever way to hang or project something where other options don’t exist. lighting and sound also become important storytelling dimensions in these spaces.

meredith connell, auckland

8. design consistency 

you can usually see far into the distance with most open plan offices meaning they can become visually cluttered. have a clear – and single-minded – design idea, supported by a cohesive tone and feel. be clear on your colour palette, fonts, graphic and photographic styles and stick to them. otherwise you could be adding to the noise. 

nz post, wellington

9. noticeboards 

build-in ways to keep people updated about the everyday things that are happening in the business. electronic noticeboards in and/or by lifts, in kitchens, bathrooms and by photocopiers are great (and cost effective) ways to tell people about an upcoming event and to celebrate international women’s day, maori language week and other similar milestones. they reduce the cost, clutter and ugliness of lots of posters stuck up all over the office. 

nz drug foundation, wellington 

10. durability 

offices spaces are living environments. make sure that all materials are hard-wearing and can be changed out or updated in an easy and cost-efficient way, when necessary. think about portability as well - moving things around provides opportunities to freshen things up and to keep staff engaged with your space.

lion, sydney cbd

see a portfolio of full case studies of these and other workplace engagement examples here.

office fit out, company culture, corporate culture, staff engagement, office environment, internal branding

Branding a political party

23 Jul 2019 by Jason Linnell

“Change we can believe in…Yes We Can” Very few people will forget Barak Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. Regardless of your political leanings, he electrified the world and heightened political...

branding a political party jason linnell

“change we can believe in…yes we can”

very few people will forget barak obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. regardless of your political leanings, he electrified the world and heightened political awareness to levels not seen since john f kennedy’s campaign.

and it was all about the brand. arguably one of the most successful political brands in history. it was simple, reassuring and centred on a clear message of ‘hope’. supported by a sophisticated marketing campaign that was straight out of the business playbook, obama became one of the world’s most recognised people. seemingly overnight. 

last year, i remembered all this watching the television news one evening. act’s mp and party leader, david seymour, was giving a speech saying that his party was rebranding. as a voter who sits in the middle of the political spectrum, it got me wondering about what was the act brand? what did they stand for and why, with polls having them at 1%, was this twenty-year plus old party not resonating with the electorate?

naturally, this curiosity led me to call david and so insight creative’s association with rebranding act began. 

as i suspected, act had found themselves in a position where the electorate was indeed not sure what act stood for. and even if they did, people were just not listening to the messages. our challenge was pretty clear and not dissimilar to the business and government agency challenges we regularly worked on. it was about discovering a clear expression of what act stood for, define who that would appeal to (and why) and then finally, work out how that would translate to electoral success. 

much like any brand to succeed, we knew that act had to be genuine. without that, it couldn’t be trusted. our research uncovered consistent messages and actions over their entire political existence. nearly all of those originated from a position of profoundly caring about new zealand and its people. the findings were also at odds with the perception that act was a party ‘for grumpy old white, rich men’. 

the overarching message though, was that act stood for personal freedom. this was the founding principle that their brand promise was built upon, but had been lost at some stage. it was also a position that would resonate with people who wanted less government intrusion in their lives and who took responsibility for their futures – in their family, their workplace and communities. 

knowing that, we also considered changing the party’s name. but this is as sensitive a debate in political branding as in any commercial activity. would the new name get enough recognition widely and quickly enough? will the party lose all the brand equity it had built up over 20-plus years? would a new name isolate those faithful to the brand, causing them to move elsewhere?

these were all considered questions as we then designed the options that would bring the act brand promise of freedom back to the fore. each iteration was then sense-checked against our criteria for a what a successful political brand had to do:

was the message simple and clear?

was the brand promise unique?

would the electorate be reassured by the brand?

does the brand create aspiration among voters?

would the brand be credible and genuine by delivering?

the end result was a modern, impactful reiteration of what act have always stood for. we were also able to shift ‘act’ from being an acronym to a dynamic verb able to carry a myriad of policy positions. again, in a simple, unique way that would be credible with their brand promise. 

in a time when political deliverables and transparency were promised but are absent, it will be intriguing to see how act’s brand promise will resonate with the electorate in 2020.

act, act party, political branding, insight creative

Principled brand decisions

19 Feb 2019 by Steven Giannoulis

Developing a brand strategy means making a number of significant decisions that drive multiple aspects of an organisation. Working with clients, my aim is to agree brand principles upfront that help leadership teams...

principled brand decisions steven giannoulis

developing a brand strategy means making a number of significant decisions that drive multiple aspects of an organisation. working with clients, my aim is to agree brand principles upfront that help leadership teams and boards make sound, and consistent, business decisions.

