Branding isn’t really a traditional vocation that you go to school for. Sure, there are some programs out there but most people in branding find their way there from other disciplines.
I would argue that the majority of those people come from either a communications or graphic design background. For the writers, branding is a storytelling exercise where the focus tends to be on the message above all else. For graphic designers, brand is usually a collection of aesthetic decisions including logos, colours, images and fonts. If a process is too heavily dominated by one or the other you can usually tell, and in many cases achieving holistic brand experiences is a challenge.
Jane and I arrived in the brand world from a background in architecture. This journey was unexpected but seems like a natural progression as we look back. For us, architecture was a playground for human interaction. And we were happiest when that playground was layered with some greater message, meaning and purpose. This led us to the design of branded spaces including restaurants, museums and gallery exhibitions, retail interiors, even airplanes.
From there it was fairly straightforward to grow the brand experience from spatial to graphic design and writing, etc as most of these assets were already present within the spatial solution. See, we approach the design of a brand as a system of human interactions and experiences with many layers and scales, just like an architectural space. This is also why we often use the term ‘culture’ instead of brand when we describe our approach.
Culture, for us, is a shared way of doing something with passion, and brand is really just the facilitation and communication of that unique culture. You should be able to build it, feel it, touch it, smell it, live with it. Every touchpoint should affect your feelings and perceptions, and influence your relationship with the brand as a whole.
These days, we don’t design nearly as many spaces as we used to. What we do now is choreograph culture. We work with companies and organizations to manifest the things that make them special and develop experiences that show those traits off to the people that matter most to them.
So we still think as designers of space. But they’re cultural spaces. And they exist primarily in the mind.