Magazin design - B2B Magazine

The challenges of co-branding design

Note: This text is about the visual and not the commercial aspect of co-branding, which is the more common use of the term.

One of the questions I encounter every day during the magazine design process is how to draft visual treaties between various design systems. For example, you can have an article about financial sector sitting beside an advertisement for a restaurant. It get’s more difficult when it’s two distinct branding systems are sitting side by side. However, no task is more challenging than successfully landing a distinct branding system with its own guidelines on typeface, white space, choice of colour and visual devices (i.e. frames, illustrations, icons or other visual concepts), on a page of a magazine that has its own branding guideline as well as content style guide.


Of course, this sort of conflict does not happen when you are working on an art, a literary or political magazine where only the magazine style guide rules, except for islands of advertisement. But for a business magazine like B2B, which is a blend of various brands, products, and services sitting side by side, you can’t simply dismiss each entity’s identity and dictate the magazine visual style. Each and every of them should have a chance to show their distinct visual identities, along with their message to readers.

Now you have not only different and sometimes contrasting visuals sitting side by side, you have to frame the content within the magazine’s own style. After all, you are not creating a product/services catalog, the magazine’s style guide should encompass and hold all the distinct visual elements like a glue, so readers experience a natural and continuous flow of various stories, advertisement, and features.

From my own experience, one of the most successful approaches in creating the harmony is thinking about how much you can bend the magazine style guides to accommodate the brand it’s hosting. however, at the same time, you should be careful not to sacrifice the host brand. Obviously, this is a one-way road. You can’t expect to bend the guest branding rules to fit the magazine style guide, except the choices of typography. If you change the typography for each brand, the result is a saddle-stitched catalog, not a magazine.

b2b120-oct-v1-1 - Magazin design - B2B Magazine


So it’s your magazine’s brand that “wears” the dress of each brand it hosts, but it’s still the magazine brand, and not beyond recognition. I think the most common example these days is how Google co-brands itself with various causes and historical events. I don’t personally like it because I think this is a posturing as a force for good, which is philosophically irrelevant at best, for a publicly-traded company with its main goal of giving more profit to its shareholders. However, at least they are successful in doing so in visual terms.

In issue #120 of B2B Magazine, it hosted RSM on for the cover story and I tried my best to maintain a balance between the branding identity of them and our magazine. Photography is done by me and the photography venue was the courtesy of QT Lounge, Canberra. I would like to thank the fantastic RSM team members for their time and patience and as always thank Tim Benson, our editor for all the support and guidance.



Smart Business Guardian — print campaign

Smart Business Guardian is a growing and highly successful business administration firm with a focus on start-ups, entrepreneurs, and small business owners, based in Canberra.

In their quest to create their own mindshare in the Canberra’s crowded accounting and business administration services market, they needed a bold and simple communication approach that appeals to businesses that aspire to grow, but are swamped in day to day administrative tasks.

Smart business guardian advertising campaign

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Smart business guardian advertising campaign

By creating a story in a series of ads, forging an identity for the brand without adding any extra colours or visual elements to the original branding ‑which is not designed by me‑, I’ve tried to communicate a plain and simple message to potential clients, without adding extra levels of design elements.

Brand refresh: Myson Home Appliances


Client: Myson
Field: Home Appliances
Task: Complete branding overhaul
Year: 2003
Keywords: Bilingual Typography, Rebranding, Home Appliances, package design


Myson home appliances used to be private label brand with problems in design coherence and visual appeal. The client needed a brand communication strategy that would help them stand out among the many other products in the market. The budget was minimal and because products had a variety of sources, keeping communication consistent was difficult.

Logo, old and new
Logo, old and new


By phasing out the archaic and generic old logo, and emphasizing the human factor and comfort that the brand will bring to its audience, I changed the logo and designed a new, uniform design language for all packages. By providing a flexible and scalable design, I helped the client provide designs to a multitude of OEMs across the world electronically and avoiding print and design errors.


Myson is now considered a respectable brand in the target market and sits comfortably beside reputable European and Japanese brands that have considerable advertising budgets.

Avoiding “bullet-point” marketing communication

Usually, a home appliance package has several lists of product features and “selling points” in a flat hierarchy that are presented by bullet-points. While informing the customer about the vital specifications is necessary, by removing the unnecessary “bullet-point” marketing copy and focusing on a verbal communication style, focusing only on what’s important to the customer, I created a clean, clear and different package that stands out on the store shelves.









Brand refresh: Cinéma Théâtre Magazine

Client: Cinéma Théâtre Magazine
Field: Art & Entertainment
Task: Redesign
Year: 2009
Keywords: Brand refresh, branding, cinema, graphic design, layout, publication, music, theatre, performing arts

Over the years, Cinéma Théâtre’s original shiny and colourful design lost its attractiveness, and a growing number of newer colour magazines published for light entertainment took away its readership role in the market. After changes in magazine’s ownership, the new editor and his team looked for ways to return the magazine position back to its original, more intellectual roots, and distance the brand from entertainment magazines.