developing a brand strategy is often seen as developing the brand model – sometimes called the brand pyramid or brand onion. the model defines what you want to stand for and it includes things like brand essence, proposition, personality and the customer value proposition. being clear on what you stand for informs your visual identity, marketing and communication strategies, product and service, culture programme and customer experience design.

but the brand model isn’t all of brand strategy. it’s just one of a number of significant decisions that will define the success of your branding programme. and that’s a good starting point for decision making. what will brand success look like and how will it be measured? being clear on this will inform many of your later decisions.  

a key starting decision is whether to take a single brand or multiple brand approach. both have pros and cons and work better in different markets and circumstances. because an approach can’t be perfect for all situations, many companies start with one approach and then adapt it over time, sometimes resulting in a confused hybrid. 

and of course, if you make the decision to go single brand – which brand will it be? which of the current ones or something new? if you are going multi-brand, what are the brand lines?

and then there’s brand architecture. these are decisions about how your brands are organised under an overarching approach. getting this right impacts brand equity, brand confusion and the cost effectiveness of your marketing activities. there are a number of organising approaches to consider from pure single masterbrand, to brand extensions, sub-branding, co-branding and brand endorser requirements. at this level we are also making decisions about language and naming conventions.

as one decision often informs the next, where possible i look to develop a decision tree to help drive the process. brand decisions often involve many decision-makers with their own business needs to fulfil. to help make consistent decisions, i always look to establish and agree a series of principles that can become the foundations for decision-making. these principles say something like “our brand must…” and generally come about by examining six key areas:

  • business strategy– where will future growth come from? what’s the strategy for realising  growth? the vision and purpose of the organisation and market forces.
  • audiences– who are the audiences and what are their physical and emotional needs the brand must appeal to?
  • competitive differentiation– how differentiated is the market and what are the opportunities to create a unique proposition?
  • strategic strengths– what competitive advantage does the organisation have that can be leveraged?
  • customer experience– what’s the experience customers expect and you want to create for them?
  • culture– what does the organisation value and what behaviours does it encourage?

often we end up with 10 – 12 principles. the trick is getting decision-makers to buy into these, and then stick to them. when we achieve this, everyone is aligned in their thinking and complex brand decisions can become pretty straight forward.

branding, business strategy, brand strategy, brand architecture, clear brand thinking

Brand perspectives

13 Nov 2018 by Brian Slade

An early brand project risk analysis on all possible perspectives can save a bunch of rework, awkward pauses and electrical appliance analogies! (Keep reading and all that will make sense!) Working with a regional...

brand perspectives brian slade

an early brand project risk analysis on all possible perspectives can save a bunch of rework, awkward pauses and electrical appliance analogies! (keep reading and all that will make sense!)

working with a regional council a few years ago, we were commissioned to develop an inbound tourism and economic development identity. as part of this we were asked to reconsider the existing council identity that had been untouched for quite a few years.

after appropriate due diligence, briefing, creative exploration on multiple perspectives, and consultation, we arrived at a solution that was ready to present back to an array of councillors in their regional chambers. in slightly unfamiliar surroundings i pitched the concepts, with the occasional side-ways glance to our direct client to ensure i was on the right path and when finished, opened the floor up for questions.

there was general agreement that the conceptual thinking and ideas were a great leap forward, moving them from a decade or two ago into the future. they could clearly understand and see the visual improvements to a rather dated identity. however one rather mature gentleman took us all back to my opening rationale and challenged the ‘why’?

thinking on my feet and after an awkward pause, i used the analogy of progressively upgrading an electrical appliance that’s been reasonably reliable but some of the functions have started to not perform at 100%. the once white lustre had gone a bit yellow and the seal had started to go around the doors. what was once top of the line was now not so flash. the councillor didn’t quite grasp the concept and still disagreed. his perspective was fixed and firm.

the updated visual identity was by no means a radical solution in my eyes. it aligned to the desired outcomes in the brief, yet still this gentleman objects. yes, it was a departure from the existing identity. but while i saw evolution, he saw something of a revolution.

his objections were dutifully heard and considered, worked through at length within the consultation process and we ended up with something ever so slightly modified. so, what was the issue? 

so, what was the issue?


regardless of how strong or positive the new visual identity was; regardless of how well it was embraced by local iwi, hapu and the wider community, this gentleman’s perspective was fixed on fiscal responsibility, roi value and ‘why fix what isn’t broken’ (in his view).

what i had failed to do in my opening address was answer his deep-rooted question of value and benefit. and to be honest, i’m not sure i should have had to. not at this stage in the process. this should have been addressed a lot earlier by the management team. if this councillor had been engaged enough in the earlier consultations or identified as a potential risk and spoken to one-on-one, his comments may well have been cut off at the pass and less of a distraction to the rest of the presentation.  

at the post presentation debrief, our client informed us that the gentleman in questioned drove a car that was pretty much clapped out, bought decades earlier and was likely to drive it until it collapsed on him! his ‘why?’ question was clearly less about the council identity and more about his own very deep rooted and personal perspectives on the world in general. valid, but not identified early enough.

with both the council identity and the new economic/inbound tourism identity still hard at work for the council today, the lesson i’ve had reinforced by this experience is that it pays to scope all risks and listen to all perspectives to form appropriate responses as early as possible - saving a bunch of rework, awkward pauses and electrical appliance analogies!

branding, stakeholder perspectives, insight creative

What exactly is 'brand'?

