Dan Bern­stein ar­gues why more brands should em­brace a fun, char­ac­ter­ful iden­tity

Computer Arts - - CONTENTS - DAN BERN­STEIN CRE­ATIVE PART­NER, & SMITH www.and­smithde­

Re­cently, the lo­gos of the world’s big­gest brands have opted to go char­ac­ter-less, rather than char­ac­ter-full. Pin­ter­est, Google, Uber, eBay and Mi­crosoft have all stripped back, sim­pli­fied and lost their ooomph. Indis­tinc­tive, in­of­fen­sive and strictly no fun seems to be the or­der of the day.

But it’s no longer just an is­sue with logo de­sign. It’s brand­ing in gen­eral. Once brands get es­tab­lished, risk aver­sion seems to drive the once-fun, opin­ion­ated and love­able start-ups down a more se­ri­ous path. So why do our most suc­cess­ful start-ups even­tu­ally feel the need to be safe and con­form?

Are we just bid­ing our time un­til the likes of Oatly, Monzo and Habito opt for a more but­toned-up ap­proach to at­tract a global au­di­ence? Does grow­ing up mean you have to lose a lot of what made you great in the first place?

When new brands are born they have the flex­i­bil­ity to play. They can take risks, be light-hearted, look dif­fer­ent and di­vide opin­ion. They’ve got lit­tle to lose, so a fresh, al­ter­na­tive ap­proach helps them stand out and en­gage with con­sumers.

But as brands de­velop they of­ten find it harder to be fun and show their per­son­al­ity. They worry that it may iso­late and de­ter po­ten­tial cus­tomers. They feel the need to be seen as a safe bet, be­com­ing more se­ri­ous. And nat­u­rally the fun tails off.

It’s our role as designers to try and break this pre­dictable pat­tern. Yes, there are times when we have to be more sub­tle, but what are we here for if we can’t have fun with our work and push our clients cre­atively? We need to re­as­sure our clients that they’ve built a pow­er­ful brand with that ap­proach – why change as soon as you be­come suc­cess­ful?

The same goes for the more tra­di­tion­ally ‘se­ri­ous’ sec­tors. Just be­cause you’re work­ing in fi­nan­cial ser­vices and law, for ex­am­ple, doesn’t mean you can’t strive to be dif­fer­ent or have fun.

At & SMITH, we’re guilty of it too. Sev­eral years ago we part­nered with a firm of so­lic­i­tors on their new iden­tity. We pre­sented what we thought was the per­fect brand for a le­gal team: quiet, trust­wor­thy, re­as­sur­ing, cor­po­rate. It was ex­actly what they didn’t want. The firm had built their rep­u­ta­tion tak­ing

on chal­leng­ing cases and do­ing things dif­fer­ently and wanted a brand to match.

We tried again. And failed. And again. And failed. So, we de­cided to start from scratch, try­ing to un­see and un­learn all that we knew vis­ually about the sec­tor. It felt like de­sign­ing a fu­neral di­rec­tor’s logo in Comic Sans. It didn’t sit quite right, but we knew we had to get out of our com­fort zone and have some fun.

We got there in the end. The job re­sulted in A1-sized screen prints with per­son­alised lo­gos for each mem­ber of staff. And although it was dif­fi­cult to stom­ach at the time, we re­alised it was real turn­ing point in & SMITH’s de­vel­op­ment and ap­proach to brand­ing in gen­eral.

We learned that it’s pos­si­ble to have fun in a se­ri­ous sec­tor. In fact, there are brands out there ac­tively search­ing for it. When you look more closely there are some bril­liant ex­am­ples where main­stream brands have found joy in the ev­ery­day. Take the McCafé ‘Flat what?’ ad­vert, for ex­am­ple. It’s a clever piece of ad­ver­tis­ing that high­lights just how dif­fi­cult the sim­ple things in life have be­come (like or­der­ing a cup of cof­fee) and makes a joke out of it. It’s play­ful, light­hearted and tongue-in-cheek, but still looks and feels like Mc­Don­ald’s.

To­day, too many brands get drawn into adopt­ing com­mer­cially led iden­ti­ties rather than those rich in char­ac­ter. And it’s too easy for designers and brand cre­ators to fol­low trends with lit­tle orig­i­nal­ity or point of dif­fer­ence.

The brands that rise head and shoul­ders above the com­pe­ti­tion are those that stand for some­thing. Be­ing de­ci­sive makes for com­pelling brands, but de­ci­sive doesn’t have to be dull. It’s our job to open our clients’ eyes to the pos­si­bil­i­ties of de­sign.

There are some great brands out there that have stuck to their guns go­ing through growth and ex­pan­sion but re­main­ing opin­ion­ated, emo­tional, brave, fun and dif­fer­ent. Brands like Mar­mite, Vir­gin, Chan­nel 4, Dr Martens. Let’s hope in years to come these brands don’t be­come a rare species.

Do you think large com­pa­nies should use brand­ing with per­son­al­ity? Tweet @Com­put­erArts us­ing #De­signMat­ters

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