Transforming Kenn Scadden Associates into KSA Architects
KSA Architects Ltd.
A project that proves the value of networking in all its shapes and forms. An introduction from our client, Amiri, on a social cycle ride through Hampshire’s leafy landscape one Tuesday evening in 2019 led us to a brand positioning, identity, website and brand activation project with leading Portsmouth architectural firm, KSA, formerly known as Kenn Scaddan Associates.
Property is one of our specialist sectors, yet in all the years we have worked with property-based organisations, an architectural firm has somewhat eluded us. A bit of flirting but never a date…as it were.
So when the opportunity with KSA presented itself over a few enjoyable chats in the saddle, we leapt at the opportunity to help an already established and successful firm re-position themselves for continued success under new leadership.
Establishing the objectives and getting discovery under way
With every project, regardless of type (brand or digital), we begin with a discovery journey. Initial conversations had started around the development of a new website, but it quickly became apparent through our workshops and resulting insight that an opportunity presented itself to move the business on in a number of ways.
The business was established in 1984 as a partnership between former Portsmouth City and Hampshire County Council architect Kenn Scadden and his colleague John Wilson.
Some 30 years later, Kenn Scadden Associates had established a reputation as one of the South Coast’s leading independent practices, with an ethos of ‘creating places’. However, by this time, Kenn and John were no longer in the business, having handed over the reins to long-term employees Daniel Knight and Shaun Slack. As loyal leaders within KSA, Daniel and Shaun had a clear understanding of what they wanted for the future of the business, and those objectives involved retaining the legacy of Kenn’s hard work, whilst modernising the business and diversifying both the sector and client base to ensure longevity.
It quickly became apparent that a brand definition opportunity presented itself, in terms of both narrative and identity. This was not a pretty picture exercise; it was necessary to highlight the change within the business and give them the tools to step out confidently with a purposeful voice. An evolved brand would give them the ability to compete on a business level, build on their existing company culture, and attract talent and opportunity.
Name and narrative
As part of our discovery process, we always perform a competitor analysis. This is to see where differentiation can be found (or not). We do this with immediate, identified competitors, as well as practices that are further afield and less direct. A wide view of the landscape helps to identify where a position can be owned. For KSA we looked at business size, the sectors they work in, their visual brand and marketing activities, plus their brand narrative and tone of voice. We also looked at their client base.
We identified that the sector was fairly ‘me too’ in many ways, but what was really lacking was any sense of character and personality. As brands, they all lacked a human element, were short of tone of voice and relied on their pretty buildings to do the talking - ironic when you think buildings are created to house people…predominantly. You could have expected more human-interest as a focus, bearing in mind that’s why so many architectural practices ‘do what they do’.
So, a gap was identified.
And, fortunately, this also aligned with KSA’s own agenda. Feedback from clients and the ethos of the practice had always been focused on creating great places where people could prosper, be it a residential development or a commercial building. The KSA way was to work hard to understand how ‘the place’, and therefore the architecture, would most benefit its users or inhabitants.
And this ran deep internally, too. KSA was truly a people orientated practice. For clients, for end-users, but also for staff.
This insight map shows the connections that helped us define the new positioning for the firm. From relationships and team building to sustainable housing, whole-life building costs and collaborative processes, KSA were definitively ‘The people orientated placemakers’.
The future name for the firm also presented us with a point of discussion and debate. From the beginning we discussed how the company was referred to, now that Kenn was no longer at the helm. You will have noticed how we have referred to Kenn Scaddan Architects as KSA throughout this case study. The fortunate situation in many ways was that the abbreviation KSA had been used for years when answering the phone and talking about the business. Also, the surnames of the new leadership team were Knight and Slack – K and S – enabling the KSA abbreviation to still work in practice and offer continuity.
But the value and purpose of retaining the KSA name had to be investigated. Would it resemble enough of the change that was happening within the business? Could it showcase new leadership and ways of thinking and working? Would it inspire opportunity and help the business stand out as a challenger in new sectors?
Not discounting it, we set about name ideation, again evaluating the market to see where opportunities presented themselves. Our naming process is quite involved and thorough, identifying gaps, URL availability and testing names with multiple audiences. A selection of the options we put forward are below.
After initial leadership gravitation towards a rename to go with the rebrand, workshops with the KSA team identified an embedded feeling that KSA was unanimous as the preferred option. It still enabled the business to evolve, but it had a heritage that could be linked to not just the name, but also ways of working, the culture, company ethos and recognition in the market.
From our insight work, we had to agree and saw no justifiable reason to challenge their preference. As a name, it maintained gravitas and ensured they were true to themselves - so often a failing in brand creation and rebranding exercises. History tells us that taking on a name, persona or front of house that looks good but is clearly removed from reality can lose authenticity and, in time, credibility and market share.
Creating a new visual identity for KSA
As part of our brand discovery and definition phase, we take time to evaluate and understand the character and personality of the business we are working with. This informs a number of things, but it always has a direct effect on the visual identity we go on to create.
