Why rebrands need digital thinking and websites need brand thinking

Sam Hodges & Mark Robbins

Giving you a brand vision isn’t enough. You need the vision, roadmap, tools and features to get you there. So we encourage clients to think about their brand and digital experience at the same time.

Every day, we work with people advocating for huge change in their organisations. Visionary and pragmatic leaders, they’re constantly negotiating budgets, timelines and expectations.

Rebrands and digital launches are tough, but worthwhile, work. If you’re the one charged with leading it, your mind must go back and forth: ‘Is this ambitious enough? Is that really achievable?’

At Output we have two design disciplines under one roof: brand and digital. They have two different approaches to challenges. Two different teams. But they work together on a shared timeline, and each one pushes the other to a better outcome.

Most agencies split this work out completely. It’s easier to manage, but misses an opportunity. Let’s see how working through both, together, leads to the most interesting, effective and sustainable outcomes.

Bring product and marketing together

Most tech-driven companies have their marketing and product teams in separate silos. The differences between user acquisition and user experience are seen to be so vast that a virtual wall is put up between the teams. The big loser here is the brand itself. With neither design team responsible for maintaining and growing its strength, it risks being weakened and cheapened.

Our teams are integrated, to help address exactly this problem. Digital designers are challenged to move away from classic ‘product’ thinking, into more emotive, conceptual territory. And brand designers are pushed to think about tangible and deployable outcomes, not just idealistic representations of the finished work.

An effective brand system gives you tools to communicate your service and values. The most obvious place to do that is your website. By focusing on predominantly digital experiences, we make your businesses offer understandable and compelling to your audience.

Brands with purpose

One of the issues we hear from clients is that they’ve struggled to implement their previous brand work effectively. Traditionally, brand deliveries are abstract. They lay down high-level visions, but are rarely tangible and deployable across the many platforms modern organisations need to use.

Our approach to this is deliberately different. We test strategic thinking from the start, to see how and where we can deliver on it through the experience. So even the earliest design concept boards will feature ‘real-life’ components or website pages.

If every digital product looks the same, how will yours be remembered? What makes someone want to return and use it again?”

User experience design begins alongside this early brand development, giving us a clear sight of the design challenges the new brand needs to address. In this way, brand designers are challenged by digital designers to refine their systems into something functional and hard-working.

Exploring these real applications sets us on the path to building a brand which is easy to deploy. Our brand designers don’t visualise a lot of hypothetical outcomes, they make systems that solve identified problems along the way.

Original and memorable experiences

Just as brand design is traditionally about setting the vision, digital design is historically about delivering performance and utility. It’s rarely expected to be original, memorable or different. This is largely down to the battle for a user’s attention. Anything that slows performance or load time gets ‘designed out’ through the wind tunnel effect of testing and optimisation.

With so many digital experiences following well-trodden formulas, how will yours be remembered? What makes it capture your difference and the value you offer?

With digital and brand designers working together in our Imagine phase, we do an exercise running brand character through components. So instead of building on basic wireframes, we have exciting concept-driven sketches to really push not just how the brand feels, but what it actually says. As we build the brand framework we also question what original content we could be designing for the audience.

Telling the right stories

To be successful, you know it’s not about choosing a strong brand or digital experience. You need both. Addressing them together makes each discipline better.

A final example of this is content design. It may feel like a ‘website problem’, but it’s not. At least, not totally. While the architecture, user journey and navigation are challenges for a digital designer, remember your website is an expression of your vision and values. Creative copywriting, and even choosing which stories to tell in the first place, are brand-led challenges.

To make an experience that’s distinctive, memorable and possible to deliver, product and brand disciplines need to work together. From the motion language through to button design, the brand and digital design systems must feel distinctly like your brand at every level.

The bottom line

Perhaps the most compelling argument for tackling brand and digital challenges together is the return on investment. Aligning the projects will result in both time and cost savings. Adapting the strategic phase means only one round of discovery research. Learnings from one side feed the other, and there’s no need for repetition of design tasks.

Aside from cost savings and efficiency, the combined work should be more effective. By bringing the disciplines together, the finished outcomes are consolidated and aligned. The brand work is practical and deployable, while the digital piece is an undiluted expression of the brand vision.

Remember, your website is an expression of your vision and values. Creative copywriting, and even choosing which stories to tell in the first place, are brand-led challenges.”

So, why doesn’t everyone work like this?

The simple answer is, “Because it’s not easy.”

On paper, it’s less efficient and more chaotic. The risk-averse don’t like it, because the timeline doesn’t look as neat as two separate deliveries. You need design teams who are completely aligned, and prepared to sacrifice their ego for the benefit of the work. They need to be adaptable and responsive to changing demands as the project evolves. To know when to fight for something vital and when to concede to something pragmatic.

But a process with mutual feedback across different disciplines is a really creative one. If you really want to create a transformational brand which keeps delivering once it’s out in the wild, aligning your brand project with your digital re-platforming is your best route to success. If it was easy, everyone would do it this way. Which creates an advantage for those smart enough to try it.


If you’re interested in exploring this approach, why not get in touch to find out more?

Sam Hodges & Mark Robbins

As Digital Design Director at Output, Sam (he/him) brings experimental thinking together with a deep understanding of product usability, to ensure the experiences we create are as functional as they are beautiful. Mark (he/him) joined Output to take our brand work to new levels of creative craft. As Associate Creative Director, his deep-dive articles show how creative thinking can solve complex problems, change behaviour and create meaningful impact.