Logo Design Blog

The Future of ‘Brand’ Design

When Andy Warhol turned a tin of Campbell’s soup into a global icon, it was a coming out for brands – a sudden realization that these familiar everyday products had created their own myths that were far greater than the items they represented or the price on their labels.

More recently, corporate identity seems to have disappeared – like Andersen Consulting, Bell Atlantic and British Steel – and re-invented itself as brand design. Ten years ago the term corporate identity was freely bandied about, but it took a leaf out of its own book and outgrew its name. Brands used to be cans or bottles of things that fought off other like-minded cans and bottles on supermarket shelves. But the language of loyalty and preference began to migrate to the way in which an organization talked about itself.

Brand design encompasses a vast array of design disciplines, from traditional graphic skills to digital design, broadcast animation, retail, interiors and even architecture. Now products themselves are coming under the wing of brand design as each and every manifestation of an organization starts to communicate the brand values.

Defining “brand design” is almost as challenging as predicting its future. The brand word has been defined in many ways, most of which acknowledge that brands are more about an impression left upon the onlooker’s mind rather than being tied to a physical reality. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins even talks about Memes – “self-replicating brain states” – which make people reach out and buy. What is certain is that a brand should leave an emotional impression. Design here is the interface, the way in which the impression is communicated. Richard Seymour of Seymour Powell describes design as “making things better for people” and talks of the importance of emotional attraction. Perhaps, then, brand design is about making a positive impression on people’s minds.

A brief history

To attempt to glimpse into the future it helps to glance back at the past, to identify the genesis of brand design. It all began, allegedly, 5,000 years ago in Egypt, when branding was more about making an impression on an animal to denote ownership rather than in someone’s psyche. Greek and Roman potters used brand marks to identify the maker, and by the 12th century, crusaders were designing heraldic marks for their shields, tunics and tents to establish individual identities. But these designs were mostly concerned with the identification of the sender rather than the perception of the receiver.

Even early 20th century brand design was more arts and crafts than industry, serendipity often playing a greater role than strategy. Shell’s name and symbol were based on the founder’s sentimental memories of his father’s antique shop (which sold decorative sea shells) rather than on what would become the company’s fossil-based products.

By the mid-20th century the advertising industry, led by Madison Avenue, had a whole new canvas on which to develop brands in a truly emotive way. Television brought the potential of sound and movement to often inanimate objects, and provoked organizations into thinking about themselves and their products in a whole new light.

Modern brand design probably began in 1950s US when Thomas J. Watson Jr. contacted industrial design consultant Eliot Noyes about the visual disarray of his company, International Business Machines (IBM).

He realized there was a disconnect between his vision for the company as it entered the electronic era and its dated architecture, interiors and array of trademarks. Noyes brought in Paul Rand to create a cohesive new look, and in the process Rand created the now famous IBM logo. But this marks the start of contemporary brand design not because of Rand’s logo, but because it was a holistic approach, and focused on emotive communication.

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