A highlight from the last year has been developing new branding for Q — a community of people working to improve health and care led by the Health Foundation.

The process was highly collaborative with lots of lessons learned. Here are the most important:

Stéphane Harrison, William Joseph:

Working with Q was a huge pleasure. At William Joseph we like to be very user-focussed with our design approach, and Q offered a wonderful opportunity to work with a highly engaged membership.

Rebranding can understandably feel like a significant responsibility — there’s obviously a pressure to get things right, particularly when your organisation has a diverse and engaged audience. If people have an emotional connection to your brand you can risk alienating them if you launch with something that’s off the mark; there are horror stories of rebrands being rolled-back when they don’t resonate with their audiences. Our process was designed to reduce the risks of this happening — a lot of this hinged on working with real people on the designs.

Here are four lessons we’ll take into future brand projects:

Flexibility — offer audiences multiple ways to engage

Members varied in their level of involvement and had differing pressures on their time. We used a mix of surveys, one-to-one interviews and group discussions to consult as widely as we could.

Test, then test again

We user tested designs from relatively early stages, iterating as we went through. Q’s members were generous with their time and really engaged with the process. The designs evolved thanks to their feedback and the end result was more robust as a result. User testing in this way requires a bit of structure — the conversation needs to be guided away from subjective views — it’s ok to ask for initial impressions but important to relate opinions back to core purpose and positioning.

Build in enough time

Testing and iterating are likely to add time to the process — never more so than with branding, where space is needed to step back and reflect. Our designs went through two substantial development cycles following the presentation of initial concepts. This took longer than we’d initially planned for so we’ll allow more space for this in the future.

Soft launch and iterate once live

Soft launching the brand allowed materials to be released sooner so we took a ‘minimum viable’ approach to launch deliverables, starting with templates for social graphics and a basic website reskin. Moving forwards William Joseph and Q have been meeting regularly to review new materials as they’re produced, adjusting and expanding the toolkit as needed. We like to see brands as living and evolving things — particularly when a lot of the outputs are digital.

We’re proud of the outcomes of this process and we’re excited to see how the brand evolves — our thanks go to everyone who joined in.

Louise Smith, Q:

Q members are at the centre of the Q community. We designed Q in 2015 with 231 founding members, and a growing community of nearly 5,000 members have shaped Q ever since. So, collaborating with members authentically and having them at the centre of the process was important when refreshing our brand.

My top lessons learned from the project include:

Partnering with our community throughout

We designed the new identity through a series of workshops which included a selection of Q’s partners, members, and the Q team. We began by exploring what it means to be a Q member, before turning to who else we were trying to reach. We developed, tested and iterated new ways to talk about the community. This helped us to develop a positioning statement with a set of principles to base our new identity on. Our verbal identity came first, followed by a refreshed visual identity.

It was important to have members and stakeholders design the brand with us because it’s for them. Collaborating with Q members to develop the brand allowed us to bring our audiences and key stakeholders on the journey with us. It gave me the confidence that what we were doing was what our audiences wanted, and this helped us to sell the new identity internally, as well as to members not directly involved.

The key measure of quality is what our members think

A visual identity can be quite subjective. And I learnt a lot about my own subjectivity through this process. Having developed the brand with our members, I can see how it reflects their input, and ultimately how it reflects the community. Fundamentally, it didn’t really matter whether I liked the brand or not. It wasn’t for me. It was about what resonated with our members, partners and key audiences. That’s not to say I don’t like what we came up with! It’s fresh, fun, flexible, and has a much more friendly and authentic feel. But it also has space for us to hold authority where needed.

Using the rebranding process to connect with our members

I found this process, and working closely with members, incredibly uplifting. We heard their aspirations for what we can achieve together, and how they saw our work together helping with that. We also provided them with a space to share what Q means to them. It was inspiring to hear their views. There was also a lot of constructive challenge in this work which has strengthened the result.

Tackling our assumptions through engaging with our members

I think sometimes we can feel really disconnected from our audiences, with a tendency to distil them into ‘personas’. Regularly meeting and engaging with Q members reminds me why I do what I do, why it’s important for them and how I can help make a difference. What I was struck by in this process was that some of the assumptions we made about how our members would respond, weren’t correct.

Often the ideas and designs put in front of members, that we thought they would like, were the things they didn’t like at all! Members also provided some astute observations from their individual perspectives — particularly around our use of language and imagery — that has really strengthened how we approach inclusivity in the brand. A small example, but it reinforced the reason why focusing on audiences is so key in design. If you don’t ask your audience, how are you going to design for them?

We’re still in the early stages of rolling out the new brand, so seeing the impact is going to take some time. One of our biggest challenges is embedding the changes in our tone of voice — that’s still a work in progress! I’m excited by the potential for the shift in our identity to support engagement.

Find out more about this project:

Find out more about the Q community: