Alina Wheeler wrote the book on branding – literally. Here she answers some questions on the topic as a prelude to her upcoming InHOWse SchoolHOWse DesignCast.
1. Why does the inhouse design team have a competitive advantage?
As a designer on the inhouse team, you have a unique opportunity to add value to future success. Most organizations, regardless of size, have silos: finance doesn’t talk to HR doesn’t talk to operations. But when you work on the brand, you talk to everyone. The brand is the largest asset of any organization, public or private. And because you are a designer, you are intrinsically wired to “demonstrate and not declare.” What do I mean by that? You influence all of the touchpoints of the brand. At each touchpoint, you have an opportunity to build brand champions—internally to all employees and externally to build awareness and loyalty with prospects and customers. You also have an opportunity to contribute to influence the working environment and the culture, through designing experiences and articulating values. In addition, you help make it easy for all of your colleagues to adhere to unified and flexible standards to build the brand.
2. What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you during your design career?
A realization that people speak to me differently based on who they think I am. When they think I am from New York, they speak differently to me when they think I am from Philadelphia. When they think that I am a management consultant, they speak to me differently than if they think I am a designer. It makes me think a lot about perception, its power and its possibilities.
3. What’s keeping you busy these days?
I’ m working on the 4th edition of Designing Brand Identity: an essential guide for the whole branding team. I am focused on best practices that demonstrate the relationship between strategy and design all around the world. It’s really inspiring to interview brand and design managers from consumer companies, as well as branding and design firms leading the way. It is a fascinating time. Because of social networks, we have all become global brand activists.
4. As you scan the technology landscape, what are you seeing that really excites or intrigues you?
Technology has become so provocative. It is the headline of so many conversations. Each day, I am constantly reminded of the quote, “You need to run faster to stay in place.” The speed of business makes us all feel that we will never catch up no matter how hard we work. On a more positive note, I love the notion that we have more tools to craft brand experiences that appeal to all of the senses. So that is great, but I worry that the tools are so provocative, that we lose sight of branding fundamentals: seizing every opportunity to communicate the big 4 questions:
Who are you? Who needs to know? Why should they care? How will they find out?
It’s not the technology. It’s you.
5. Tell us about Brand Atlas: Branding Intelligence made visible.
Brand Atlas is a radical book. It is 55 diagrams that visual 55 brand topics. There is very little text. Joel Katz, the designer who designed each of the diagrams, and I, wanted to reinvent the paradigm of a business book. Joel and I used to be partners in a design firm named Katz Wheeler a million years ago and it was great fun to collaborate once again.
Alina Wheeler is the author of Designing Brand Identity: an essential guide for the whole branding team. Publishedin seven languages, her book demonstrates the relationship between strategy and design, and illuminates best practices. She and Joel Katz are working on a new book Brand Atlas, branding intelligence made visible. She is a former member of the AIGA National Board of Directors, contributor to the Dictionary of Brand, and a passionate advocate of design. Her brand lab is in a business and arts factory in Philadelphia, and her soul resides in the Adirondacks.