08.02.22
Kaleena Sales + Omari Souza | Audio

S10E3.5: Minisode


On this week’s minisode, Kaleena and Omari unpack the idea of branding, being branded, and choosing your own brand.

Omari noted the contradiction that many designers face when it comes to developing a brand for a corporation, verses for themselves:
We utilize our talents to build these identities, these very expressive identities for these corporations that people ultimately end up wearing and using. But in many cases, we don't have that same freedom. We can't be as open and expressive in how we bring ourselves to the forefront as we can be with branding other organizations.
And for Kaleena this played into the larger idea of what design has branded itself to be:
One thing that's true of the design industry as a whole is that we've somehow allowed the industry to tell us what design is and isn't. And that's often excluded so many cultural works and people.
Listen to the episode Kaleena and Omari are discussing, here.

Follow The Design of Business | The Business of Design on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app.

Sign up for our newsletter to keep up with everything going on at Design Observer.

This season’s theme music is from Mike Errico.

TRANSCRIPT

Omari Souza
Welcome to The Design of Business

Kaleena Sales
The Business of Design — minisodes. I'm Kaleena Sales.

Omari Souza
And I'm Omari Souza.

Kallena, Kallena!

Kaleena Sales
Yeah. How's it going?

Omari Souza
Did you see it?

Kaleena Sales
I am assuming you're talking about the Black Panther trailer, right?

Omari Souza
What else would I be talking about?

Kaleena Sales
You know what? I have not seen it. I am sort of holding out. Kind of wanting to go in blind and not have any preconceived ideas. But I know I'm going to cave. I know I'm going to cave. There's no way I'm not going to. What are your thoughts? Have you seen it?

Omari Souza
I've never met Ryan Coogler, but I felt like that was an early birthday present for me, or like a belated birthday present for me. It was— it was amazing. It was amazing. I remember seeing the first trailer and I had my wallet in my hand and I remember throwing it at my computer screen and it was just like— take my money now. And I remember when Chadwick Boseman passed, I had to pull my car over because it was such a hard thing for me because that movie was so powerful. We talk all the time about like decolonizing design and like wanting to see something that represents black people in such a positive light and that that movie, the design directions that they took, the influences from all these different cultures. It was such a powerful thing for me. I saw the movie six times. In theaters, I saw it six times. In the same weekend, I saw it six times.

Kaleena Sales
Wow. Okay. Yeah. You have me beat. Okay Yeah. So you are a fan, for sure. That is awesome. Yeah. Very excited about that. And I'm so excited about Kevin and Dana's recent conversation. This week, Kevin and Dana spoke with Vernon Lockhart, the executive director of Project Osmosis, a Chicago based design education and mentoring initiative.

Omari Souza
One of the things Vernon talked about was Design Explores a program run by Project Osmosis.

Vernon Lockhart
Rewinding back to my own childhood and the importance of that branding, if you come from areas that are very, you know, underserved- and I say underserved or lacking resources because people are being overlooked, right. So it's interesting with the brand because when you think about the business of branding, you're creating or redesigning or reformatting something, so people will see it and notice it and you know, and then get their true sense of what the identity that's what they call the brand identity. To really understand what that thing is and what it does and what it's about, its own, you know, culture, or legacy. And so we recognize here in Chicago, for example, its a good example, is that men, especially young men, are pre branded. You know, if they have locks in their hair or if they wear their clothes a certain way, they're viewed as as trouble or as an outcast. It's almost it's an automatic thing. And then, of course, media and modern, you know, can kind of really sort of push that forward, that that's what they are and that's how they think and that's how they feel. And so for the Design Explores, that's kind of how that those things grew, because we were recognizing that a lot of young men were just being pre-branded. And one of the things I learned really quickly is if you don't brand yourself, someone else will.

