We were Gents and Wijs, but now you can call us Duke & Grace.

Ghent

Foreestelaan 1
9000 Ghent

Brussels

Antwerpselaan 40
1000 Brussels

November 4, 2019 - Story

The making of Duke & Grace: the ins and outs of a (re)branding process

How do you go from a blank page to a complete brand, ready to launch on all touchpoints? Even when you do it on a daily basis for your clients, probably the hardest task is to brand your own company. We recently faced this challenge — with Duke & Grace as a result. How did we approach it? Let us walk you through the process, practical tips included.

0. Establish strategy and a clear direction to work towards

Our creative team got a blank page to work with, but first we needed to formulate clear strategic guidelines. We conducted a thorough market research, went to New York to interview some of our agency role models, pinpointed key needs of a constantly changing industry and thought about future challenges all brands and agencies will inevitably face. Our strategic blueprint was an ongoing evolution of communication agencies toward ‘full-service’ and the need for a seamless, multidisciplinary combination of all expertise (tech included!) that it entails.

“Take plenty of time to get your strategy as sharp as possible, without considering creation just yet. This allows the branding team to work with a clear and unbiased briefing from day one.”

David Vansteenbrugge

Managing Director at Duke & Grace

1. Shy away from nothing

To bring our new brand to life, we practiced what we preach: an integrated approach. We gathered a multidisciplinary core team representing different domains: strategy, creation, UX and tech. At this point, we just ‘went for it’, exploring new possibilities and diving into different routes - keeping our strategic northern star in mind.

Brainstorms work best when structured. That’s why it’s important to work around tasks or questions. These can either be very specific (how can we express the seamless combination of technology and creativity?) or quite abstract (if the brand were a song, which song would it be?). All this helps you distill personality, feel and a general storyline that you want to shine through. It also helps to pin down all the ‘don’ts’, which are sometimes just as important as the ‘dos’.

2. Pick the strongest directions and take it from there

After an unlimited amount of brainstorms, we boiled down our options to several key concepts we wanted to sharpen. All of them were a combination of a name and a very rough idea of style and tone of voice, following the same red thread: playing with a combination of elements and duality (left and right side of brain, rational vs emotional…), mix of expertise, finding the sweet spot between creativity and technology… It shouldn’t feel too much like one or the other.

Creating is scrapping. We started off with ten high-level brand concepts and after debating, crossing, mixing, matching, reviewing, researching and then again debating, we boiled it down to three. Some fine-tune discussions, sketches and cups of coffee later, we picked the concept and made a final lock.

Enter Duke & Grace, where head and heart come together. Where tech and data meet captivating design and cultural references. Best of both worlds.

The idea behind Duke & Grace is about bringing balance between two sides of the spectrum: tech and creativity. Choosing no to choose. We want to cater for all communication and marketing needs of our current and future clients, and look at these services as different sides of the same story. Duke & Grace brand is a materialization of this integrated approach.

Once the name and story were established, we had to bring them alive through (visual) building blocks. From logo to font. Colour to photography. Keynote slides to our very own website. It was ‘go’ time for our designers.

3. Time to start shaping!

Our general approach to the branding process was all about keeping an open mind and not trying to anticipate absolutely everything. A brand system should work like a platform, staying flexible, adaptable and creating possibilities to coherently address any new needs and challenges.

“When branding a creative agency, think about creating an open platform rather than trying to fix & lock all details. Leave room for surprise, evolution, new initiatives and personality (for example in editorial content). ”

Simon Pertz

Design Director at Duke & Grace

First, we created our primary logo, which is all-black and purely based on typography. It also became a cornerstone for further choices when it comes to typo. We chose to always implement two different fonts (one as our basic one, and one to emphasise certain words, such as names) to further visually translate our inherent duality.

“We didn’t want to introduce any colors in the logo. This way it always matches logos of our clients and doesn’t generate visual conflicts when two logos are put next to each other. It’s also a question of creating a powerful yet subtle and unimposing branding for an agency whose daily task is to put other brands in the spotlight. Keeping it classy, if you will.”

Nathalie Leye

Digital Designer at Duke & Grace

Then, we moved on to creating our symbol and further details of the visual identity. And this one turned out to be quite a challenge. When you’re looking for a scalable and timeless solution and your possibilities are potentially endless, making a final choice can be a tough nut to crack. Lots of tryouts. Lots of internal deadlines. Lots and lots of feedback. But in the end, we reached the sweet spot.

Our symbol, just like the logo, is all-black and minimal. We use it as a detail or a ‘stamp’ that’s introduced whenever the primary logo is not the main focus.

We like black. That much is obvious. But since our identity is all about never having to choose one or the other, resolutely choosing black didn’t make much sense. We wanted to capture the fluidity, a spectrum, playfully shifting between its multiple aspects. Never quite one thing. Never quite the other.

To emphasize this, we designed a flowing, interchangeable gradient that always blends two colours, showing a fluent overlap of elements, without ever being separated by clean borders.

Our liquefied signature with a palette of eight eye-catching colors establishes boundaries within the brand and ensures overall recognizability. When preparing documents for our clients, we can modify the gradient according to colors in their branding. Black and white for uniformity & simplicity. Gradient for the element of surprise.

In our photography, we follow four main keywords: blur, reflection, depth and texture. We went for a very crisp and natural look: something visually interesting and made in-house for maximum authenticity. How, you ask? By always incorporating a dynamic and reflective feel in line with our fluid identity: foreground objects, an aperture as low as possible, consistently dynamic compositions.

“It’s never a ‘run-and-gun’ picture, we always move around and think before we shoot our shot.”

Freek Heyman

Photographer & Motion Designer at Duke & Grace

We look for the element of depth in everything we show. For our portraits we integrated blurry glass surfaces to add a bit of texture and a hint of intrigue. All giving it a similar feeling while still keeping it interesting and fresh.

4. What’s the story?

Words are as important as images. Apart from choosing the look of our brand, we also needed to know what Duke & Grace sounds like, tailoring the guidelines depending on all touchpoints. While creating our tone of voice, we kept in mind the same ideas that we worked with in the very beginning. Duality. Witty remarks mixed with playful comments. Rational facts mixed with emotional storytelling. Simple and straightforward yet with a hint of poetic elegance and grace (of course). Two of a kind.

“Go big on personality and emotions. Make anyone who interacts with your brand feel something. In the end, that’s how you will be remembered.”

Sander Vanermen

Creative Strategy Director

5. Making it work across touchpoints

Once everything was ready, we needed to make it work. The most intuitive thing to do is to start testing and implementing new branding on typical deliverables, such as website or business cards. We didn’t go for that. Instead, we chose a Keynote slides deck and social media posts. Why? Because these are the most common touchpoints of Duke & Grace (Keynote presentations internally, social media externally). This very pragmatic take on making our brand work helped us give it more body and establish further rules.

We didn’t stop there, of course. Once you get started, you just want to put the logo and gradient on everything. All things digital. Print. Banners. Event gadgets. T-shirts. Officially, to test how scalable and universal the brand system is. Unofficially, for the immense fun of it: creating your own brand’s identity from scratch may not be easy at the beginning, but once it’s ready, you just want to show it off. And so, here we are.

Welcome to Duke & Grace, the heart of creativity, strategy and technology.

Read more about the approach of Duke & Grace. 

Eliza Kowal-Bourgonjon

Eliza Kowal-Bourgonjon

Creative Strategist

Janne Van Robays

Janne Van Robays

Creative Strategist

Nathalie Leye

Nathalie Leye

Digital Designer

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