09 Oct 2018 by Mike Tisdall

It’s just one of those words, isn’t it? So open to interpretation. So dependent upon the predisposition of the listener or reader. Even after all these years in the branding and communication game, there are...

what exactly is 'brand'? mike tisdall

it’s just one of those words, isn’t it? so open to interpretation. so dependent upon the predisposition of the listener or reader. even after all these years in the branding and communication game, there are still plenty of client folk out there who hear ‘brand’ and think ‘logo’.

in my blog post on brand lingo, i talked about all the branding terms that get bandied about and attempted to lock down some logical definitions the help differentiate one from the other. but even the word ‘brand’ itself means different things to different people at different times. i alluded to that in the opening paragraphs of that earlier post, where i let slip my most favourite of definitions, jeff bezos’ “a brand is what people say about you after you leave the room.”

but over the years, i’ve actually quietly been collecting quite a hoard of definitions of the word. some of them are actually really good, others not so much. and from my select few favourites, i tend to pick the one most relevant to the client discussion at hand that will help them move their thinking forward in the most appropriate context.

the best ones, like bezos’ ‘after you leave the room’, have a go at deflecting thoughts of ‘logo’ and ‘visual identity’ to something a lot broader that captures the total sum of parts ethos.

here are a few more that i can find myself nodding to:

“a brand is a promise. it’s a promise that your company can keep. and you make and keep that promise in every marketing activity, every action, every corporate decision, every customer interaction.”

“a brand is an authentic reflection of the company’s true vision.” 

“a brand is the organising principle of how a company operates and communicates.”

“part art, part science, ‘brand’ is the difference between a bottle of soda and a bottle of coke.”


“a brand is really a way of remembering what something is like for future reference. something you value. something you feel attracted to.”


beyond the above succinct one-liners, i’ve also collected a few slightly more fulsome narratives that help give boundaries to the word ‘brand’.

“the brand is the character, style and purpose that serves as the foundation for your business, like the roots of a tree. you have to stop thinking of ‘the brand’ as a layer of polish that makes your brand pretty.”

“businesses often think about branding after they’ve built the core of their business, when the branding should have been the core of the business.”

and a series of sage phrases from brand strategist, matthew fenton, out of chicago:

“think ‘experience’ not ‘branding’, and your branding will get better.”

“branding is not about logos, taglines or heartstring-tugging ads – they are merely coats of paint.” 

“brands are built in the doing, not the saying.”


what’s your favourite definition of the ‘brand’ word? 

if we can narrow the frame of reference, individual words can actually mean what we think we’re saying. just don’t get me started on ‘sustainability’!

brand, branding, brand definition

Brand Lingo – let’s speak the same language

07 Aug 2018 by Mike Tisdall

Despite the fact that I deal with the term ‘brand’ on a daily basis, the irony is that I have a love/hate relationship with the word. And that’s because whenever a client uses the word, I have to stop them and...

brand lingo – let’s speak the same language mike tisdall

despite the fact that i deal with the term ‘brand’ on a daily basis, the irony is that i have a love/hate relationship with the word. and that’s because whenever a client uses the word, i have to stop them and ask them what they mean when using it because it means so many things to so many people. do they mean their logo? do they mean the brand colour? do they mean the customer experience? or are they using the word in the fullest sense of what i like to think the word really means – in jeff bezos’ words: “what people say about you after you leave the room”. 

and there are so many nuances within all that. so let’s have a look at some of the branding terms that get bandied about and define what they mean, how they describe slightly different things, and where they sometimes overlap:

brand equity
this is the commercial value of all associations and expectations that people have of a brand based on all their experiences with, and perceptions of, the brand over time. that sounds very academic, but think of it as the reservoir of goodwill that a brand can rely on, as long as the reservoir remains full. if people think highly of a brand, it enjoys positive brand equity, but when a brand consistently disappoints enough for people to talk about avoiding it, then it has negative brand equity.

the great thing about positive brand equity is that a company can charge more for a product under that brand; or introduce brand extensions so that the company can sell a wider range of products under that brand.

brand image
brand image is the sum total of perceptions resulting from all the experiences and knowledge someone has had of the brand. it is the impression of the brand in a consumer’s mind.

