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The Newsletter | Edition 040
Progress Report is dedicated to providing inspiration for action. And so, we want to try something new on for size. You know, more action.

This weekly newsletter explores practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. And we’ll continue to do that. But in this special series, The State Of, we’ll touch on something a little different—the work that comes after, in the places where we’re seeing new types of progress in action. From brand strategy to design, internet trends to sustainability, music to science, beauty to travel, and more.

What is this thing we call branding? For branding professionals, it’s all about making companies and products attractive to consumers; making the abstract concrete, the unruly understandable, and the forgotten forefront by assigning them unique attributes and corresponding visual iconography. All for the sake of defining brands in perpetuity, and a higher belief that if we create things of meaning and importance they will last forever. But is this promise of permanence even possible? Is it a good thing? Do we need to rebrand branding?


In this online commemoration vault of old brand logos, it’s easy to reminisce over the warmly nostalgic logos of our past. They become familiar parts of our day-to-day lives through the products we use and the experiences we have, and then one day they’re gone, replaced by modern, trendier updates.


Nothing is forever. And when that reality comes to pass, things like logo updates, and bigger brand identity shifts, are often done for the wrong reasons.

It’s important to remember that brands can and should evolve, just as individuals and culture do. We see this in the coming and going of logos, and yet, the practice of assigning and creating an identity for brands is still often seen as something of permanence. To that end, when steps are taken to reinvent a brand’s identity, that original notion of permanence makes many updates feel wrong, flat, boring, or worse, useless.

I've spent the majority of my career defining brands. Populating dashboards. Assigning brands human characteristics, DNA, personality, values, etc…You—the greater you—begin to form relationships with these identities, assigning meaning, building relationships. And so when reinvention happens, it can be painful, both emotionally and financially.

I’ve seen the design work of my heroes retired or reinvented to a much lesser form like the UPS logo originally designed by Paul Rand. Or historic icons disposed of for the uneventful like Yves Saint Laurent by AM Cassandre (although it does live on for the beauty brand...head scratch). Logos like Ubers’ where “whatever” to start with became “should have never been” to “OK, I get it.” There have been reinventions that are throwbacks, like Burger King, that delight. Reinventions that fast-forward, like Pfizer, that fall flat. I have even seen my own work for Kate Spade redesigned for more relevance…the jury is still out.

Ultimately, it comes down to the rusty ideology that brands must be created for relevance in perpetuity, making it harder to be relevant when culture calls for it (and it will). Instead, brands must view all things that a brand does as branding, putting less pressure on the tools surrounding it and more pressure on how we use and imbue them with relevance.

And that means relying on actions, not aesthetics. This is the opportunity.


Rethink your branding practice from
aesthetics to actions.


If your brand identity is an action, the questions you ask evolve from things like “what does it look like” to “how does it act?” or “how will it grow?”

Branding is not about the artifacts we create, but about understanding how these artifacts can be active and responsive to changes in technology and culture-at-large. It’s the products, innovations, communications, experiences and identity that truly expresses the totality of a brand. Our practice shouldn’t have a beginning, middle and end, but be seen as ongoing. And certainly not as a toolbox full of design guidelines. It’s not about the tools, or even the identity itself, it’s about how you use them.

Progress of all forms is about action, reaction, forward momentum, but never permanence. A living, breathing brand should be about those things too. Performance art, not a museum exhibit. But then, maybe we’re biased?

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