Pushing boundaries in brand identities

More companies are using animations and interactive elements in their brand designs to engage ever-increasing audiences across the internet, mobile and print media. By Mike Exon

When marketers talk about design, this usually means product packaging or print adverts. But as the world economy exits a recession, businesses are beginning to invest in a new future for brand design, which is as strategic as it is creative.

Brand design is now about creating a mix of initiatives that work together. The most successful examples consider how a brand could be realised in all sorts of inventive ways, using product design, architecture, technology, live events or social media, as much as the obligatory graphic identity.

The most inventive brand design is physical, electronic and graphic all at once. An increasingly sophisticated school of thought is emerging that understands the benefit of incorporating brands into physical objects, screen interfaces, web content, retail and work environments.

Motion identity
Technologies such as the internet and mobile phones mean that brands are now being streamed live to consumers. Even if this is just a logo, it is being broadcast to a wider world. As a result, a handful of brands have begun experimenting with “living” and “multisensory” brand identities that evolve and change on screen.

The basic idea is to animate the visual identity. Using motion graphics, not only can companies create a moving or changing logo optimised for online, mobile or the big screen, but they can make it respond to user activity or fill it with user-generated content such as text messages, tweets or email messages. Not only does this create the visual impression of an animated brand, but the process of involving users builds direct relationships with consumers.

For its latest show at the British Film Institute last month, interactive movie festival Onedotzero did exactly this. It commissioned Wieden & Kennedy’s executive creative director Tony Davidson to create an “augmented reality logo”, which could be filled with streams of text messages and emails. Not only did the brand work on small-scale screens such as mobile phones and computer screens, it was also projected onto a 50-metre screen at London’s South Bank Centre.

With some help from Nokia, visitors could take control of the identity in front of them and move it around, using the new N900 handset as a controller. It formed an interactive, living, motion identity, which has now become the basis for a raft of brand materials in print and online media.

Onedotzero founder Shane Walter says he commissions a new identity for the festival each year to try and push the boundaries of brand design and technology. He’s surprised, he adds, that more marketers haven’t picked up on the opportunities of using motion graphics, particularly as the festival always makes its application software freely available for anyone to borrow and adapt.

Commercially, it’s fair to say that brands have been slow to pick up on these developments. A clutch of brands such as Nokia, Sony and Swisscom have experimented with motion graphics using interactive design agencies such as Tomato and Moving Brands, but the examples are still rather limited. It will take a few more adventurous brand owners to put all this innovation into practice on a grand scale.


Dixon has worked with the drinks brand on a steady stream of pop-up installations during recent design festivals, such as the electric blue Dusk Bar at Somerset House (complete with Tomtini cocktail), and the Bombay Sapphire Stretch in Trafalgar Square, a sculpture made of giant blue elastic bands.

Clearly, brand design has come a long way in the past few years. Despite a recession, it is following consumers into new spaces, conjuring up live productions of branded theatrics to keep them intrigued and learning to have real-time conversations with people using technology. The smart brands will be those that aim to change even more quickly than some of the fluid identities now being seen on screen.

Brand stories

Agency View

Mat Heinl, design director at Moving Brands, which created the multisensorial identity for Swiss telecoms company Swisscom on the internet, over mobile phones and in print.

In order for brands to thrive in a moving world, they must be alive to change, just like the people they want to connect with. We need to develop dynamic and compelling ways to interact with the rapidly evolving forms of connection, communication and commerce we see all around us for brands.

Creating multisensorial identities helps brands get closer to people. The best way to do this is embracing moving, digital, sonic and interactive as well as the more traditional brand platform of printed media.

There are huge opportunities for brand owners to use multisensorial identities, particularly for brands that are digitally advanced. Not every brand in the world will go down this route, but the great thing is you can turn the dial up or down depending on how you want your identity to respond at any time.

The brand can take open-source feeds from the web and use them to change the look and behaviour of the identity. As the feeds fluctuate, the brand responds visually.

Client View

Amanda Jennings, head of brand and marketing at London 2012

The old way of working – getting the agency in for some new guidelines – has become a bit outdated. Now, clients are much better placed to manage their brands themselves and keep them innovative.

For the client, you have all that gold dust already under your roof. Innovative branding projects are more about getting good facilitators to prise it all out of you, or force the debate and get cohesion about what you are trying to do. It’s as much about getting people working together than it is about creating an abstract set of brand guidelines on paper.

A lot of brand stories people used to work up with agencies were flawed – the emphasis was on a 2D brand identity, ‘brand onions’ and brand methodologies. The most innovative projects are about creating a robust brand narrative, and bringing a story and a meaning to absolutely everything you are doing and to all your communications.

Once you have your brand narrative, the important thing is making it work across everything: 2D, 3D, products, online and offline. If it doesn’t work seamlessly, the brand story will be flawed.

Topline trends

  • Innovative brands are combining graphic design, product design, architecture, interior design, installations and brand communications.
  • Brand design is using new technology and social media to develop brands digitally.
  • Some brands are creating moving brand identities, which can be personalised for individual users online.
  • Brands are forming relationships with big-name designers, creating branded pop-up installations, lighting design, furniture and fashion products.
  • Innovation is being inspired by changing customer behaviour rather than client demand.
  • Smart brands are learning to entertain and become the content. Brand owners are acting more like “editors” of information rather than sponsors.


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