brand associations
anything a consumer brings to mind, consciously or unconsciously, when presented with the brand. these associations could be organisational, product related, symbolic or personified. they can include awareness, accessibility, value, relevance, differentiation, emotional connection, preference, usage, loyalty and vitality. for example, when somebody says kfc to me, i think of the colour red and an old southern american dude.

brand positioning
this is the way the brand is perceived comparatively within a given competitive set in the consumer’s mind. so it's all relative - a relevant differentiation is the most important aspect of brand positioning because it allows your brand to ‘own’ a distinctive position within your target customer's head. 

the brand’s brand position should be a function of the brand promise, and may relate to quality, innovation, leadership, value, prestige, trust, safety, reliability, performance, convenience, concern for customers, social responsibility, technological superiority etc.

brand essence
this is the heart and soul of the brand – a brand’s fundamental nature or quality, usually stated in two to three words. it’s often emotional and intangible and so speaks to the heart more than the head. examples include nike (‘innovation and inspiration’), southwest airlines (‘freedom’) and volvo (‘safety’). this is powerful stuff!

brand promise
sometimes called a brand value proposition, a brand promise is your brand telling the world what to expect from it. it states the differentiated benefits that are relevant and compelling to your consumer – they can be functional, experiential, emotional or self-expressive.

brand personality
basically, it’s a bunch of adjectives that describe the brand, such as fun, kind, safe, sincere, sophisticated, cheerful, old fashioned, reliable, progressive etc. it’s something to which the consumer can relate because, more often than not, it’s a set of human characteristics attributed to a brand name.

brand identity
this is where we get a bit closer to the stereotypical 'brand = logo' ignorance. your brand identity is a combination of sensory components that create recognition and represent the brand promise, such as what it looks like, what it sounds like, and sometimes, even what it smells like (think peter alexander or lush retail stores).

brand portfolio
the mix of brands and sub-brands owned by an organisation. these brands can sometimes be related in a ‘branded house’ configuration with overt connections to each other, and, conversely, they can be part of a ‘house of brands’ where the various brands aren’t obviously related to each other at all. basically, when you’ve got a handful of different brands or sub-brands, you need to start thinking about how they relate to each other or not. and most likley what you’ve currently got is some degree of chaos brought about by the legacy of past management decisions, some acquisitions along the way and some competitive realities involving strong brand equity situations that you dare not meddle with. and that’s where some ‘brand architecture’ planning can prove life-changing. see below.

brand architecture
brand architecture is a system that organises how a family of brands relate to one another. it indicates how many levels of hierarchy there are, which brands sit at which level in the hierarchy, which relate as brand/sub-brand, and which remain independent of each other.


and that's a good place to end, as brand architecture opens the door on another whole raft of branding jargon which we can perhaps take a look at when we’ve all had a lie down and a cup of tea. in the meantime, hopefully the above list and descriptions will help you separate the different notions in your mind, so that when we talk, we're talking the same lingo.

branding, brand essence, brand architecture, brand promise, brand identity, brand personality, brand portfolio, brand positioning

Not everything that shines is gold in the world of branding

14 Mar 2018 by Brian Slade

Your brand needs an evolution or a revolution. But how the heck do you choose the right people to work with to develop, evolve and roll out you brand identity? There’s a fine balance to be struck between...

not everything that shines is gold in the world of branding brian slade

your brand needs an evolution or a revolution.

but how the heck do you choose the right people to work with to develop, evolve and roll out you brand identity? there’s a fine balance to be struck between ‘contemporary’, ‘trendy’ and something that’s going to 'last the test of time’. 

with regards to trends, by nature they come and go, right? some stick around and morph from one thing to next. 

the contemporary ‘now’ creative air is filled with minimalist logos, geometric shapes, bold and playful typography, a touch of whimsical illustration and digital movement. not too much but just enough: to catch the eye, keep the file size down and not distract you from the content. the 'test of time’ approach though, may take a little more time, funnily enough, but will be worth it. 

"your creative partner will need to start each project like they’re fresh out of art school… but with at least 10 years solid experience."

each creative brand project should be approached as a unique challenge, so your creative partner will need to have the dexterity to constantly evolve and start each project like they’re fresh out of art school… with at least 10 years solid experience. otherwise you run the risk of buying a ‘style’ without substance and working with a bunch of ‘cool’ people just going through the motions but not quite 'getting' business and strategy. 

so what do you need to be looking for when you go ’surfing’ for a branding consultancy?

the first and most obvious thing to ask before you start, is what kind of partner are you looking for? strategic creative, visual guide or somewhere in between? get this right and your path will be a lot easier. then stay alert, watch, listen and be an active partner in the process.

