September 28, 2016
Brand New Conference is a two-day event by Under Consideration on brand identity – chock-full of inspirational talks from some of the design industry’s most significant contributors. Mike and I had the opportunity to attend this year in Nashville (aptly nicknamed the “Athens of the South” – seriously, they even have a full-scale replica of the Parthenon).
There was an implicit, common thread among the speakers this year: make something and own it – for yourself and for your clients. Every organization has a unique story to tell. Designers have the power to support our clients’ sheer force of will and guide where that energy goes. Each of us can help our clients – and ourselves – by truly owning the logos we create (literally and figuratively), staking a unique presence within an industry, and taking responsibility for the end product from start to finish.
Photo credit: Nicola Harger www.nicolaharger.com
I want to share some of the key talks and takeaways that I’ve been mulling over. I have no doubt they’ll inspire you, too.
“The best clients are made, not found.”
Charles Anderson of CSA Design opened the conference in impressive fashion by cramming 30 years of branding insight into 45 minutes. Much of his talk centered around growing client relationships into the ones you want. Charles recommends “going out to dinner with your clients before designing anything for them.” Not only will you learn about their values, but you establish a relationship and can have a more intuitive sense of how to serve them. Bringing your client into a collaborative logo design process is also essential, yet the fewer the people in the decision making process, the easier it is.
CSA Design has been able to grow an impressive relationship with family-run French Paper Co. by showing them how innovative design can help even small businesses compete (and thrive). The studio has helped French paper grow their business by over 500%.
Charles also created CSA Images, a collection of curated historic imagery and custom hand-drawn artwork that’s available for licensing. This remarkable collection has had a major impact on preserving the legacy of significant design throughout history. It’s especially impressive when you realize how much of it is made by hand.
Takeaway: When clients are included in the creative process, they inherit a sense of ownership that pays back dividends because they’ve learned to trust you to execute it and build upon it.
“There are beautiful buildings hiding behind hideous signs. They don’t have to be hideous.”
Nashville sign-maker Luke Stockdale of Sideshow believes we can “make the streetscapes distinctive again.” He urged designers to get educated in the materials used for signage and how variables such as light and depth will affect the representation of your design. Did you know that many sign manufacturers restrict you to just six materials to ensure quick turnarounds and low cost? Luke showed us that cheaper, faster, and bigger isn’t always better when it comes to signage. He reminded us that branding is about more than websites and business cards; it’s about dimensional things.
Takeaway: Consider the physical representation of a logo from the start instead of making it an afterthought. Also, monoline logos are a sign-maker’s friend!
“Is there something that’s awkward enough about this to make it a logo?”
Mackey Saturday told us about his surprising shift from solo designer to Principal at the longtime branding institution Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv: “To be asked to come in equally with them was extremely humbling and extremely terrifying.” I believe it. Mackey shared how the tight-knit group of renowned designers is actually very collaborative, with everyone willing to give and take critique. He also explained the unique challenge of working with global brands: it’s essential to have worldwide legal clearance on a logo. How do you do this? When designing a logo it should be simple and memorable, but retain something “awkward enough” about it to own. Yes, this means both legally with a trademark and qualitatively in the eyes of the public. One great example of this is his work on Oculus. The original logo had to be changed from an eye (that would always play second fiddle to the iconic CBS logo) to a simpler mark that could be completely owned by the brand.
Takeaway: Your logomark doesn’t have to tell the whole story – it’s a vessel for the stories you’re going to tell.
“People are so attached to this show in this neighborhood. It makes it very tricky to make changes… ‘There goes the neighborhood! Sesame Street’s getting gentrified!’ But we have to consider the world’s changed – kids have changed.”
Theresa Fitzgerald is the VP Creative at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street. Did you know that Sesame Workshop is an “independent, mission driven, educational, global, nonprofit” rather than a merchandising powerhouse? Most people don’t. One of Theresa’s goals is to make this more widely known. Like most nonprofits they don’t dedicate money to marketing, so it’s very difficult to get the word out that their proceeds from products directly fund global educational efforts.
Sesame Street has always been a ground-breaking show, “helping kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder” since 1969. Theresa shared the challenges of growing the brand today, the biggest being that Sesame Street can’t just remain a “well loved memory”; it must stay relevant to children as the landscape of kids’ entertainment changes. Sesame Workshop’s researchers continue to identify the needs of children (since they change as our world does) and bake all that information into the fun of the show. From a muppet whose focus is on lifesaving handwashing habits to an African muppet with HIV, Sesame Workshop adapts to educate children about the world and people around them. We got a sneak peek of this next year’s theme: kindness. (I think we all could learn a few things about this right now)
Takeaway: How you serve your audience’s needs will change over time. If you stick by your authentic identity and mission in the process, and partner with the right people, it’s a win for everybody!
“The first thing we need to do is sell it up. Because nobody asked for this.”
Matias Duarte, the VP of Design at Google, walked us through the tech giant’s completely internal logo redesign process. After the launch of material design, Matias and Robert Wong (VP of Google Creative Lab) combined teams in an effort to rebuild the Google logo system into a cohesive family. The catch? While tasked to standardize the monogram version of the logo to work in mobile contexts, they weren’t technically asked to redesign the Google wordmark. Did that stop them? Heck no. They achieved new and interesting solutions for the entire Google logo family by mixing up their teams – no one was working with his or her immediate coworkers. This eliminated groupthink and helped everyone move beyond ideas they had already explored.
Matias showed us never-before-seen images of the 5 directions they landed on – from radical deconstructed forms to a fairly on-the-nose solution. Matias had this to say about that “boring, dull, on-the-nose” solution when he imagined that it could actually work:
“We realized that the first act of selling we’re going to need to commit on this project is to convince these teams that the work they’re least excited about, that they think is the most conservative, is actually a really bold, daring, and important step for this company…Somehow we pulled that off.”
What followed was a well-honed logo redesign and a well-executed brand rollout. They treated the brand launch as a product launch and measured the crap out of everything to gauge the results. People were happier and more satisfied with Google after the rebrand – and they had the numbers to prove it.
Takeaway: Sometimes the biggest selling you have to do is inwards and upwards, to your team and your superiors. Realize that incremental change can sometimes be the road to long-term gains. Also, measure your results to see what works (and to prove the haters wrong).
It’s time to start owning it.
Don’t be afraid to explore all facets of your own or a client’s brand – especially areas that might seem off-limits or out of reach. Amp up cross-disciplinary communication to build smarter and better products. Branding touches so much around us; whether you’re a designer, marketer, or business owner, start exploring brands beyond the arbitrary limits you might place on them.
I know I will.