With fuel costs rising and hurricane and other disaster expenses looming, many clients may be facing very different budget scenarios than they had previously imagined at the start of 2005. Eventually, designers will feel the pinch, too. It's likely that projects such as logo and identity overhauls may be put on hold, at least temporarily.

Michael Stinson, partner and creative director of Ramp Creative (Los Angeles) doesn't view this as an all-or-nothing situation. His company, which is becoming known for its clean annual report design, often works with small to mid-sized clients who are not financially or psychologically ready for a rehaul.

His solution is to exaggerate existing brands through company publications. It's a streamlined way to give clients a test drive with a proposed direction before they have to commit. It's a design two-fer, and it makes the job much more interesting for the designer strapped with a tight standards manual and an even snugger budget.

"Many companies have to approach these things gradually because of money concerns," says Stinson. "There is a real shift in how branding is being done. A company may have a new web site and incorporate a new or updated logo there, then move that into printed materials as time and money permits."

Ramp's technique is simple: If the design firm must stick with colors or fonts, it does. But it can make them look much more modern or classic or playful or whatever direction the client seems to be leaning. The new design is recognizable to pre-existing client patrons, but is fresh and appealing to potential audiences.

For example, a Ramp client, software company Incuity, has a two-piece, puzzle-like logo that was originally designed (by a different design firm) to represent the two company products, Incuity HAD and Incuity EMI. Incuity was not at a juncture where it wanted to redesign its logo, even though it did not look particularly technological.

For client literature, Stinson extended the "two piece" metaphor established by the logo by clearly dividing every page into a purely text section and an image or color area. Even CDs reflect the split. The two colors in the logo were used to give each software product its own proprietary tone.

Another case study: Real estate management company CWS brought in Ramp Creative to create its 2004 annual report and liked the outcome so much that the original design was also eventually turned into the client's front-end collateral piece.

"We saw what they had: a square logo with type inside of it. We corresponded the logo with other geometric shapes to communicate the overall structure of the company," Stinson explains of the report, titled, "Taking Shape."

Included in the design was a pentagon, which corresponded to the company's five core values. Photos in the book are cropped square to mimic the logo itself. A square is also used as a framing device on the cover. A circle, drawn in chalk (subtly referenced on the cover photo) in the last section of the report, is used to represent the many properties the company manages.

CWS's corporate palette, gray and black, lacked spark. So the designers combined it with a chalkboard green, again a natural connection to and extension of the chalkboard reference on the cover. The corporate color scheme is not omitted, but extended by adding complimentary colors to round out the company's look.

"Usually, the answer to an identity revamp is right under the client's nose, but they don't realize it. We used their simple logo shape as a catalyst to extend a simple theme to the reader. We also extended the use of their corporate color to work with the theme for the report. Through these simple analogies, you can give the company a new stance-and it's very vindicating as a designer," Stinson says. "Quite often, you don't have to look very far for a creative idea. Just exaggerate what they already have."