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Beyond the Buzz

Stepping back, to take a good hard look at brand identity and what the popular conversation around it, is missing.


Brand identity has never had it so good. Especially here and now, in India. Everyone, and their competition wants one. Big pitches, passionate presentations. Round one, two and three. International studios, Indian studios. Big agencies, small studios. Brand launches and videos, brand bibles and baubles. Reviews and critique. Envy and triumph. I’m rendered excited and breathless, just writing about it.

But when the adrenalin settles down and one sits back to scan through the chatter on identity design, both within the circle of design peers and industry, one realises that the conversation may not have evolved as much as the buzz around identity design. This is surprising, because the spotlight on brand identity is far more than it was as recently as five years ago. Higher investments, both in terms of creating and executing identity programmes are now being made. But a deeper engagement with identity design has somewhere been waylaid by measures of instant gratification. And because most writing and reporting on branding in India, is still largely from a marketing or advertising perspective, we never really think about identity design much, beyond appearances.

Brand identity design is still largely (and woefully) considered at the last minute of brand creation or overhaul. The distillation of on-ground insights and larger shifts in business strategy, into over-simplified creative briefs, often increases the distance between brand intent and design output. The loss in translation tends to multiply as the creative process progresses. Sooner than later, strategic objectives of the identity design exercise are forgotten. This is the point where design becomes a free-for-all, and begins to lose its focus in a lively melee of personal preferences, familiar comforts and myopic problem-solving. Resulting in, what my young colleague Ananya calls, a cluster-fuck.

The general ‘way-of-looking’ at identity design is still one looking for instant gratification—love at first sight, a clever hook. In reality, while brand identity may successfully also do all of this, its responsibilities are wider and deeper. For starters, it is not a temporary construct, it is not a diversion, and it is not a product by itself. It is meant to be an enduring framework, that can grow with the changing, growing reality of a brand and hold meaningful communication or content. Therefore considerations while designing or evaluating it, or even critiquing it, need the lens of a longer time span and a feel for real use & impact. Creative output is often viewed by both designer and clients, in the sanitised environment of beautiful mockups and dummy content. But the real world of deployment needs to be considered, with all its challenges—budgets, timelines and variable skill levels of implementing agencies. Add to that, the changing nature of media itself—clamorous, multi-sensorial, everywhere. This is the world, within which we need to design and look at design. This is the rigor we must demand of identity design.

As we address the reality in our work as practitioners, we must also begin to look at brands that we work with, with greater honesty. To look at a brand with honesty, in my view is to understand its real character, potential and constraints—so that expressions in design can come from a place of greater authenticity. The pay-off? Simply that the brand is able to take natural ownership of the identity, sustain and further it across time. Day 1 is always fantastic for brand identity—choreographed and meticulously launched. But Day 149 (or 246 or 618) is the real test.

Featured image by Ananya Khaitan, created using original images by Reinhold Möller (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).