How a Branding Agency Couples Design and Strategy for Big Results

By focusing on both disciplines, Rhyme & Reason Design redefines being well‑branded.

Photo of the Rhyme & Reason business owners on a couch.

As a company, Rhyme & Reason Design has always been about a dynamic combination of design and strategy—it’s the essential duo referenced by their name. Since they founded the business in 2008, Karen McKenzie and Scarlett Rosier represent 2 halves of the whole.

As creative director, Karen contributes a design eye, and as director of operations, Scarlett brings a strategic mind. Alongside their team, they’ve created outstanding work for a decade—helping clients gain attention with award-winning brand elements that tell meaningful stories.

All of that success resulted from giving design and strategy equal priority.

“The client has to love what they see, and it has to help them do their job better,” says Scarlett. “And if there's no thought behind it, they can't. It will just be some pretty thing that you forget about.”

Illustration of an ear listening up.

Step 1: Ask questions to build your strategy.

Before they create a strategy to inform design at Rhyme & Reason, they research to inform strategy. This step is essential in giving a project meaning.

“Looking nice only goes so far if it doesn't have any thought, intelligence, or research behind it to make it actually result in something positive,” Scarlett explains.

Through interviews with clients and focus groups, competitive analysis, and creative questionnaires, they determine and define the following:

  • Objective: What do they hope to accomplish with a branded campaign?
  • Target audience: Who do they want to reach?
  • Preferences: What do those people like? What don’t they like?
  • Characteristics: What qualities define the brand?
  • Competition: Who else is in this space, and what are they doing?
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Step 2: Include both sides of the conversation at every stage.

Even in the preliminary research phase, not to mention each stage that follows, both designers and account managers are included. That way, design and strategy are given equal consideration as the project takes shape, evolves, and is completed.

And when both sides of the team have contact with the clients, it allows them to have a more holistic understanding of what the client wants. It also means the whole team feels equally invested in their projects.

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Step 3: Build a creative brief and stick to it.

With research in tow, the team gathers to discuss results. Together, they identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Then they hatch a plan laid out in a creative brief, which articulates what they’ll design and why.

“That creative brief is really the branch between all of that research and all the design from initial sketching to revisions. It ties the 2 together and keeps us on track,” Karen says.

Meanwhile, even as designers begin to iterate, they return to the brief for guidance and to ensure that they’re keeping the strategy in mind.

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Step 4: Communicate, collaborate, and stay creative.

Using the creative brief, the whole team works together on their projects—and that spirit of collaboration is promoted in their office even by the layout of desks. Designers and strategists sit amongst each other in one large group, where it’s easy for one person to ask for the input of another in the midst of a workday.

“Silos and walls in between strategy and design stifle a lot of creativity,” says Karen. “But we’re all very close, like physically together on the floor. So there is a nice open level of communication.”

This arrangement also enables creativity. By sitting together and talking openly, everyone on their team can feed off of one another’s energy and push the boundaries of ideas.

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Step 5: Get results for your clients.

The impact of strategy and design goes beyond impressing clients with the way a finished project looks—the results are quantifiable.

  • Social posts typically regularly receive six-figure impressions and clicks
  • Print pieces with a clear call to action are acted upon 25% of the time
  • Open rates for their email campaigns are well above industry averages
  • Campaigns have won top honors at national events like Marcom, AVA Digital, AMA, GDUSA, Summit Creative Awards, The Addys, and more

“Our results prove that design and strategy matter,” says Scarlett. “We have long-term clients that believe it, understand it and have found great success. And because they found great success, we found great success.”