What is branding and identity, really? Well, it’s not just a logo, and it shouldn’t just “look good” or “pop.” Branding, if properly planned and designed, will serve as the window to your business, as well as tell its story. Your online visual identity may be the first impression of you and your law firm.
An experienced designer should create a look and feel that harmonizes your visual communication in a way that further represents you to your audience. Keep in mind that the specific deliverables that make up your firm’s visual communication are dependent on your needs. In general, this overall look and feel will dictate the design of marketing materials like business cards, letterhead, and brochures, as well as the design of a website.
For law firms operating in competitive markets, differentiating themselves from the sea of boring ol’ law firms is integral. Standing out starts with a unique, meaningful brand image.
A new look for an established female-led family law firm
Founded in 1987, Berner Klaw & Watson LLP (BKW) is a Philadelphia-based family law firm owned and led by an amazing team of women. Currently composed of seven attorneys and six support staff members, the firm practices all aspects of family law, including divorce, custody, support, LGBTQ relationship matters, name changes and adoptions.
In 2014, BKW reached out to my design firm because they needed a new website that would not only showcase their focus on family law, but also allow easy changes and updates without the need for third-party assistance. After meeting with this eclectic group of women, I immediately realized that their logo also needed an update to complement their online visual identity.
Before working with me, BKW had been using a wordmark logo which had not been touched in more than 10 years:
The redesign strategy included keeping elements of the original logo—like the stacked layout—while integrating bold typography and a new color palette. The result is a timeless wordmark with subtle slicing details on the primary initials of the firm, and visual enhancement from a colorful ampersand. While the idea of a new logo was initially met with some resistance, the visual result was an “aha” moment and incorporating it became a no-brainer:
Beyond the look of the logo itself, the new branding needed to capture the “feel” of the firm’s principals and principles. “Look is defined by color, scale, proportion, typography, and motion. Feel is experiential and emotional.” —Abbott Miller, Pentagram Design Partner
To incorporate the “feel,” I looked to BKW’s mission, which is to serve as many people as possible by providing the highest-quality legal services at the lowest possible cost, even if all the client can afford is coaching or limited scope representation. Also, their motto is valuing all types of families that may be dealing with an incredibly stressful life event like divorce, custody, abuse/domestic violence, or partnership dissolution. I also learned that when Pennsylvania approved unmarried, same-sex couple adoptions in 2002, BKW welcomed those families with open arms.
It was imperative that BKW’s new online visual identity convey the firm’s strength, warmth, and understanding. As the first visual impression of the firm, the logo simply sets the tone for the impression that is further solidified through additional visual communications and interactions with BKW’s thoughtful and experienced attorneys and staff. When designing the firm’s new website, business cards, and stationery, I included the firm’s tagline, “valuing all families”:
BKW recognized the value of having a website that stood out from so many others in aesthetics, functionality, and message, and continues to recognize that value by keeping the site updated. Now more than ever, businesses of all kinds face challenges of representation in the virtual world. A big checkpoint for many businesses and organizations is recognizing the difference between a template and a fully customized website that sets them apart from their competition.
When my studio first began working with clients in the legal community, I was overwhelmed by the proliferation of industry-specific template providers for law firms. But for many firms, or for solo attorneys just starting out, access to capital for a full custom job can be a big burden, and it is reasonable to question its necessity. Let’s face it: A lawyer’s tenacity, work ethic, and track record are what gets them most of their work. But in today’s day and age, their website and online presence—like for so many other businesses—gives them the ability to offer clients a glimpse into what they’re made of. Detailed practice area pages, videos, and blog posts are valuable resources that help potential clients with daunting legal hurdles and helps convert them to paying clients.
Content as a key to success
Another advantage of a custom website is that it is optimized for an individual client’s needs. For law firms of every size, a customized website allows for the creation of unique solutions for the design and functionality of must-have’s like attorney profiles, practice area landing pages, news and publication archives, and media-rich content slideshows.
The BKW website was designed with their content and communication needs in mind. They were adamant about not using stock photos, so it was essential to prominently feature candid photos of attorneys and staff captured by a professional photographer. Additionally, the firm had commissioned the creation of videos featuring each of their attorneys explaining in short clips the process involved in some of their key practice areas.
Content should guide the design of a website, not the other way around. Thoughtful content strategy is a key component of successful visual communication when designing for the screen. For the BKW website, the content further conveyed the message that they are a strong, competent team committed to providing thoughtful and effective representation.
From design to execution
While everybody would love to have a sleek, gorgeous website, aesthetics aren’t everything. Good looks with no conversion won’t cut it. That’s why it is essential to hire a design firm that does its research, considers content strategy and user experience, and implements analytical tools to monitor site use and apply updates as needed. Ultimately, the success of any project is about balance.
With mobile traffic taking over desktop traffic in recent years, it is absolutely imperative that law firm websites load quickly and beautifully on screens of all sizes. Unlike the one-size-fits-all solution provided by a template website, a custom design can ensure that no matter the device, your brand message is communicated consistently to potential clients. When looking for information about your firm, users are most likely to start in their mobile web browsers. What many people don’t know is that a separate mobile app is unnecessary. A well-designed website optimized for mobile performance will be ranked higher in Google search results and will quickly provide users with access to essential information about your firm. A responsive website is generally less expensive than the development of a mobile app and eliminates the added hassle for users to download, install, and maintain a separate app.
The biggest advantage of any online visual communication includes fluidity. Sites and postings can and should be built upon to increase engagement and reinforce messaging. Since first launching the BKW website six years ago, their team has been diligent about creating fresh, new content and maintaining brand consistency. We have worked together to implement new layouts and updated mobile views to ensure the success of the website regarding performance, speed, and user interaction. We also work together on ads for local non-profit events to ensure visual communication consistency. For any law firm, to effectively gauge the success of online visual identity, they must keep asking: Do our digital assets communicate the core values of the firm, and can we do it better?
About the Author
Beth Blinebury is the owner of Blinebury Design, a Philadelphia-based website design and development studio. Contact her on Twitter @bethblinebury.