A brand-new book about successful brand development in a difficult era: “Brand New Brand”, published by gestalten, exhibits exciting examples of projects by international branding agencies. What can we learn from this publication?
Text: Gerrit Terstiege
You cannot, obviously, make a book about branding in the current situation and pretend that nothing is wrong. Numerous industries depend too much on the possibility of creating emotional as well as physical proximity between products and customers. Smart brand management is always aware of the distances that need to be overcome. Particularly in times of a global pandemic, there is a truth to the axiom of perception psychologist and author Paul Watzlawick: “You cannot not communicate.” And Erik Spiekermann is happy to quote this. There is no reprieve from the necessity of articulating and positioning oneself, even in times of coronavirus.
“Brand New Brand”, a book recently published by Berlin-based gestalten, presents and comments on selected international examples of branding. Why now of all times? A statement accompanying the publication gives several reasons: “In times of unprecedented economic uncertainty, it may seem absurd to think about branding. Yet while companies in every industry are facing massive challenges during the pandemic, social distancing also means that our yearning for community is stronger than ever. For small businesses in particular, it is critically important that they convey a feeling of closeness and empathy – in their digital community as well as in their local neighbourhood. The pandemic could definitely act as a catalyst for practising the values that are increasingly important for customers: more social responsibility, greater diversity and a stronger focus on sustainability.” Edited by Robert Klanten and Andrea Servert, this book puts the emphasis on small owner-operated businesses, the way they are fitted out, packaging designs and advertisements. There are some very creative, experimental and innovative solutions that have arisen from these businesses in recent years. Why? The distances are short, the dialogue between the client and the agency is intimate and intensely local, and a daringness to shake things up can be seen in many designs.
Packaging design from Mexico to New Zealand
This selection of almost 100 case studies is made exciting by not being limited to specific industries or to just Germany or Europe. Any of those amongst us who are interested in design, typography and branding and have travelled are certain to have noticed how packaging in other countries can be different, charming, extravagant or pointedly classic. There is also bound to be the odd person who has bought something purely because of the specific packaging and taken that home as a souvenir. On the side, the book takes us on a journey around the world – to Mexico, China, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Peru. At a time when the only distraction in life is a trip to the local supermarket, this little tour goes down quite nicely. The steps that are taken in design, from one relaunch to the next, are often small so that a brand’s familiarity – crucial in branding – is not jeopardised. It is rare that a classic German brand sheds all of its old ballast to try something completely new. The Nivea brand was a successful example of this a few years ago. This summer will also bring a veritable surprise with Bahlsen’s new branding: the first few images floating around on the internet show a wrapper with the quintessential lettering now made gigantic to fill the entire area, while also being partly obscured by two cut-out biscuits. Very brave! The family-owned company from Hanover, established in 1889, turned to the experienced hands of Florence-based agency Auge for it.
Packaging and branding
As most of the curated projects consist of packaging designs, British graphic designer and author Richard Baird was recruited to write brief texts about the individual studios. His other written work includes the world’s most-read website about packaging and food branding: Dieline. Often it is only possible to tell what the purpose of a product is by reading his texts. The SuperShe brand, for example, combines confident feminism with lifestyle and distributes content with a dedicated app and website. Anyone unaware of that is very unlikely to know what its corporate identity – designed by Jessica Walsh and her New York team – stands for. Walsh split from Stefan Sagmeister, her business partner of seven years, in summer 2019 and now runs her own agency. For SuperShe, she connects playful illustrations with clear messages in ultra-bold sans-serif typefaces. It is a feast for the eyes. However, the case study, like all the others, fails to name things such as the fonts that are used. The book also does not pause to mention precise style manuals, grid dimensions or exact details about the colour tones used. The visual power of the images and symbols would without doubt have suffered if there were an overly technical breakdown of the analogue and digital tools employed. A deliberate choice was made not to feature insights into the design process and the often intricately detailed specifications for fine typography and graphics. At the end of the day, it may even be that designers represent just a small portion of the audience that the book targets, even if it contains a lot of inspirational material for them. In fact, the book is geared to marketing specialists just as much as to the owners of small- and medium-sized enterprises. People in these positions will find abundant examples of how branding can connect into something entirely unique, using handwriting, illustrations, historical quotes or courageous minimalism, for instance. The book spurs the reader on to find out more about many of the creative firms by heading to their websites, and in doing so potentially even find a partner for a future collaboration. Industry giants such as Interbrand and Pentagram are presented in the volume, as are numerous young studios such as A Friend of Mine, Studio Impulso, Werklig and Seachange.
For a long time, the main duty of corporate design in its classic sense was to communicate the strength, heritage and quality of a brand. Much of the work exhibited in this publication tends to stand out for its innovative, surprisingly playful use of typography or through its charm and wit; some of it makes a fantastic impression with a decidedly restrained and cautious use of colour and fonts. It shows brand personalities in the best meaning of the term, each with its own character. Larger companies and corporations can make use of these methods, too. They could learn a lot from their smaller cousins. Astrid Stavro, an Italian branding specialist and partner at London’s Pentagram for roughly three years now, wrote the foreword, which is very much worth reading. She believes that branding creates desire and yearning, which is not a very new idea. However, how does Stavro define the demand for a specific brand? She does so very personally: “Desire is achieved by sharing moments of coherent and consistent meaning with people to create empathy, respect, satisfaction and delight.” We learn that our relationship with a brand is not that different from the other relationships that hopefully enrich our life. Values like trust, closeness and honesty should not be empty words in branding. Increasingly, they are what informs our decision to buy a product. Conveying these aspects in a visually attractive and comprehensible manner is more important than ever in the current crisis.
Brand New Brand
Restarting Your Business in a Time of Crisis and Transformation
Editors: Robert Klanten, Andrea Servert
Publisher: gestalten, Berlin
256 pages, hardback
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