I recently attended Design Manchester – an annual series of events, including print fairs, open studios, talks and exhibitions. This year the core festival day was a conference called the ‘Science of Imagination’. It was everything you would expect from such an event; a suitably eccentric host, the obligatory free poster, a few hand-picked members of the elite Designerati, and of course GFSmith sponsoring the whole thing.
Starting with Unit Editions, the audience settled into a talk about the undoubtedly well-known and loved publishing house – a collaboration between Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy. They spoke well in turns, explaining their inspirations, publications and the amazingly complex process of delivering beautiful design books from one website, to greedy designers around the world.
“The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved.” – Adrian Shaughnessy
Following this were two fantastically funny talks from Daniel Hirschman (Technology Will Save Us) and Rob Lowe (aka Supermundane). Daniel showed some great examples of his work; my favourite was the Red Stripe Corner Shop advert. It’s a fun video that’s set in a real cornershop and uses Red Stripe cans to make music – definitely worth a watch! Rob Lowe spoke through his creative process, hanging his talk on the conference theme of ‘The Science of Imagination’ (he took to the theme more than most of the others). I have some of his work hanging in my living room, and I loved seeing the link between what I thought were his two far-removed styles of illustration. He explained that actually his work is pattern-based and both styles are closely related. He was hilarious and explained himself well, giving real insight into what he does in an engaging way – top marks!
The afternoon was a well-balanced mix of portfolio presentation from Rejane al Bello, inspiring interactive design for retail interiors by Ross Phillips (Dalziel & Pow) and a genuine conversion between Michael Place (Build) and Angus Montgomery (Design Week). Ross showed us a portfolio of work for great clients, including the ahead of the times digital projection for Primark. The projection is the next step in retail installations and can be adapted easily. It’s a mix between traditional bulkheads and interactive media such as Kate Spade’s 24hr shoppable store windows.
I have a very studious approach to events like this, so naturally I loved the speakers who packed their talks with references and quotable insights. Some talks lacked the ‘behind the scenes’ aspect you crave when you’re in the same room as your design idols. Although the event is sandwiched between print fairs and exhibitions, I think the conference day would have benefited from some print stalls and added interest outside the four walls of the room.
As my Timehop keeps reminding me, it’s been three years since I was at Typo London. I absolutely love going to events and conferences like this, and we have to keep pushing and supporting the ones happening outside of London. I will definitely be making my way to Design Manchester 2015 for an undoubtedly successful third year.
We are pleased to announce that Robert Owen, from Nottingham Trent University, is this year’s winner of the coveted Elmwood Student Award 2014. The competition was tough; we were very impressed with this year’s standard of work. However, Robert’s strong research, original ideas and passionate presentation skills pitched him to first place.
Robert was among a number of students who answered our ‘You Don’t Have A Choice’ brief. This brief was born from a desire to give students a more authentic experience of how projects work in the design industry. As a designer you have to expect the unexpected. There are many occasions when you will be faced with a brief that you have no prior knowledge of. This is not always a bad thing. By having a brief forced upon you, it gives you the gift of starting something with a fresh perspective and no pre-conceptions. Great ideas can come from something you thought you wouldn’t like or never really gave a second thought about before.
Students were asked to pull out at random a word from a hat that would be a specific service, object or occupation and re-brand it. The options were very far-ranging and included a 24-hour laundrette, pet insurance and a holiday service to Mars. All entrants were judged on how well they brought their brand to life. To make it unique and exciting they needed to think about more than just aesthetics and find a proposition for the brand that was engaging and had a different point of view. We wanted them to consider all aspects of the brand, not only the name and logo but also the entire visual identity, tone of voice and appropriate applications.
Robert picked out ‘a medieval re-enactment group’ and went far and wide in his initial research, even going to the lengths of contacting an actual re-enactment group. In conversation, the group told Robert how all the members were so close to one another that they felt part of one large family. This insight informed his entire project and inspired his main concept ‘Bringing People Together’.
‘Alliance’, a perfect word to encapsulate this idea, was used as the brand name. We particularly liked how Robert had applied his idea to the logo, a castle icon that continues to evolve and grow in size as the group gains more members. Each stone in the logo represents a different member; its size and shape is dependent on the member’s hair colour and height. This idea created a logo that was personal, engaging and very different from what is currently out there. He also created some other intriguing applications for the brand including interactive posters that emitted medieval sounds and smells.
So what was Robert’s prize for such good work you wonder? The answer: a beautifully, well-crafted Excalibur trophy made from only the finest materials and by the most skilled of craftsmen. Furthermore, Robert was awarded a placement at our Leeds’ studio.
Robert, we hereby knight you the winner of the Elmwood Student Award 2014. Go forth and celebrate!
