As design develops and transforms, brands have always got one eye out and an open mind for whatever is capturing the corporate zeitgeist around them. Where some pioneering brands will step forward to pave the way for the new normal, other brands are more than happy to follow suit and put their twist on what's current. As brand builders with a range of experience across all industries, we’ve seen plenty of innocuous trends come and go. Rather than jumping into any flash in the pan fads, we're always on the lookout to craft a lasting design that provides brands with longevity. But some developments are impossible to ignore.
Not as much a trend as a complete corporate shift, we’ve seen - and even developed - first-hand the increasing need for brands to strip themselves back and ‘debrand’ to fit new digital cultures and climates. But it’s the mark of great design when, even with reduced elements and less room for manoeuvring, you can still effectively tell a story.
In an era of digital excess, you can't blame designers for pushing trends as far as they could go. With new technologies and ideas on the up, brands wanted bold. In recent years, brands have noticed that overzealous design can often come at the expense of all other elements and messaging. As a reaction, debranding has come to symbolise a back-to-basics approach for some of the market's leading brands, stripping back on software overconsumption for a more mature approach, jumping from cartoonish to corporate to authentic, appearing more professional and of course, fashionable.
Where brands would do just about anything to get in your face and grab your attention no matter how brash or elaborate, any goodwill they once had with consumers is in danger of being burnt through. Reaching for the opposite approach, debranding is a way to distance the brand from the soulless sales-obsessed, trying too hard corporate image that consumers often see them as. A more authentic and minimalist route to take, debranding often sees brand elements flattened (if not removed in their entirety), colours reduced to become more subtle, whilst white space and breathing room are increased to give a more spacious and atmospheric feel, allowing for a clean break from prior iterations and offering a breath of fresh air for fatigued audiences. Whilst risking appearing generic, debranding shows corporations shying away from the stand-out recognisable symbols that many have become. As a result, often only the biggest and most iconic brands can get away with a complete strip-down to trim off some of the stodginess that is often attached to their larger-than-life image and histories.
The bottom line for many organisations is that consumer trust in their favourite brands isn’t quite what it once was. Trust is down whilst cynicism towards corporate culture has rocketed. As a result of the obtrusive and overwhelming nature of modern marketing, and the fact that there are very few safe spaces to get away from the flurry of ads we are all subjected to on the daily, consumers are no longer as susceptible to a brand’s selling tactics. Even the most ‘bulletproof’ of brands have felt desperate to regain the public’s trust and earn back some credibility. Colossal corporations and behemoth brands understand many consumers have turned away from faceless corporate structures, opting to shop locally and independently instead. The ideal response to this shift, debranding allows brands to appear more authentic and dependable, taking away some of the bite and wariness that has grown towards big corporate branding.
Before a brand flourishes, it will often do what it can to get noticed and seen so it can grow but as time goes on and they become more established, everything that made them great and got them their initial, committed and loyal audience can also hold them back. The rashness or idiosyncrasies that made the brand what it was can be limiting when the brand wants to move forward and target new markets for a broader appeal. Taking the bold step of debranding or tinkering with your brand elements and changing the formula that has brought you success, and doing it with confidence too, is a powerful move that not any old brand has the authority to do. Ditching what has brought you success and breaking free from the shackles your previous brand was limiting you to (no matter how well-known or iconic it was) has the potential to elevate the largest brands even further, adding an impactful level of prestige to their marketing approach. Sometimes, less is more. By letting your reputation and awareness speak for itself, without the logo and design that everyone has come to know, your brand exudes a confidence and control very few can afford. Your brand can become more than its logo.
Where once brands wanted logos to be as big as possible to stand out on shop shelves and print ads, now the challenge is for brands to shrink and strip everything down into a digital box that fits perfectly on phone screens and digital platforms. So, a return to a more 2D format is what many are striving towards. Whether through a digital watch or app icon, creating a logo – and a brand – that is so recognisable and distinct that it only needs a fraction of the pixels it once did is the end goal for any brand manager.