2022 Brand New Conference in Austin by the Numbers:
20+ speakers from across the spectrum of the branding world (including 1 entrepreneur)
14+ hours of presentations and conversations
2 Telegraph ACDs (Kyle DeMarco and Nolen Strals) in the audience
Countless insights and inspiring moments
2 trips to Ramen Tatsu-Ya (with 3 orders of Karaage)
3 Top Takeaways from Kyle & Nolen (below)
Since 2006, Brand New has been the source for news and insightful reviews of the latest and greatest in branding. They highlight tiny studios and globe-spanning agencies doing work for clients whose audiences number from a few hundred to a few billion. The Brand New Conference began a few years later, gathering the people whose work they spotlight into one room as both presenters and audience.
We were thrilled to attend this year’s conference to hear industry stars and up-and-comers speak not only about their work, but also about the foundational ideas that drive them, their visions of the future, and their ideas about how the industry is and needs to be evolving.
From the jump, Alex Center charged the air with a special energy as he shared his eponymous studio’s quietly-iconic work and heavily-photographed manifesto. We each filled large chunks of our sketchbooks, jotting down some of our favorite ideas from Center and all others who presented at the conference. We distilled our notes here to share each of our top three takeaways.
- People First. People Second. Work Third.This idea was a common note several speakers hit during their presentations. It’s the people we work with both inside and outside of the office that have a profound impact on our work and are often more important than our work itself and how we make money. The first speaker of the conference, Alex Center of CENTER in Brooklyn, New York, stressed this idea throughout his presentation as he talked about who he worked with during each of the projects, the client relationships that formed out of them, and how they contributed to the success of the project. Today, it’s not about being the best, working the hardest, or getting to be a part of the most exciting projects. It’s about finding the right people to work with, grow with, and learn from. The best talent puts other people first, doesn’t compare themselves to others, and knows branding is a team sport. Because brands live in people, not guidelines.
- Starting at the EndWhat if brands had a life? If a brand had a life, would it matter? What would it leave behind? These are questions asked by Nermin Moufti of Field of Practice. Moufti took time during her presentation to show how a series of life-changing events helped her move forward, work with grief, and examine the design process. Moufti embraced the idea of knowing all things must come to an end and created what she referred to as “Design Obituaries.” These “obituaries” served as a creative brief for her projects so that everything creative ladders up to that idea. By starting at the end and thinking about the legacy we want brands to leave behind, designers are able to be more thoughtful about the life they bring to the brand and cultivate the impact they have on the world.
- Don’t Just “Be Yourself”In an agency setting, it’s no secret that designers wear many hats. We are designers, strategists, coders, etc. But more than that, we are hairdressers, questionable friends, and TV show hosts, to name a few. This is an idea that Flora Chan of RedScout explored during her presentation. In order to really understand and build trust with a client, there is an element of roleplaying to design. There are times when you have to be a hairdresser and sit down with a client, get intimate, have tough conversations, and learn what truly moves them. Other times, you have to be a TV show host to get people outside of the field of design to be excited about design. And then, there are times when you have to be a janitor and clean up a mess. Whatever role we find ourselves playing, we must be prepared to fully embrace and adapt to it to be successful for ourselves and our clients.
- Design for the audience, not for the client. This one seems obvious, but designing for a client’s tastes rather than their audience’s needs is an all-too-common pitfall in branding. Both emerging and well-established speakers spoke to their own strategies for how to avoid falling into this trap. The success of their audience-centered efforts shone in projects from global food giants to regional advocacy publications. The rightness of this approach was also clear because, well, the people designing this way were the ones invited to speak to over 1,000 of their industry peers.
- Tear down the silos!
No one said that exactly. But the work they showed revealed that the teams responsible are constantly blurring the lines between their internal departments and even in their relationships with vendors. FӦDA’s Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna described talking on site with the general contractor of a restaurant project. Rather than saying, “We want to do this here,” her team asked, “What is plausible here?” This type of thoughtful, realigned approach led to a James Beard Award as one of the three best designed restaurants in the country
- How you run your company shows up in the work.In-House International spoke about how every small decision they make impacts their client’s experience of working with them. Jesse Reed showed us how Order’s values became their work process. Abdul Wahid Ovaice and Erwin Hines spoke to the necessity of opening doors to and truly supporting and valuing employees who don’t fit the expected mold. And Paul Worthington reminded us that to get clients to do something brave they first have to trust us—which dovetailed nicely with Alex Center saying that the best work results from a feeling of partnership from inside and outside the agency.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of ideas that we carried with us from Austin back home to Birmingham. Big ideas and in-depth work were the rule of the day, and we look forward to bringing the energy and inspiration from the conference into Telegraph’s work and relationships with our team and our clients.