A live event inspired by the blog of the same name, the Brand New Conference invites design and communication professionals to share their ideas on “corporate and brand identity.” As the conference took place in Chicago this year, our principal Stephan attended and learned about topics ranging from brand writing to Black Lives Matters. In this post, Stephan discusses some of his takeaways from the conference, such as being inspired to take a refreshed approach to your work and bringing social awareness into your design practice.
How would you describe the Brand New Conference to someone who’s never been there before?
The conference is the brainchild of a design website/blog run by designers Armin Vi and Bryony Gomez-Palacio. Under Consideration which publishes the Brand New blog, discusses new identities, visual systems and branding, in addition to welcoming discussions from designers around the globe. The conference brings a humanistic take on designs we’ve seen online and in our environment, we get to experience designers as people, makers. It’s refreshing to hear, see and feel people in the flesh articulating the work they create and occasionally do. Sometimes, the daily demands of our work make it feel more like a task that needs to be processed and executed rather than thought through and considered. It helps a lot to pause, refresh your mindset and say, “Oh, you can approach this differently. You can be experimental again. Even in the context of corporate work, this is a valid approach if you frame it properly.”
There were some speakers who were involved in major social and political causes such as Black Lives Matter and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. What was it like to have that perspective represented at the conference?
I think it brings into perspective the fact that the role we can play as designers, as fabricators of brands, can be broader than just a piece of corporate literature. There’s a more significant role you can decide to play depending on who you associate yourself with and how you approach the project—to have a more substantial impact on society in general. You can become an effector of the cause rather than just be being an extension of a brand. So, I think there is that responsibility that you can have as a company, to become part of an effort to help other people supporting causes you feel aligned with.
How do you see what you learned from this conference inspiring your own work here at Studio Pax?
There were all kinds of suggestions on how you can redefine your process and create more meaningful touch points with the client, with the people inside organizations, as well as how to remain open to modifying that discovery/design process actively. There was a very passionate guy, Richars Meza from Lima, who was articulating the role one of his passions played in his design practice. He loves food, so he started to design pop-up events around food he’d cook. He started small but would create the entire experience of the dining event. You can take that aspect of a passion you have and make it part of the practice of the studio itself, in meaningful ways both for yourself and others around you.
The Harris Theater in the Chicago Loop was a visually intriguing venue with a space punctuated of colorful lit spaces.
Can you talk a bit more about how he designed that pop-up?
Richars was considering everything as part of the pop-up experience. Not only the food, but also the menus, the decorations for the pop-up, and the location, as well. For example, he mentioned he had spent some time in Japan, and he wanted to have a pop-up based on Japanese food. So he selected a location that was on top of a building with the train passing by because that was a reminder to him of some aspect of Japanese life when he was over there.
It’s interesting to see how you can impact the kind of work you do based on how you want to define yourself (a self-realizing loop of sort). So with that self-awareness, that exploration of who you are as a person and who you are as a company, you can make your studio into a converging of forces, an intersection for all your employees and their different interests.
What stood out to you about some of the other speakers?
Jacquelyn de Jesu was fascinating. She’s an entrepreneur who created her brand, [Shhhowercap, a more modern and versatile version of the old-fashioned showercap]. She saw an everyday life nuisance that could be turned into a design opportunity, something that was missing from the marketplace. For me, that power of observation, that ability to question the status quo is vital. As people, we always have ideas of, “Oh, why doesn’t this exist, oh, this is frustrating. I wish we could do something about it,” yet very few of us decide to do something about it and follow it through to an actual product or service. It takes a considerable amount of time and energy so you have to admire that commitment. Jacquelyn was very dedicated to realizing her idea, and fortunately for her, it ends up being a very successful endeavor. It’s comforting to see that: you make that insane sacrifice, you have to believe in it despite setbacks and it may end up creating a positive product that makes someone’s life a bit easier, or just put that little “dent in the universe”, or maybe even your neighborhood that’s quite good too!
Miski Noor, (communications strategist for the Black Lives Matterglobal network), talked about defensive branding because Black Lives Matter is subjected to a lot of appropriation and especially misappropriation. Quite a few people attempt to build upon the success of that original brand and use it with values that sit at the opposite end of the spectrum–it was insightful to understand that we have a social responsibility towards movements that can be very fragile and need support. I’ve observed that appropriation in my neighborhood with defaced Black Lives Matter signs.
Was there anything that surprised you about the conference?
You know, sometimes in a few projects that we complete, we use a lot of vendor partners, and even when beautiful your end product can end up being disconnected from the final deliverables because somebody else makes them. I like the fact that, if you make things yourself. If you don’t delegate the act of translating your idea into the real world to someone else, you become more connected to the process of making the end product, which often alter the final execution of your idea.
There was a telling example from IS Creative Studio, where they spray painted their business cards and transformed the process into a social media post. It became quite popular.
You absolutely have to head to IS Creative Studio Behance page to discover a bit more about the behind-the-scenes story of these cards.
Everybody loved it, and you’re like, “I wonder how they did that, what printer they found,” and as the story goes, they couldn’t find a printer to do it, so they did it themselves. You take a can of paint, and you start to spray paint your business card. It’s pretty easy. You just have to get out of your rut and typical process. Explore the unexpected a bit. The introductory segment of the Brand New Conference was the wonderful story of how Armin and Bryony created the identity and packaging for the Brand New Conference itself, you can see it below or on the Under Consideration Vimeo Channel. It’s wonderful!
Sometimes, we live in our head a little bit (or…I do at least), and we forget that you can be the craftsman of your product as designers. I think creating a product with your own hands is a statement about being willing to be part of the life that is around us and the physical aspect of that act in particular. It’s an act of making, of being involved. That’s very important to us as designers at the Studio.
Writer / Content Strategist
A storyteller by trade, Angela is passionate about storytelling and human-centered design. She recently received a Master's degree in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) at Northwestern University.
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