At HOW Design Live, Get in the Ring with Brand Heavyweights Wally Olins and Debbie Millman

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As part of the lead-up to the HOW Design Live conference, held this June in Boston, Imprint will be offering sneak peeks of some of the talks as well as combing through our archives for perspectives on the speakers.

On the Friday afternoon of the conference, Print contributing editor Debbie Millman will be interviewing the veteran brand strategist Wally Olins, who cofounded Wolff Olins in 1965. It promises to be a lively dialogue between two industry leaders with strong opinions on branding and design. Millman, president of design at Sterling Brands, interviewed Olins, now chairman of Saffron Brand Consultants, for her book Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, released last year.

Millman's Brand Thinking featured the author's first interview with Wally Olins.

In the Q&A, Olins spoke about everything from the emergence of modern branding to the value of corporate social responsibility. The discussion had great chemistry and yielded some fascinating insights on branding. One exchange from the interview:

Millman: Michael Eisner has said the term “brand” is “overused, sterile, and unimaginative.” Do you agree?Olins: Yes. I think the word “brand” is not just overused, I think it makes the branding process seem cosmetic and superficial. The current usage of the word reduces the complexity and significance of its actual meaning. I am not suggesting that anyone who puts a logo on a Hermes handbag needs an to have an anthropology degree, or needs to be aware that what they are doing has an anthropological dimension, but I believe that the business of branding is much, much more complex, deep-rooted, and fallible than people believe it is. And it is not merely a commercial phenomenon.

Olins is literate, provocative, and articulate, and Millman is a thoughtful and sharp interviewer. Their exchange in the book, if not heated, was certainly charged, and it should be more so at the conference, when the tête-à-tête will be broadcast live for Millman’s radio program, Design Matters. We can’t guarantee fireworks, but we are certainly hoping for them.

The veteran brand consultant Wally Olins

Print contributing editor Debbie Millman