Saatchi & Saatchi Design

Brand identity, positioning and design communications.

Identity theft? Protecting our stories in the information age.

Alan Garner spoke at the Oxford Literary festival about the persistence of folk legend as an expression of identity. He referred to the legend of Alderney edge as told by his grandfather. It’s an Arthurian legend that incorporates Iron Age and Saxon information encoded in its DNA. The people around Alderney relate the story, and in doing so they lay claim to their identity and the land.

Alan has deciphered the references to specific places on the edge. They inform archaeological, geological and linguistic features that add up to a clear historical narrative, based on Iron Age boundaries, metal working and ancient belief systems. Stories, for preliterate societies were the means by which information was passed on.

Today we have computers that record our information, but, how much of our identity will remain once we wipe the programmes or trade up to the latest devices? Already the British library is trying to preserve some of our earliest websites, less than 20 years old.

We are also transferring our identity to brands and technology in the way our ancestors did to place. People are already defined by the brands they keep, their social media community, postcode and buying patterns on a loyalty card. But this raises questions of ownership: how this information persists, who owns it and if our identities are defined by other people – research agencies, retailers, media and government? Are they today’s story tellers and how do they describe us?  Could we even become invisible to future generations? Perhaps identity theft comes from those we least suspect.

If we forget our stories, and allow others to define our identity we will be complicit in identity surrender. Make the effort to reflect how you can retain your sense of personal and cultural identity in the information age and create your own stories to offer the future.


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Abbreviated symbology: technology is driving brand evolution.

The digital revolution is crunching brands into smaller spaces. Channel operators, phone applications, favicons and social media slots are driving format and, in the case of iPhone applications, configuring logos into Apple formats. Let’s call this process abbreviated symbology.

Icon evolution

You might have noticed that Logos are being stretched across many formats and have to work harder to stand out. We’ve noticed that technology channels are driving brand identity and accelerating icon evolution.

Small is emerging as a dominant form of brand identity, so getting it right as a Microformat is key – Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook. (Y,T,F) have all effectively abbreviated. In time we believe many brands will inevitably adopt abbreviations as their lead format.

Logo - Favicon - Icon

And the winners are:

The most effective brands distil and shape their online presence using the fundamentals of shape, colour and font into a mnemonic or logotype: see Coca-Cola, Facebook, Yahoo or Nike symbols.

Some, like Greenpeace, Disney and Pizza Hut are chaotic; while others, like McDonalds and Cadbury corporate are more cautious of social media. Either way we are observing technology change the face of brands and rewrite the rules of identity and control.


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It pays to be virtuous in social media

Social media works because people self select what is of interest to them- it’s a system free at the point of use.

Like any activity people are motivated by a few psychological drivers: the need to belong, to be engaged, and the need to grow. We know that people interacting with brands on line do so to fulfill their own needs, rather than the needs of the brand. Brands thinking of using social media should consider what consumers might want from it, and how their brand can adapt to fulfill audience needs.

Like it or not users are beginning to drive brand agendas in social media. Brand positioning and responses therefore ought to be robust enough to accommodate digital turbulence. If you are prepared to let the outside in, be generous, virtuous and interesting and willing to interact with people on their terms, you’ll get the benefit. On the other, it’s not hard to identify sectors and organisations struggling in this new landscape, but at stake are reputations that can be made or lost. For once, it pays to be virtuous and empathetic.

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Highlights from Future of Web Design London 2009

Recently I attended the Future of Web Design London 2009 conference. It was a great chance to look at both the technical, and creative sides of digital design. Event hosts, Carsonified have posted video of the sessions from the conference, and here a few of the highlights:

  • Meagan Fisher’s talk on Designing Effective Mobile Interfaces
    The mobile web is growing fast. The way web content is consumed is beginning to fracture, much as TV markets have fractured. Each year, more and more users will be interacting with your brand through the mobile web. This talk deals with 3 approaches to serving your content to mobile users with the pros and cons of each. I concur with the approach endorsed by Fisher, of a mobile stylesheet — which hides unwanted content from mobile users as well as delivering a simplified layout and smaller, faster loading graphics.
  • Robin Christopherson’s talk on Accessibility
    Robin is legally blind and works for Abilitynet, a charity which helps get the disabled using computers and online. His talk demonstrated how a blind user browses the web, and highlighted good and bad designs from an accessibility perspective. His talk shows the very real benefit to good information architecture. All users, regardless of ability, will have a better brand experience when it’s easy to find what they’re looking for.
  • Mark Boulton’s talk on Web Typography
    Even with the advent of broadband, there is no getting around, the majority of the web experience is type. Despite a limited number of available “web safe” fonts, typography is plays a big part in your brand identity online. As Mark demonstrates — simpler, more often than not, is better.

All three of these talks in some way address simplicity. Simplifying content for mobile users. Simplifying site structure for greater accessibity. Simplifying typography for greater clarity.

With the buzz around Web 2.0 and social media, it’s easy to overlook the idea that less is often more. Twitter’s success can in some part be attributed to it’s simplicty. How can you clarify your brand message online and simplify your user experience?

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Youth culture & the evolution of social identity

I was alerted to the work of Michael Hulme of Lancaster University through our client, YouthNet. Professor Hulme researches how young consumers interact using mobile telephony and social media. His findings offer insights into the growth of social media and how young people project their social identity.

I loved the concept of Hybrid life – the idea that people no longer distinguish between their life on and off line. Rather, it’s all one vast continuum with the virtual world as real as the tangible one. We see examples of this like:

  • The couple who divorced because the husband was spending too much time with another avatar on Second Life.
  • New opportunities for all of us – from the professional to the 16 year old – to construct an idealised identity online. Everyone wants to present their best face to the world – a modern form of branded propaganda, like the official images of Elizabeth I.

I wonder where all this is leading? What impact is social media having on our sense of identity – on and offline?

Do we have multiple identities adapted for different purposes – subtly different for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn? Are we witnessing an accelerated evolution of the virtual and individual self towards hybrid personalities?

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Why we blog

This blog is here to help us stop and reflect on our work, share insights we find on the way, and extend thanks to our clients who got us here in the first place. Enjoy.