Earlier this month, The Label Collective team attended the 2022 Brand New Conference in Austin, Texas. They immersed themselves in stories of some of the most successful local, national, and global brand identities. There were discussions and debates about the limitations of the label “Graphic Designer,” why moodboards are not the future, how not to get replaced by an algorithm, and how companies and teams can work toward better collaboration to make a product great – not just the creative.
After attending the event, it became clear to us that the pandemic was a wake-up call for many companies, but also a much-needed space for creatives to slow down, breathe, and get away from the computer to try new methods and crafts in the comfort of their home. Zoom calls were inevitable, and collaboration worked best through being able to give everyone on the team – from the client to the project manager – a seat at the table.
While many of the stories shared during the conference were B2C and retail brands, our team couldn’t help but think of the parallels in our own B2B brand work. Here are a few of the important things our team walked away with:
Erin Pitts (Co-Founder/Creative Partner):
I have always maintained that companies should be willing to place a solid investment in their brand. A well-designed brand to the customer is clean, intuitive, takes little effort, and is invisible in the world around us. Brand refreshes that get tackled in a silo, on a whim/based on a feeling, or that are reactive to market trends, end up costing the company extra time and money. In those two days, the stories that were told have validated that the companies who trust their designers, aren’t afraid to take risks, and place inherent value in their brand often become the most iconic and successful. Sometimes it takes a few months to get there, but most take months alone for the research, landing on the final brand direction and execution over a 1-2 year timeline.
McKinsey noted in their research this past April that designers might add as much value redesigning the company as the product itself. Many speakers at the conference touched on the fact that designers are becoming an integral part of a company’s strategic efforts. It does make sense; brands are a company’s visual communicator. If your product is a cake, and you bake the best cake in the world but nobody knows what it tastes like or where to taste it, your effort is wasted.
Some of the overarching themes: design systems that considered multiple departments and subbrands like Jesse Reed and Order’s Williams College rebrand. Variable fonts have finally taken over, and now that audiences are geared towards animation and video online, I can’t wait to see more adoption across the board. Lastly, don’t forget where you came from. The importance of brand history is so important, illustrated in Lisa Smith’s story of the Burger King rebrand.
Kristin Waddington (Co-Founder/Creative Partner):
The panels at the conference provided many reminders of what we already know – strong brand identities are much more than their logo. Hearing the panelists share the inspiration and process behind some of their most successful brand designs validated how important it is to consider every angle of a brand narrative. I approached attending the Brand New Conference with a lens toward the future and found myself reflecting on what the future of brand identity will be.
As a response to the limitless possibilities of the software and technology we use in design (note that I have removed the word “graphic” from “graphic design” here in agreement with one of the panelists), will some of the most successful brands demand the merging of technology and hand-craft to set themselves apart? Will brands still be able to remain tangible and preserve a part of their physical experience, or will we move towards only experiencing brands on screens? What do we lose by only experiencing a brand in one medium?
When thinking about brand identity projects, I aim to recommend what’s best for the company and their brand… and this sometimes means making subtle shifts versus extreme changes. Looking at the Burger King rebrand and how important it was to consider the role of past brand elements in its research and development phase, and how Williams College borrowed the best elements of the college’s storied history and implemented it into its brand… it raises the question as to whether a successful brand identity needs to be extremely different than it was before. If nostalgia is resonating (which I recognize as an honest response to the world before the COVID-19 pandemic began), how will the future state of the world and culture move us toward defining the next common thread of a successful brand identity?
Finally, I believe the future of successful brand identity work will require designers to continually and frequently revisit what makes the most sense for highlighting a brand’s identity. It will be up to designers to responsibly and intentionally filter out noise and make informed, data-driven recommendations on what unique technology, platforms, mediums, and approaches work best for each brand. As a result, how do we ensure we as brand designers stay up-to-date in a world that often moves faster than our ideas and inspiration does? How do we preserve time for our thoughts and for deeper understanding while moving at the speed of innovation?
Kandace Ayala (Senior Client Manager):
People – of course, people first. I only love projects because I love people. My own ideas were reinforced by Alex Center’s manifesto + digging in and respecting the people. Hallelujah – we agree- but it can’t be only something we say. Everyone belongs, and it’s our job to make them feel that way. Every decision must go back to the people. If other people don’t respect the people, then it’s up to us to do something about it. Apologize. Admit mistakes and miss deadlines. Drop the armor.
Self-initiation and slowing down. Make the work, work for you. The most important work is the work everyone is doing for themselves.
The best work happens when people (clients, colleagues, peers, mentors) do something scary and true to themselves.
Say no. Show the client a different way. Self-initiate projects, even if clients, the team, or the world haven’t considered them. These were the themes of the first day most apparent to me. Each of the speakers had fantastic portfolios and dream clients. They were just as scared and self-doubting as anyone else.
Next, the most critical question we should ask ourselves is why – and thinking and imagining ourselves and the brands we work for in the future. Having an idea and executing for today is already living in the past. If you’re a client feeling like you need to run to catch up, change your lens. Stop. You’re right where you need to be. Keep the future goal in mind, and if it needs to change, that’s OK, but do it with intention. Be willing to make mistakes. You only have 7 seconds anyway, and chances are you are the only person who will remember it. Drop the polish. Be human; the machines will be perfect for us. It’s our job to think for them. Ideas are golden.
Much of what I’m walking away with left me with thoughts on how to build and continuously improve myself, the TLC team, our strategies, project management, and design operations to support our clients.
Julia Kelly (Art Director):
My biggest takeaway from the Brand New Conference is that designers wear many hats and one of them should be strategist. When we as designers are creating or improving upon a brand it’s important to look not just at the task given, but holistically at all the possible touchpoints and suggest solutions the client may not realize they need. The worst they can say is no and maybe that exercise will help with another client that says yes!
The second takeaway is how prevalent burnout is in our field. As horrible as COVID and lockdown were, I think it was very instrumental in allowing people a minute to reflect and decide that work/life balance is way more important than executing on unrealistic timelines and dealing with toxicity. The client/designer relationship should be one built on respect that results in a partnership where all parties can make the best decisions for themselves and the brand — not at the expense of.
Chris Moore (Designer):
The term “graphic” should be shed from the title Graphic Designer. Being a designer is much more substantial and encompasses different micro-roles than just being someone who creates something pretty to look at.
Designers have to manage so many things and bridge the gap for so many people involved in working with and consuming brands. This requires us to be adept at shifting into different roles and harnessing different skills that may not be asked of someone in a more strictly technical or managerial field. It is worth considering how we brand ourselves as designers of not just graphics, but the overall experience a designer can bring to a client or company.
Also, details and intention matter in design, and doing the hard work of research can pay in design dividends. A big takeaway I had was how important it is to dive into the history and values of a brand, and to fully explore the unique DNA that exists in each brand to design something that is completely unique and tailor-made. Many brands tend to strip out the unique aspects of their identity to conform with more modern corporate visual trends, but few of them look back to their origins to see what set them apart from the start. See how that can be repurposed today to celebrate the past and set yourself apart from the corporate re-blanding.
It’s never too late to think about your company’s brand.
Did you know The Label Collective offers Brand Workshops? Our workshops are tailored to include perspectives on marketing, messaging, and brand creative strategies. Contact us If you’d like to learn more.