"what kind of partner are you looking for? strategic creative, visual guide or somewhere in between?"

online, what does their website tell you about their view of user experience or customer journey? did they think about you or themselves when designing their site? are you being forced to read 9pt text? a trend where designers tried to force readers to squint through the pain barrier has surely been and gone. what about navigating from project to project. clear and seamless?

what’s their site's work section telling you about their design approach? can you see a strong 'house' style repeating through their work? or are you seeing unique solutions in their identity work that closely reflects the characteristics of their client rather than themselves? is there a focus on the executions with lots of energy put into the business cards they’ve created or is it clear what the client challenge was and how they solved the communications challenge? 

have you spotted an overuse of drop shadows or gradient effects, typography that’s gratuitously stretched or squeezed or work that is simply unclear? any swoosh in their identities? … great in the late 1990s and keeps on giving for nike.

designers solve problems and very few problems are exactly the same, so it follows the solutions you should expect to see would be different. there’s nothing at all wrong with developing stylistic elements to our work, but if it doesn’t distinguish the client from its peers and represent them individually, then 'bad move'.

"designers solve problems and very few problems are exactly the same, so it follows the solutions should be different."

to sum up… as communicators our job is to walk a fine line in brand communications that create individual, strong, distinct voices for our clients that allow them to evolve over time.

brand, design, choosing a designer

Identity in White

20 Feb 2017 by Steven Giannoulis

Immigration and the so-called identity dilution that diversity apparently brings is a hot topic on local and global political agendas. As a brand strategist and a descendent of immigrants I naturally have a strong...

identity in white steven giannoulis

immigration and the so-called identity dilution that diversity apparently brings is a hot topic on local and global political agendas. as a brand strategist and a descendent of immigrants i naturally have a strong view on the subject of identity. 

being from immigrant stock is actually what makes us kiwis. the nz story doesn’t just take in english and maori heritage but also incorporates pacific, indian, italian, dalmation, chinese and many more cultures. this eclectic tapestry of ethnic backgrounds has today fused together forming the unique kiwi identity we have today.

people came here in search of a better life for themselves and their families. this spirit of improving our lot is still alive and well in our culture today. most endured long journeys and tough beginnings to establish a life here and this sense of working hard for self-made success is something we still celebrate. and because of, and not despite of, our distance, we’ve learnt to improvise, think differently and find new ways to create the lifestyle we all enjoy.

immigrant culture is also the lifeblood of what our identity is evolving into. most of us live a life which embraces the best of our parents' heritage and our kiwi upbringing, creating the new cultural norm. let’s encourage and welcome all those who add to our kiwi culture, finding ways to celebrate the richness diversity brings. without it, we’d be a very dull place indeed.

all this diversity talk extends into the workforce and i’m all for it. diversity offers broader experiences and perspectives and therefore leads to better thinking and decision-making, greater creativity and innovation. at insight we have a great mix of nationalities, ages, interests, beliefs and personalities but we still need to do more. so we promote an active policy to encourage diversity in recruitment while not tolerating reverse discrimination.

i grew up in a cultural minority so i get frustrated at being lumped into a generic european majority or being told i don’t understand bi-culturalism or what it’s like to be different. we ‘white folks’ are not homogenous and interchangeable, all expressing one view and a single perspective. my background, growing up greek in new zealand, is very different from my colleagues who are dutch, german, scottish, south african or russian. we may all be white but we all have unique identities and cultures and each one of us brings a distinctive perspective.

so let's encourage, foster and celebrate the diversity we also bring to society and the workplace, remembering that everyone contributes to greater diversity.

diversity, kiwiness

Inside Out Branding

03 Nov 2016 by Mike Tisdall

The November issue of Idealog magazine features quality branding advice from our CEO, Steven Giannoulis. Some particular gems: "Making the brand rhetoric true has wide-reaching implications, requiring a review of...

inside out branding mike tisdall

the november issue of idealog magazine features quality branding advice from our ceo, steven giannoulis. some particular gems: "making the brand rhetoric true has wide-reaching implications, requiring a review of everything from organisational design, culture, sales practices, products and services and operational processes." and "in many ways, developing an appealing brand and sales story is the easy bit. making them true is how brands go to that next level in creating enduring value."

click the image to read.


Discard the cookie cutter

29 Jun 2015 by Brian Slade

What might at first seem a familiar creative challenge often requires a different solution from the one used before, writes Brian Slade. And that is certainly the case for city identities. You can easily make...

discard the cookie cutter brian slade

what might at first seem a familiar creative challenge often requires a different solution from the one used before, writes brian slade. and that is certainly the case for city identities.

you can easily make the mistake of assuming that once you have solved a particular problem, you have the answer to how to solve it again and again. sure it gives you an insight into potentially how you might tackle it again but be careful of the cookie cutter solution. it can lead you up the expensive, unrewarding or ineffective garden path.

one of the great aspects of being a designer is the insight you get into organisations - quickly needing to assess the problems they face and understanding how you can apply your knowledge. past experience is a great framework for assessing a problem or opportunity but, as our experience with city identities has taught us, it doesn’t instantly provide us with the right solution.