Written by James Hansen – Writing Intern, Elmwood London
It was Shakespeare who first asked ‘what’s in a name?’ but for all his literary gifts, it’s the sibilant surname that rolls off the public tongue. His contemporaries have faded in his shadow; while it’s true that they (mostly) could not match his skills, their names don’t exactly resonate either. Do you know Ben Jonson? Oh, Ben, he’s my mate from down the road. Do you know William Shakespeare? I don’t know him, but I know who he is. That unknowing recognition makes him such a cultural giant; his surname has intrinsic value, with a sound that triggers a series of emotions – awe, intrigue and, somewhat strangely, familiarity.
This word association is one of copywriting’s most powerful tools. The most iconic copy is evocative. It creates points of difference, which become points of reference – the potent combination of singularity and ubiquity. Shakespeare has this in spades; his tone of voice has its own adjective, ‘Shakespearean’. It’s more than just an association. The word resounds with grandiloquence, invention and timelessness, standing monolithic in a sentence. Just listen to it. Say it, even. It’s made to be projected. It demands attention.
So perhaps Shakespeare’s singularity comes from his ubiquity – in having such a vast presence while being pre-eminent. His point of difference is also his point of reference. Only Google’s verbing comes close in our era. I mean, nobody Bings anything, really. Indeed, much of Shakespeare’s verse is at first impenetrable to eye and ear (without a little scrutiny) but it still has some kind of meaning. It still suggests.
Now to combine Google and Shakespeare. Hold tight.
If you Google ‘Shakespeare’, the pre-requisite Wikipedia article is succeeded by his own domain name, his own theatre (the Globe could not be a more appropriate marque) and his Works. On a deeper level, his names convey the ethos of his plays. Who’s the moor? No idea. Who’s the prince of Denmark? God knows. Othello and Hamlet? Ah, yes. Shakespeare’s primary tragic device – conveying an incredible range of emotional resonance through a single name – is exactly what drives any brand’s search for contemporary relevance. Apple knows a thing or two about this, and they aren’t doing too badly.
But Shakespeare was doing it in the 1600s, and the ripple of his influence goes way beyond academic and critical repute. Macbeth is, when closely studied, not a tragedy of the individual. But nobody talks about Fleance, Macduff and the rest in popular culture. No other play has overtaken a national identity to prevent dramatic mischance.
His remit doesn’t stop in the wings, either. Film. TV. Merchandise. Food. Drink. An entire town: Shakespeare’s Stratford. Shakespeare sells. Shakespeare has a tone of voice. Shakespeare has a point of difference. Shakespeare is iconic, relevant and recognisable. Sounds like he’s had the Elmwood treatment.
To return to the opening quote, it continues with ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. With Shakespeare, this just isn’t the case. Name and identity are inexorably bound – Othello’s assertion that reputation is the ‘immortal part of myself’ is enduringly true, but Bill’s got the marque to go with it. Shakespeare is the biggest literary bestseller of all time. 64 million children study his work globally. In the UK, US and Australia, there are 67 registered trademarks featuring Shakespeare. For a bit of context, Christopher Marlowe got killed in a bar-fight while under suspicion for espionage and still can’t get a piece of the action. A bar-fight!
So, brand Shakespeare. In 2012, Sony Pictures commissioned Brand Finance to do a study on the bottom line. Shakespeare’s brand worth was estimated at $600m. In comparison, the combined value of Elvis and Marilyn was estimated at $151m. And I don’t need to tell you their surnames.
Internet shopping. Bloody brilliant. The answer to a modern man’s dreams. Everything I could want at my fingertips. No other shoppers to deal with. No annoying sales assistant bugging me. No bags to carry around. No problems. Bliss.
But as I cruised ASOS looking at jackets, jumpers, socks… (anything really, it’s my birthday this month) my girlfriend walked in. There’s a white T-shirt from Uniforms For The Dedicated on screen.
I rolled my eyes: she doesn’t understand. I tried explaining it to her but she just walked off while I was in mid sentence. I bought the T-shirt. Now I’ve made it my mission to clarify to my girlfriend exactly why, so she needn’t look at me with disgust every time I wear it.
In the simplest terms, I am a brand whore. If I wasn’t, I couldn’t do my job. Premiumness is the word-de-jour in the branding world. “How can we justify to people that they have to pay more for our stuff?” Here are my three theories about what makes premium, and what it means to people:
[WARNING: sweeping statements and massive generalisations will, more than likely, be made.]
1) The rules of credibility theory
Brands in the premium landscape can appear in many different, equally credible, ways. Credibility, in this scenario, is relatively dependent on the economic situation of a person’s environment.
For example, in developing nations a visual statement of premiumness is key. Brands that show their credentials – like D&G’s large silver plaque-like badges on jeans, or the candy-coloured, instantly-recognisable repeat pattern of Lois Vuitton – are coveted because they are a declaration of wealth, situation, and, in some cases, political preference.
In more developed countries, craft is what people look for; a story behind the brand that consumers can buy into. Brands talk about the way things are made. They tell their story and that is what consumers care about. Whether it’s the way a particular chef’s knife is made (e.g. Global knives, made the old way Samurai used to make their katana swords) or the story behind the Burberry Trench. It’s a chance to wear or use something with meaning; something of importance.
