Today’s most successful brands spark a change in culture. Patagonia set the early precedent of how apparel can be sustainable. Glossier pushed forward a new, subtle kind of beauty, rooted in how you take care of your skin. Locally, Rags2Riches (and later on, Things That Matter) pioneered what the Filipino social enterprise can be.
At the same time, brands become successful because they are signs of the times. These brands are able to identify a corner of culture that no one else has spoken to, no one else has found solutions for. They resonate with people because they understand their way of life. As such, they are able to connect in a deeper, more meaningful way, beyond what they sell. Inasmuch as culture inevitably and encompassingly influences brands, brands are also able to impact how culture changes and evolves.
What are brands?
Brands help us sift through all the products and services that exist in the world. A good brand is one that makes better experiences for us, no matter how small. A brand’s identity isn’t just made up of a logo, but rather is how brands make who they are more tangible through how they look, speak and feel.
What is culture?
Culture is actually pretty difficult to define. Our grade school teachers probably said that culture is a way of life, shared by a certain group of people. Culture can be bound by geography, but can also easily be bound by values. In the language of the internet, woke culture and call out cultures are just some examples.
Knowing this, how then should brands be made? How must brands be designed? As designers and brand builders, we shouldn’t just make brands that resonate culturally. We should also design them responsibly. And to design with responsibility, intention, and empathy means that we must look deeply into what matters today and into what will matter tomorrow.
Inasmuch as culture inevitably and encompassingly influences brands, brands are also able to impact how culture changes and evolves.
Newsflash: Consumers are people, too
At the center of everything is people—what they want, what they need and most crucially, what they demand. No matter the industry, consumers today expect brands to do better and be better than the world that surrounds them. In a world overwhelmed by its own climate, sustainability is increasingly becoming a non-negotiable. In a world finally waking up to the true identity of its people, lines are blurring to no longer be binary. It is through this that it becomes clear that consumers aren’t just consumers. They are living, breathing people who hold values that define how they live. Today, they have raised the standard for what it means to consume. They no longer want brands that only see them for what they can buy. Truthfully, we should have never looked at them so narrowly. Finally, they are demanding brands to speak to the essence of who they are and to share with them a vision of what the world could be.
No matter the industry, consumers today expect brands to do better and be better than the world that surrounds them.
The Role of Design
The best part is that branding and design have active hands in all of this. As brand-builders, designers, creatives, we don’t have to wait for someone else to make what we want and need. We don’t have to wait for anyone else to design a better world. And so with everything we do, we must ask: What kind of culture do we want to build? What are we saying with what we make? What identities and ways of being are we promoting in what we do? What can we make better today? What future do we want to design? We have the power to shift cultures and design futures.
For ages, design was not separate from life (Bruno Munari and his book, Design as Art) and design was always the most meaningful when it originated from people and our shared, common humanity (Kenya Hara and his book, Designing Design). Why should it change now? We have the tools. We have the know-how. All we have to do is begin.