Omari Souza
I absolutely loved that clip and felt like it spoke directly to me and my undergraduate experiences while going to school at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Growing up as a New Yorker in the city, that was extremely diverse, while I knew I was a minority, I never felt otherwise. And going to a institution in Cleveland, which happens to be a pretty diverse city, but the college itself was not— I, when I got there, I was one of five black students and one graduating at the end of the five year program I was the only black male in the five year program that walked the stage. And in many cases, a lot of my colleagues met their first person of color or met the first black person in me. And their only interpretations of what it meant to be black was pretty much what they saw on television prior. I jokingly tell people all the time that my freshman year roommate couldn't tell the difference between DMX and Malcolm X. So this idea of you being branded before people see you is very true. People don't realize how the images we consume build the perceptions of other people around us and how before people can meet you, those perceptions can can dictate their comfort with you. So for me, as an undergraduate student, while a lot of my colleagues would show up to class and unpack their supplies to prepare for the lessons, I had an additional layer of unpacking what my blackness meant to them based off of what they may or may not have consumed prior to meeting me.

Kaleena Sales
Yeah, I completely agree. You know, I think, you know, we oftentimes if you're from a marginalized community or woman or, you know, anyone that's not in the majority in whatever setting you're in, you know, you're always considering how other people are perceiving you. But I think that beyond that, all too often, the way in which we brand ourselves is rooted in fear instead of authenticity. And so we make choices about our public persona or our design work. That's more of a calculated, like determination of risk. How risky is it, for example, for me to show my authentic self in this situation? And that has a long history in this country, you know, of people feeling the need to assimilate in order to just survive. And that has a lot of different layers. It can look a lot of different ways. It can be code switching. It can be respectability politics. It can be a number of things that we do to sort of present ourselves in a way that, you know, is safest. And so I think that oftentimes, you know, again, the way that we brand ourselves isn't really as authentic, you know, as it should be. And so as an industry, we have to create safe spaces for designers to be themselves and to allow for different lifestyles, different esthetics to show up.

Omari Souza
Completely agree. And I also think the I think this idea of branding is extremely interesting as well. There's a designer named Hank Willis Thomas who had a series called Branded where he actually critiqued the relationship that black people in America or Western society had with the-the phrase brand, and with brands currently. And a part of his commentary was really about how brands were initially what people would do to cattle. An owner would brand a cow, a horse, and ultimately people during slavery to let others know where this person or livestock belonged to. And today we build these identities for companies and and people wear these brands to kind of take any messages that they feel like this brand represents, for example, Nike— because it it has branded itself as the brand of champions. So I think well, not that I think, but in reality, people wear these brands today to kind of communicate or attempt to communicate the social class. But the pieces in Branded actually talked about a darker history of the phrase itself that we still continue to use this day. And to your point about, you know, trying to make yourself safer to audiences that may be unfamiliar with you, what I find extremely interesting is that as designers, especially designers that may be a part of marginalized audiences, it's extremely easy for us to build these identities for companies.Well I don't want to say easy- it's a labor of love for us and takes years of skill building. But we utilize our talents to build these identities, these very expressive identities for these corporations that people ultimately end up wearing and using. But in many cases, we don't have that same freedom. We we can't be as open and expressive in how we bring ourselves to the forefront as we can be with with branding other organizations. And sometimes that can also be something extremely difficult to deal with.

Kaleena Sales
Yeah, I think, you know, it can feel sort of like a privilege to certain people in certain communities to have a history in this country to sort of own who they are. And so I think about my grandfather, who I never met, he passed away before I was born. And my mom told me that he worked as an illustrator for a packaging company here in Nashville, which sounds really interesting and cool. But this was likely during the sixties in the South. He was a black man and so he was not given the title of illustrator, he was actually— his title was a laborer. And so, you know, many people didn't even know that, you know, what he did or what he contributed, you know, and he wasn't really seen as a creative. He didn't you know, he wasn't able to pursue a career in art or design or everything that he would have been interested in. So I think about, you know, sometimes I think about that in terms of today being able to fully own whatever sort of label or path or, you know, brand I want to determine for myself. And so because of that, I think, you know, I lean so heavily into boldly sort of professing whatever it is that I'd that I'd want to do and I'd help the same for, you know, young designers, students that are coming up in the industry to really figure out their voice, figure out what it is that they care about, what is they want to do and to sort of like take ownership of their seat at the table and their position within the industry.

