November 16, 2017

The first Annual Brand of the Year

The pink, cat-eared “pussyhat” that became the icon of the Women’s March in January has been announced as the first ever “Brand of the Year” by SVA Masters in Branding Chair Debbie Millman.

In 1964, the late Marshall McLuhan coined, “The medium is the message.” He ushered in the notion that both the message and its medium influence how any communication is perceived. But in the Insta-culture of the early 21st century, it’s not as straightforward to find the cream of the crop. In an effort to understand, measure, and mark the brilliant, competitions have been created to determine the impact of brand messages.

But these competitions charge an entry fee. And they often need entrants to fill out complicated entry forms that detail and justify the return on investment, reach, and other performance indicators. So what happens to brands and products that don’t enter? They mightn’t be aware of the competitions, or they mightn’t be able to afford the often hefty entry fees, meaning potential winners are all but ignored. The Masters in Branding program at NYC’s School of Visual Arts wants to challenge these contest rules, and for the first time, the program faculty have taken a broad look at commerce and culture to identify the first Annual Brand of the Year. No entry form. No fee. In fact, no effort at all by any brand to be considered.

“We’re at a tipping point in the way brands are being created. Branding has become democratised, and the results aren’t necessarily about the commercial. The Pink Pussyhat brand wasn’t initiated for any financial benefit, but instead created by the people for the people to serve the highest purpose branding has: to bring people together for the benefit of humanity. Branding isn’t just a tool of capitalism. It has the potential to become a profound manifestation of the human spirit.”

Time Magazine pink hat cover

Time Magazine cover, February 6th, 2017.

About the Pink Pussyhat

The Pink Pussyhat was conceived by screenwriter Krista Suh and architect Jayna Zweiman. It was created to be worn at the Women’s March the day after the Presidential inauguration in Washington, DC. Kat Coyle, owner of The Little Knittery in LA, designed the pattern. The brand was launched in November 2016, and the name of the hat was an intentional response to President Trump’s recorded comments about his ability to “grab (women) by the pussy.” More than 10 million women wore handmade pink pussy hats at, or in support of, Women’s March’s worldwide on January 21, 2017.

Details via SVA’s press release.

I remember looking on in admiration at the huge numbers that marched. But since then, it’s been more a case of dejection as the Trump administration gives tax breaks to million/billionaires while the most vulnerable continue to suffer. Here’s a thought-provoking read in the New Yorker — Is there any point to protesting? — comparing the recent protests against the war in Iraq, against the finance industry after the market crash, against the killings of unarmed black people by police officers, to the much more successful protests of decades past, notably the civil-rights movement from the mid-fifties to mid-sixties. Worth five or ten minutes of your time.

Vaguely related from the archives, Debbie Millman’s interview with Milton Glaser is a great listen.

May 22, 2017

The future of branding

“...the assumption that a brand is just a look is fading, and finally people are beginning to realise that a brand is more a result.”

Read more

February 21, 2017

“The appointment of a design consultant needn’t always culminate in change.”

It’s a familiar story — there’s a change at the top of an organisation and a rebrand is one of the first things to happen.

Read more

June 20, 2016

Six brand questions for clients to answer

“Starting in the right place and answering the right questions, rather than starting in the wrong place and offering solutions to the wrong problems.”

Read more

August 5, 2015

Giving voice to ideas

Copywriting can be about much more than just tone of voice. It can form an integral part of a company’s brand strategy.

Read more

January 29, 2014

You (generally) get what you pay for

Tabloid stories about new designs tend to focus on two things: the money, and the logo. Here’s an example.

Read more

November 28, 2013

The influence of colour in brand identity

Who wants 50 shades of grey when you’ve got the choice of the rainbow? Written by Laura Hussey, partner and creative director at London-based SomeOne.

It’s drizzly, it’s grey, everyone is wearing black and I’m a Celebrity is back on the telly tempting me with the lush green Australian rainforest and it’s vast, bright blue skies. I’m sick of the dullness of winter. I need some colour.

Union Jewellery boxesUnion Jewellery packaging by Red Design

My desire for colour isn’t only at this time of year either, I crave it all year round — in fact I’d go so far as to say I draw energy from it.

Brands can benefit from our desire for colour, too. It can help keep conversations intriguing, energetic and rewarding.

A study of the world’s top 100 brands (defined by brand value) saw 95% use only one or two colours. 33% of those top brands would like to think they own the colour blue, and 29% think red is their colour. It suddenly becomes irrelevant, it’s what you do with it that counts. Why be limited?

Take a look at how Oxfam have rebranded with a reinvigorated palette of colours and the mantra ‘provocative optimism’. The charity has to deal with famine and world disasters and yet still has to attract people to be inspired to give money. The most immediate way to do this is through their brand colours. The vibrant colours help to reinforce Oxfam’s positive attitude towards fundraising and boost their rallying cry, making people feel positive about taking part and able to help affect change.

Oxfam identity by Wolff Olins

Another brand that recognises the power of colour is The Guardian, whose use of a spectrum of colours to illustrate it’s all-encompassing news. Multiple colours speak of choice, variety and diversity. Think Google, NBC, eBay, or MSN to name but a few that use more than two colours to express their breadth.

Google data center pipesGoogle data center pipes

We chose a similar approach when we created the Brand World for The Halcyon — an exciting development highlighting the best of British art, retail, design, music, exhibitions, gallery and food. The colours used within the brand and environment were derived from, and act as a subtle nod towards the diverse colour palette used during Britain’s great creative periods of the past — our Halcyon days, mixed with those we see around us today.

