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Building a checklist for multibranding governance – our latest Design System community session

Representing brands of University partners to accurately reflect collaborations whilst ensuring integrity of the University brand is a complex, widespread issue. As part of the Design System project, I ran a session where University staff came together to work on the governance aspect of multibranding by collectively structuring a checklist. 

Multibranding (sometimes referred to as co-branding) is used to describe the process of displaying the University brand alongside external logos on various products and services – such as websites, applications, and marketing materials.

Multibranding – a shared design challenge

The University collaborates with external organisations in various instances. Research projects, joint programmes, events and conferences are just some examples of associations we form with other institutions. As part of research to scope needs and requirements for the new Web Publishing Platform, I learned the ubiquitous importance of achieving effective multibranding – to funding bodies and grant providers, our partners and collaborators, and those who use our products and services. I also learned multibranding was something many teams struggled to achieve effectively.

A key purpose of the new University Design System is to support University staff in their design work by offering resources and guidance tailored to their needs. With multibranding established as a shared design challenge, it made sense to invite staff to work together on this process as part of the Design System project, in the University’s first Designathon.

Read more about the Designathon in Sonia Virdi’s blog posts:

Design System’s inaugural Designathon

Multibrand Designathon – the next steps

Multibrand governance – a priority to address

Varied issues considerations and ideas came to light as a result of people sharing knowledge at the the Designathon – and it was clear that the governance of multibranding was especially important. Comments captured in the session indicated uncertainties about where to start, where to go for help, which guidance to consult, and what the rules and boundaries were when it came to working with third party logos and University branding. Considering the most appropriate follow-up to the Designathon, governance stood out as a priority issue to address. After discussion with colleagues from Communications and Marketing – Deepthi De Silva Williams (Head of Brand) and Steven Ross (Head of Digital Marketing) it was decided that creating a multibranding checklist could be a first step towards improved governance.

‘Build a checklist’ session

Inspiration for the follow-up session came from the book ‘Gamestorming’ by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. The book describes a strategy (or ‘play’) where a team are given a goal, and asked to work together to write a checklist of tasks to describe how that goal will be completed.

Because a checklist is a focusing object, it demands that the team discuss the order and importance of certain tasks – ‘Gamestorming’

I adapted the method slightly to include a scenario with the goal to encourage the participants to put themselves in the place of a new staff member, with no knowledge of multibranding at the University. The scenario was as follows:

“Imagine someone new has started at the University and they’ve been asked to create a piece of digital media including several brands along with the University brand. They come to you for help, they don’t know where to start and what they should consider.

What do you tell them to do?

What guidance do you send them to?

Who do you tell them to contact?”

Another adaption I made to the Gamestorming method was to import the considerations raised in the Designathon as points to include in the checklist, instead of the teams writing points from scratch. Teams were asked to consider all the points and label them ‘must have’, ‘nice to have’ and ‘not needed’, and then arrange them in order of priority. By doing this, the teams were able to build on the work already done in the Designathon and spend the session concentrating on formulating stages of the multibranding process. Those attending were split into 3 teams. Each team ranked and ordered the points and shared back, and then a vote was taken on parts of the checklist everyone felt should be included.

Key decision-points in multibranding management

There were similarities across the checklists created by all 3 teams, and all 3 identified various decision points which were pivotal in determining which path the multibranding process took. These included:

  • Has the rationale for a multibranded product been established?
  • Has the digital project been costed into the funding available?
  • Is the University of Edinburgh hosting the multibranded item?
  • Which partner institution is responsible for maintaining the multibranded item (for example, the website)?
  • Do contractual arrangements mean there is a master brand (and no University logo required)?
  • Do the multiple brands represent equal partners or is there a dominant partner?

Multibranding guidance and best practice

Various documents were identified which could contain information to support the decisions at the different points in the process. These included:

  • Funding agreements
  • Knowledge dissemination agreements
  • Partnership agreements

Several University resources were also identified as helpful to guide decision-making for multibranding. These included:

The University Brand Sharepoint site was especially useful too (University login required)

Recently updated Brand Sharepoint page about brand communities

Gaps identified in guidance

For some of the key decision points the available guidance seemed to be lacking. No clear rules were identified to determine action to take if, for example, the University was required to produce a multibranded item but was not the dominant brand in the partnership. Similarly, there was no universal guidance on how to choose the sort of digital product to represent a multibranded association, taking into account the resource and budget to maintain it over a period of years. Some of the common conventions and actions shared by those involved in the Designathon and earlier research were noted – for example – no option to adopt a non-University master brand if a digital product was to be hosted by the University, however, these were acknowledged to be circumstance and context-specific rather than official guidance.

Draft multibranding governance flowchart – out for review

In the checklist exercise, one team began drafting a flow chart which they felt could be useful to guide a newcomer through the process. Consolidating the decision points identified across all the teams, taking note of dependencies and considering the consequences in case of ‘yes’ versus ‘no’ responses, I took the idea of a flow chart and developed it further.

This flowchart has been circulated to multibrand stakeholders to assess its accuracy and appropriateness. We are keen to collect a wide range of views and feedback from all involved in multibranding, so please feel free to review the flowchart and accompanying guidance.  It can be accessed on a Miro board accessed via a page in the University wiki: (University log in required)

Multibranding – checklist points and accompanying guidance

Next steps for multibranding

Multibranding continues to be a piece of work included in the roadmap and backlogs of the Design System project. Currently the governance work sits alongside two other strands of work – the Multibranding Working Group and a series of actions to address multibranding aesthetics.

Multibranding Working Group

The checklist session, following on from the earlier research and the Designathon affirmed that multibranding is a complex issue with many dependencies to consider. Working with Sonia Virdi, Product Owner of the Design System, we felt that establishing a working group dedicated to multibranding would be a good way to keep on top of multibranding issues and decisions to ensure consistency in the approach across the University. We have created a Teams channel for the working group and have begun to recruit members, with our first meeting planned for 13 October, 12:00-13:00.

Multibranding aesthetics – a two-part exercise

How brands look when they are positioned together is an important consideration, and, when dealing with multiple logos,  it requires skill to arrange them in a satisfactory way. From research, we understand that designers approach this on a case-by-case basis, using conventions and sets of principles to guide their decision-making. With the help of Ann Harrison, Digital Designer for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences we designed a two-part exercise aimed at surfacing this knowledge, with a view to making it more widely available through the Design System.

Read more in the related post: Making multibranding look right – our next Design System community session on aesthetics

Get in touch if you would like to be involved

If you would like to be included in the working group to help improve the way the University approaches multibranding, or if you are interested in helping with the aesthetic exercise, please email Emma Horrell (

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