As part of AOR’s investment in professional development, a few us at AOR had the opportunity to attend this year’s Brand New Conference in Chicago. Like its namesake blog, the Brand New Conference is a place for brand designers and professionals to experience new and notable branding and identity projects from around the world and hear from some of the industry’s best creators and thinkers.
Although the conference tends to be heavy on industry creatives geeking out about exciting new work, the speakers this year took a decidedly philosophical approach and described personal struggles, failures, and triumphs that ultimately led to great work and revitalized perspectives.
Notes from the edge
Designer Tosh Hall, whose clients include Revlon and Budweiser, encouraged attendees to “let go” in order to achieve success. He described the pursuit of perfection as “a waste,” and said that by letting go of the things that hold us back—fear, expectations, control, ownership, and assumptions—we can achieve great things. He addressed failures, both personal and professional, and how he overcame them by learning to “be comfortable on the edge of control.” His most notable example was when he recalled how he had been fired by Budweiser twice, only to be rehired to create the striking Bud Light rebrand seen below.
“When you’re not afraid, you can do big things and be yourself.” — Tosh Hall
Sharon Werner, a 25-year packaging design veteran, challenged assumptions, strategies—and her client—on her work for Cabot cheese. Cabot, an award-winning co-op creamery that has been making dairy products since 1919, wanted to rebrand and insisted the redesign not include their signature black-and-red plaid. The recognizable design element is embraced by consumers as well as Cabot’s 1,100 co-op farmers themselves, who actually paint it on their farm equipment and barns. “You will not use plaid,” insisted the client. Unwilling to discard that kind of brand equity, Werner trusted her gut and proceeded to rework the signature plaid and incorporate it as color-coded accent on the packaging. Her “modern rustic” solution was a hit with the client, and it helped to elevate and unify a visually disjointed legacy brand.
“Good brands are built by trusting strategy alone. Great brands are built by trusting your gut.” — Sharon Werner
Glass half full
If the conference had a theme, it would have been failure. Not failure to engage or to inspire, but rather how to experience and learn from failure. Many of the speakers seemed to have had their fair share of disappointments and candidly shared their perspectives on how they dealt with them. In doing so, they relayed something that extended beyond the world of branding and design and into the realm of shared human experience. In the spirit of that sharing, here are a few of our favorite quotes that spoke to dispelling doubt, pushing boundaries, and being true to your vision and yourself.
- “Playing it safe is not playing at all. It leads to mediocrity.” — Ivan Garcia
- “You’re going to make mistakes. Being an expert means knowing what to do when you screw up.” — Ivan Garcia
- “Take criticism seriously, not personally.” — Jennifer Kinon
- “It was an enjoyable failure.” — Tom Crabtree
- “Avoid fashions. Stay focused. Ignore what others are doing.” — Ivan Chermayeff