Thoughts from the Brand New Conference in Chicago

| By: Nathan Sprehe
Nathan Sprehe

Last week, after several wonderful days of St. Louis Design Week, the Almanac team packed up our laptops, donned our best blazers and fanciest pantsuits, and flew up to Chicago for the 5th annual Brand New Conference.

An outgrowth of UnderConsideration’s Brand New—a website focused on reviewing and explaining some of the best (and worst) corporate and brand identity projects from around the world—the conference brings together brand designers, strategists, naming experts, writers, academics and marketers for a 2-day, in-depth series of talks from 20 leading branding experts.

Over 700 people from 20 different countries showed up to learn from the likes of Lance Wyman—designer of the legendary visual identity for the Mexico ’68 Olympics, Sol Sanders—VSA Partners’ Global Engagement lead for IBM (Sol also lead the design of the Obama ’08 campaign identity), and Keira Alexandra of Work-Order—responsible for the rich and clever rebrands of the Sundance channel, VH1 and Comedy Central.

Overall, it was a very inspiring trip and we all left feeling rejuvenated about our craft. Here are a few of my takeaways from the conference:

  • Keep pushing. The desire to create amazing, original, meaningful work—stuff that will really move the dial for a client’s business or organization—is always at odds with budgets, opposing viewpoints, deadlines, and other factors sometimes beyond control. This work is hard but if you believe in it, it’s worth fighting for.
  • Seek truth.  Simple, clear and clever always win out over complicated, trendy and decorative.
  • Clients need to understand and believe. When we create brand systems, we have reasons for choosing a particular typeface, color palette, illustration/photography approach, etc. The framework we develop is nuanced. To help our clients believe in the system, a) they first need to believe in the brand and b) it’s our job to explain our thinking so they can understand the design.
  • Design has a capital D. We are in the golden age of Design, where those in business, education, health, and other industries understand its value. Designers can provide insight and leadership as we interact, collaborate and engage with these industries.
  • Give it back. The idea that we don’t own what we create is something we talk about a lot at Almanac…and the speakers reinforced it. A framework that encourages others to participate—invites them in to become co-creators—is much more powerful than one that shuts them out. Create and then give it away.

A few of my favorite projects from the conference:


Signage from the ’68 Olympic Games in Mexico. Identity by Lance Wyman. See the whole identity system here. I swear, this looks as if it was created in 2014.


New York Times video branding by Keira Alexandra of Work-Order. This project is soooo well done. All of Keira’s work blew me away.


Santa Monica identity by Mario Eskenazi, Barcelona. Mario’s work has a purity and simplicity to it, which I found very refreshing.


Packaging for Askul, which was described as “kind of like the Staples of Japan,” by Stockholm Design Lab. This project makes you want to put these commodity products on display in your house.

Dinner at Quartino Thursday night. Yes, this photo is kind of crappy, Katie and Sarah are cut off, we were all exhausted, BUT we still had a good time.