The importance of forgetting

#BNConfAMS Day 1

By Boo Hoeboer
Design Director at VBAT

Marko Salonen of Bond at #BNConfAms. Credit: Boo Hoeboer

For the first time UnderConsideration organized the two-day conference The Brand Nieuwe Conference in the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. The conference has been held in various cities in the United Stated six times – as the Brand New Conference – and it is a direct extension of the blog, Brand New.

The Conference was organized and hosted by UnderConsideration co-founders Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit who were also responsible for the visual identity.

As outsiders , they noticed some aspects of Amsterdam society that are almost self-evident for residents.

This led to build a dynamic, animated typography from crosses ( x’s) on a background of classic images .

The focus of this event was on the practice of corporate and brand identity with speakers from around the world with a broad range of points of view and practising in different environments, from global consultancies, to in-house groups, to small firms.


The first speaker was Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks of London. In his lecture at What Design Can Do 2015 he talked about his blog about ‘doing branding in a better way’. How good design can contribute to a better world and how storytelling can play an important role in this. In addition the so called proof of investment, also in the world of charity, is an essential component.

Making visible that investments in design can lead to success.

To do this a healthy process of research, strategy, design and implementation are essential.

According to Johnson the literature on creative processes contains roughly two types of books;

  • about research and strategy (1 and 2)
  • - and about creativity (3, 4 en 5) design, implementation and reviving.

Almost nowhere he found the good books that bridge knowledge gap between the two groups which should be essential in his eyes. Therefore he wrote the book ‘The definitive guide to the strategy and design of brand identities’ which will be issued in the fall of 2016.

Important in his ideas is to bridge the gap between strategy and design.

This asks for a new stage 2.5 – the bridge – between 2 and 3. No complex theories , matrices, but „simple“ questions that reveal the essence.

He starts stage 1 – investigating – with only four questions:

  • what’s the problem we’re here to fix?
  • what are we doing about it?
  • Why does that matter now?
  • What do we want others to do?

Simple questions that should lead to clear answers and not long lists of definitions such as: Brand drivers, brand promises, brand key, brand prism, brand onion, big idea, core idea, core purpose, brand essence, mission, vision, core brand positioning, brand story, storytelling, brand truths, brand values and many more … A list that not many people understand really well. Let alone such lists contribute to a better end result.

Also for the strategy and narrative, stage 2, Johnson has some „simple questions“ formulated a clear brand manifesto should lead in which the ambition is clearly described .

Why are we here? What do we do and how do we do it? Who are we here for? What makes us different? What’s our personality? What do value the most?

The first two stages were the defining and before creating the stage of translating should take place; stages 2.5! Never ignore this stage. As an example Johnson showed the cases of Charity Water, where hope and not guilt are core in the communication and Studio Dumbar’s work for the Alzheimer Nederland.

The other speakers have, consciously or unconsciously, been able to bridge the gap between ( 1 and 2) investigating and strategy into (3, 4 en 5) design, implementation and reviving.

Michael Johnson. Acumen.
Michael Johnson. Acumen.

Ben Bos spoke about the Beurs van Berlage where the symposium took place and how architects in late 19th and early 20th century, did the architecture and interior design, furniture and graphic design all by themselves.

An example in which the bridging the gap was completely successful was the the signing of Schiphol Amsterdam Airport by Benno Wissing of his former bureau Total Design.

Through a comprehensive analysis of the walkways, the needs of various target groups, the spaces an excellent strategy was developped. This was reflected in a distinctive and individual design which has become the worldwide standard for airport signage.

Signing at Schiphol
Presentation of Ben Bos. Source: Boo Hoeboer

Marko Salonen, Bond Helsinki Finland discussed four steps in the creative process by which they work. Insights – sketch – design and finalization – implementation. These naturally overlap the 5.5 steps describing Johnson, but both have their right to exist.

On the basis of the case of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra Salonen shows how they too begin with a thorough investigation on the basis of which they devise the strategy.

In this case, to outline the strategy and the concept formed. They do this in a workshop with stakeholders; design fuel stop. The idea is that an orchestra is the sum of the musicians, the power of musicians. This led to a logo in which all the names of the orchestra members are processed and these represent also the music itself. In photography Salonen has managed to capture the music in motion.

Presentation of Marko Salonen. Credits: Boo Hoeboer.

Tnop Wangsillapakun, Tnop Design Bangkok

Tnop believes in sketches and letting space to interpret. The aim of his work is creating the unexpected. Through his experimental way of working, he developed his own style which each time leads to surprising discoveries. Playful and intelligent.

‘Always sharpen your knives’
Presentation of Tnop Design

Sagi Haviv, partner and designer at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

On the basis of iconic trademarks Haviv shows that they can be ageless. The Chase Bank, the Harvard University Press and WTA are good examples of strong minimalistic iconic brands.

In all these cases it is important to: ’always question what a client asks for!’

And especially for Eastern Asian clients: ‘go for the boss!’, because he (or she) is the one and only decision maker.

Presentation of Sagi Haviv

Eszter Laki, Budapest Hungary

At first glance her way of working is completely different from the previously mentioned speakers. She tries to travel as much as possible and the inspiration she gains hereby and the stuff she collects serve as inspiration for her work. With friends she creates projects such as cooking- and travel cookbooks. She also designed the identity of restaurants and shops.

Playful, creative and cleverly thought out.
Presentation of Esther Laki

Nikky Gonnissen, Thonik Amsterdam

Empowerment is what matters at Thonik.

Activating people from a distinct social and cultural engagement. Graphic empowerment has been realized by Thonik in the cultural and media sector for VPRO (broadcasting) and the Holland festival. Political empowerment for the Socialist Party SP through an innovative campaign. Social empowerment at the Grafist 2016 in Istanbul where students were asked to connect with a refugee. After listening to their stories a flag was designed for each one of them. Here the clear project stages are present, but the inner urge of Thonik is the most important factor in the choice of subject and approach. With one over all goal: to create awareness!

Presentation of Nikki Gonnissen; Thonik. Credit: Boo Hoeboer

Brian Collins, of COLLINS New York, began with the observation that design has grown into an industry that is beginning to be taken seriously. He is looking for a balance between commercial and more autonomous design. For this pleasant space is also needed for the staff.

A good staff is the capital of a company. For example there are children’s playrooms where children of staff able to play after school and the employees are less stressed.

In the illustrated case of Room Essentials is a thorough (consumer) analysis was the basis for creative imaginative solution. For the Art Directors Club a typography has been created that changes by external factors. Resulting in a good balance between commercial and more or less autonomous work.

Presentation of Brian Collins. Credit: Boo Hoeboer.

Resume: It can be said that regardless of the type of agency or designer there is a similar creative process.

Good work has relevance, distinctiveness and an appropriate design.

Not necessarily artsy, but executed in such a manner that the concept (the message) works best. In the book Creativity Today (BIS Publishers) various design stages are also appointed. The stage that in my opinion was missing on the first day of the The Brand Nieuwe Conference is the – forgetting everything- stage. The mental space needed to think freely and creatively. This is not a stage doing nothing, but a necessary stage in which thinking consciously unconscious is given space.

In the heat of every day stress and the hysteria of deadlines this aspect of the creative process is the most forgotten. Therefore, my plea to state this explicitly in every design process.

Hopefully Michael Johnson can add to his book.


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Written by Boo Hoeboer
Design Director at VBAT
edited by Connie Fluhme
PR at VBAT