Dec 20, 2011

Drink Up the Brand: Report from the Brand New Conference

Margot Merrill's picture
Margot Merrill
Director, Content & Brand Strategy

In the dark of a theater in San Francisco, I sank into a velvet chair. I was at the Brand New Conference simply to watch and listen. Given the amount of thinking, designing, and “doing” of all sorts we’d been doing back at Hot Studio, enjoying others’ work was a welcome break.

The presenters were from all over the world. Visual and intellectual, the presentations were chock-full of insights into process as well as executed pieces that made me want to run out and create. Below you will find my notes from the conference. Go ahead, sit back, and take a long drink of brand. It's so satisfying when done well.

Vince Frost, Frost*

Loved this man and the work! He seemed to have a generous spirit and approach to solving design challenges. From a library to the Sydney dance company, it seemed clear that his group worked on projects with a heart. When asked how he knows what the right solution is, he said an old colleague advised him to "look for the clue" in the client brief and materials.

Being a word person myself, I was particularly pleased with many of Frost's designs that played on the characters of his clients’ names. For instance, see the lower right corner of these posters for the Sydney Dance Company's identity:

Christopher Simmons, MINE™

An almost-one-man shop, the founder of MINE and his client spoke about the design of the identity, and almost everything else in and on Bun Mee restaurant. It made me really want a Vietnamese sandwich.

Marina Willer, Wolff Olins

Marina is a total badass. She wore hot pink leggings and cool clunky glasses. I only mention her attire because I want to be her. I was taking notes, but I have neither her fashion sense or filmmaking chops.

What we do seem to share is a belief that people can be inspired and fulfilled by organizations. And that design systems and guidelines should inspire people to contribute and create.

She showed us some of her original films, then walked us through projects ranging from Gap (RED) to AOL. Two that stood out for me were the identity of the Tate Modern, which she recently updated, and this one for Southbank Centre for the Arts—Amazing visual language! A weave celebrating complexity rather than simplifying it.

Southbank Centre

Paddy Harrington, Bruce Mau design

Bruce Mau's firm has a stellar reputation because their work is clean, clear, and frankly just awesome. Paddy took us on a brief tour, an intro to branding and then some projects. What resonated most was his passionate cry for the story. Stories are core to connecting with people. He said, "Stories make us human beings. They're literally what we're made of." As a writer and one of many storytellers at Hot, I almost cried. We love stories that much. Don't you?

Paddy said Bruce Mau made any project inspiring. That of course reminded me of Maria, who founded Hot and constantly pushes us to explore and to improve people's lives through design.

Some of Paddy's projects included the Fogo Island Inn (OMG, go! And take me!), the BOOM gay and lesbian retirement community (great Facebook integration), and this movie about the identity of OCAD U:

OCAD University Visual Identity from OCAD University on Vimeo

Jonathan Notaro, Brand New School

Motion graphic firm which has expanded into marketing and brand. Really impressive. Just HEARING and SEEING things move. We live in the 2010s! Made me happy—and envious and excited to do more with motion.

Check out just one example:

Jack Daniel's No. 7 movie—the movie led to all brand and print advertising work.

Claudia Boggio and Alfredo Burga, Infinito

Lovely people, lovely designers from Chile. Started with an intro to Chile, where they come from, its cultural diversity and landscape. They painted a picture which grounded us in the work they did for clients all over Chile. It included beautiful packaging to celebrate a chocolate's 50th anniversary. And yes, I really, really, wanted that chocolate!

Ben Barry and Everett Katigbak, Facebook

I didn't know FB had a small team of originally-from-print designers who are just making things better for the people who work at FB. I was seriously impressed with the graffiti art they'd inspired, created, and curated around the campus. And the printing press they got up and running just because they could. They shared a little about the developer culture there, now loosely supported by the moniker "hack," and the beautiful materials for the latest F8 conference, all of which were produced in-house.

They told a story about imagining the windows of this rented building saying "H-A-C-K." They spoke with a facilities manager who said he couldn't condone it. But that he was leaving on vacation for a week...

Done overnight! Awesome.

Lastly, Matteo Bologna of Mucca was making everyone laugh about the process and client/designer communication as I made my way out of the auditorium and home to my family.  (Sorry, Matteo. Really.) Everyone from the conference went out to drinks while I guzzled a glass of red wine at home and picked up my 10-month-old girl's dinner from the floor.

The Monday after the conference I returned to Hot Studio inspired, grounded, and knowing we were in good company in the world of design.

Looking forward to many more conversations, and to sharing details of our recent brand projects with you soon!

Take care,

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