The Halcyon identity by SomeOne

Colours can reflect the emotional outlook of a culture and so it’s no coincidence that as we emerge from the UK’s longest, deepest postwar recession we see a change in colour trends. We want to feel happy and secure, and that’s why we gravitate towards colours that bring about more positive emotions. Think of the striking pink Olympic signage that directed people around London and how happy and talkative people in the city suddenly seemed to be. Even many normally surly locals engaged in casual conversation. The colour got a good showing on many volunteers, too. Why? it stands out, it’s appealing. The result? A capital city and thousands of people adorned with a surprisingly bright and appealing shade.

London Olympics signageImage: Surface Architects

The Dutch artists Haas & Hahn saw this potential when they lived and worked in some of the world’s most violent places. It is unusual to have to ask permission of a drug lord before you can start painting, but in Vila Cruzeiro – generally considered one of Rio’s most dangerous favelas – this is what they had to do. Not just to beautify, but also to create a dialogue with their surroundings. After several successful projects, the image of a square painted in a design of radiating colours yielded worldwide fame and transformed Rio into ‘one of the world’s 10 most colourful places’. It stands out.

Favela painting by Haas & Hahn

Colour doesn’t just benefit worthy causes though — you only need to look at Jonathan Ive’s colour choices for the new iOS 7, or the sweet shop choice of iPhone 5C. More than any iPhone in history, the iPhone 5C is all about colour and personality. Some say Ive was inspired by the well-regarded graphic designer of the late 20th century, Mitsuo Katsui whose designs are known for vibrant use of colours in motion, often placed within wide, single-colour blank spaces. Katsui’s abstract forms also often use transparencies to highlight contrast effects.

iPhone 5C coloursPhoto via iPhone Hacks

Similarly, for the launch of Tesco’s first tablet – the Hudl, we wanted to inject warmth into a category that can often be overly technical and unfriendly.

Hudl colours

‘Be more Colourful’ doesn’t have to simply mean ‘use lots of bright colours’ either. A brand can behave more colourfully through their actions, their tone of voice or their inventions. Innocent Drinks has grown from a three-person outfit to a multimillion pound business, a large part of the company’s success can be attributed to the brand’s tone of voice. It has managed to stand out in a saturated drinks market by being friendly and engaging, sometimes even cheeky but always distinctive. It has managed to elevate the brand way above it’s competitors.

Innocent Drinks colours

Then you have Marmite — a yeast-based spread. Nothing very sexy or colourful about that and yet by being brave enough to recognise their product is hated as much as it is loved it has elevated it to much more than a savoury spread. It’s ‘Love/Hate’ campaign has earned them many fans and its originality means it’s now used to mean anything which strongly divides opinion. The strength of the brand means it can now expand into other areas, even fashion — ‘Love Marmite, Hate Jams’ as seen on many a trendy fixie rider weaving through traffic.

Love Marmite, Hate JamsRoad cycling jersey available from

Brands want fame and monopoly and to do that they must stand out and appeal to human beings, so they need to be more optimistic – more colourful. Who wants 50 shades of grey when you’ve got the choice of the rainbow?

Laura Hussey is partner and creative director at SomeOne in London.

January 4, 2013

Defining iconic brands

Google data center pipes

What defines an iconic brand? Has this changed in recent times compared to classic brands of previous decades? Can a brand be iconic without a great logo?

Read more

October 25, 2012

The ideal design process?

I watched a good CreativeMornings video where Tom Foulkes and Michael Johnson talk process.

Michael included this flowchart overview of his brand identity design process.

Design process flowchart

"Meet, talk a lot, summary, talk a lot more, verbal brand, then write up a brief, do quite a lot of work, then present."

During his (nearly) 20 years in business Michael has very rarely been in the situation where he presented just one idea and it was signed off by the client. This is one of those few designs where it did happen.

Shelter logo

"Sitting in the presentation I had the board one way round, turned it over as said, 'What do you think?' and they all said, 'Yeah, it's great.'"

Here's a much more common presentation approach.

Design process flowchart

The best three options are presented (one safe, one adventurous, one scary — from a client perspective), a direction is chosen, developed, then signed off.

One of the best pieces of advice Michael has been given, before he started his own business, was to take the scary option and make it even scarier. That way, the original scary option suddenly seems safer, and more likely to be chosen. It's those riskier, more polarising options that are often the most successful.

I've embedded the presentation below. Or you can watch it on Vimeo.

Worth your time.

Filmed and edited by Nick Culley.

A more in-depth writeup is on the johnson banks thought for the week.

June 5, 2012

Shape as a brand attribute

When a brand's product is obvious from the shape alone.

Read more

April 23, 2012

Using sound symbolism in branding

Take two imaginary names, Maluma and Takete, and before reading any further, pair each name with one of the two symbols below, the one you think is a better fit.

Read more

April 13, 2012

What convicts can teach us about branding

Written by Mike Kammerling of Tinder + Sparks, about Neil Stansfield who was jailed for more than two years for buying own-brand supermarket food, repackaging it as organic produce, and selling it on at a huge markup.

Read more

December 27, 2011

Penguin, in Champions of Design

Excerpted from Champions of Design, the paperback by Silas Amos of Jones Knowles Ritchie, featuring on one of the 25 brands from the book.

Read more

November 7, 2011

Remove the logo. Know the brand.

A little reminder that as designers we need create more than just wordmarks and symbols.

Read more

September 19, 2011

The stories behind car brand names

Etymology is the study of the history of words. Here are a few choice picks from the automotive industry.

Read more

David Airey
Brand identity design

Independent since 2005
Website hosted by Fused

13 Gransha Park, Bangor
Northern Ireland
BT20 4XT