There can be no more passionate advocate for the pursuit, practice and parlance of branding than Debbie Millman. She is the “creative” behind Sterling Brands, the chairperson of SVA’s MPS Branding (which I helped found), the host of “Design Matters,” and the author of a new book on the branding theme, Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits (Allworth Press). Under the passion rubric comes many absolutes. This book does not offer an absolute pro or con. Rather Millman allows different voices who are both accepting and are skeptical of branding to lead their respective charges. I asked Millman to discuss her own p.o.v.:
You title you book Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits. Why is Brand Thinking noble?
I believe that the condition of brands reflects the condition of the culture and therefore—by extension—branding reflects the condition of our species. For me, the noble pursuit is in the examination and investigation of why we brand, and why we are compelled to mark and make things. In many ways, brand thinking is really human thinking. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits isn’t a book about how to brand; rather it presents various voices providing perspectives about why we do the things that we do with brands—whether it be creating, consulting, coveting, trashing or hoarding. This book is for anyone who is interested in why, as humans, we seem to be universally compelled to make, mark, organize and acquire things. Humans have been using a variety of emblems for millennia—religious icons, flags, shields, clothing, cars, etc—to telegraph who we are as a species. I believe that “brand thinking” helps to reveal and make sense of the cultural, economic and spiritual implications of our behavior.
Branding has become such a red-hot practice of late, why is this?
Our world is so saturated with brands, it has become increasingly more difficult to separate ourselves from them. Whether we are talking about branded sneakers, French fries, reality television stars or political campaigns, branding has become one of the most important, ubiquitous, mysterious and least understood shapers of public consciousness today.
What comes after Branding?
Better living through consumption doesn’t stop when you’ve acquired everything you covet. Brands are elusive and they won’t keep you happy for very long. As Dan Pink declares, “The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that human beings metabolize brands very quickly. If a big-screen TV is your symbol of stature and significance, it’s a fool’s game. These kinds of external objects do not provide enduring satisfaction.” In other words, if you try to validate yourself with things, you are never going to be satisfied. He continues, “You are on an endless, addictive treadmill. The brand’s only purpose is to get you on that hedonistic treadmill. It may be good for the business in the short run, but in the long run, you’re doomed.” What comes after branding is the notion that branding is a tool for engagement and expression, not a solution for identity and purpose. For that you likely need a good shrink.
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