In the 10+ years I’ve been in the design business I’ve become fascinated with the complexities of building a strong brand identity, so I was eager to attend the Brand New Conference in New York a few weeks ago. It turned out to be a fantastic experience, with some great speakers approaching brands from different perspectives. In this post I’d like to highlight some of the presentations that stood out for me.
Brandvertising. Stuart Watson, Venture Three
“We’ve always had this belief that content is king, and it’s really hard for a creative to create things that are better than the stuff we love: the movie stars, the football players, the great athletes. So we wanted to just find a way of creating an identity that owns the content in a really clever way.”
–Stuart Watson (On The Times campaign)
Stuart talked about the many brandvertising projects he’s worked on. One of them was The Times newspaper campaign in the UK; the case was not an entirely new take but I still love how they approached the project, as well as the final finish of the campaign, filling the ads with the brand’s unique feel. The Times campaign was striking, posting provocative news images on billboards in train stations and other busy public places. With no masthead or byline during the first week of the campaign, and hence no context, the images forced viewers to react on their own. The second week saw the addition of The Times masthead, finally giving the images a home.
Linking an existing brand to a new product via a genuine feeling or story is becoming ever more important. This is why it has to be done well; subpar work will lead to this type of advertising failing to grab onto its audience. People still talk about The Times campaign — and Stuart Watson and his crew made it.
Bob Gill, Legend
“We are all such victims of what the culture tells us is good and bad, and hot and not hot. How are you going to do something original when the culture tells all of you the same thing?” –Bob Gill
Bob talked about the possibility of finding creativity and inspiration from nowhere in a world of copycat design. I had precisely that kind of feeling when I was studying in Sydney a few years back, forcing myself to start with a clean-sheet mentality when approaching a new product or service.
I know I need inspiration from others — I’m a Vignelli fan, and I really love Swiss fonts, as well as geometrical shapes and other inspirational forms of design. But I also try to remember that feeling of the clean sheet every time I start designing — that sense of finding inspiration from nowhere, just sitting and thinking of the product or service, devoid of external influences disturbing the process. It’s a great feeling, jotting down an idea that can be abstract or strange but which feels right.
I think starting with the clean-sheet feeling is the right way to begin a new project, before outside influences (inevitably) force their inspiration on us. I try to approach new work this way every time.
Typography. Bruno Maag, Dalton Maag
“They put the Roman lettering everywhere they went in the entire empire so therefore if you were a traveler going through the empire you would see the Roman lettering, you would know you are under the Roman protection. That is branding.” –Bruno Maag
Typography is close to my heart. A recent trend in this design discipline has been the increasing demand by brands for unified typography across various markets — China, India, and the Arab world — where each region has their own unique scripts comprising huge numbers of characters.
We at Söderhavet are designing a new typeface right now — Sweden Sans, together with typographer Stefan Hattenbach. Our client asked about a Chinese version. A Chinese typeface needs over 2,000 characters at a minimum (vs. around 200 for a Latin typeface); a complete Chinese font family, comprising both simplified and traditional characters, needs around 20,000 different characters — which is quite a workload. And before a new Chinese typeface can be licensed to software and hardware sold in China, it needs governmental approval, which adds further hurdles.
So the question becomes: Can we solve this challenge in a way that satisfies both the client and the designer? There must be an easier way to design character-intensive scripts.
Michael Bierut, Pentagram
“When I was thinking what to show you for this presentation I realized this is a special audience. The Brand New Conference attendees are… it’s an inside audience. […] This is an expert crowd.” –Michael Bierut
I have always been a fan of Pentagram. In my early days as a designer I found a lot of inspiration from their work on marks.
Michael Bierut talked about Pentagram pitches and the creation process behind them. My takeaway was that many different design disciplines can learn from their methodology — designing several versions fully, not just during the pitch phase, in order to take the best one to completion. In digital design, too, it’s worth designing a couple of different versions fully: It allows us to compare distinct design elements across versions, incorporating those that best solve specific design problems into the final version. I will definitely be adopting this thinking in my design process.
“The Conference speaker highlight was Bob Gill, loads of energy and a vibrant feeling when taking over the stage”
In sum, inspiration doesn’t get any better than at an event like Brand New; it stimulates the brain in new ways and provides plenty of opportunities to share ideas with other design-oriented colleagues. In other words, I’m already looking forward to Semi-Permanent, taking place in Stockholm next week.