I redesigned the magazine from the beginning, using a new dimension, grid system, colour scheme, choice of typography, and even section names.

The new magazine’s look and content attracted the readers again and the magazine reclaimed its original position and readership. Later due to countries’ political turmoil and business related disagreements, the magazine editorial team disbanded and the magazine changed strategy again.


Brand refresh: Owner writing instruments

Field & Country of Origin: writing instruments, office supplies, South Korea, China and Taiwan

Target market: Southwest Asia
Task: Identity overhaul, package design, typography design
Year: 2005 — 2014

Background: In 2005, whenIwas introduced to the project, the brand had about 5 to 6 products in its portfolio. The overall looks of the logo, packages, and copy were so unattractive that improving them by minor changes were impossible.The following is a selection of activities that lead to persuading the decision makers to accept redesigning the brand from scratch — which usually is a very difficult decision to make for stakeholders, considering the significant investments already made in brand positioning, production, advertisement and mind share.

The brand and packaging before overhaul
The brand and packaging before overhaul

Research and defining brand essence: The project began by studying competition; by collecting product samples from the market and creating a virtual store with the competitors’ products to see how our products compete on shelves, collecting competitors catalogues, studying their visual identities, positioning, product range, and by collecting data from their websites, shops (using client’s sales force as surveyors that visited almost all the country’s shops on a regular basis) tried to get an understanding of the competitors brands and their position in market. By creating questionnaires, and studying company staff attitudes interesting discoveries made; for instance, management was stunned when a small questionnaire, asking all the staff to name their own four favorite brands revealed that nobody in the company mentioned their own brand’s name as their favorite, except the sales director. By creating a map of the players in the market, in hope of finding gaps that brand can fill, it became clear that the strongest advantage that the brand had, was being relatively competitive in pricing. It was the least desired approach to communications — So, after studies and discussions with the client, it’s been decided to position the brand as “a brand of good ideas”, by never directly communicating that the brand is cost effective, we stated that we have good ideas for “everyone”.

Position of brand among competitors
Position of brand among competitors

By communicating the friendliness of the brand an emotional connection with the buyers created meanwhile, gave the brand image some extra room for maneuvering because being a friend of good ideas can have many interpretations that can open a world of creative opportunities in design and communication. During the process, any sub-brand name the company used to have dropped, because initially the offerings were too thin and the best strategy was to avoid over-stretching the brand with confusing naming. It took three months to persuade the client to change the logo to the new one, and change the color from black to red. Package design: By creating an honest, transparent-looking design that showed the product just like they are, the connection to brand values communicated. The new packaging system was a success and gave the green light from management to continue changing every package brand had.

Old Logo

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Old Logo
New Logo

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New Logo

Logo Redesign One of the technical challenges was, due to manufacturing limitations in writing instrument industry, the logo must be very easy to engrave by stamping or laser, print in one color, and etch on very small surfaces like a pen clip.

Outcomes: Due to the positive impact of the brand overhaul, from 2005 to 2010, sales increased 2.5 times and product portfolio increased to more than 100 items. In addition, the brand secured the number one place in mechanical pencil lead sales in the region.

Brand consistency & strategies for reducing time to market: One of the biggest challenges of working on the brand was keeping the message consistent across all mediums and more than 20 OEMs from South Korea, India, Hong Kong and China to create consistent color, layout, and communication, which used to be very difficult for the management. In order to reach consistency, a brand identity guidelines created and distributed among OEMs, PDF used for throughout the entire approvals and production process, all communications done electronically, instead of using air mail, colors proofed using Pantone® system and 3D renderings created for prototypes and used in catalogues for pre-ordering around 6 months before even the actual production began.




Brand refresh: Hansa

Hansa: Merging 3 brands into one
Field & Country of Origin: Writing Instruments, Promotional Gifts / Hong Kong
Task: Identity overhaul, package design, Typography
Design Year: 2005 onwards
Keywords: product development, package design, bilingual typography, branding, brand refresh

Challenge: Back in 2005, the company that owns the brand, faced tough competition and a fragmentation of its product branding and identity. The company owned three brands, all active in gift and premium market and they all suffered from poor, inconsistent branding communication.

Solution: I got involved with their project when they asked me to design a catalog for Hansa, which eventually led me to persuade them not only to change the branding communication system but also, abandon their two other brands and merge their product lines into one.

Logo, before and after the transformation
Logo, before and after the transformation

Results: It was a very tough decision for the traditional, family owned company; however, the results were astonishing. After a year, Hansa sales increased by 1.5 times and it became the number one gift brand in the region. The brand has hundreds of products in its portfolio. All package designs were done and sent electronically to various manufacturers in Hong Kong. So, I had to find a way to keep all things in harmony, while keeping the costs down. A two colour (black & silver) uniform design agreed with the client. Some of the items in this picture are sold as low as 1.5 USD, but in terms of positioning, since we changed the brand image, costumers see this brand on par with major premium brands.