How To Think about Branding + Design

On Tuesday 9 April, we hosted a conversation at Benk + Bo on branding and design. Writer and editor, Maisie Skidmore chaired the conversation with Head of Marketing at Tate, Chris Condron and Marguerite’s very own designers, co-founders of The Bon Ton: Amy Preston & Amélie Bonhomme whose other clients include Frieze, The Barbican and Somerset House. Thank you to Planche Kitchen who provided us with delicious food and to Theodore Gin for such scrumptious cocktails. Read on for the highlights of the conversation …

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Chris Condron on his role as Head of Marketing at Tate..

Chris: At Tate, I am responsible for the design and branding in terms of both being a brand guardian for Tate itself, but also the campaigns, the paid marketing, advertising, and ‘traditional’ marketing if you will. I run the social media team where we have about 10 to 12 million followers. We work on the fast and slow versions of marketing - so you have the campaigns you are planning two to three years ahead and also social media where you can be reacting in the moment, especially when you are reacting to news. Then we have the more interesting and progressive areas that we’ve tried to develop over the last few years, which is either products that we’ve developed or that we have helped to land. For example, the Uniqlo Tate Lates that happen at Tate Modern which are run through my team as well as Tate Collective, which is the young person’s membership scheme. Then finally, partnerships is an area that’s really interesting for brands like ours, where the budgets are small but the brand is big. Aligning ourselves with brands, advocates and everything from international businesses through to micro-influencers. That’s an area that’s been really interesting and growing across the last few years. It’s a lot of leavers to pull but it makes my job really interesting.

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Amy Preston and Amélie Bonhomme on setting up The Bon Ton..

Amy: We’ve been working together for about five or six years, but we just worked under our names. Eventually we decided on a name; ‘The Bon Ton’ is the Bon of Bonhomme and the Ton of Preston - a French/English combination! We found that that made quite a big difference to the amount of work that we started to get. People perceived us as more established.

Amélie: You get more serious attention. It’s just the little things that make your business kick in.

Amy: Now we’re doing lots of work with art galleries, fashion clients and architecture practices. It’s much more on the graphic design end of the spectrum - we’re massive type geeks and we spend most of our time drawing up typefaces!

Chris on how he plans to keep young people engaged in the tate..

Chris: Anyone who works in an institution or has worked with institutions will understand the challenge of losing young people at a rate. There is a real issue of perception around large institutions, especially 15 to 25 year olds who are quite sceptical around institutions. If we are honest, we are not brilliant at bringing them in, or having those conversations and welcoming people in the right way. The things that get me excited are meaningfully engaging with these audiences so we can protect the art galleries for generations.

Tate collective is free to sign up to, you then get £5 tickets up until your 26th birthday. Chris tells us more about this scheme..

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Chris: I would absolutely love to claim credit for Tate Collective, but that is actually the end of a very, very long period of planning and development from other teams in Tate and in particular Our Young Persons Team. They led ‘Circuit’, a five-year long research and insight building piece focussing on why young people aren’t coming to galleries. Some of them were really very obvious, such as the financial and economic position for young people. The schism between the people that run these organisations and the people that they are trying to reach and the income issues at that end of the scale are just unimaginable for some people who are working in the senior positions in large institutions. When you start digging into all of the signifiers for young people, that they are perhaps not as welcomed as other people, you start to really understand what the barriers are. Yes, ticket prices were a problem but then you start to understand that when 25% of under 21s in London are vegan and you offer no vegan food, it’s not that that is an immediate barrier but it is the sum total of all of these little indicators that say '“you’re not welcome”. We realised that we needed to soften our edges, we needed to create meaningful dialogues.

Any kind of institutional anxiety around reaching this young audience meaningfully would have to go, it would just have to react to the fact that we were now driving ten percent of all exhibition visitors from our Tate Collective. We are one week away from our 1st birthday and we’ve signed up 71,000 people within that year. Suddenly, the curators are now saying “how are we going to engage this audience and how am I going to curate the show for young people? Where is the point where they are going to take pictures?”

The thing that made me most proud is that we now employ a trustee specifically to represent young people at the board of Tate, and that has never existed before. So we have somebody sitting at the highest possible decision-making level only concerned with making sure that we are reaching young people. It’s hard to imagine where we were 18 months ago.

The Bon Ton on their process when working with clients..

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Amy: We are very much involved with them and what they want from the beginning. We are often working with one artist or one designer and we really try to make it as collaborative as possible..

Amélie: There is a lot of trust that needs to be created between us and we need a lot of dialogue. It is really interesting to hear them as every project then becomes a new experience you can learn from. We love that part.

Amy: It’s more of a process of talking to the client, working out what they want and what their vision is. For example, if it is an identity for an exhibition, we will talk to the curator, we will talk to the artist and ask “what are you trying to communicate?” and we’ll try to mirror that in the graphic design, in every decision we make with the typeface, the colour palette, the cover of the book and so on.

