IN THE JOURNEY OF BRANDING—AND THE VISUALS AND MESSAGES THAT ARE PART OF ANY BRANDING INITIATIVE—THERE IS, INVARIABLY,
A MESSAGE INSIDE THE MESSAGE.
THERE’S A STORY IN THE STORY,
THERE’S A TELLING INSIDE THE NARRATIVE.
I believe that I first experienced this in the writing of Jorge Luis Borges, who I met in Manhattan in the early 2000s.
I saw him in a hotel lobby and I went up and introduced myself. We talked. He taught me about: “the story, that is a story, in a story—that’s in another story.”
When I think about brands, I think about the people that made them, who they are, what their dream was, where they came from, who’re they for, what’s their purpose, their purposed future—how did they come into being?
In that grasp—any person is a journeyer—a person that walks the path of what is known in their history, what are they working as a way, and the way forward. Is the path a straight line, well-mapped and laid out in a precise sequencing, or is it more of a meander? A wander?
When I think about all the copy that I’ve written around brands—the soul of an enterprise—the people that work on them: the key question lies in: what is inward—the tiering within? What is deeper interiorly and what is the seed that’s lain far in, deeper in the brandmind? I think of brand mind as a kind of operational intelligence, converged with thoughtfully deeper brands—brands that are smart, and brands that have soul—
a path-builder to higher purpose.
They are rare.
I was talking with a friend about the concept of psychic place [a built embodiment of psychic space: the link between mind, emotionality and the body, as well as that which surrounds it]—the deepest place of linkages between imaginings, dreams, wonderment, inspiration and amazement—the senses that they represent and the body in which they are housed.
“Can you design a psychically deeper place, is it an actual place, or a point of being-ness?”
And that idea of psychic space, the interior psychic place—a brand can live there—with a deeper story.
It would be like this exemplar:
“I made this brand with a team of dreamers.
I was yearning to create something that was wrapped around my experience of forests and the trees within them—we made this hotel that is surrounded by forests, and there are trees in the place,
trees in the rooms.We serve plant-based foods because that’s from where I came, whence I dreamed, what I built to share with others—a deeper experience of our deepest ecosystems. Teaching people about the real meaning of the phrase—“you can’t see the forest for the trees.”
You might think of it in this manner: as a designer, a strategist, there’s the story of you, there’s the story of the work that you do, there’s the story of how you go into doing what you’re doing and what you’re doing for others—strategy, message, brand visualizations, which becomes a layering on layering.
Brand storytelling can work in that manner, there’s the first inspiration—the gift that is given, the founding idea and ideal—that spark of wonder, the miracle of the relevant contribution, which is, in its etymon—“it’s a bringing together, a conglomerate of additive parts.” Which, in the ancient construct is a tribute. So one might think of the tribute as that kind of gift, which speaks to the deeper inspiration.
Which, in all ways, is the giving.
In all ways, as well, I think about my own experience.
When I was young, I drew with crayons in what was about capturing the energy of things. Today, brand work, is about finding that right energy—those stories inside stories. There’s the founding inspiration, that first spark—which is then layered out to the how of the making, the layering of relevant context, which is the storytelling of engagement and connection to utility—“this story works for me.” Utility is relevance, resonance is the chant or call—“not only does this work for me, but I like how it sounds.” And more so, to Social media strategies, comes into spreading, capturing energy and rendering that in a way for—relationship—to spread those stories. Since, as well we know, the relationship is how brands work, for relationship, to its origin in relatus, the Latin word, is to “carry forward,” as in a story.
It’s about story flow, energy shared, the dispersion of the idea—not as a mechanistic quality—but rather an emotional one, one that is magnetically captivating. It flows in—and then, flows out. One story becomes another, shared and embraced, it becomes “this is my story.”
I called them energy drawings, even as a youngster—I drew in a manner to capture the energy of a form, whirling and moving to create that sense of flow. That single engagement founded my interpretation of everything—from energy drawings to illustration, calligraphy, Asian studies, the energetic line, the study of Ch’i and its aesthetic history, book design, store design, packaging, furniture, interiors, it all came from energy and its interpretation—capturing the whirling energy of…things.
How things flow—scan the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—and his studies of the nature of flow and optimized experience.
The legacy of seeking energy lines lies into this notation of reading-in to things, which would be, in any meditation, where do you sit in your study of the work that you’re doing, the path that you’re on, what your story is and how are you telling it. Person, family, human brand—or brand enterprise.
What is the way, found?
I was thinking about this. In the context of the work that you do—the flow that you offer. And what we do—as brand consultants.
I’ve wondered about that, the character of being lost, being found. Finding your way. And there’s a part of the work that we do that is just about that—helping people, and their enterprises, figure out their way.
Helping them not to be lost. But to be found. Finding their direction, using the story found, heartfelt.
The alphabet comes into play—as a core to the notion of storytelling: wayfinding, the very heart of environmental graphics, is about creating interactions with humans between the literal spirit of the alphabet—the knowledge of the characters within, what they mean and where they lead you. There’s a story here.
You follow the map.
You get there.
It’s the cartography of the way, the alphabet as a kind of magical—
if not mystical—set of markings, that guide the journeyer. They flow to their route, the story lays out a pathway that can be read-into, walked—into.
That’s one level. I believe that there is inherently more. That the alphabet is a mysteriously powerful thing, and that creating interactions between content, literally context, in placement. But, it’s more — there’s history there.
For thousands of years, there has been a legacy of the alphabet as a set of markings that actually have layers of meaning beneath the commonly accessible.
That the meaning of the alphabet—which is how the story is written and read—lies in the sounds and what those semantics contextually represent—but there is power beneath. Incantation. Amulets. Talismans. Prayers in invocation—the evoking, the calling of meaning and spirit. And that is a spiritual flow.
But, those times, those meanings, are forgotten by most.
I’m wondering about that environmental graphical interface between the alphabet and the person—the storied journey. And how that relates to architecture and experience—psychic space and place. I believe that it’s a kind of a patterning of thought—the layering of stories. That can range to greater meaning.
Like this, the imagery below: people are interacting with a word. A concept. A vision. A sense of beauty and discovery—and they flow with it, into it, through it, get someplace. And something to the spirit of profound fulfillment. That is more the space that I believe in, the context to the work that we do with the alphabet — even the notion of the brand — how is it seen.
We live there. The straight, the curved, the winding and the swerve.
Scene. Touched. Textured. Known and explored. And further, signed. Signatures on meaning, signature on the alphabet, signature on the word:
Andrew Testa for The New York Times
(the descriptive quote: People signed the back of a sculpture, reading “Newborn” in English, at its unveiling on Sunday in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. NYTimes)
I believe, in a way, that environmental graphics is about storytelling—getting towards a journey that carries the journeyer to a new sense of belief—
“I’m here, this is new, I’ve not been here—
it’s different, never here—now I am.”
“And how I got here is the layering of that journey, which is the story.”
Sure, it’s using the alphabet, expressed in incisions, depressions, impressions, expansions and contractions—embossments and debossments: the raw materiality—but there are layers of meaning: “you can get there from here.”
And the question there is—which gets back to the heart of brand, “why are you here, what got you here, and why would you go there?”
There’s the brand story on the front-facing—the opening mapmaking, the messaging, the portrayal and portal—the finding of the way, but there’s the story that lies beneath—textured, soulful, powerful.
This all returns to that sense of layered constructs—there’s a message on this surface
The sign is a sign.
It’s more than merely the way of one larger story, the interior narrative and the tiering of other tales—and the finding of it.