Living brands – what are these creatures and why don't we have more of them
Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna, executive creative director at Interbrand, discusses the ever-evolving idea of ‘living brands’ and how to create them.
It is only recently that design consultancies have taken the increasingly popular expression, ‘living brand’, and defined it to be an asset that moves, has a sonic signature and fluidly adapts to the two- and three-dimensional environments that it lives in.
Not so long ago, very few of us actually understood what this new way of communicating brand essence, identity and content in an interactive, uncontrolled and fast-paced world was all about. Suddenly, there was an influx of strange looking, artsy logos pretending to be constantly on the move, risking falling off the page. Technology had made it possible for us to no longer be bound to static and monolithic brand expressions.
But it’s much more than that. To know what a ‘living brand’ is, is to understand where it comes from and what it means. The fact of the matter is, this is not such a new idea. It first made its appearance in the nineties in the North American, English and Swiss graphic design scenes. It was those ‘enfant terrible’ and ‘new wave’ designers of the time who gave graphic design a whole new meaning (Paul Rand even had a good rant about it in his essay, “Design Form and Chaos”, where he critiqued the chaotic appearance of post-modern design). Experimental typography, the first graphics-enabled browser (technology as an enabler, please take a bow), the reincarnation of specially designed and creative movie titles, interactivity for games and interfaces for CD-ROMs et al – all of these lively “creatures” began to exert a strong influence on how designers wanted to express content not only in posters, books, magazines and websites but also in visual identities for corporations, companies and individuals.
Yet over the past twenty-something years, our industry has struggled to fully adapt to this quickly changing environment. Not to mention creating brand identities which/who act like living and breathing entities. Branding – still wrongly perceived by many to be the way to design a visual identity – is entering a new dimension. But clients are still not entirely confident about this brave new world, a world where every element of a visual identity needs to be constantly in flux and behave in a more and more dynamic fashion to adapt to the environment it’s designed for.
These days, “This is more expensive and more time consuming – ‘why don’t you just give us a plain and simple logo?’ is about as common a phrase as ‘make the logo bigger’. It’s still always about the logo. Because of this anxiety, and the confusion about what branding really is, many brands are not really what we call living brands. They stay static, one-dimensional and – let’s admit it – boring. Never in danger of jumping off the page to create a new, maybe even living and breathing digital experience.
So, how can we change this? While it’s still important to build a consistent experience through a clearly defined brand attitude and visual behavior, it’s definitely not about slapping the logo on every piece of collateral. Even if you do this consistently, you’re prone to fail. It’s crucial to define a brand’s behavior first, before any graphical device is rendered. And a truly living asset needs to be managed around the clock, 24/7. The way we express it today is obsolete tomorrow so brands need to be agile and able to quickly adapt to ever-changing demands.
Technology will always drive modern brand identities forward very quickly (don’t blink and miss it), and it’s changing how we define, create and manage brands. This isn’t something to fear – it’s exciting and fantastic so we need to embrace it. But it also means that we need to educate our clients and their stakeholders more rigorously than ever before on the difference between a ‘living’ brand and a visual identity. The successful creation of today’s brands lies in the potential opportunity to create living entities who learn, grow and evolve over time; who are able to quickly adapt to the different social and economic needs and situations that arise on a continuous basis.
So, let’s cut through the digital wastelands and create beautiful, meaningful and relevant brand experiences – experiences that are more satisfying for everyone.
Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna is executive creative director at Interbrand www.interbrand.com/