Sunday, October 28, 2007

Design for primal impact

"Moon Mask"
Fredrick Baker, Coastal Salish, First Nations, British Columbia Canada

When one looks at storytelling as a method for persuasion you begin to unravel how successful organizations have captured the imaginations of their intelligent teams, stakeholders and markets.

Storytelling is a primal function and code of communication built into human nature. In our world today a good story can be used to control the masses, build a community or create a cult. The story gets read, offers an experience in turn creates action.

The successful story has five elements:

1. Passion
2. Hero
3. Antagonist
4. Transformation
5. Awareness

The organization that offers design solutions then has a story to tell.

Design is about passion. A visual word mark symbol or logo can effectively develop into iconic proportions. A careful combination of strategic brand planning that extends and integrates with powerful visual elements is proven to drive competitive advantage. The challenge for the organization is to inject the proper amount of business acumen, storytelling and design brilliance into the identity development to ensure the launch will sustain and gain momentum.

A good designer knows about primal response. Paul Rand's legacy is about an individual who within his design career made a seminal contribution to Corporate America's design movement his passion for storytelling and scripting of rationale for corporate identities is the stuff of legends.

His book A designers Art is an excellent primer for anyone inclined to develop a vocabulary around design. Paul Rand designed many of the great corporate identity systems of the 20th century his book has enshrined for readers the logic applied to these corporate brand systems.

Much of what he defines of course is universally practiced today.

One of the examples he touches on in the book is the metaphor of the mask. He refers to a Aboriginal Corn Mask. The mask through the ages has been a spiritual element used as a powerful visual communications device. The mask was used and integrated into a variety of ceremonial events, medicinal cure's or shaman chants. The mask was always present to followers and owned space in their memories either for better or worse.

Within the ceremony the mask charged passions about specific rituals and effectively convinced followers that some extraordinary paradigm would unfold and impact on their lives. (Politicians today attempt this stuff)

Paul Rand draws very profound analysis between the mask used during primitive times and corporate identities that are ubiquitous today. We can presuppose the theater experience and tribal drama associated with how the mask was central to driving emotions and ensuring memorable events. The mask is known as a powerful element for transformation and community building. Organizations today use powerful visual metaphors and effectively brand themselves. They create and build large community followings.

Rand explains visual logic for example primal elements including the circle, the cross, stripes, human elements in the form of caricature. He touches on the human interest in puzzles and problem solving. Colour application and humor is also reviewed from the perspective of design.

Storytelling is central to strong brand. Identifying what you have within your organizations offering that generates primal response is an effective starting place toward brand leadership.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Experience Cree Community

Photography: Fred Cattroll Lac Mistissini Quebec, Canada

Looking up at the sky on an island in the middle of a lake. The lake is enormous. No urban elements in sight. One exception transatlantic jet planes soaring along in the foreground still extremely distant but lower then satellites and not audible above nature sounds close to the lake. No single man made property or flicker of light on the horizon. Distance here is visually hard to predict especially after dark but the lake is known to be 200 hundred miles long and at least fifty miles wide. The island in the middle where I happen to be at the waters edge is like a continent dividing this magnificent lake. The sky here at night is a beautiful experience. You see the northern lights and hear the ripple on the shoreline with a smooth spiritual beat of wind pushing the water up against the rock edge. The rock is worn from the effects of the water. The rock at the waters edge has been painted by years of natural elements edging a texture layering abstract forms. Bursting out of the rock seams evergreen trees hold their perch they appear to be new growth their small size disguises their age. These are small trees growing slowly next to the lake emerging out of the seam a century ago.

The rock is sandwiched by water and moss, constant water that endlessly themes a magic song that cannot be authentically reproduced by artificial device. Beyond the rocky waters edge a wonderful spongy surface emerges and spreads back into the old growth forest away from the rock. This base of growth is very thick it transforms the hard rock surface and carpets the forest.

Trying to describe the experience on Lac Mistissini is a kind of folly. Like the sound water makes lapping on the shore. This place can’t be described by words it is truly a utopia that must be lived and experienced to understand and then you can only begin to appreciate.

The people who make this part of the country their home, have invited me out onto the lake. The opportunity to come here has been extended to me by my clients and friends the James Bay Cree.

