My responses to Nick Bell’s commentary on branding, identity and graphic design. He voices his opinions through D&AD and Eye Magazine.

Branding Madness (2006)

Presently it is difficult to imagine a time where brands did not integrate the viewpoints of their consumers into their advertising campaign; the amount of social media interaction and loyalty “bonuses” (exclusive content and give aways) is rife, marketing tactics attempting to build relationships and form a community. However Bell highlights that this was a “new approach” within advertising in 2006, whereas this practice has a strong history with brand creation in graphic design. It creates “a happening group of people others want to join”. It seems as if the new challenge is not merely producing a memorable brand identity but moreover the brand experience.

Bell comments on the importance of brands’ actions, ‘brands are what they DO, not what they say’. Any company with a ‘dodgy track record’ can change the public perception on them, although at least temporarily. This reminds me of McDonald’s who seems to have gone through a massive facelift to portray a more sophisticated, organic front, attempting to distance themselves from the damaging press  (particularly from the film “Supersize Me” in 2004). Reiterating the importance of credibility and reputation of a brand, the façade can be ‘damaged by calculation and deceit’.

Brands that control too much, as in to dictate what people should think, Bell argues indicate the shielding of something questionable and potentially negative. He feels brands should work in association with their audience ‘as a vessel onto which people can project their own opinions’ so that in turn produce slightly differing meanings to everyone thus appealing to many. This mantra is clearly evident in current advertising; this inclusive approach allows brands to constantly assess what is working with their consumers and potentially help them develop and improve on their product/service or marketing strategy.

Ideas are overrated (2006)

Bell discusses the importance of the idea over the message/purpose/intentions of graphic design. He argues how in advertising ideas are like ‘gold dust’ yet contrastingly in graphic design ideas ‘get in the way’. This is in terms of the mediator delivering the author’s message, adding a layer of communication and meaning that potentially shrouds the original intentions of the author. The idea becomes a distorted amalgamation of viewpoints, and in a worse case scenario, neither idea supports on another (the difference between ‘representation and mere presentation’). He continues to sympathise with graphic designers and the invisible nature of good design. Arguably to be noticed means to be obvious ‘a clever gag’, for design to be taken for granted means a subtle intelligence and a marrying of message and medium. Such ideas may go unnoticed by members of the public but those who realise and appreciate the existence of “invisible” design are the critics graphic designers really want to please.

Notes on identity design

‘Corporate identity is not a science. It’s more a public relations makeover exercise commissioned to present an organisation in the best light possible’. Summing up an organisation, or at least the best bits, in a single image to ease recognition and stand out from a saturated industry, as well as convey a positive ‘vibe’, is a lot to ask from one logo. Again Bell emphasises the point on delivering expectations ‘graphic design is no substitute for good quality products and services’, although the public might be enticed by a new shiny slick logo, it only takes a moment for it to be tarnished. This says a lot on the extent that graphic design can do for a company, no matter how much money an organisation throws into marketing/advertising/design, if the underlying foundations aren’t stable, there is only so much one can do before the mask begins to crack again.

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