Nicklas Haslestad on ditching PDF guidelines, the future of design & why AI isn't a threat

It takes some doing, finding the time to create and launch a side venture that becomes one of the most popular tools for graphic designers everywhere, but that's precisely what Nicklas Haslestad and his team have achieved with Brandpad.

It began as an idea in 2017 when Nicklas and a bunch of creative friends decided they'd had enough of spending countless hours amending static brand guidelines for clients. Often saved as PDF documents, these clunky files would never get used and become quickly outdated. Enter Brandpad, a simple yet beautifully designed tool that ditches those traditional guidelines and turns them into digital living masterpieces for anyone to access. We're talking logo files, colour codes, font specifications, and presentation templates – it's all there in the cloud, readily available and super easy to update.

Not only have Nicklas and his friends saved the design community loads of time and money, but they've also found something that allows brand consistency, thus avoiding confusion or mistakes. And with everything moving so fast these days, Brandpad means you can quickly adapt and grow brands, too, never having to rely on those outdated PDFs ever again.

We chatted with Nicklas to find out how a great idea became a successful venture, where he thinks the design industry is heading, and why AI is something we should all embrace.

You work full-time in a design studio and are also the co-founder of Brandpad. Is it important to always be busy and focus on creative ideas?

Brandpad was an idea some friends and I started to play around with in an agency we worked at way back. We constantly saw the need for an alternative in the market of digital brand guidelines. An alternative created for designers by designers. Brandpad was born. I love having projects like these to really sink my teeth into on evenings and weekends. But on the other hand, I also love projects with a clear date of completion. Hence studio work is a great way to balance the two.

Do you also do lecturing from time to time?

I do some. Teaching is the best form of learning. I really like it, and I surely want to do more of this in the future.

In 2019, 'hustle culture' was the buzz theme. The pandemic changed much of that, and now we hear a lot of 'quiet quitting'. Has 'hard work' become a dirty term?

I like to think that I work hard but smarter.

What are your thoughts on the rapid advance of AI? Are all our creative jobs at risk?

I love it. Even if it's still at an early stage, it's impossible to ignore the concept of AI. The scope of possibilities is endless, and the somewhat recent release of DALL-E 2 is incredible. We have seen a few identities now, solely based on DALL-E or other off-the-shelf AI software – so this is not that original anymore, in my opinion.

In the long run, AI cannot compete with exceptionally crafted identity concepts by human intelligence. At least for the time being. We must constantly find new, creative and original ways of utilising technology. As designers, we have a responsibility to overlook overused trends and design for the client long-term. However, AI will definitely be an important tool for designers everywhere in future.

I don't think our jobs are at risk. I believe there always will be a need for human brain power to solve problems and challenges. However, we can't ignore it. It's here to stay, and it's growing rapidly.

Jessica Walsh said something along the lines of – we can choose to ignore AI and become outdated by it, or we can find creative ways to work with it and truly push the originality of our work. I like that.

By the way, we actually experimented with AI at Brandpad a few years back. The study resulted in a somewhat bonkers version of Lorem Ipsum. We fed an AI with thousands and thousands of design articles, books and others, and it became able to give us quite hilarious texts and quotes about design. We called it Massimo Says.

I've just read some. Quite bonkers but brilliant. Do you have any favourite quotes?

As you will rarely read the same quote, I have a little library where I gather some favourites. "Brands like this often end up looking contely enchilada, with all the swooshes and angels in the world. It's the freshest example of the American dream: IOUs, you fucks, you get what you pay for it. Kid, you got some serious cash strapped at the moment."

Looking at Brandpad, a now-successful side venture, what were your reasons for starting it?

As bland as it sounds, we wanted to solve a problem. And we wanted to solve it with a great product. It was always about giving something back to the industry. As simple as that, really. The response has been so unbelievably cool to witness. Many of my absolute favourite agencies and designers when I started to get into the world of graphic design are now using Brandpad, which truly is the best testament one could ask for.

In that case, has it opened many doors? Got you in front of many big names?

Absolutely. We have created a blog called Behind Brands, where we talk with designers with different backgrounds, styles and perspectives. It's always cool to get a peek into the lives of our peers.

You're both a creative director and designer at Brandpad. What makes your venture stand out from the competition?

The fact that we're created by designers for designers. We are founded by designers and developers that can relate to the lack of other tools to create brand guidelines and assets. We built one for ourselves but quickly realised we had to share this with everyone. We tailored the pricing system, so everyone can afford to create digital brand guidelines. Still, to this day, we struggle to find other tools that provide the same precision and finesse we find in Brandpad.

Aside from seeing the death of the PDF brand guidelines, what else is changing in the design world?

The way we work, definitely. During the pandemic, everyone – from all corners of the world – could compete for the same clients since all meetings were digital anyway. Both designers and our clients have definitely found a more agile way of working together that we must adapt and utilise for even better design processes.

I think we'll see more creative collaboratives between designers, illustrators, photographers, and type designers – rather than the standard "big agency formula". In the last year, we've seen many good examples where creatives worldwide collaborate on one identity. Very rarely seen a few years back, we will see this more in the coming years. It results in unexpected solutions, too – and often adds a high degree of originality.

Taking care of your mental health is also on the agenda in the creative industries like never before. I really appreciate that. Work-life balance is crucial for a sustainable and long-lasting career in the creative industry.

How has your work changed post-pandemic, if at all?

It hasn't changed that much, to be frank. No matter how nice it is with the flexibility of the home office, I will always appreciate working under the same roof, together with like-minded individuals. What has changed is managing my day-to-day schedule. The pandemic showed us that time is precious and that we can never take anything for granted. I focus a lot more on work-life balance.

Anything exciting happening at Brandpad in the near future?

Yes. We just introduced BAM! – our Brand Activation Management programme for big brands. We've, up until now, focused mostly on small and medium brands, but now we can cater for the massive ones too. There will be a lot of exciting news around this quite soon.

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