Lastly, we are now seeing a new wave of premium, for the discerning millennial who has turned away from traditional forms and, indeed, the crowd. These brands leave it all up to people to discover them. They are the hidden secrets, occupying the speakeasy mentality. It’s about the secret handshakes, the emblems, the codes. Being in the know. I could name some brands, but that would spoil the whole idea, right?
2) The fixed theory
“Premium is specialist”. Why do we buy into Armani suits for upwards of £1000, but when they make watches with a Rolex or Breitling price-tag, we get all squirmy and feel like they don’t belong? By branching out of their specialism they have, in turn, lessened their premiumness.
We believe that if you do one thing well you can charge a premium for it. If L’Oreal stuck to making hair dye in 1907 and only sold to Parisian hair dressers, would we be paying a premium for their hair dye today? Would we be lusting after L’Oreal like we do over Dom Perignon?
3) The abstract theory
This theory’s a tough one to hear for most marketers, as it essentially takes the power out of their hands, but there is a happy flip side to it. At a recent meeting with Chris Arning from Creative Semiotics he uncovered an insight that struck me as profound:
“Premiumness can only be measured by how long the consideration time is before we actually purchase a product.”
This sliding scale highlights that a £50 white T-shirt (just off the top of my head) could be a really significant purchase for one person, or a completely throw away item for someone else. It scales with individual wealth and individual perspective. The happy flip-side is, no matter what your brand is, there will always be people who consider it a premium product. (Unless you’re Primark. Some elephants are just not meant to fly.)
One thing is clear from all of this: the attitude towards premium is always in flux. Whether it’s your pricing strategy or your brand story, your bling-tastic badges or your on-the-down-low approach, there is a place for all of you; there are tribes for all of you. The one thing you need is an understanding of how people view your brand, how they want to be spoken to and getting them to believe in what you stand for.
One brand does it best. Through the quality; through the timeless design; through a single ethos that has been upheld for generations, flowing through the family-owned company from the top to the bottom. An ethos that resonates with parents all over the world. A unifying point of view that everyone understands and aspires to. It ticks all the above boxes, in every premiumness situation I have mentioned: a badge to show, a story to tell, an art to discover, a specialist, and a life-long consideration time. All summed up in one line:
“You never own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”
I just hope I can now wear my T-shirt in peace.
Question: How did student Tom Hubbard win such a unique and prestigious trophy? A hand-crafted, hand-painted masterpiece, topped with a golden microchip and worthy of any bookcase or designer’s desk?
Answer: Tom simply took part in a boring student brief set by Elmwood.
When deciding on a theme for student competition briefs, it’s easy to think of exciting and cool things to design; from book jackets and CD covers to TV idents and phone apps. But these things are already interesting to start with. So we decided to set students a particularly dull and boring brief. Because interesting ideas often come from uninteresting briefs.
It was simply titled ‘The Boring Brief’ and was set to various Universities this year. Those students who took part were instructed to pick out a ‘boring’ word from a hat and asked to re-brand it. They were judged on giving this dull word a brand that was unexpected, exciting and stood out from the usual designs found in its field.
If you rummaged through any designer’s bucket list, it would be rare to find any of these words in it. Words such as dry cleaners, Internet security company, removal hire, toaster or window blinds. But there lay the challenge, and most importantly the opportunity to rethink the product or service, rebranding it with a unique and memorable solution.
Students were asked to think about what the brand would be called and how it would look. What would its tone of voice be? How would the new brand live? What point of difference would it have?
The shortlisted students came back to Elmwood to present on their ideas, and Tom Hubbard, from Leeds University, became the overall winner for rebranding a microchip manufacturer.
Tom based his idea on two key insights:
1. Microchip manufacturers are constantly striving to produce smaller and smaller microchips that are more and more powerful.
2. Microchip manufacturers are usually regarded as corporate and functional organisations.
Tom therefore presented a strategy to create a brand identity that was more light-hearted and approachable, using a friendly tone of voice. All themed around his big concept: ‘Tiny but Mighty’.
Tom created the brand ‘Itsybitsy’, a name that combines both tiny and technology, with ‘bits’ relating to the binary digits used in key components on microchips.
The brand toolkit included a large speech bubble that gave the tiny microchip its mighty, but friendly voice. The content of the speech bubble translated the complex language of the industry into something digestible, light-hearted and easy to understand.
With this, and the help of the colour palette and rounded typography, ‘Itsybitsy’ turned a microchip manufacturer – usually regarded as cold, informal and technical – into something engaging, warm and single-minded. Itsybitsy is the tiny microchip manufacturer with a mighty output.
After an articulate and insightful presentation, Tom Hubbard became the winner of the first ever Elmwood student brief trophy, tailor-made to suit his solution with the golden microchip. Most importantly, Tom takes home the title of ‘The Boring Brief Champion 2013’. Something he can proudly tell his grandchildren all about in years to come.