Diego kolsky


Design identity in the 21st century

More and more brands need to create and own a singular language that stretches far into content, form and experience. However, the traditional approach to creating an identity is shaped by legacy notions of image and identity. Brands still need names and iconography, but the focus on ensuring application consistency needs to be replaced with a drive to integrate visual, form, content and experience into an expansive universe of touchpoints.

When asked about brand leadership, many point at Apple. While the company puts out some incredibly beautiful work, their approach is built on containing (through minimalism and discipline) rather than expanding their identity. Adidas, a company credited with advancing the shoe category, offers a much more novel approach, centered on much more flexible principles:

Origin: Signal provenance.

The more complex the set of identity elements, the more rules are needed to guide their use. Adidas uses one wordmark, two icons and the three stripes to signal origin across a massive universe of content activations, products and stores. Under this principle, the usage guide would be a liberating few pages long!

Fluidity: Relevant, contemporary executions that seek fresh engagement.  

The 21st century is anything but static. A brand should be able to stay fresh and relevant, without fear of compromising its core codes. Open creative briefs fuel creative passion.

Ingenuity: New thinking across disciplines and media.

Each activation brings a new opportunity to expand the brand language. Activation in collaborations and through partnerships applies new logic to the brand codes, across disciplines and into new contexts.

Does this mean that ‘systems design’ is over? Over the past two decades, as manufacturing and media became simpler and more available, brands grew more and more aggressively in a diversity of contexts. We can’t expect a single, centralized system to ably perform against such a diversity of goals and requirements. Perhaps we, designers, should embrace flexibility as a principle against this decentralization.


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