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The Best of British

What is it about British brand design that transcends borders and epitomises international branding?

At R Design we have been enjoying a flurry of interest from overseas brand owners, which have come to us specifically for that international quality. At first this seemed odd, given that we are a London-based agency with no plush offices in far-flung places, but clearly there is something in our work that attracts overseas businesses that want their brands to enter the international arena. It made us wonder what it is about born-and-bred British design that travels so well.

> Clarity – or ‘capturing the nub of it’

British designers seem to have a knack for creating visual metaphors to express ideas and meanings, which words sometimes struggle with. We have an almost innate ability to visually ‘coin a phrase’ – finding creative ways to conjure up and visually express a concise meaning.

As we all know, with the written word, context is everything; the meaning of a word is defined as much by the surrounding words as by the word itself. The classic double entendre in British humour exemplifies this, whereas with an image it is possible to be much more precise in conveying a specific message. Having said that, words clearly play a significant part in branding and the success of British design is at least partly thanks to the good fortune of having English as our native tongue. English is often used as the international language of branding.

The real art is in how the words are used – devising a tone of voice to evoke the brand personality coupled with the creative use of typography and the relationship with the other visual imagery.

So it is important for designers to be adept with words as well as with images to harness the full tonal range that words can offer, combined with a deep understanding of type.

With the skincare brand Dr Ceuticals, we created a very simple design that used language as a fundamental part of the identity, setting the tone and personality of the brand. Coupled with a visual reference to cosmetic surgery, the design alludes to the brand benefits in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way. 

> Simplicity

The British are especially adept at creating effortlessly simple design. A ‘less is more’ approach forces designers to be concise and to strive to get their point across with the least amount of design contrivance. 

This, of course, enables brands to impart their message more quickly and with greater precision. In the international arena, such an approach can transcend the boundaries of language and cultural nuances.

Our identity for KX energy drinks is the epitome of simplicity, predominantly using typography in the bold expression of the brand name and adding the subtle ‘fangs’ device to indicate a snake’s bite to convey energy and stimulation. 

> Engagement

This is another ingredient inherent in British design and it is fundamental to our approach. Call it ‘raw appeal’, but sometimes a bit of humour or an emotional hook has the power to create an affinity – a quality that bridges the gap between an inanimate product and consumers; something that makes the brand come to life in their hearts as well as be understood by their minds.

Never forgetting the principle of less is more and the essential requirement to communicate what the brand is about, it is the way that the story is told that will make it engaging.

When we recreated the identity for mineral cosmetics brand Lily Lolo, we harnessed what was a given in the name – the two L’s to create a true lovemark – reflecting the commitment, empathy and passion that underpin the brand as well as transforming it from appearing naive to being aspirational. 

> Quality and craft

Great design is also about quality and, in our field, quality is not just found in the inspiration but also in the execution. Our industry has benefited from the agglomeration effect of creative agencies being in close physical proximity. London’s Kings Cross, for example, has become a creative hub where education (Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London) and business (for example Google’s London HQ) have chosen to locate to reap the benefits of proximity.

Our creative services are also founded on a strong craft tradition, where the skill base in areas such as typography, illustration and photography has been honed and developed over time. These craft skills are hugely important to us, resulting in near-obsessive attention to detail. In our pack design work for Knorr Flavour Pots, for example, the details were crucial; there is a lot to say in a very small area.

The essence of the proposition is captured in a single image – a beautifully photographed collection of fresh herbs and spices arranged meticulously on a silver spoon. Composition, flawless photography, colour and the careful arrangement of the other design elements result in a clear and motivating piece of packaging communication, plus the all-important shelf standout. 

> Creative tradition (or ‘Cool Britannia’)

There is something fundamentally cool and aspirational about British brands and branding. Some of our famous export brands, such as Beefeater Gin, Burberry, Cadbury and Land Rover, trade on their quintessential Britishness.

What is it about these brands that makes them so exportable? Clearly there are powerful associations with being British that resonate overseas and they are integral to our creative community. They include a sense of timeless quality, reliability and trust.

Innovation and creativity are in Britain’s blood – defining some of our internationally recognised brands, such as Dyson – and our pioneering designers are at the heart of global giants such as Apple and BMW. Our music, fashion, cinema and art are consumed the world over.

It is Britain’s ability to clearly capture an idea, communicate it simply and engagingly and execute it with quality and craftsmanship that stands us apart in international branding. Where creativity is concerned, Britain leads the way and is regarded as the benchmark for international design standards.