Institute Fellow Laura James writes about the reasons for and process of rebranding the Festival of Maintenance.
Why branding matters
The Festival of Maintenance (FoM) is a celebration of those who maintain different parts of our world, and how they do it, recognising the often hidden work done in repair, custodianship, stewardship, tending and caring for the things that matter. FoM is now in its third year - we’ve had two successful large events (in London 2018, and Liverpool 2019) and following Covid-19 have pivoted to running online events and seminars.
Due to the need to sharpen our online presence in light of the pandemic and clarify our purpose, we decided to engage a graphic designer to help us build a new brand identity, inclusive of logo, design elements for our website, social media cards and slides and potentially other marketing materials such as stickers, postcards, etc. Clear images and distinctive typography will help us grow the community around the Festival and continue to raise awareness of maintenance and related issues in a crowded online environment this year and into the future.
We can’t rely on flyers or stickers to spread the word as we could in previous years - all our marketing and communications will be online, and a distinctive graphic look and feel is important to catch and keep people’s interest and attention. This is especially true on social media such as Twitter, where we have some keen followers who will spread the word to those who haven’t heard about us yet - and those new folks are the people we want to be intrigued by our brand, and to want to learn more, and to recognise us when they see our content again.
Our original graphics were done very early on by one of our volunteer community, and have done very well for us. Many thanks Hwa Young! We were sure that now we know more about who we are and what we do, we could update our brand to be more ‘us’ with the help of a professional. As well as the look and feel, we’re updating the words we use to describe our activities.
The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of maintenance and maintainers as part of the new social contract, and we are keen to make our mark with a fresh, clean brand. Maintenance is a tricky concept to communicate - it happens across disciplines and is carried out by different people who are often unidentified and/or unrecognised. (We’ve written a blog to try and explain a bit more here). No more corporate memphis-type depictions of cleaners/gardeners!
The Festival of Maintenance committee (all volunteers) intends to use this new look and feel to amplify our presence and leverage the opportunity to facilitate this debate. This year we’ve had unprecedented interest in our work, collaborating with the Maintainers in the US, and now supporting design teaching at CMU this autumn. More people than ever are interested in maintenance, especially as Covid-19 has pushed key workers and care workers into the spotlight. We want to take advantage of this moment.
How we did it
We started by writing a brief for designers who might be interested in working with us. We explained who we were and what we wanted to do, and linked to some of our existing content (blog posts mostly, but also videos) which were relevant to how we want to be in the future. We described what we wanted to do and the exact outputs we needed, and also specified how much we could pay. This was important as we wanted to manage expectations clearly.
We know that things change, and so we want flexible digital assets we can use in different ways. For instance, every social media platform requires different sizes of avatar/icon and background profile image. It doesn’t make sense to have the designer make each of these, when we might start using a new platform in a few months which needs something different - we can’t afford the time or money to keep getting new bits of design done. So we want a colour palette and typeface design which we can use however we need to (we asked for openly licensed typefaces so we don’t need to pay for usage, and ideally we don’t need to attribute the design either). By getting some social media cards made up as well as a website look and feel, we can see how we can adapt the logo, typefaces and colours to new formats of image for different needs in the future. We’re very focussed on digital, but turning the digital assets into, say, print stickers or a banner for a future event will be straightforward for us to do.
Here is an example of our design brief:
To develop a new brand identity for FoM. We’d welcome proposals for either a brand refresh or complete redesign.
Basic wordpress website look and feel.
A logo for Festival of Maintenance
Suggested colour palette and one or more openly licensed typefaces
Six - eight templates (in a G-Drive accessible format) for social media cards - for use mainly on twitter.
Fees & Budget
We are proposing a design fee of £850 + VAT. Invoicing can be done at the end of project.
We also explained how we wanted to work. As we are a group of volunteers with other commitments, it’s not quite the same as a conventional design commission by an organisation with permanent staff.
You will be contracted to Festival of Maintenance (produced by Newton Halewood Ltd, which will be the contract holder) and will be liaising primarily with xx.
We will need to get sign off at various stages from the organising committee - but this is an informal group and should be a straightforward process. We will always seek to collate feedback and send through to you ASAP in order to keep the process efficient.
We then shared the link to this brief on our social media and through our personal networks, asking for designers who might be interested to send through their portfolio to our email address by a certain date.
We reviewed all the portfolios individually then had a meeting to discuss them, reviewing the look and feel of each. Whilst hiring someone with similar values was a factor, we were mostly looking for someone who we felt could express the complexity of maintenance activities - co-ordinating, repairing and caring rather than inventing something new and shiny. We wanted to hire someone who could help us appeal to our broad range of followers. We were also keen to avoid overly literal representations of maintenance, such as illustrations of gardening or cleaning (these being typically low wage jobs, and part of the issue we are trying to address). As we wanted a fresh, clean and contemporary look, we were also looking for a designer who was comfortable with digital design, rather than for print media like leaflets etc.
We then notified our selected designer, Alex Christian, and had a kick off meeting to talk through our vision and answer any questions. Then we checked in with him occasionally in text chat, and had a mid point review call too, before the final designs came back.
MAINTAIN - our new brand identity
An example of the new visuals Alex has created is above. Inspired by working with Alex, and our growing sense that we are not a Festival any more, we also decided to rename to MAINTAIN, and secured a new domain (maintain.community) and social media handles. It was really helpful to get a third party to help us talk through how a different name might feel, and the designs are really strong, much better than if we’d stuck with our old name. (Also our old name was a challenge - so many characters to type, so easy to misspell, and needing tweaking for social media handles anyway!)
Launching the new brand
Sometimes it’s good to have a big moment to launch a new brand, get attention and build interest in what you do. For us, though, we don’t feel that’s the right thing. We are all busy this autumn and there’s no obvious moment or event we want to showcase. Also, actually putting a new brand in place takes a while and is quite fiddly - there’s building a new website, changing over social media handles and profiles, updating email addresses to the new domain, making sure old links still work, and so on. Our checklist of things to do is two pages of bullets and we aren’t even sure if we have everything!
Because we’re all volunteers and we divide this work up, it’s not likely that we can do it all at once in a big blast. Instead, we’re going to put up a new website on our new domain; change social media as and when we can; and take it step by step.
We now feel ready to shift into a new gear for late 2020 and beyond. As MAINTAIN, we are opening up to be more of an active, ongoing community, not just an annual event. We have a bolder design and name which is appropriate for the call to action and awareness we feel maintenance needs in 2020, as we think about the new economy and new ways of being through the pandemic crisis and beyond.
We’ll be opening up a community Slack to broaden the conversations and provide a way for people to hang out together more, and look forward to many more events of different kinds in the coming months too.