The Unsung Hero of Design

Why is the art of brand design the unsung hero of the design world?

We live in a culture that is more creative than ever before. The man on the street is probably more hard-wired into an appreciation of creativity and its power to transform than ever before. Fashion, architecture, product design are not just more accessible but promoted and backed by the powers that be – from the media to the government. But what the man on the street (with a focus on the digital) is maybe not realizing – and what we need to be doing more to promote both within and outside of the industry parameters – is the place that brand design should hold in this roll call as an indisputable driving force in actually shaping our culture and society.

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Powerful brand design expresses big ideas, builds meaningful connections and creates rich associations.  It works both on a conscious and subconscious level, resolving our conflicts and fulfilling our desires.  Over time design (and ultimately brands) becomes part of our culture, shaping the symbolism, language and aesthetic that we identify with and ultimately seek.

In the past century, brands have undeniably become as essential and integrated a part of our lives as (the) spoken or written language. Far more than the simple means by which we choose one product over another, our branded choices have become coded shorthand for who we are and what we stand for. As tools of communication, connection and expression, we all use and benefit from them. And even the more recent unbranded and fictional brand movements are still ironically, underlining a cultural context and significance for brands.

Great design turns brands into more than just products so that they become a celebration of the visual and the aesthetic and revolutionize the look and feel of our personal and collective worlds 


What Andy Warhol did for Campbell’s by giving its humble soup can a ubiquitous, legendary and iconic status has never been challenged or disputed…And Peter Blake’s Green & Black’s mosaic (in 2009) to help launch the brand’s packaging redesign was a definite homage to his predecessor and gave the brand an extra level of meaning by being made into art. Brands such as Absolut, and recently Diet Coke, are masters at finding innovative ways to show that their brand design has transcended into the world of brand art, and this is firmly integrated into their packaging design strategies. 

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11_27_12_google logo variants.jpg

The appreciation of brand design as an art form does need to gather more momentum although hopefully we are now moving towards an exciting tipping point as more brands start to realize the potential. It’s interesting to witness the routes the digital brands - without the ready aesthetic of a tangible brand – are taking. The Google logo variants to celebrate holidays, Birthdays or occasions are much feted, anticipated and beautifully executed. And Google is now diversifying once again – and hitting the headlines - by allowing Connie Zhou to be the first photographer inside their massive data centers. The resulting images turn warehouses full of electronic equipment into stunning graphic photographs depicting a look at the real space and artistic representation of a digital brand.


These projects pay testament to the power of design as a creative, commercial and cultural force to be reckoned with and maybe begs the question, are brand designers as important as artists when it comes to creating relevant aesthetic expressions that represent a cultural sign of our times? And is it now time to view brand design in the same context as modern art – as we do fashion design and architecture? 

We should be championing the power of great brand design – the art of brand design - as a progressive force for change that, as a fundamental part of our society, can and does enrich our wider – and our future – consumer culture.

Jonathan Ford

Creative Partner, Pearlfisher

Jonathan is a designer and co-founder of Pearlfisher, the leading American and UK design agency, with one of the best track records for design and commercial effectiveness for brands.