We’re all afraid of the blank sheet of paper. It’s normal. To create something from scratch — well, at least something worthwhile from scratch — is not only intimidating but also very difficult. Luckily, there are tools and strategies* in place to help us with this process.
Any business which has a face-to-face business model with their customers is in dire need of a company uniform. We must not look at these as protocol or a necessary evil but as an extension of the brand. When done well, branded workwear inspires a sense of belonging in those who wear it. People who look professional and feel professional will end up acting professionally.
Not to mention that a good company uniform also establishes authority and trust. And if customers trust you, they will eventually become loyal, as well.
* This blog post has been written with company uniforms in mind but the same process can work to design school and even sports uniforms, as well.
Step 1: Company Uniform Design Brief
Whether you’re writing the brief yourself or following its indications, here is the information you should be looking out for.
When designing anything, from a lamp to a glass, one must think of the end user. Which is why when writing a brief for a uniform design, the first step we have to take is to consult the employees who will be wearing it. What do they want? What do they need? The answers might surprise you.
Think from the Customer’s Perspective
You may not be able to consult your customers — or maybe you can? But it is still important to keep their perspective in mind since, after the employees, they will be the second group of people to interact the most with the company uniform.
Type of Industry
The type of industry will have a big influence on how the final garments will look. It’s not the same to design workwear for a fast-food restaurant than for a spa in a five-star hotel. The position of the brand in the industry has to be considered, as well. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks are technically both coffee-houses with similar price ranges yet the way they present their brands is completely different.
A brand guideline will tell you everything you need to know about a logo, the exact colours it uses, where and how it can be positioned and how it should never be used. For example, our brand guidelines clearly state onto which colours we can place the Printsome logo and which ones we can’t.
Some are more specific than others but in the end, they will all help you design a better company uniform.
Consider all Needs
After surveying the employees, you will probably have a better idea of the design’s requirements. Designing a uniform is not like designing a dress or a suit for an evening event, it must withstand much more. Make a list of the needs the uniform must fulfil, some ideas are:
- Pockets to carry tools
- Appropriate fabrics to deal with the weather (either cold or warm)
- Comfortable enough to be worn for an entire day
- Bright colours so they stand out in a crowd
- Flexibility (if it’s a uniform for a personal trainer, for example)
Step 2: Research
Once the brief has been designed, we can’t jump straight to the sketching, we need to do some research first.
Most of which, you’ll probably won’t use but that’s okay. It’s always better to have more ideas than the ones we need.
It will be your best friend and your safe place to go back to when you get blocked during the design process. In order to gather good reference material, you have to look for examples of brands you admire and others that have done it before you. Keep them all together in one place like a Pinterest board or on your Evernote app.
Step 3: Sketching Ideas
This is the fun part when we can let our imagination run wild! Here are some tips to have a successful sketching process:
For example, the Roster Bar & Restaurant in Helsinki, Finland features a uniform that, at first, looks like a standard uniform for a high-end restaurant. That is until you notice the way the embroidery is placed. They’re still the same aprons and shirts but the way the designs are placed take them to a different level.
Think of Accessories
When we think of modern uniforms we often think of just a printed T-shirt or an embroidered polo but there are a lot more elements that can be part of a company uniform. Think for example of aprons for those who work at a restaurant, caps or jackets for employees who work outdoors or a sweatshirt for those who must sit under air conditioning for long periods of time.
Crew cabin attires from airlines are a great example because they must not only design a uniform that’s functional during flight but must also include coats and jackets to be worn on landing or while at the airport. In 2017, Chinese fashion designer Laurence Xu designed the uniforms for Hainan Airlines proving that you can look stylish even if you’re 41,000 ft in the air.
Step 4 : Avoid the Following
The number one mistake designers make when designing company uniforms is prioritising fashion over functionality. As we already stated, these outfits are meant to be worn by people who work from nine to five. They not only have to be functional but also comfortable. High heels always look nice on illustrations but I’m sure Karen from sales wouldn’t be so grateful if she had to wear them for eight hours straight.
There’s only so much productivity you can expect from a person who’s in pain. In comparison, the French airline Joon incorporated comfortable white trainers and ballerina flats into their uniforms.
Trends are Temporary — Uniforms Stay
Trends should also be avoided because they come and go quickly, forcing you to redesign the uniform quicker that you probably would’ve liked. Uniforms are costly and the finance department at your office probably won’t like it if they have to redesign a new one every year. Instead, we should aim for timeless design.
Step 5: Choose the Fabrics
When designing company uniforms, your manufacturer will probably be the one to advise you on the best fabric for each scenario but a good designer has to have notions of materials in order to plan the best possible garments. The first qualities we must consider when choosing textiles are:
- Stain resistance
When it comes to fabric, we usually get what we pay for so consider making an investment. Natural fabrics tend to be preferred but nowadays there are synthetic materials that offer a lot of benefits. Cotton breathes very well but it absorbs water and wrinkles easily when compared to polyester which doesn’t breathe as well but is impermeable and doesn’t need ironing.
Step 6: Test the Design
Never ever send a company uniform to production without testing it first. Any serious manufacturer will make a sample for employees to test. Designs rarely come out the way intended on the first try so someone must wear them for an extended period of time and do everything they’re supposed to do in it.
Another test that must be done is to wash the garment in order to see how well the fabric withstands.
- Ask for feedback
- Take notes
- Make changes
- Ask for another sample
This process must be repeated until we have the uniform which fills out all of the requirements.