KSA, by their own admission, are not a funky, young, challenger brand type of business. You only have to look at their longevity to realise they have substance and maturity. Their brand character is grown-up, solid, dependable and human. They are amazingly creative and talented but do not necessarily need a corporate ‘flashiness’ that could be applied as a veneer through a brand identity re-work. KSA are the ‘grown-ups of architecture’, if you like; wise heads with an ethos based on partnership, collaboration and achieving the very best for people, internally and externally.
And so our identity efforts focused on finding a creative space that provided visual modernity in partnership with robustness, reliability and trust.
Numerous suggestions were put forward - as always - but, interestingly, we (as an agency) had a standout favourite, and it proved KSA came to the same conclusion.
Our identity concept was simple. We neutralised the colour in the ident itself, with a plan to let associated imagery add the vibrancy and interest we wanted, intertwining the identity where we could. A simple black circle with beautifully crafted, upper-case serif typography gave us the mature and confident mark we required. The rationale behind the symbol was that it created a rubber stamp, a mark of quality and reassurance, a dot that symbolised ‘people orientated places’. The circle is also an encompassing shape, used to reflect the rounded nature of the way the practice thinks and the inclusive circle it creates when working with clients and communities.
Creatively, our visual system concept was to try and integrate the circle ident into architectural spaces, to highlight how KSA embedded themselves into the places they design. We also wanted to use textures where possible to differentiate a little from the vanilla landscape of architects simply using images of buildings to tell their story. KSA’s approach is very material-based, so it felt right to showcase the vast array of building material types, from timber to slate, lead, grass and more - all the things that essentially make up people oriented places.
In addition, we wanted to ensure that the ‘people oriented placemakers’ had a visual system that actually heroes people, particularly for the new website. We undertook two photoshoots of the team at the KSA offices to ensure we captured the brand essence and personality that’s so intrinsically connected to our brand definition and creation.
We also created a new colour palette for the brand that focused on human pastel tones. KSA is not a loud, vibrant, ‘in your face’ company, so we took the time to create a palette that fitted without feeling soft-centred or apologetic. This was supported with the black from the identity and a complementary yet confident grey palette.
We also created brand patterns based on the circle. By overlapping the shape we created devices designed to resemble the coming together of multiple aspects – the people, the processes, the projects, the progress – as well as resembling teamwork and collaboration.
Bringing the brand to life, on and offline
To get the brand off the ground, KSA required us to help them bring to life the day-to-day tools they needed and use. With the brand approved and ready to roll out, we progressed to designing presentation templates, business stationery, office signage and their architectural plan/drawing sheets.
A major phase of our work with KSA were the improvements required to their online presence. They would be the first to admit that marketing had always been fitted in where it could, and a lack of specific resources to manage it had always meant it was enough to have a presence, rather than expecting it to achieve anything definitive for the business.
An overall objective was to turn the brand - and the website specifically - into a valued resource for lead generation, credibility and people orientated thought leadership.
Our digital projects follow a tried and trusted process, and KSA was no different:
- Discovery and audience mapping workshops involving team members from across the architectural practice.
- Competitor research was performed at the brand stage to understand the online position KSA needed to hold going forwards.
This insight informed creative, brand narrative, positioning and tone of voice, structure, content and overall site UX and UI.
- Analysis of existing website analytics.
- Keyword research for search engine optimisation and content creation.
- Creation of a new site map.
- Interactive wireframe prototyping to test the UX and goal conversion journeys.
- Two phases of user interface design, informed by the interactive prototyping. Each presented to the KSA leadership team and shared with the wider team to enable collective buy-in before sign off.
- Site build – a skilled team of one frontend and one full stack developer led by a dedicated Project Manager built the site in a Concrete5 framework, providing KSA with the most flexible and intuitive CMS and frontend experience possible.
- Content creation, including working with a trusted Escape copywriting partner to craft the words into the right messages and narrative, following the newly defined brand tone of voice.
- CMS training, content population and user testing phase, collaborating closely with the KSA team and ensuring we get them fully up to speed on how to use the system independent of the need for our day-to-day support (but always here if they need us!)
- Site go-live, support and post-go-live reporting to ensure the site is performing as planned.
The outcome, and always part of our vision for the web presence for KSA, was to create genuine differentiation from the architectural crowd, without losing the credibility of who they are (or their work), but also ensuring we focused on the human values of the brand.
Our competitor insight uncovered a resounding ‘me too’ landscape in the sector, a lack of tone of voice and expression of personality. Our vision was to redefine the script, but for the right reasons.
We adopted a different page structure using a fixed image area to the left hand side (on desktop obviously!), and put the brand narrative, tone of voice and people imagery at the foreground. We created a site that was as much about people as it was about places, but without compromising the credibility and quality that their excellent projects and track record contributed to their story.
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KSA is a company that has been brought together not only under new leadership, but by their brand, both visual and verbal; a symbol of new purpose and direction, but embedded in the core values and legacy left by Kenn Scaddan and 30 years of hard work.
As a practice, KSA goes from strength to strength, winning new contracts with existing clients such as Vivid and McCarthy and Stone, as well as being invited to tender for new opportunities in - as yet - uncharted sectors.
Online, the new website is performing well for the business:
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The future looks bright for KSA, The People Orientated Practice.