A brand is like a person. A living, breathing entity, with a set of beliefs, a sense of purpose and a personality. And like people, brands have to find their own unique way of expressing their personality with a hope that others might fall in love with them. That expression is called brand identity.
But before there was brand identity, there was corporate identity. Born in the 1950s, it was a way to present a consistent, corporate image to the world which best represented what that company did. Corporate identity was like a uniform with a consistent logo, colour palette and typography, applied in exactly the same way across everything. Communications went one way, from company to consumer, presented through a consistent image with rigid rules open to no interpretation whatsoever. Let’s be honest, it got about as exciting as a company brochure and stationery set.
The holy grail for any logo designer in those days was to design a mark that would last forever. Something so representative, so timeless, that it would remain relevant against the background of constant change, no matter what. Yet arguably (with the exception of Coca-Cola) few logos ever achieved this. Why? Because change is inevitable, and a mark frozen in time would have to remain relevant in a future that nobody could predict.
A more likely fate for a logo built to last, would be for the fashions and tastes of the day to change and the logo be discarded after 5 to 10 years as it becomes dated and irrelevant. A new identity would need to be created and the cycle would start again. In a world of constant change, nothing stays the same for long.
As time moved on, modernism gave way to post-modernism. Uber-functionality gave way to freedom of expression. Corporate identity gave way to brand identity. No longer was it good enough to be a boring old corporate – you had to become a brand. Something that stood for an idea. Something bigger than the product you sold, but an ideal. Something people aspire to. Something that appeals to people’s souls.
Flash forward to today, where brands fight for the attention of consumers with ever-increasingly inventive creative expressions that continue to surprise and delight their audiences. Brands are alive and it's no-longer appropriate for them to present themselves as static organisations, devoid of personality.
Brand identities are no longer uniforms, but platforms for expression. It comes from the understanding that brands are living entities and must be built to flex and express a myriad of emotions. That’s why today we see an ever-increasing number of flexible brand identities.
These brands are built as playgrounds for creative expression. The playground has walls which form creative boundaries, but allow much more flexibility to surprise and delight their audiences, whilst maintaining a recognisable look and personality.
Brand identities are no longer restricted to the formula of logos, colour palettes and type styles – only by our imaginations. We’re creating small universes, dictated by their own mechanics and laws of physics. We set the parameters of those universes, release them into the wild and see what they become. In this sense we really are giving birth to a living, breathing entity that will grow and evolve.
Graphic design has reached a point where everything has been done before. After a century of designers answering similar briefs for similar clients, graphic design has reached a level of exhaustion – but the pursuit of creativity has not. The rate of technological change our world is going through makes this the most exiting time ever to be a designer. Technology opens up new possibilities to push brand identity into new and exciting places. The internet, user generated content, and any data source imaginable can now be plugged into identity design. The possibilities are endless.
What’s more, unlike when corporate identity was king, we now live in a world of screens first, paper second – identities can no longer be static. If they are to be truly alive, they must move, and that means brands must be created with that philosophy embedded. It doesn’t mean just how a logo will animate, but how the whole system lives in animated media such as the web, smartphones and TV. How does it interact with content, it’s audience, and with user interfaces? These are all questions the modern brand designer must ask themselves, but the questions don’t end there.
Brands must be responsive, adaptive, and inclusive. It's no longer about one way conversations with consumers, but two-way, co-authored experiences where consumers are as much a part of shaping the brand as the companies who made them. Brand identity can do that too.
A new philosophy of brand identity design is emerging which flies in the face of the old world of corporate identity. It suggests that identities needn’t be built for a snapshot in time, only to be replaced when they fall out of fashion. Instead, the new way is to set up identities to evolve. To have a strong platform at their core that can be evolved in whatever way the future requires. Because in a world where everything is being re-imagined to be smarter and more sustainable, brand identities must do the same. Because this is the way the new world is being built.