How to work the open source way
New Kind takes an open source-inspired approach to everything we do. Building brands that align, inspire, compete, and scale.
It’s a collaborative way to look at branding rooted in our own history, starting with our founders and the important roles they played in shaping the brand, design, culture, and community at Red Hat.
This approach isn’t standard practice for all agencies. Far from it. But it’s something we’re incredibly proud of—and believe in deeply.
So what does working the open source way actually look like here at New Kind? Glad you asked.
The client experience
We’ve seen that when you bring people along on the journey, they’re more likely to embrace the destination. And that’s true not only for our relationships with our clients, but also for our clients’ relationships with their customers. Creating brand and culture the open source way builds affinity. It builds empathy. It builds loyalty.
Our clients know the world of open source — at least when it comes to building software. But in terms of branding and marketing, our approach can feel quite different from the traditional agency models they may be accustomed to.
When you bring people along on the journey, they are more likely to embrace the destination.
From kickoff through final delivery, we intentionally position meetings with our clients as workshops. Whether we’re discussing research findings or working through early explorations of a visual organizing principle, we use this time to think through challenges and opportunities, together.
We ask our clients to come to workshops prepared to be active participants. We structure our time together — whether an hour or an entire day — as a series of conversations. We use a ton of Post-It notes. We hear anecdotes that often find their way into the story we tell or the identity we create. And while we do our own research, of course, we also rely on the insights we gain from these workshops (particularly in the early stages of full brand projects) to make sure we fully capture what’s most important to the brand, as told by the people who know it best.
Our open source approach extends beyond our workshops, too. For many of our clients, including Red Hat, open communication and continual visibility into project progress are the norm. We often use platforms like Google Docs or Google Slides to work collaboratively — so our clients can keep us in the loop about product or project updates in real-time, and chime in with their great ideas whenever they arise.
Open source clients also have the distinct advantage of being supported and sustained by open source communities. So while every brand project needs a core working group to guide its overall direction (and who signs off on deliverables), we encourage our clients to get their communities involved whenever they can. Deepening the collaborative spirit of the brand and ensuring whatever we create will find a welcome home among its greatest advocates. More on that later!
The New Kind process
Being a content creator in an open source world takes courage. Typically closed processes are often designed to protect the designers, writers, and strategists who are doing the work from the wrath of the demanding client.
That’s not how we do things. We demolish the guardrails that often surround the agency / client relationship. And we blow the creative process wide open.
No big Mad–Men-esque reveals. No going-away-and-coming-back-only-when-we-have-the-answer. True, we are the experts at what we do. But we also believe that the best ideas are formed when we discover them together. So we share drafts early and often, and we ask for input along the way — from first drafts to final polish.
We have the privilege of working with a lot of really smart clients with a ton of expertise in their fields. And we don’t take for granted that they know the in’s-and-out’s of their own organizations much better than anyone else could. Drawing on this knowledge helps us create something that’s authentic and honest — and will resonate with the right audiences as the organization continues to grow.
While showing work in its imperfect infancy can be daunting, we’ve found that our open source-inspired process helps ground our work in ideas that are truly foundational to the brand. And it brings our clients with us so they can see the math — and hopefully see themselves in the final product.
Internally at New Kind, working the open source way means getting together with fellow New Kinders to share what we call our “SFDs” (sh!**y first drafts) while our ideas are still taking shape. Sharing SFDs early means we have the opportunity to collect feedback from other team members (whose fresh eyes lend valuable outside perspective) before we go too far down the rabbit hole — or before we get too attached to what we’ve created. It also helps us iron out any glaring kinks before we even get to version 1.0, where we start to solidify the story or visual direction for the brand.
So while one of us may take the lead on any given project, the outcome is oftentimes the product of all our best ideas.
5 tips to keep in mind
Even when we’re working in a highly collaborative and open way, like anything, there will be challenges. And with shared documents and processes comes the opportunity for the classic quandary of having “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
So whether you’re trying to adopt more open branding processes in your organization or are partnering with other companies who do things the open source way, it’s important to know what to expect — and how to work well together to achieve your goals.
Here are a few tips we suggest and live by when it comes to working with an open source mindset.
1. Use the right tools
There are tons of platforms out there that make collaboration simple. Here at New Kind, we use tools like Slack, Notion, Dropbox, and Google Docs / Google Slides. They help us work cohesively and iteratively with our clients and each other. And in the spirit of open source, don’t forget that there are lots of options out there that are built on open source software — and which are oftentimes very affordable or sometimes even free.
2. Include the right people
Keep an eye on who’s providing feedback or making changes in your shared documents — and be sure to include the right people in each stage of the process. For live, collaborative tools like Google Docs, make it a habit to tag or @mention the people who need to see what you’re working on — or who can help answer any questions you have as you go. And be sure your teammates do the same!
It’s also important in these highly collaborative workspaces to be clear about establishing (and sticking to) your core working group. Embracing a spirit of transparency is important, but not at the expense of giving your work its greatest chance at success. Be wary of soliciting input from people who haven’t been part of the full process — or who are lacking context around what you’re trying to achieve.
3. Be open and embrace the journey
The beauty of working the open source way is that the process is iterative. Finding the answer is a journey. And you won’t always get it right on the first pass (that’s why there’s the SFD!). But working openly and collaboratively means the end-product will be resonant — and will benefit from the buy-in of the people who helped create it. Remind yourself and your core working team to remember that the process is key to creating something incredible. And remember to stay open-minded, positive, and eager to contribute. Working the open source way will only succeed if all parties are engaged and on board.
4. Give (and ask for) constructive, actionable feedback
It’s easy for us branding nerds to forget that not everyone knows how to react to the kind of work we produce, fresh out the gate. So we’ve found that it’s incredibly helpful to prompt clients with a few questions that can help get to the crux of the feedback we need to keep pushing our work forward. And for us, it always comes back to “why.” Going beyond “I like it” or “I don’t like it” to uncover why certain things are working — or not.
When you’re working the open source way, be sure to give and ask for substantive, actionable feedback. If you’re leading a project built on open source principles, don’t be shy to ask for the specific, highly directional input you need to be successful. You don’t need to solve all problems then and there (although you sometimes can). You just need to help your working team understand what you’re looking for.
5. Call on your community
As we discussed earlier, open source companies benefit immensely from their relationships with the communities that support them. Community members who already know and love the brand. They use the product every day. They invest their own time and energy in the future of the organization — and want to know where their contributions fit in.
We encourage our clients to consider their communities when they work with us — and we encourage you to do the same. That sometimes means involving select members of the community in the research process. Or it could even mean testing story and messaging elements at conferences and events to gauge how they are received. No matter your approach, it’s important to consider the perspectives of the people who shape the brand every day — both inside your walls and outside in your communities.
Does our open source approach sound like something you’re interested in learning more about? Or do you have a brand challenge you think could benefit from our collaborative process?
Drop us a line. We’re always open.