over recent years we’ve worked with a number of local councils and government agencies to create city visual identities, brand tool boxes and communications platforms that fundamentally serve to engage in dialogue with local residents, inbound tourism or investment audiences.

the first question to ask is ‘where is the organisation in its visual identity evolution?’ tararua district council was new, created through boundary changes. i worked with them to develop two identites that were visually linked but quite independent. the first, a council one that residents payed rates to and identified services. the second, a tourism/investment identity that leveraged off the first but was much more expressive. this clear line allowed the two to talk to distinctly different audiences and worked really well. this second identity was later evolved further to include a more regional focus. tamaki, auckland, although very early on in their visual identity development, has a long proud history. this was captured in a poem ‘we are tamaki’ which we used to form a unified voice aimed at getting both local community and government to support the vision for tamaki transformation. this objective meant the approach was quite different from tararua although both had been in a similar stage in the life cycle.

the next question is ‘what equity has the organisation already built?’ albury city in nsw, australia was much more evolved as an identity. they had established their logo some time ago, representing the council but also the city. what they lacked were the tools to communicate, under one identity, to multiple audiences. we achieved this by developing a core brand story and visual idea for the city that was then able to be expressed into a flexible tool kit that could be dialled up or down depending on the audience they were speaking to. this  gave them complete flexibility. quite different from tararua or tamaki because of the much earlier strategic decision to represent the city and council under one identity.

after the 2011 earthquake in christchurch the answer to the question of visual identity life cycle was obviously quite different. the  ‘garden city identity’ was in quite a different place. with so much equity lost and subsequent identity ‘noise’, the question was ‘what do local residents need?’ part of the solution was  the development of a vibrant, optimistic and very much independent vehicle to engage locals about what was happening in their city, quite different from tararua, tamaki or albury city.

we inherited a fledgling future christchurch website and identity. the first thing we did was to develop a strategic framework unique for its purpose, giving the work that followed the foundation it needed. we took the bare essentials of the existing creative and stripped these back to a point where all that was left was the core existing name and the idea of using a broad colour palette - the key attributes that spoke to the strategic intent.

working closely with a very positive client we were able to evolve the name to be more regionally inclusive, and give the identity generous stretch. we consolidated this into a practical design system, adding a typographic set, an independent logotype, new visual language and distinctive tone of voice messaging. the new identity sytem allowed for broader communication and stretch across multiple channels. packaging it up into a set of guidelines, with examples of how it worked, we then shared it with the various internal and external design teams to implement.

we’ve managed this collaborative brand rollout process with a few clients, finding the best way is open honest dialogue, working out strengths and weaknesses early on and being honest about them.

it’s one of the most positive experiences contributing to a city that is grappling with how to visually represent and express itself to its audiences. it’s very tangible and ‘real’. you get to walk around and see your work in action. a uniquely special city required a unique solution that was right for them. obviously having that background knowledge to city identities really helped us offer up, not a cookie cutter solution, but an approach right for christchurch at their stage of the identity life cycle.

- published in nz marketing magazine, july/august 2015







marketing magazine, design, brand, city brand

The Evolution of the Ports of Auckland brand

02 Jun 2015 by Mike Tisdall

While the Ports of Auckland are currently embroiled in a public standoff over wharf extension into the Auckland Harbour, there's still no doubt about the short- and long-term economic impact the Port has on our city....

the evolution of the ports of auckland brand mike tisdall

while the ports of auckland are currently embroiled in a public standoff over wharf extension into the auckland harbour, there's still no doubt about the short- and long-term economic impact the port has on our city. and their visual identity needs to operate by the rules of commercial necessity too. and so, in mid-2014, we embarked on an evolutionary update of their logo, colour palette and typography to keep them fresh and contemporary. creative director, brian slade talks about the process and the lessons for other companies looking to refresh their visual identities in this article in the may/june edition of marketing magazine. you can read it online at stoppress here.


ports of auckland, brand refresh

Major law firm gets a rebrand

02 Jun 2015 by Mike Tisdall

May saw two exciting developments for law firm, Meredith Connell. First, government announced that the firm had retained the warrant as Auckland's Crown Prosecutor after a lengthy - and much delayed - assessment...

major law firm gets a rebrand mike tisdall

may saw two exciting developments for law firm, meredith connell. first, government announced that the firm had retained the warrant as auckland's crown prosecutor after a lengthy - and much delayed - assessment process. and second, the firm's bold new brand was launched. it's difficult to be different in the higher echelons of new zealand law firms, but meredith connell were determined to express an explicit point of view and powerfully differentiated personality. you can see a full case study on the 'work' section of this site, and also have a look at the new website we launched as part of the new brand launch:



brand, meredith connell, insight creative

Workplace graphics to 'live' in the brand

16 Apr 2015 by Mike Tisdall

To design, produce and install signage in Transpower's new Auckland Office in time for their opening day meant we only had 15 days from briefing, through design to installation. By knowing our clients brands intimately...

workplace graphics to 'live' in the brand mike tisdall

to design, produce and install signage in transpower's new auckland office in time for their opening day meant we only had 15 days from briefing, through design to installation. by knowing our clients brands intimately through long working relationships, at least the design part of the project becomes easier . . .

