SuperHumanism event should pay heed to DMI

I am writing in response to the recent exchanges of letters on SuperHumanism (DW 23 August and DW 6 September). Although there have been many misgivings expressed about the event, in its defence it has at least triggered a necessary debate.

I am writing in response to the recent exchanges of letters on SuperHumanism (DW 23 August and DW 6 September).

Although there have been many misgivings expressed about the event, in its defence it has at least triggered a necessary debate. By putting both Naomi Klein and Dan Wieden on the same platform, the SuperHumanism event placed the design business at the heart of the critically important global debate on branding and globalism. But the post-event PR seems to imply that we haven’t got much that is useful to contribute.

I’m concerned that while the post-SuperHumanism debate is bogged down in broad questions about who will defend the human condition in the new economy, or petty issues like entry fees, our design competitors overseas are discussing the branding and globalism issues from a more useful perspective.

Earlier this year, the Harvard-affiliated Design Management Institute held its annual identity conference in Montreal. The theme was corporate core values and brand integrity. The conference was attended by consultants and in-house design managers from around the world, but I was one of only three people at both this event and the SuperHumanism conference. I noted a clear, slightly worrying contrast.

The DMI theme selection was driven by the observation that as brands seeks to form strong partnerships, consumers expect more in return, hence a demand for more ‘ethical’ branding, (as opposed to ‘no’ branding). Ethical expectations relate to all aspects of corporate behaviour, but one key challenge faced by clients is how to do a better job synchronising their delivery behaviour with their advertised promises.

The lesson from the case studies at the DMI conference is that, in the US, the design industry is not debating branding itself, it’s getting across clear messages about how and why the various disciplines are key to the current ‘ethical branding’ agenda of business. So in the UK, Post SuperHumanism, I’ve waited, in vain, to hear more about how and why the UK design industry also believes it can be a powerful force for reconciliation between the ‘no-logo’ and ‘pro-logo’ views of the world.

After attending both events, and especially after reading Klein’s book, as a product designer I feel the need to stand up and be counted as clearly in the ‘pro-logo’ camp, provided marketing genuinely cares enough to use design to ensure that advertising promises are followed up with genuine customer experiences, and provided that responsible manufacturing practices are used. Does anyone else feel the same way? If yes, how does the rest of the design business think that we can we help industry to understand and use branding more responsibly, rather than not at all?

Gus Desbarats

Alloy Total Product Design

Farnham

Surrey GU9 9JE

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