Crafting a Great Branding Delivery

A great design solution is just one part of the project process; delivering a thoughtful presentation is equally as important. At Focus Lab, we figured out early on that a great delivery will make all the difference to a client and to the overall concept progression. Let me also preface that this post is speaking to the visual branding exercise, not all components of branding exercise (i.e. Voice, Messaging, etc).

Defining “delivery”

We define “delivery” as the work sent to a client at the end of each production cycle, and the “deliverable” as that work in document format. At Focus Lab, we deliver batches of work weekly, so a branding deliverable gets shipped every Friday for at least six consecutive weeks, starting in the conceptualizing round (week 1) and ending with the final system (week 6+). There are sometimes midweek concepts delivered, but this discussion is more about the larger, more complete delivery. Anything delivered midweek is usually simply screenshots or sketches in order to get quick feedback, which is also valuable. We’ll address that topic in a later post.

The importance of a good presentation

So why is a good delivery so important? We’ve learned that a good concept can only go so far without the proper visual presentation and storytelling. You have to go beyond a single JPG showing the logo because that will not allow you or your client to get a real grasp of a particular design. Instead, spend the extra time to build out an in-depth and story-driven presentation. It will pay off greatly. Your client will have a deeper understanding of your overall vision, the brand story, and how the system works collectively.

The early rounds

Your weekly production need not happen within the actual presentation style layout. We work from a single art board each week. That is more of our creation sandbox, where we get messy fleshing out ideas, iterating, and honing our solutions. We then transfer both the the best visuals and best talking points over to the presentation document that will be shipped and discussed with the client.

It is important to recognize that your deliverables will change per your project needs and goals each week. Meaning, the goals for a Round 1 branding deliverable are much different than a Round 4. Therefore the layout and approach will change as well.

A small portion of a messy art board. This is where the magic happens.
What the actual deliverable looks like after you distill down your art board madness.

This is how you take the mess, distill it, and present a solid Round 1. You will notice that only a few of the ideas made it into the presentation and they are not deeply elaborated on. This serves as a jumping-off point to start discussing and focusing on a select few directions.

In the first few deliverables, we focus less on polished design or complete systems and more on loose exploration and iteration. Something that is often overlooked is sharing the thought process behind the designs, visuals that followed that process, etc. This should be welcomed in the first few rounds, specifically. Examples of this work could be word maps, sketches, art board screenshots, etc. Some designers might think this is just a nice way to present your work to other designers, but we’ve found that it’s really helpful for client conversations as well. To be clear, I am not telling you to show everything you worked on each week; just don’t be afraid to pepper your early presentations with a variety of ideas and exploration. Nothing is expected to be perfect just yet. A big benefit of showing more in the early rounds is that you can save yourself from going too far down the wrong road on a direction or save yourself from quickly discarding something the client may love and want pushed further.

“Choosing what to show and not show is a fine art and you will get more comfortable with that over time.”

From there, each round will continue to get more focused and polished. You should be continually narrowing down the noise (options that just are not working) and spending more energy on the options that have more legs. You and your client need to be on the same page about that. It’s okay if the project begins to have a sense of tension or urgency to discard some looks and pursue others. This weekly pressure will ensure that the process continues to move forward and neither you or the client travel down rabbit holes. Flexibility is okay and will be utilized on some projects more than others, but stay the course unless real design struggles arise. Round 3 will heavily rely on a single solution with a larger system built out to support it. After all, you are 3–4 weeks in now; you should have plenty of supporting visuals that have evolved to this point. Round 3 should start to feel like the home stretch, with focus on what could likely be the final solution.

By the final round in week 5 or 6 you will have a single system that the client feels invested in and comfortable with. This is a design solution that they’ve seen built out week after week.

This is how you take the mess, distill it, and present a solid round. You will notice that only a few of the concepts made it into the presentation and they are not deeply elaborated on. This serves as a jumping-off point to start discussing and then focusing on a select few directions.

As you can see in this Round 3 we are targeting a single look. There is little effort wasted trying to present an alternate look. We are confident this is the best direction and we take the extra time to build out a deeper, more defined system to capture the brand story.

Pay attention to the flow

When designing a document that can range anywhere from 15–40 pages, it’s really important to follow some key visual flow rules. Make sure to balance both large and small visuals with complex and simple visuals. Meaning, stagger your page layouts so that the viewer is not jumping from complex page to complex page repeatedly. Break that up with some extremely simple visuals accompanied by loads of white space and different sizing. This does not need to be done on an exact every-other-page basis, but account for it within the flow of the document. I typically scroll through the document 30+ times while creating it to get a feel for when visual breaks are needed. This balance will make for a better viewing experience and therefore a better presentation.

Storytelling is key

In addition to how well you present the work visually, it’s important to consider the sequencing of the presentation. Remember, you are crafting a step-by-step creative story. It should be understandable so that your client gets a grasp of your creative journey and what designs you feel are the best fit for them and their goals.

“​In short, you want to start with the lightest visuals and build momentum into your best visuals.”