Branding 360

10 Feb 2015 by Brian Slade

We’ve been working with the New Zealand Drug Foundation for years. We’ve created core brand identity elements, video, web, symposiums, sub-branded initiatives and a whole lot more, including their quarterly 40 page...

branding 360 brian slade

we’ve been working with the new zealand drug foundation for years. we’ve created core brand identity elements, video, web, symposiums, sub-branded initiatives and a whole lot more, including their quarterly 40 page magazine matters of substance. late last year they moved into new offices and we took a look at their environmental branding application to give their brand a full 360 degree visual and messaging alignment.


branding, environmental graphics, nz drug foundation

Designed to work

19 Dec 2014 by Brian Slade

Design shouldn’t seek to be creative or effective. It should always strive to be both. Earlier this year we secured the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as a client for the first time. The NZSO is well known for...

designed to work brian slade

design shouldn’t seek to be creative or effective. it should always strive to be both.

earlier this year we secured the new zealand symphony orchestra as a client for the first time. the nzso is well known for their artistic excellence and high standards of creativity. it’s always a great pleasure working with creatively inspired organisations and we’ve been lucky enough to work with a few including the arts foundation and the royal new zealand ballet.

over the years, the nzso has produced a number of stunning season brochures that have been recognised with numerous design awards. fair to say we were pretty excited to be working on the season 15 brochure and its extended communications programme.

at the brochure briefing, the client was very clear about the objective: “more bums on seats.” this was followed by an explanation that they didn’t want an ‘over-designed’ brochure that made them look pretentious and inaccessible. they wanted something that represented their artistic excellence and worked hard to sell more tickets to the season’s individual concerts. by their very nature, the client understands the tension between creative integrity and business reality but even they seemed to imply that creativity needed to be grounded in effectiveness.

for many designers this outwardly expressed desire for a more functional approach could be a bit of a let down and they may feel that it compromise their creativity. in my view, if you approach a job with an attitude that it’s not a creative opportunity then chances are, it won’t be.

unfortunately this ‘creative or effective myth’ is one we seem to reinforce as a wider creative communication industry. we hand out creative awards to design ideas even though they fail to deliver the client’s objectives. we have separate awards to recognise communication effectiveness as if to say “it’s ok that it wasn’t that creative”.

i am a firm believer that in our commercial design industry good creative is only as good as the results it delivers. our clients pay us to design communications that inform, create desire, drive actions or change perceptions. if they don’t do these things then how can they be hailed as good design? a beautiful chair that can’t be sat on is a failed design. equally, a highly creative sales brochure that doesn’t sell is just as much a failed design.

fortunately, creative design and effectiveness do go hand in hand. good creative assists with cut through, engagement and storytelling, allowing audiences to effortlessly move through the stages of awareness, interest, desire and action. a strong creative idea balances rational and emotional appeal allowing the heart to want and the head to turn it into action.

to understand the season 15 offering we set ourselves the homework task of listening and watching the music and guest artists that make up the season’s concerts. for each concert we developed a story capturing the essence of what audiences would see, hear and experience. we also attended nzso performances to immerse ourselves in the concert experience we were promoting. (i’ve got to say what an awesome experience it was!)

the brochure’s cover is a key focus of immersion - losing yourself, or indeed finding yourself, through the music and the experience. the opening spreads tell a high level story of the season and what seeing the nzso live will feel like for audiences. these pages draw readers into the more detailed concert pages that follow. concert spreads provide a mixture of expressive and passionate imagery and factual cues to further involve the reader. to capitalise on the emotional engagement, the booking information was redesigned to aid the reader to take immediate action.

if you’ve read this far then the question you may ask is, did the season 15 brochure deliver both increased sales and high standards of creativity? so far, season sales are over a third higher than they were at the same time last year. we can’t claim it’s all because of our design (the season itself features an amazing line-up of compositions and guest artists) but the client feels that our work has definitely made a big difference. feedback on the brochure design is that it is worthy of awards recognition. we will no doubt enter it and let our creative peers be the judge.


nzso, subscription, 2015 season

How brains process logos

23 Oct 2014 by Jason O'Hara

No major revelations here but it is kind of interesting - and a good summary of the importance of colour and shape to brand recognition. Re-posted from an infographic by Logomaker. ...

how brains process logos jason o'hara

no major revelations here but it is kind of interesting - and a good summary of the importance of colour and shape to brand recognition.

re-posted from an infographic by logomaker.

logos, brand, perception

‘Stop Press’ article on our new Stand branding project

28 Apr 2014 by Brian Slade

Stop Press, 5 July 2013 Marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (NFP) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. However, developing a new brand for a...

