Thinking circular. Thinking in systems.

Posted in Brand on 24 June 2014 By Susannah Gerner, Client Director

Design. It's problem solving right? Understand a challenge and find a solution. That's what we learned in the design colleges of the 90s. So, what's changed? When it comes to brands, everything.

Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile, presents the idea that to flourish when the future is unknown to us, we must be flexible, responsive and most of all keep things simple. We cannot project control (a 'fragile' characteristic') over a world that is always changing.… Businesses grow. Brands are acquired and divested. Markets move. Opportunities arise. Leadership changes. Priorities evolve. Customers shift allegiance and preferences. Innovation brings new technology.

Business, branding and design are having to throw off linear conventions and instead think in more circular patterns. A linear approach (embedded in our attitudes to design and manufacturing since the industrial revolution) assumes an end point.

Sustainability and pressure on resources is pushing a 'circular economy' agenda in manufacturing and business modelling; design, produce, disseminate, consume, recover, disassembly, recycle. This continuous, circular mindset is also relevant in attitudes to branding and communication design. The proliferation of communication channels and increasingly mercurial customer preferences are driving brands to need to be more responsive, more connected, more relevant and more meaningful. So, what does this mean for the creation of brands in this new changing world?

Creating a brand identity is only the beginning. Defining what lies at the heart of your brand, essence and values, and its presentation through personality and tone of voice are fundamentals, providing an anchor point from which every brand expression and interaction develops. How the brand truly comes to life from there, based on a changing environment of influence, is in the hands of the client teams and guardians responsible for its application. This is a continuous, cyclical process of confirming and reconfirming its place in the minds of its audiences through every communication. The brand should gain in strength, meaning, relevance and momentum. There is no end point. No job done. Think regeneration not reinvention. In essence, brands that are enduring and restorative by design.

The ability to understand how parts influence one another within a whole, and the relationship of the whole to the parts, is crucial.

Towards a circular economy
Ellen MacArthur Foundation

When every brand project's client team is looking for consistency and the pragmatic management and application of their brand across often complex business structures, how do we marry this with a flexible, responsive adaptability for the long term? The answer; we must think in systems.

A system has structure, a system has behaviour and a system has interconnectivity. When creating (or developing) brand design, we no longer think of identity as 'a logo' or as a static solution. Instead, we aim to determine a system of visual and verbal signals that provide cues to the viewer/user to inform, connect and instruct them to engage.

To ensure these systems are enduring, we prefer to define them with principles, not rules. Rules will assume the context remains the same, the challenge fixed at a point in time. Principles, however, can guide decisions based on new unknown scenarios. When client teams and guardians understand these principles, through the embedding of a clear brand platform and guidelines, there arises exciting opportunities for the interpretation and on-going development and reinvention of the brands.

So, when thinking about brand design, think less about a finite solution to a particular challenge, and more about a platform to create opportunity, a platform for growth.

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