We Are The Gods of Small Things

by Hamish Campbell, Pearlfisher

We all want recognition for the next big brand idea, kudos for the next prestigious award – we’re lying if we say we don’t. There’s no feeling like that accolade and recognition from both peers and clients. But I think as an industry we often forget that the biggest and most significant pat on the back for a design agency comes from the invisible triumphs. 

Great brand design feels inherent to the brand itself, as though the new design has always been, and always will be. A vast majority of the day-to-day design work we do is the rebrand, the redesign and the refresh. Call it what you will - the best agencies are able to create seamless design for brands, so true to the heart of their clients that consumers may notice it, but will forget in an instant that there was any other way for it to be. 

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We recently redesigned the packaging and architecture for Starbucks packaged coffee. We often show this work as an example of the type of work that we do, and the most common reaction to this work is: nothing. And why is that? Because they’re unsure what we did design-wise for this brand. It is only when we flip to the ‘before’ image of Starbucks’ previous packs that they remember that the design that they associate with Starbucks packaged coffee has not always been. The new design has actually been out for less than a year. And, it’s a hugely positive sign that people are forgetting that it didn’t always look the way it does now. 


Yes, we’re proud to have produced a seamless and intuitive design but I haven’t used this project to just massage our egos – it’s just a good example. It’s not about us: Pearlfisher. It’s about us: the entire brand design industry. Ego is detrimental to good design. Our job is to make our clients look good, not to force our views or aesthetics on brands, but rather to build relationships with incredible companies who are doing visionary things and help them bring their brand to life in ways that create meaningful change. 


Brands can’t sit still. And they can’t be scared of change. Change is good. But it’s also about recognizing the opportunity for change and not just changing for the sake of changing. Design is commissioned to create the right kind of change and to help successfully and creatively develop a brand. Before making any changes brands should ask: What makes us iconic? What can remain the same and what can be reinterpreted? What is the most appropriate way to do this? It's about both preserving and cherishing the right part of the visual brand equity - so that people still know it and love it, regardless. 

Kelloggs is a great example. The design for Kellogs has remained iconic and true to the heart of the brand for years, despite its significant visual evolution. Domino’s, USA Today, and Tazo are three more household names that have changed in the past year. Through good design, they also still feel like the same iconic brands we know and love – and that have been part of our lives forever.

Take a look around. Maybe you’ve seen what we’ve done for brands. Maybe you haven’t, or just don’t know that you have. But, you love those brands – you want those brands. And that is the best kind of recognition we (designers) could wish for.

Hamish Campbell, Creative Director, Pearlfisher, New York