Amélie: That’s our way to reach the audience I guess, to create a new solution each time that can excite the viewer. It is exciting for us, and we then hope it becomes exciting for the people that come into the exhibition, the shop floor or wherever it is.

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The Bon Ton tell us more about their work for an upcoming show at the Barbican on artificial intelligence ..

Amy: It was a bit outside of our comfort zone and normally we work within art. This is about A.I., which we literally knew nothing about. We just immersed ourselves into that world and watched lots of documentaries and geeky YouTube videos, and talked to lots of friends about it … That’s the best thing about being a graphic designer, the fact that you get to enter different subject matters all the time.

Amélie: Then we ended up creating this special project within that project, which is to create a generative typeface that is A.I. driven, as in we had no input to it, it created itself.

The Bon Ton on where they find their inspiration..

Amélie: We use Instagram a lot, it’s a great database for us to commission photographers and illustrators, and see what’s happening in fashion or all around the world in general. But we don’t look at other designer’s Instagrams as we don’t want to end up with generic ideas and we want to always be fresh.

Amy: We’re just always a bit wary of subconsciously copying stuff so we follow loads of fashion people, illustrators, photographers, but no other graphic designers. We have no idea what is happening in the contemporary graphic design world right now!

Chris on UNIQLO Tate Lates . .

Chris: If you cast your mind back about 15 years, a late museum tended to be on a Thursday night and it was until 8pm. About 12 years ago at Tate Britain, we created an event on a Friday night just for young people. So the Tate Lates actually started at Tate Britain. Then the formula was taken and done brilliantly by the V&A, and then it kind of exploded out everywhere. It feels like you almost can’t have a museum or a gallery without a ‘Late’ of some description. They all vary, and are all so completely different. The RA speaks to one audience in a way that the ICA speaks to a completely different audience. We occupy a space in between I think.

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We’ve had maybe 300, 000 people come through now. 85-95% are Londoners and 75% of them are under 35, that is an insanely young audience for us … I’ve always wanted each of the galleries to speak with their local accent, for example Tate Liverpool should sound like a Scouser. We definitely aren’t there at the moment, and that is the journey we are on.

Chris on what makes a successful brand partnership..

Chris: Authenticity. Uniqlo felt like a meaningful brand to the audience. With Uniqlo, you have a brand whose audience we were trying to reach, they were creatively inclined but not meaningfully leaning into the young creative Londoners bracket. They had ambition to reach the same audience as us, at the same time.

The Bon Ton on how they ensure they have creative freedom within a project ..

Amy: It’s learning how to negotiate. I think a lot of that is time spent with the people you are working with. Although a lot of people assume we are, we are hardly ever behind a computer, we are hands-on in the studio to gain passion for the work .. we are attracted to smaller projects as it gives us the freedom to be more creative and find solutions.

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Chris on destination marketing..

Chris: Destination marketing is really interesting and this is something I want to move into. I want to treat Tate Modern as a destination but then almost treat it like a series of neighbourhoods. I talked about this with Achim Borchardt-Hume, Director of Exhibitions at Tate Modern. Achim thinks Level 3 in the old Boiler House is Mayfair, and then the Tanks is Peckham, the Blavatnik building is Shoreditch up until the top floor, which is the Shard. When you start contextualising the building in terms of neighbourhoods, it gets really interesting as you can see who is going where. No-one ever crosses from Mayfair to Dalston. Members don’t go to exhibitions in the Blavatnik building, which is a really big learning curve. Hence why we have put the Eliasson exhibition in the Blavatnik building.

The Bon Ton on how they find their clients..

Amélie: We are lucky in that we never have to search for that type of work. We just know people who make connections and we have built a network. As a small two-person business we don’t need that much work.

Amy: In a two person company we are a lot more fussy about what we choose to work with, as we know it has our name against it. We aren’t a massive brand so we want to be completely proud of the work we choose to do to.

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the bon ton’s advice for clients who commission work ..

Amy: You can never be too detailed in a brief. Telling everything about their approach and their future business may look insignificant but can trigger an idea behind their graphic identity. It’s about your story. What is your business? How is it different? All of these things may seem insignificant, but to a graphic designer they can help us to make an idea. It’s also best to work with people that you like, which is why we work with people that we know or within subjects that we like, as like mindedness is important.

Chris on his advice for young designers who are looking to work with big institutions like Tate..

Chris: I come from another place, actually. I think clarity is something we struggle with. The word ‘brief’ needs to mean something. You can miss that core audience by trying to speak to everyone, so for me clarity and single mindedness. Detail, for sure, but in the background - and then everything else is inspiration. This all funnels up to the apex which is “who am I trying to speak to?”, and “what am I trying to say?” One piece of advice that I would give when working with a big institution is patience. Trust is also key, if you trust each other’s motivations and you want the same thing then you will get there. 

Photos by Kaye Ford.