Innovation, fashion, design and philosophy from around the world
IDEO just completed 24 hours of prototyping in public from Tokyo to San Francisco. We’ve effectively pulled a global all-nighter. It’s left me with the hollow feeling one has after last call, followed by the rush of adrenaline to press on and watch the sunrise. Paul’s initial comments were right. It is terrifying to be vulnerable in such a way. Would we have interesting ideas or fall flat under pressure? Would we come across as curious or as self-important? Would the technology work?
Handwringing be damned. The Global Make-a-Thon turned out to be a delightful exploration of personality and meaning. It affirmed our roots in a graphic identity that celebrates personal, community, and collective expression. It taught us about ourselves, what we value, and what we should do next.
Immediately after the Make-a-Thon, a group of 20 designers* from around the globe convened in San Francisco to discuss the concepts on the “UnThemes.” The designs are rendered at every degree of fidelity and run the gamut from advanced to bizarre, from systems to illustrations. As we waded through the ideas together, patterns emerged.
First, we LOVE the squares. Nearly every idea submitted used them and with varied expression. The squares became windows to the world, small frames highlighting details, building blocks, sculptural cubes, stamps, video game sprites, and even architecture. These expressions feel like an inevitable build. Rand designed our first logo as a combinatorial geometric frieze of squares. Bierut refined this into a flexible graphic system of marks, typography, and color. Now through this experiment we are seeing hints of our next major evolution: a living platform that is adaptable, reconfigurable, locally nuanced, and contextually aware.
This is most clear when looking at the designs from each studio. The character of the designers and the context of each culture shine brightly. Look at the paper screens from Tokyo, the personal portraits from Mumbai, the experimentation in Boston, or the symbolism from New York. Each of us feels this identity is ours and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a simple design that becomes a vessel to fill. Even more interesting, it is expression that invites questions and builds rapport. This was a shift we were seeking from the outset. We want to move from an emphasis on declarative expression to a more inclusive identity, to create a bridge between us and our collaborators.
This concept of adaptability isn’t without questions, and as a group two major concerns bubbled up. First is the question of what informs the reconfigurable nature of our system. Historically this has been done by hand, but in the digital age, the connection to big data seems obvious. In fact, there were quite a few concepts that were data-driven or even data-configured. However, data can feel particularly inhuman, and human experience is one of our core values. So what kind of data is human data? What is interesting, reveals human insights, or teaches us about ourselves? And if it’s data-driven, how do we add noise to the machine to prevent sterile representations of a colorful community? How do we design for “aftermarket effects” and the certain tinkering that will ensue?
A second related but bigger question: In a living system, as we move toward behaviors and away from rules, how might we teach one another what good looks like? We’re a bunch of rule-breakers—the “standards manual” model just doesn’t work for us. Does a living platform need a living guide to help teach the model? What kind of feedback loops can we use in our culture to ensure a high quality communication? Are good examples enough?
So, how are we moving forward? First, we will refine the principles of this living platform. Then, we will write a brief to apply the principles to modes of experience. We can’t predict what pursuits we will create in the future, but we can say with certainty that engagements such as invitation, provocation, introduction, learning and listening will continue to be paramount to our business. To expedite this process, a small team will be curating these designs via commissions to communication designers across IDEO. In the end, we hope to have a stronger story of how we want “to be” in the world, shared principles, basic building blocks for expression (maybe this is a digital tool), great examples of application, and an open platform to build upon.
We hope this experiment has broadened the popular understanding of brand identity and brand experience. While we’ve focused on the logo system in this blog series, we hope it has been evident that there is so much more at play. Yes, we will develop important artifacts, assets, tools, guides and behaviors in the coming months. However, they are most important in service of a consistent, multi-dimensional dialogue between us and our clients. Given the changing nature of the world and the dynamism of our own business, they will necessarily evolve to a fourth, fifth or even sixth iteration. Remaining self-aware is key to our relevance. Focusing on shared experience is how we will adapt and continue.
Finally, what we’re learning and sharing—not just about us, but about business in the 21st century—is that there is a design opportunity in being a global entity that is genuinely sensitive to the cultural nuances of each location. This understanding can’t authentically come from a top down management strategy. We are living in an unprecedented time of connectivity, and therefore an unprecedented era of human relationships. Becoming aware of these cultural nuances will make all of us stronger collaborators as we tackle bigger systemic challenges. By using the vehicle of our graphic identity we have deepened our own conversations—and hopefully yours as well.