We Went to the Brand New Conference

Will Coffman, Chris Jackson, Adam Kuhn: the Dream Team. Three brave Bullhorn-ers travelled to New York last week for the Brand New Conference. Here are their impressions and analyses of their experience.

brand new conference recap new york city skyline

From Adam –

Chris and I arrive early and sit on the steps of the venue in TriBeCa. While waiting for Will, I begin watching people wander up and down the sidewalk. Individuals keep walking past us. Some towards the conference. Some towards the community college. A hat. Maybe shoe choice. Maybe it’s the look of excitement versus dismay. It’s obvious who’s here for the conference.

Will arrives and we settle in for Day 1. Jonathan Hoefler kicks off the show with his rules for choosing a great brand font. My favorite is: Demystify things, explain how fonts work.

Later Airbnb’s Head of Brand Creative walked us through the process and the attention to detail his team took to create an identity for a community of users, not just a business.

If you’ve seen the trademarks of Mobil Oil, Chase Bank National Geographic, Showtime, PBS, NBC you’ve seen the timeless work of the next speakers, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

Afterwards Paula Scher of Pentagram took the stage, bantering with the crowd over the lukewarm receptions her work routinely receives in Brand New’s comment section. Speaking to all designers, her parting words were powerful, “We are one profession and the whole goal is to make things better. We can’t do that by attacking each other.” It’s impossible to judge a logo on day one. You have see how it lives in the world.

Day 2 began with Johnny Earle, aka “Cupcakes” imparting the crowd with his gutsy entrepreneurial wisdom. Etsy’s Global Creative Director Julia Hoffman discusses the challenges of designing for a global brand across all consumer touch-points.

When discussing the design philosophy of Ammunition, Brett Wickens tells the crowd “Design is not an event.” It’s not something that can be tacked on at the end of a project. It’s integral for successful modern products that design thinking be at the core of all the decisions made.

As screens become more prevalent, animation will become a vital role in the way brands must live. Gretel’s Greg and Ryan made this quite obvious as they showcased some incredible moving identities for Netflix, IFC, and Centric.

As the conference began to wind down, Emily Oberman and Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich added a dash of humor. Emily sharing her years of design work for Saturday Night Live and Roberto with his unscientific connection between hairstyles and typography. Absolutely hilarious.

The last few days in New York were quite inspiring. Absorbing knowledge and one-liners from some of today’s most influential practitioners. All finding ways to be unique. To be bold. To be honest. And above all: Do great work.

A big thank you to Armin and Bryony.

brand new conference recap our airbnb room

From Chris –

If you’re the type to ignore a blog’s comment section, you likely don’t understand the voice of the masses. If Dribble exists as a love fest full of spec work, seemingly devoid of critique and meaningful discussion, then Brand New falls towards the other end of the spectrum. Whether by format or the community such a site attracts, there is a self-entitled / “expert” behavior that simmers below, occasionally bubbling up.

Those moments surfaced during the BN2015 conference. And while it was delivered with humor, there was a repeated request for pause. So for me Brand New 2015 was an opportunity to see great new work, hear commentary on classic and recent offerings and ultimately rethink the way I engage my own practice. And while I disagree with a number of the choices and outcomes made by the individuals that spoke at BN2015, I have immense respect for their continued willingness to make great work, with the continued possibility of failure always looming.

So for now, let’s take a breathe, pause a moment, and carefully consider the circumstances of the work as it’s presented.

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From Will –

As my first non-Bullhorn branding experience, the conference was eye-opening for me and I was struck by so many things. First, all of the presenters’ commitment to their craft, their process, and their belief in what they are doing. Every presenter or office or firm had a different mantra (or mantras). The thread common to them all was communication. Through brand design, we communicate what our clients want to be communicated.

Another thing that caught my attention was the commitment, above all else, to the creative process. This may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me until last week. Brand design, when done properly, creates a natural tension between the client and designer. By letting the creative process work fully, this tension is smoothed over time, resulting in a mark or designs or concepts that reveal a collaboration between designer and client.

The last thing I noticed was the fun of it all. Iterations on iterations aren’t fun. Long-running research and strategy sessions can be tedious. But, coming up with a design that is fully evocative of research and the collaborative creative process, no matter how long it takes, seems so rewarding. There are no barriers to creativity. Ours is an industry fully embracing that reality with reckless abandon. When all those thing work well together, the results are pretty dang awesome.

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