Thoughts on Future Branding

Petri Lahdelma
Jun 7, 2018 · 6 min read
Image Viktor Bezic

Traditionally an identity or brand has been a tool to help companies distinguish one (a product, an ideal, a set of values or what the company does) from the other with numerous defining sub-genres and/or classifications, (entry level, iconic, luxury etc.) Usually consisting of a logo (logomark/logotype) and other graphic means designed to increase brand recognition.

Brands have now adopted subtler tactics in retrospect to the early days. Brands tell stories on popular platforms–and in a subtle way that is nearly indistinguishable (advertorials) from the media readers already consume. By moulding the message to the platform, brands can draw loyal customers and occasionally even make their content go viral. Tone of voice plays a big role in how brands are adopted by the masses. This encapsulates the general zeitgeist of branding today.

In recent times branding has evolved into various different workflows and approaches, such as modular, responsive and interactive, or generative brand applications and corresponding identities and vast variations of design systems to support and maintain the brand image. The craft itself has also somewhat evolved from promoting simple logomarks and this has made the industry even more intricate.

With the advancements in machine learning, bigger capacity for deeper neural networks (thanks to cloud solutions and Google’s efforts to speed up the computing with GPU’s) and especially in the field of algorithm-driven design, there’s no limit to the amount of powerful tools we have access to. With the right tools and intellectual resources, we can apply the ideas garnered from the data and adapt to tomorrows necessities, creating impactful design and successful content delivery, way “outside the box”, and soon beyond the capability of the human mind.

A logotype refers to words or the name of a business that is designed or typeset.
A logomark is an identifying mark or symbol that doesn’t necessarily contain the business name.

The technologies of tomorrow are bound to change how we design corporate identification systems and brand presence in the future. There’s no avoiding it and the sci-fi geek in me can’t wait for news on yet another tech or gadget that will completely revolutionize the way we experience, exist and interact. Now that Finnish tech companies and startups have also started to flourish, we are however experiencing an unprecedented amount of sub-par and homogenous branding efforts that do no justice to the brilliant efforts made in (fin)tech.

I’m talking about the relationship between the actual product using smart algorithms or new tech of some kind, be it ML, AI, VR, AR, VUI and its representation in the form of an identity or brand. Here in the cold north, we are all too used to seeing the same trends, shape and even color scheme repeated over and over again. Treading water is easy but recognizing patterns, signals, trends and being as original and innovative as our tech counterparts is challenging. I’m not saying all finnish design is poor quality. There are also excellent examples, such as the identity for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs by 358 and a few other noteworthy Finnish design all-stars. All I’m saying is, that polite, non-offensive, bland and (yawn) boring-ass-design will only ensure to set back the entire industry and surely replace bad creative output with — sooner than you might expect — a more creative counterpart; the mighty AI.

Thinking outside the box has always been the mantra of the creative industry. The truth is, that more times than we’d like to admit, we’re being stuffed into that very box by our clients’ budget, our lack of vision, our fear of failure or even sheer laziness. I’ve experienced many if not all possible pitfalls in my personal career as a designer and in that sense I am no better than my fellow designers. But where are the brands and identities that strive to do something more with the vast possibilities at our disposal today?

A philosophical brand that advocates living instinctively, responding in the moment, and letting change flow. The brand evokes this uniquely Chinese state of mind. By Wolff Olins
Genesis Beijing is a visual tool that explores each state and associated feeling through rich, reactive pattern. By Wolff Olins
Identity for Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland echoes the world events with changing color schemes. By 358
The applications make great use of the possible variations of the globe that yields some lovely color combinations and compositions. By 358
An organisation that operates in a stable manner in a turbulent world and that works to make the world a better place. Video courtesy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and 358
Brand identity for Cytora, an artificial intelligence company specialising in risk. By Pentagram
“The ever-evolving patterns and colours of each block-shape animate in tandem with the fine technical lines that surround and manipulate their form. This results in illustrative visuals that provide a sense of tangibility to the real-time, continuous flow of data that fuels Cytora’s deep-tech processes.” Video courtesy of Pentagram
Pentagram created language that translates this process, using a series of shapes to represent the data that goes into creating risk profiles. By Pentagram
Alibaba Cloud — ET Brain By Wolff Olins
The central dot, as the tool of expression, could be anthropomorphised into a face. The figure reflects the application of the technology. By Wolff Olins
“A visual, audio and behavioural language that feels natural, friendly and human, whilst still feeling future-facing and exciting.” By Wolff Olins
By Wolff Olins
Live identity for Brazilian telecom Oi, which reacts to sound. By Wolff Olins

The current commercial design is often process-driven, ie. stiff, slow and focuses mostly on the overall aesthetic over the experience of the end-user. If we take an existing process model as a starting point and plan our branding project accordingly, we will end up forcing a model least likely to be optimal for the design problem at hand. Instead, one could brainstorm a different approach from the very beginning. At least that’s how we approached our own identity at New Things Co. We wanted an identity that would not only serve as a logotype, but also inform, guide and connect with us depending on the changing needs we might have also in the future.

We have no strict policy, guidelines or governance on how to approach design for various applications, rather allow fresh ideation to flow, limiting the amount of mandatory design or must have graphics, swooshes, gradients and other embellishments. We have sought to allow each designer to bring their unique voice through and we actually encourage everyone to do so.

By focusing on the individual experience instead of the user itself, we can easily draw out the factors that dictate how experiences are perceived. That said we still like to pick and choose where we follow the more traditional HCD (Human Centric Design) model, much like our own smörgåsbord for design. We validate design choices in a hive mind manner, which is made possible by the lack of hierarchy and principles of self governance within New Things Co.

Example of the New Things Co identity mutations. 2016–2018.
The Brandmark AI design system has been trained with over 1.4 million images, instantly generating thousands of logo ideas based on user input.

So what technologies could one consider as a designer in a branding (or related) project? Intelligent, algorithm-driven, reactive or whatever the choice of tech, beneath the surface still lies an intelligent creative that understands both the given constraints and possibilities or has the capacity for evaluating machine based output. But through matured systems of smart, tech-driven assets, these new brands will soon serve mankind a genuine, empathetic, positive and lasting experience.

One could suggest an umbrella term “Exponentially-Driven Design” to collect all these technologic advancements and bundle them to serve as an aid for design efforts. ED for short, meaning, the computer assisted, exponential advancements in the creative process. However we might call it, as creatives, we need to remember to step back and observe our habits and find smarter, new ways of working. In a word, adapt to changes in a rapidly changing digital landscape.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”

— Albert Einstein

Algorithm-Driven Design, How Artificial Intelligence is Changing Design
Yury Vetrov.

  1. 12 technologies that will disrupt business in 2018,
    Paul Heltzel, 2018.
  2. New Process, New Vocabulary: Axiofact = A_tefact + Memoranda , Gilbert Cockton, 2017.

New Things Co

New Things Co is a fresh digital consultancy. We're all about experimenting, curiosity & heavy-weight experience.

Petri Lahdelma

Written by

Design thinker and doer at Nitor & Digitaltableteur. Passionate about Graphic Design, Typography, UX/UI, Design Ops, Design Systems and Music Production.

New Things Co

New Things Co is a fresh digital consultancy. We're all about experimenting, curiosity & heavy-weight experience.

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