When we think about brand and corporate identity we look at capitalistic model organizations that are market driven. The language we use to define the essence of the brand should have a glossary to support everyone’s collective understanding.

The Cree of course have their own language and syllabic forms for writing, these special brand elements are important components of the unique world of the James Bay Cree community.

The experience during the last twenty years engaged in communications with the Cree has been about working closely with the client and being witness to their leadership in the development of a world-class identity. I have difficulty using brand lexicon to describe the Cree Nation. But it is true the Cree have succeeded not without major challenges, today they face their share of issues like any modern society. Their identity is known nationally and internationally based on their successful brand of leadership.

Influential people who form part of the Cree Leadership have engaged us. Based on this we have benefited and collaborated meeting Trappers, Chiefs, Guides, Elders, Teachers and many others too many people to mention. All of this has provided us an appreciation for the traditions and culture that is evident within the James Bay Cree.

The Cree leadership has fought exhaustive battles asserting their rights and defending themselves against governments insistent on extracting resources and exploiting what has been time immemorial Cree.

We are thankful to have had two decades of friendships and relations. We have been witness to many breakthroughs and we’ve learned many life lessons from the James Bay Cree in Northern Quebec. A person whom I hold in extremely high regard and who has co traveled extensively across and up and down this nation on many shooter junkets Fred Cattroll a great photographer (did you get the shot Fred?) and friend introduced me to the Cree Naskapi Commission in 1988.

From that first introduction the experience is unfolding.

Thanks Fred!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Brand Canada

Vancouver, False Creek for Bentall Investment Management LP. Photography: William P. Mcelligott

Brand today is a core practice in business and organizational strategy. Leading organizations and countries today have leveraged the power of brand.

Our focus has been design engagements for private and public accounts including national campaigns for the federal government. In Canada of course we design in English and French. Typical opportunities have far reaching distribution to all of the provinces and territories as well beyond Canada to other countries. Design for the federal government must include a number of prescriptive elements. Design must be inclusive representative and accessible. It must include the long standing Federal Identity Program design standards.

Some Federal organizations have unique style guides for their communications. This brings two prescriptive layers
FIP and agency look and feel. Within these frameworks room for design exists and the nature of the work can be quite exciting to manage and create.

One example of the many projects we have delivered was the Leadership Network business. This was a project that profiled federal employees across Canada. This product at the time was a brand-building tool for the government. The work had us meeting, interviewing and photographing people across this vast country. Coast to coast and in the North. We in turn published their profiles. The purpose of the magazine and online interface was essentially to provide an access guide that would define the heroics and leadership that exists within the nation's government. We're proud to be associated with the initiative and integral to bringing the product to its target audiences. This was an intelligent and thoughtful piece of work. The product served as a fabulous human resource tool that recognized individual contribution and demonstrated pride in the workplace. The designed information was useful for the countries internal brand building celebrating the success of a cross section of leaders. It was also a snapshot for external audiences profiling the diverse range of opportunities that exist working within the nation’s government. Prior to this engagement I had a limited understanding of the depth, range and presence of the federal governments operations nationally. This project like so many opportunities we have experienced was an eye opener. Our client engaged us to meet the wonderful people who play a vital role contributing towards making Canada an awesome place.

I believe a clear opportunity exists to form a design/brand centric office within the Federal organization. In Canada this would serve to celebrate innovation in the country as well take charge of our national brand. Not a small order yet it needs serious focus. We unfortunately have been trumped by countries who have far fewer attributes to offer yet are exerting their powerful identity frameworks and brand building strategies on both domestic and foreign audiences in turn driving their economies. The challenge in large organization is that disparate entities lack cohesian and brand management. Looking at the landscape internationally countries have aligned themselves around brand and now see the benefits of this focus and strategy. Canada has so much to celebrate that’s intrinsic to the Canadian identity we must assert what we’re doing on the international stage regarding our brand. Canada needs to join the ranks of other countries who have made important steps implementing programs and making investment in brand leadership.

Monocle this month has published relevant editorial on nation branding.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Interior view Reception floor of gordongroup
Internationally acclaimed Architectural Photographer: William P McElligott.

Furniture & glass partitions
supplied by: Teknion