Omari Souza
Yeah.

Kaleena Sales
You know, one thing that's true of the design industry as a whole is that, you know, we've somehow allowed the industry to tell us what design is and isn't, and that's often excluded so many cultural works and people. And you know, we've said it a couple of times on previous episodes, but we believe that the lie that Swisse, for example, is the only thing that equals good design, right. And so, you know, we have some rebranding to do. You know, we have to sort of tell the industry, you know, what else deserves a place on the main stage.

Omari Souza
I also think there are a lot of ways in which this idea of branding and the responsibility of branding is showing up in the classroom, especially criticisms of it. And there needs to be sincerity behind what you're doing. And in a lot of my classrooms, when we talk about messaging and branding, I often, you know, will ask students, well, if this is the audience you're attempting to reach, how are you engaging with that audience to get a better understanding? Are you testing this with them? Are you asking questions? Are you gaining any deeper understanding? What is the ethnographic studies that you're doing with this group so that you can immerse yourselves within this culture and create something that gives them voice rather than speaking for them?

Kaleena Sales
Yeah, that's interesting that that makes me think about like the sincerity, you know, behind a brand, right, whether that's an organization or an institution or just your personal brand and how you present yourself out to the world. You know, today, obviously Instagram and, you know, social media allows you to have a a curated version of yourself, right? And so you can put out into the world whatever version of yourself you want to be. And that becomes the representation of, you know, I think about the students and the choices that they have to make as they are not just preparing their work, but also the images of themselves that they are putting out on social media. When I was working as an art director in advertising several years ago, I remember preparing for my very first presentation in front of a client, and I was nervous and I asked my creative director how I should dress. And I thought, you know, how what are we doing here? Are we doing jeans? Are we you know, we're getting buttoned up? And I will never forget, he said, you know, dress like your brand. And I thought, I don't have a brand, I don't have a brand. But I went home and I thought about that and I thought, okay, what, you know, what is my brand? And, you know, and since he told me that I thought about him and sort of the style that he showed up with every day in the office and that it was intentional, you know, that it wasn't just sort of picking out anything in your closet, but actually sort of deciding how you want to present yourself out to the world. And so that was an office presentation to a client several years ago, but, again today, students are thinking about that new designers are thinking about that as they're putting their portfolios out, as they are again, curating their presence on social media and for companies, organizations, recruiters to look at them for possible hires, you know. So there's a lot to consider there and a lot of pressure, I think, you know, for for new designers. But the hope is that, you know, there's some authenticity that's present. And whatever is being reflected out to the world is really a reflection of who you are. And I think that there's some work that the industry can do to help support, you know, young designers feeling confident in presenting them their true selves.

Omari Souza
Yeah, I think that completely. We talked about a lot of really heavy things today. But, you know, just like Ryan Coogler and Kendrick Lamar told us in the Black Panther trailer, you know, we're going to be all right. We just got to you got to keep on pushing through and attempting to make progress.

Kaleena Sales
Absolutely.

Omari Souza
The Design of Business | The Business of Design is a podcast from Design Observer. Our website is D-B-B-D dot design observer dot com. There you can find the complete archive from past guests and hosts.

Kaleena Sales
And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe to this podcast.

Omari Souza
And if you're already subscribe to the podcast, tell your friends about the show or go to Apple Podcasts and rate us, which is a great way to let other people know about the show.

Kaleena Sales
Between episodes, you can keep up with Design Observer on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Omari Souza
Our producer is Adina Karp. Judybelle Camangyan edits the show. Design Observer's executive producer is Betsy Vardell. Our theme music is by Mike Errico. Thanks as always to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand.

Kaleena Sales
And of course to our counterparts Kevin Bethune and Dana Arnett.

Omari Souza
Everybody we will see you guys next time and talk to you soon.

Kaleena Sales
Talk to you next time.

Posted in: Design of Business | Business of Design



Comments [0]



Jobs | August 11