Here’s how you know you’re at a design conference: large groups of bespectacled individuals waiting in long lines for free coffee, free snacks, free paper samples, stacks of design books (not free) and an opportunity to say “you changed my life” to individuals who most people wouldn’t even recognize. I was no different. Although, I am not the type to go up to my design heroes for fear of ruining the illusion.
This was my first time at a Brand New Conference, the annual conference put on by the creators of Under Consideration and Brand New . As far as design conferences go, I enjoyed it. The approach Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio (the married couple who own and operate the whole Brand New enterprise) take to their conference seems much more streamlined compared to other design-centric conferences. There’s only one venue (not multiple rooms inside a convention center) and one track (not several to choose from, which can be good or bad, depending on the speaker) rooted deeply in branding and all things visual. So, think lots of slides with pretty pictures.
My main goal at the conference was to hear Paula Scher from Pentagram speak. But Snask, a Stockholm-based branding and design agency, stole the show, causing an alliterative pattern to form in my head. So, without further ado, here are my 2015 Brand New Conference Takeaways, brought to you by the letter “S”:
One of the first things you do when you arrive at the BNC is pick up your badge and swag. All of this year’s components, from the programs to the bags themselves, were touched by either Armin or Bryony. Seventeen-hundred program covers were spray-painted in their Austin backyard–enough to provide the printer with make-readies and throw-aways before being sent off to the printer for foil stamping/embossing/finishing. The program is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, and it didn’t stop there. Each “badge” consisted of wood, spray paint, and a golden sticker. Read more about the process here.
Paula Scher was introduced by Armin with this statement: “Sometimes I like what she does, and sometimes I don’t.” I can agree with that. Paula has had some misses over the years, but she makes up for them with personality and boldness. Her no-bullshit mentality has always struck me as an inspiration in our industry.
Paula didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about Brand New, and she wasn’t the first speaker to have opinions about the conference’s parent blog. If the AirBnb guy, who spoke before Paula, started the “what’s wrong with Brand New” fire, Paula brought the lighter fluid and matches. Her presentation was a tiny little “eff you” (in classic Paula style) to reactionary critiques published on the site, presenting work that had been panned by Brand New. She defended it and showed that, while maybe it’s not the prettiest, it functioned and had purpose and meaning. During a question-and-answer session after the presentation, Paula summed her feelings up like this: “I wish there was a forum for conversation rather than reaction. We’re all trying to do the same thing here: make things better. And we all need to be less judgemental towards each other.”
No one brought the simplicity like Phillipe Apeloig. I had no idea who this guy was, and I had never seen any of his work until his presentation. And, although it was mostly a glorified look through his portfolio, it was truly inspiring. Apeloig showed his process by animating all of the versions on his journey from concept to finished logo. His style is rooted in minimalism and his designs are a testament to the classic “less is more” credo. Like many presenters before and after him reiterated: As a designer, it’s easy to add things, but it’s a lot more difficult to take things away.
Full disclosure: I knew Johnny Cupcakes was the first speaker of Day 2, and I wasn’t really into it. So instead, I immersed myself in the streets of NYC. After sitting inside a theatre for a whole day, the fresh air and warm sun did my design soul good. Five miles later, I was back at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, fully inspired by the NYC architecture, storefronts, and culture and ready for the last six speakers of the day.
I left this conference with an adoration for the Snask guys that is beyond words. Freddy and Magnus were egomaniacs, slightly unattractive and unkempt, sarcastic and, well, fabulous! Their presentation was completely ridiculous, but beyond the humour and smart-ass attitude was work so good that you couldn’t argue with their abilities. I could go on and on, but I encourage you to take a few minutes to visit their site and watch some videos, look at work, and be awed by all of the candy-colored goodness you’ll find there.
The last, and most important, “S” would be the measure of a brand’s success. The overall consensus of most speakers was that, too many times, a logo is judged prematurely, when it hasn’t even been given a chance to “stick” yet. There was much discussion of the reactionary backlash received by recently re-branded companies like AirBnb and Google. Doesn’t a logo need time to become a brand? A consumer needs time to embrace the logo and have an experience with it in order for there to be an emotional attachment, right?
As a designer, I know I’m guilty of passing judgement based solely on visual appeal without considering the process that went into it’s creation. Does it make sense to judge a logo’s appearance without having the full story? Do companies fear critical backlash, and if so, does it make it harder for agencies to deliver high-quality creative work? And finally, does all of this negativity have any meaningful effect on the brand or product itself? If design critics deem a new logo terrible, but the company/organization still delivers a great product, experience, or service, is the brand still strong?
That last paragraph ended with a lot of questions. Do you have answers? Don’t keep them to yourself — share ‘em in the comments section!