Today the students in NOVA Lab got a chance to hear from the undergraduate director of Industrial Design at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Phil Holcombe. Phil is also the principal designer at the Educational Design Consultancy, Form & Faculty.
The students’ first real-world design challenge is to help create the brand and story of the class itself. So, after doing a deep dive last week into the texts and supporting documents that have helped shape the class, they have set to the task of listening for the recurrent “signals” in those texts that they can then “amplify” through different modes of branding.
Phil’s discussion today was based on the work he has done in the past building brands for his own company as well as larger organizations, like the Smithsonian Institution.
Phil lead off with a definition of branding that might have caught some of the students off guard: “Branding is not the story you tell the world about yourself and your company, it is the story they tell about you when you are not around.” There’s a lot to unpack in that simple statement, none the least of which is the ethical dimension inherent in the phrasing. Namely, if we want to be seen as authentic and genuine, then we cannot pretend otherwise. It seems so self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised at how many people forget the need to do just that.
The students were on their A-game today, asking probing questions about good brands, overbranding, and how to brand when you don’t even have a product yet.
Our story is still being written, and I imagine it will be for some time to come until we get more comfortable with the discomfort of not always knowing which way we’re going. One would think that after almost 15 years using design thinking and similar methods of self-determined learning in the classroom that I’d have more of a grasp on things.
Every class is different. They need different things, have different gaps, are stronger in some areas than in others. The art of the thing is in knowing how to spot the differences, and in knowing how to help them discover what they need.
Somehow that is part of our story…part of our brand. It’s a difficult story to get others to tell when we’re not around. But it’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.