I first starting working with Neil Ayres when he worked at Creative Review when I was getting in touch with lots of creative organisations, press and companies to find out more about how we could work together and also gain inspiration on how creative practitioners might use the Library.
Since then, Neil has also worked for D&AD and runs his own business, Alien Content. It is a consultancy helping arts organisations, media owners and design companies with content strategy and digital project management.
He’s currently working with Brand Perfect to help them launch and edit their new website. We’re also going to be working closely with Brand Perfect in the future – watch this space!
What is your background and how did you start working with Brand Perfect?
I’d worked in magazine publishing for more than a decade, in print production originally, but then working mainly in digital for five years or so. After working at Creative Review for some time, as part of the team that launched its website and produced the new-ish iPad app, I took up a post with D&AD to review what it should be offering to its membership online. I was introduced to Brand Perfect by an old colleague. Julie Strawson, the initiative’s director, was intending to grow out from a series of international events and launch a community-driven website.
Can you summarise what Brand Perfect is about in a few sentences?
At its core Brand Perfect is about helping the branding community understand technology better, be that looking at emerging opportunities, or tackling existing challenges. We’re bringing the developers and designers together with the brands they support in a space where the sense of hierarchy is removed and everyone has the room to be honest with each other.
The ambition is to look at what’s working for brands, both in terms of marketing and service provision, and in the practicalities of getting their products to market, and passing these onto the wider world. As well as opening up discussions and publishing relevant editorial content, we’re also commissioning research and looking to influence standards bodies, such as the World Wide Web Consortium.
We want brand managers, marketers, designers and developers to come to the site and get involved. If they have bug bears or innovations, we want to hear about them.
You have been really involved in the development of its new site which has just gone live. Can you explain a bit about the concept for the site and how it was developed?
The conceptual thinking and the bulk of the design work, by Brand Perfect partners Fjord (with typography from founding partner Monotype), was already in place before I came on board, but I’ve worked closely Julie and Implere, the development company, to fine tune this over the last few months prior to launch.
Although we’ve launched in beta, everyone was clear that the central functions of the site, and importantly, its design, needed to be pitch perfect prior to launch, and it was crucial we had this time to really have some hands-on time with it before it went out to face the world. (One of our contributors, Marc George, a developer who works a lot with book and music publishers, has coincidentally written a piece for the site on how often this time and space for testing is overlooked when projects are signed off).
We also didn’t want to launch without the site offering as great an experience on a smartphone as it does on the desktop or a tablet, so we spent a fair few weeks getting this right too.
What do you think are the big issues at the moment facing companies that are trying to keep up to date with all the latest changes in technology and to create seamless brand experiences?
I think there are two big issues. The one that Brand Perfect is hoping to do a lot to help with is to suggest some best practice methods for how brand owners should be working to get their projects out there in the first place, without wasting money pursuing ideas that aren’t going to work, or going round in circles. Take fonts as an example. Often the realisation of the need for certain fonts only comes to brands in the final stages of a project. For instance, when a multi-national campaign is about to be rolled out, a developer or front-line designer will point out that the project is missing an appropriate Chinese-character typeface. On the face of it this might sound like a simple fix, but what if there isn’t an appropriate Chinese-character typeface that fits with the existing designs? Such oversights can and have ended up costing companies millions of pounds, and add unnecessary and sometimes fatal time onto a project.
The second major issue is as old as trade itself, and the topic is in danger of becoming a cliché. Customer experience. Branding is not about your logo, typeface and a fixed colour palette. These help to enhance it, certainly, but what’s most important are your customers. On top of having a great product, you need a good manner. Social media doesn’t mean you have to respond to every one of your customers as soon as they pose a question or complaint on Twitter. That’s unreasonable. But if you’re on Twitter in the first, you do need to respond to them.
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