‘stop press’ article on our new stand branding project brian slade

stop press, 5 july 2013

marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (nfp) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. however, developing a new brand for a long-established nfp organisation has been a salient reminder of the wider, strategic roles that a brand can play.

rebranding is not something that a nfp organisation undertakes easily. there is one school of thought that says not a single dollar raised by the concerned public should be used to build a ‘brand’. whereas anxious nfp chief executives are balancing these concerns with the worry that if they do decide to build their brand, their limited resources won’t cope with increased demand the extra attention could create.

and finally, the commercially-averse nfp leadership team believes that building their brand will diminish their separation from the commercial world, removing the vital essence of the not-for-profit relationship with its sponsors and stakeholders.

for these reasons, when te puna whaiora children’s health camps, one of new zealand’s longest running social services, initiated a brand review, it required complex thinking and an even more intricate process than would potentially be employed for a consumer brand.

first we had to ask “what is the role of brand in the nfp sector?” and the complexity of the answer challenged our consumer brand thinking.

nfp brands are now so much more than fundraising tools. management teams are being asked by their boards how their brand is contributing to their social impact, to their external trust, to partner/sponsorship solidity, to internal unity and to capacity.

an nfp brand also needs to perform numerous roles and appeal to multiple audiences. the brand must help the nfp acquire more financial, human, and social resources, and galvanise and help construct key partnerships.

the visual identity is only the first step in the journey to developing a strong nfp brand. it’s the organisation’s ‘shop front’ and is critical to building its ability to change the world on behalf of their cause. however, it is the brand essence that is the ‘call to action’ and a constant reminder of the nfp organisation’s mandate to do things their way; to be brave, and speak out.

knowing the brand story and buying into it also helps ensure their partners and supporters do things their way too and do nothing to undermine the brand’s integrity. most importantly of all, an nfp brand needs to instill a sense of pride in all who engage with it.

the brand developed for te puna whaiora children’s health camps – stand children’s services (stand) – is no exception. from day one, the rebrand inspired a step change within the organisation. it has given stand the opportunity engage with their stakeholders, tell a fresh story and remind them of how important their work is to the community. in a nutshell, it has reframed their call to action and has reignited passion.

in developing the stand brand, insight had to consider a much larger and more varied group of stakeholders than is usually considered when developing a consumer brand. those making a financial or voluntary contribution (funders) aren’t the ones who will experience the nfp’s core promise. they aren’t necessarily looking for a “what’s in it for me?” and yet, at the same time they have a stake in ensuring the brand represents something they wish to be associated with, is professional and portrays the right image.

secondly, a nfp organisation has to be democratic in its management of its brand; harnessing and providing boundaries for enthusiastic members, volunteers and participants, while ensuring it minimises brand anarchy. te puna whaiora children’s health camps actively engaged with all key stakeholders and their feedback was critical in shaping the final identity.

the response from stand’s stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. positioning statements “stand for children” and “a world strong for children” have become rallying cries for change. the organisation is reinvigorated, with staff operating with stronger pride and an even greater sense of urgency. politicians, funders and other child-support agencies have also noticed the change and are actively asking “what more can we do to stand for children?”

insight also had to be cognisant of the fact that nfps don’t have the level of clarity between brand functions the commercial world does. managing the brand isn’t simply the responsibility of marketing or ommunications. the entire team have to be custodians of their brand’s identity and be budding brand managers and brand builders.

the brand framework also has to be more fluid as often the cause, the organisation and the offering are synonymous. the visual elements must be adaptable to allow tailoring to the need of the audiences and specific messaging, while instilling a level of brand consistency. such adaptability is also essential for the inevitable use of the brand by social media.

stand’s strong visual image with a bold colour transition, a strong word mark, expressive typography, photography and graphic elements allow for this.

the inspiration for the name was new zealand’s totara. the ‘king of tane’s great forest’ stretches high above the dense canopy of broadleaf trees and protects the other trees from storm damage. the inspiration for the bold colour transition was stand taking the children on a journey from darkness to light.

‘stand’ helps explain the organisation’s unique proposition: they stand together to bring hope to new zealand’s most vulnerable children; they help children and families stand up and be strong; they stand against isolation and fear; they take a stand, acting with urgency to deliver solutions that make a child’s world safer, happier and healthier place. and finally, they nurture dreams and aspirations of our nation’s children, allowing them to find their turangawaewae ‘their place to stand’.

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