There is a term in the online world commonly known as “dogfooding” or “eating your own dog food”. It refers to the practice of using the same tools, software, elements that you’ve built for your users. The theory goes that if you don’t use your own tools/elements then why would you expect your users too? Or, put another way: You need to practice what you preach.
PBS, with it’s local stations and internal departments, has many examples of this theory. But I want to focus on two different ways to interpret this theory.
Many local stations in the PBS system simply don’t have enough budget or staff required to produce beautiful one-off designs for each project. So, what they do is build what’s internally called an “Animation Package” - basically a toolkit of animations and elements that someone can turn to when in need of branding element or promoting a show. The national PBS office decided many years ago that from time-to-time we would build a huge Animation Package that in-turn reflected the national PBS branding instead of a local PBS brand. This toolkit is then distributed to all the local stations so that when a project comes up, the editor, designer, producer can use this toolkit to produce great promos that are on brand with high quality graphics but on a low budget. The last time PBS did this was in 2009 and the time before was in 2002. That means the current animation package is 3 years old and the one before was 7 years old. Most broadcast stations redesign their animation packages every year and most cable networks every 2-4 years.
Now that you have a bit of history and Promo 101 under your belt, let me explain how this “Animation Package” relates to “dogfooding”. When the internal team at PBS has limited time or budget, we use the animation package to help brand our projects. So, in that regard, we do “eat our own dog food”. But, and here’s the difference, on larger projects we don’t automatically use those same elements. No. We want this larger project to feel special and new. So we produce new designs. The trick though is producing this new content through the magnifying glass of your brand and the designs that have come before it and will come after it.
I subscribe to the theory that this animation package we built was never the end-all-be-all answer to every promo. It has always been a solution to the problem of having no budget. I believe that when you do have the budget, time, and talent to produce something new, you should go for it. Limiting yourself to the tools you built a month, or even years ago, simply because you were trying to “control” something is short sighted.
A brand’s visual identity is a living thing that evolves over time. It’s like a child. At first you need to be very strict with the rules - structure and discipline are foremost. Then, during the “growing years” you can experiment a bit but always with one foot grounded in the original design. Once into adulthood, you have to send your baby off, hopefully with enough experience under it’s belt that it can thrive on it’s own. A brand is not something that can be put in a box and never allowed to grow or evolve.