Brand New Conference Takeaways

Last week, Chicago played host to the fifth-annual Brand New Conference, and I was lucky enough to attend. The conference, which is the product of the popular blog by the same name, is a two-day event where some of the best branding and identity designers from around the world share their insights.

With the amazing group of speakers who presented this year, it was a rich experience that left me grateful to be working in such an exciting and passionate community.

Here are some of my personal highlights from the event.

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The next thing doesn't always have to be your full vision. – Jonathan Lee, Google

As creators, we often get so consumed with vision that we become paralyzed. It’s good to remember that we can explore an idea or an experiment, even if we’re not sure where we’re heading. The important thing is that we keep moving forward.

Branding is about making memories. – Bob Faust, Faust

This is the most beautifully concise definition of branding I’ve ever heard. When we’re able to change our mindset from simply creating a nice-looking product to making memorable experiences, we allow ourselves to be open to some really amazing ideas.

I'm still at it! – Lance Wyman, Lance Wyman LTD

From the legendary Lance Wyman, creator of the iconic ’68 Mexico Summer Olympics logo and identity system. It was a privilege to hear from someone who’s been designing for as long as he has and is still producing work that’s fresh and impactful. The secret to his success seems to be a willingness to roll up his sleeves and get completely invested in his projects. I especially enjoyed hearing him speak with such enthusiasm about recent projects while humbly admitting that he’s still learning.

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Designers are research machines. Our work is informed by it. – Adrian Shaughnessy, Unit Editions

Think first, draw later – Mario Eskenazi

The topic of research was a common thread in many of the presentations at the Brand New Conference. Whether it was Lance Wyman speaking about how his research into the ancient cultures of Mexico informed his design of the ’68 Olympic Games identity or Sol Sender talking about the exhaustive research of the IBM archives for their centennial celebration, everyone had something to say about the importance of research in the creative process. The best ideas are often the result of taking time to understand a problem before trying to solve it.

We say 'I need to think about it for a while.' We really mean: "I need to NOT think about it for a while. – Jim Coudal, Coudal Partners

The importance of taking a break from work was another topic brought up by several presenters. Jim Coudal, founder of Coudal Partners and creator of Field Notes (and the man behind recent ODC project Layer Tennis), gave a 15-minute lecture on the power procrastination. He suggested that when we give ourselves time to not think about a project we’re working on, we often find ourselves coming up with great ideas seemingly out of thin air. Relieving ourselves of the pressure to come up with great solutions on the spot can allow us to get into the mindset needed for uncovering truly creative ideas.

The process of design should not (always necessarily) be about authorship. – Keira Alexandra

This quote comes from my favorite presenter of the conference. She’s responsible for some hugely visible campaigns, from rebranding Comedy Central to developing and managing the on-air identity for the Sundance channel, but has remained focused on the work and not on personal accolades or celebrity. It’s a good model to follow and undoubtedly leads to the most honest work possible.

Comedy Central Rebrand from keira alexandra on Vimeo.

Craft is a step along the way. It is not the destination. – Mark Kingsley

I could have written a whole post on the madman genius that is Mark Kingsley. His was the final presentation of the conference, and it wasn’t so much about branding as it was about life, philosophy, truth, and being "sick of bitches bitching about other bitches." His raw passion for design was contagious, and the entire crowd was completely entranced (and entertained) as he lectured on the dangers of becoming so caught up in craft and practice that we miss out on the real joy that comes from honest creativity and expression. It was awesome, scary, inspiring, frustrating, and hilarious. And the perfect finale to the conference.

We (the designers) represent the brand of Design. – Dave Mason, Multiple Inc.

I’ll end with this quote from one of the shorter (but most memorable) presentations of the event. During his "15-minute Fling," Dave Mason chose not to speak about branding or design, but about how we as designers ought to treat one another with respect and always be conscious that we are ambassadors for the entire industry. As we are experiencing what some are calling a Golden Age of Design. it is crucial that we act in ways that support this idea within our community and with the greater business community as well. It’s a daunting responsibility, but if we own it, everyone benefits.

Collin is a designer and front-end developer. His work at One Design is focused on designing beautiful products that solve tough problems with creative yet simple solutions. With usability as a top concern, he seeks to elevate digital design through clean, functional work.

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