Set the stage with a simple but enticing cover. We typically pick one of the strongest visuals of that round, without giving too much away. Following that are a couple of copy-based pages defining the goals of the delivery, the project’s Creative Brief for reference, and anything else we need to explain the work that follows. This gives your client a foundation of intent before you jump into visuals. The pace or flow of your presentation could be described as calm at the start and building to excitement at the finish.

Next comes the artwork. Again, it’s all about the build-up. You should be showing examples of the iterations and evolution that got you to a particular look. This will both show the effort and thought you put into a particular concept, while also addressing the depth and breadth of your design experimentation. (This is great for the “did you try this?” conversations.)

This is a small snippet from the full presentation but it shows how you can lead up to an early solution within the presentation, taking the time to show a small portion of the exploration and thought.

As you progress through the layout, adding your work, don’t be afraid to show some ideas you know won’t work. I love to talk about what and why it doesn’t work with clients. It helps to show your exploration and cull ideas. Although, use discretion when doing so; there will be plenty of work left to die on your art board that clients need not see.

As you get even further into the document, this is where you start to reveal the goodies: the one or two concepts that you feel have the most potential. These are the looks you spice up with what we call “mini systems:” color treatments, in-context shots, print materials, etc.

An example of a few pages establishing a mini system to help showcase a look and sell an idea. Showing your work in context is a must. Save it for your best solutions and when you hit your “AH HA!” MOMENT. “AH HA” = PUT IT IN CONTEXT.

As you work toward the end of the document, reintroduce the look from the cover page with a sense of reveal. Make the client feel like this is the best of the best within that week of design work. This will be the look that receives the most attention and the biggest build-out. This is basically impossible in Round 1, given the lack of polish and winning solutions to showcase. But in the later rounds this is easily achievable and should be the main focus in closing out an idea.

Finally, when moving into each new week’s delivery, it’s a nice touch to pull some of the past week’s delivery over into your first couple pages. It helps the client and your team understand where you left off from the previous week. Examples of what to use: the Creative Brief, the most complete versions from the previous week, and a moodboard to help maintain the understanding of the desired direction. You shouldn’t assume that anyone will be as aware of the past designs and direction as you will. A simple visual reminder starting out new round is a nice touch.

Delivering the Final Round

The final round is just as important as the first. Both have different goals but carry a ton of importance in the overall success of the project. Don’t confuse the final round as the final delivery. The “final delivery” still comes later in the process and consists of a style guide and collection of assets.

We approach the final round differently than other rounds to make a bigger impact. This round is all about consistency within a single system and showing the power of the design solution you’ve come up with.

We start by changing the format to a single tall “scrolling” style art board. By housing the entire design flow in a single document it creates the essence of a single, final solution. No weird page breaks allowed. We work in the same visual storytelling manner as above but get even more polished and intentional with the decisions. A big part of the final round is putting designs in context. The more the better.

“During the Assembly rebranding process with Focus Lab, we’d wait with anticipation all week for the big reveal. Every deliverable was explained, as was their thought process and methodology. Each week built upon the last, including our feedback. At the end of the project, we were pumped and thoroughly satisfied with what we’d crafted together and how Focus Lab had taken us there.” — Matthew Smith / @whale

Supporting copy

Now that you’ve got your visual flow down, let’s talk about the written word. There are two types of supporting copy that you will need to account for in your deliverables. Be sure both are well-edited to remove typos that reflect poorly on your presentation. We recommend having at least two different sets of eyes for the editing round.

The first set of supporting copy is placed in the document itself. You can’t just plop pretty designs everywhere and expect everyone to understand what you are trying to show them. Some simple headlines or small unobtrusive sentences can go a long way.

“The less confusion around the delivery, the better.”

The second set of copy is for the client message you send along with the deliverable. This is a crucial part that helps frame the overall delivery. If you’ve done your job well, you should be excited about the work you are sharing with them. Let that shine through. Then outline what you’ve done, why you did it, and what you expect from them. It could read something like this….

“Dear Client,

We made fantastic progress this week and are really happy with how the work is shaping up. This week we focused on three primary needs: color, typography, and the latest logotype revisions.

Since we discussed the importance of the logotype last week, we made that our priority. We spent a good amount of time on the modifications and you will see a collection of visuals on how and why we reworked it.

The goal for this round is to get final approval on the revised logotype and then get your gut reactions to the color palette and new typography pairings. We still have two weeks left, so don’t get too caught up on the social media icons we placed on page 8 and some of the imagery throughout the presentation. Those are just simple conversation starters and can talk more about them in our meeting tomorrow.

Hope all is well and we look forward to discussing this all with you soon.

Thank you!”

The final product

Here is a video we created to recap the project. This was not a delivery :)

So now what?

We hope this brain dump helps you when it comes to your next deliverable. Let us know on Twitter @madebysidecar what resonated, or other tricks of the trade we may have overlooked.

Check out the Vertical Style Guide Template, Branding Artboards Template, and Branding Showcase Template we’ve created to help make this even easier for you ;)

This will allow you to take the knowledge from above and start implementing it immediately into your routine.

Thanks for reading 👍


Originally published at madebysidecar.com.