No Comments

Fear Itself: A Little Change Will Do You Good

Written by in Events


(By Ryan Fitzgibbon) Fear is not new.  Leaving the comfort of theoretical projects and the classroom is scary. Crossing the country to pursue your dream is terrifying. Getting “critiqued” in front of an auditorium full of designers…is, well, something I never want to do again. And here was fear again, a recurring theme I noticed at the Brand New Conference in New York City, November 5.

The Brand New Conference was organized by the dynamic duo of Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio of Austin, Texas.  If you saw a Tweet with the tag #bnconf, then you’re aware this one-day conference was far from a failure. SVA Theater was packed.  Unusual brand development techniques and processes were shared. New corporate identities were revealed. Old friends came together and new friendships were made. Attendees left less fearful, emboldened to tackle new challenges and take more risks.  Here is a quick run-down of the highlights:

Michael Johnson of London-based Johnson Banks started with “Things I’ve Learned So Far,” touching on herd-culture with examples of cross-industry logo trends that mimic one another and leave audiences nodding along. Johnson said the tendency to follow trends is really a fear of being different. “Be brave,” he implored, “Don’t complain about constraints. Embrace them.”

Next came Michael Lejeune, creative director of the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, tasked with convincing Los Angelinos to leave their cars at home and take public transportation. Even more daunting was an infographic Lejeune shared of national funding of public transportation measured against population: LA was at the bottom. But, that doesn’t stop this man: ambition and energy have led to a beautiful system with ridership and awareness on the rise.

Some advice: if you’re planning an event for visual designers, stage it with Paula Scher and Michael Bierut. You’re sure to sell out. These two always win audiences with their approachability, charisma and honesty. Paula put us on our heels with this sendoff: “You can fake your way through almost everything. Fake it three times and you’re an expert.” Next, “Being scared is good. Good work is easier if you’re a neophyte.” Beirut revealed that even august Pentagram has its doubters: “It never gets easy. Designing and selling a brand is like convincing someone to wear clothes that they didn’t choose themselves.” Of Pentagram he reveals, “We’re not big on purpose. Our only business strategy [for growth] is that new people will define our future.”

Christian Helms, owner and Creative Director of Austin’s The Decoder Ring Design Concern, was a nice pairing with the main course that preceded him. He delighted by stating modestly that his presentation would be “much smaller scale, but even the small projects can be big and interesting.” The former Pentagram intern has arrived with the confidence to be able to do work he loves. “If there’s something you really want to do, life’s too short not to. Don’t be afraid to jump into something you know nothing about…Promise big and work hard to deliver on that promise.” Brilliant advice.

Traveling all the way from Rotterdam, Netherlands, Tom Dorrensteijn of Studio Dumbar began with an image from conceptual artist Jenny Holzer’s Protect Me From What I Want. Tom told us that we often protect clients what they “want” by stimulating their minds and helping them reframe their thinking. Branding, he says, means “going for the heart, not going for the brains.”

Connie Birdsall, Senior Partner at Lippincott disclosed her fear of public speaking upon arrival at the podium. Her experience and expertise quickly calmed that nerve as she presented slide after slide of solid brand work, proving that Lippincott really understands what’s involved in creating solid brand equity. “It’s not just about logos and awareness,” Birdsall claimed. “It’s about creating advocates.”

Organizer and host Armin Vit led a lively discussion with Wolff Olins Creative Director, Jordan Crane and CEO Karl Heiselman, preferring dialog over a slide show of work we’re all familiar with. Wolff Olins delivers work that raises questions. Said Heiselman, “You’re probably not doing the best work of your life if everyone is ‘OK’ with it.” Moreover, “if you’re not getting noticed, your clients aren’t either and everyone loses.” Wolf Olins is getting noticed. And as a culture, Heiselman says they are committed to mentoring and developing the young talent creating the work:  “You can’t order people to do great things — you have to provide the conditions, inspire them, understand them…People come to work already motivated. Our job is to not un-motivate them.”

Finally, and quite possibly the most entertaining way to wrap the day, Mr. Erik Spiekermann. For someone whose native language is German, Erik has one English word down pat: “We don’t do free pitches cause clients don’t know what the (eff) they want… They want us to design a brand so they can sell their (sh**) for more money… Brand is just a typeface, it’s all you (effing) need… To the young and hopeful, be prepared to do some un-fun stuff.”

Thanks to Armin and Bryony and their team of organizers and sponsors, the Brand New Conference provided true, unique insights.

Do work that’s unexpected.

Do work that you want to do.

Do work that scares you.

Fail in order to succeed.

This advice showcases the value of recognizing fear as a method for discovering great potential in our work. And the confidence to try something Brand New.

Ryan Fitzgibbon

Ryan Fitzgibbon is a Communication Designer at the global design consultancy, IDEO and Communications Co-Chair for AIGA San Francisco. Follow him @ryanfitzgibbon