CREATING ILLUSTRIOUS BRANDS: STORYTELLING THROUGH DESIGN

A graduate of London’s Royal College of Art, Paul Wearing is a commercial artist who has applied his distinct illustrative touch to many projects, from large-scale architectural installations to campaigns for brands including Herman Miller, Elsevier, IBM, Bang & Olufsen, Neiman Marcus, Cedars Sinai Medical Center and The Royal Bank of Scotland. Often reflecting a passion for food, fashion, interior design and travel, his illustration agency’s work regularly appears in design annuals, art magazines and mass-circulation publications including The Wall Street Journal, M Magazine, Le Monde and bon appétit. He spoke with BrandingBusiness Chief Creative Officer Michael Dula, about his creative process, the power of colour and the role of creativity in branding.

Dula: As an illustrator, an artist, an image-maker, can you describe the look of your style for our listeners?

Wearing: I guess the essence of it is, it has a contemporary look. A lot of the influences that arise in my work come from mid-century type of styling — my interest in things like Charles and Reims furniture. Some of the artists who were working in that period come through my work in one way or another. What I guess it has is familiarity, in one respect, and, hopefully, freshness in another.

Dula: Tell us a little bit about your creative process. Do you create for yourself or do you create for your client's audience?

Wearing: I produce work for myself, whether or not it has an application anywhere or not. What is great is when you work with a client who has a view and wants to harness your work and take it further forward. That way, there's an interaction between the two. They'll bring something towards what you do and you'll add something to what they want to achieve.

Dula: How does your mind think when it comes to reaching your client's audience and drawing them in?

Wearing: I’m looking a lot to what the client talks about at the initial briefing on where their position is and where they're leaning, in terms their product or brand, and look at what's going on in the existing market with their competitors — trying to do something which doesn't repeat things other people do, so they have their own distinct, individual characteristic and they tell the story that is relevant to their company — their history or their characteristic¬ — and try and get across some of the essence of what the company or the product is about.

Dula: Do you spend a lot of time researching your clients, researching the background?

Wearing: As much as possible. I also try and keep abreast of current affairs and things that are happening in retail or fashion or anything like that.

In a previous life, alongside illustration, I used to work as a design consultant — advising retailers on trends, colors, products they should be developing. That involved going around the world, basically looking at what everybody was doing, going to various trade shows to see the newest colors that were coming in, and reading a lot.

That kind of background feeds into what I do now. As well as the artistic and creative side, which may be more powerful to me, there's also an awareness of the commercial aspects and socials trends manifesting themselves across a broader spectrum of areas.

Dula: How does color play out in your work?

Wearing: For me, color is absolutely key. Taking back to one of my first art history teachers, a fantastic, charismatic man who liked to tell you, “Color is the first thing anybody sees.” Essentially, I think he's right. After that, you see form and then line.

One of my earlier trainings was as a print textile designer, and color is so key in that area.

One of the most wonderful things… you can almost tell a story with color. If the colors aren't right in something, it never quite works for some reason. If they're right, things fly. And you'll see how much care people put into that when they apply it to areas of business like branding — the enormous amount of energy and focus on detail in trying to get people to have their individual look and individual color and individual stamp.

Dula: When I look at your illustrations, there is color harmony and balance and color complexity. It does seem fundamental when I look at a Paul Wearing illustration, whether you're using three colors or 100 colors. There's a certain harmony. Does color come naturally? Do you go through a lot of experimentation?

Wearing: I work almost exclusively on the computer now. When I begin a job, into the file that I'm working in, I'll bring in several pieces of work… images and colors that I think are pertinent to that particular job. Then I'll just begin playing. The beauty of working in digital media nowadays is the ability to recolor things. It's just fantastic.

Dula: It's amazing to me the vastness of your work, in terms of the application — whether it's on the side of a building, in an ad, on a website. Is there a difference between working with consumer brands and corporate brands?

Wearing: Sometimes just because of the pace of things with retail brands, things move faster. They're slightly more predetermined.

Sometimes with corporate brands, there's a more organic growth or a development period, probably because a lot of parties need to be involved in the decision-making. Also, there aren’t the pertinent deadlines you might get if you’re launching a product.

Dula: So many stories and ideas pour out of your imagery. Whether they'd be minimalistic, whether they'd be more complex, each one seems to hold a story. When you think about storytelling, how big of factor does it play?

Wearing: I think it's quite a big factor — not necessarily in a straightforward type of narrative like a storybook. A lot of my work will involve layering of imagery, subtle patterns and sometimes patterns which tell a story. They may not be immediately obvious.

For example, I had a great commission for Cedars Sinai Medical Center to develop a book promoting their child acute-sickness ward. In that, we had a child being picked up. And within the child, there was a repeat pattern. You got the sense that it was caring not just for one child but numerous children.

Dula: I've gotten to know you and your work through our client Elsevier [a leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services]. Can you talk about your recent work for them?

Wearing: What a fantastic job, to begin with. It's not that often that a client will come to you and want to base their whole look and brand around a lot of the graphic handwriting that you produce.

One of the things about the job… they liked what your colleague Drew [Letendre] termed “visual wit”… the idea of a tree within a head that signified knowledge. But because it had to do with digital downloads, the tree's roots were then made out of circuit board.

It sounds slightly trite when you say it, but when you illustrate it in the right way, it can be beautiful and it can work so nicely and tell a story in a very succinct way.

Dula: In your experience, what role does creativity play in the world of B2B branding?

Wearing: I think creativity everywhere is important, but especially in branding. To differentiate your company, get your company to tell its unique story. To have somebody come in with a creative spark and add a creative idea of how you can do that, I think, is so important.


SUCCESSFUL BRANDS GO WITH THE FLOW OF CHANGE

Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, would have felt at home at the conference on Corporate Brand Reputation held in New York on June 9 and 10.

He was famous for his insistence on ever-present change in the universe. "No man ever steps in the same river twice,” was his memorable observation, which became synthesized into the philosophical bon mot – panta rhei, or “everything flows.”

Indeed, the common thread of the two-day event organized by the Conference Board was how companies of all sizes and across all industries are grappling and adapting with the increasingly dynamic requirements of the new liquid environment in which they need to perform to drive business performance.

Liquid is the word: to be effective in today’s world brands need to be like water – they need to flow as forces of innovation and business transformation and adapt swiftly to device preferences and satisfy the thirst of hyper-fragmented global audiences with relevant content, unique value and design.

So, how are companies adapting to the new environment?

First, they are adapting internally, challenging and changing the old organizational models.

Maggie Fox, SAP’s Global VP of Marketing, went to the heart of what is the new normal in one word: change. Sales organizations embedded into marketing (and vice versa); marketing controlling IT spending and becoming a hybrid in the process with in-depth expertise in business, technology, engineering and IT; omni channel brand experiences requiring new and unprecedented levels of interdepartmental integration; high-quality content flowing constantly through the omnichannel world becoming the currency of brand power; and of course, data – the empowering force that is transforming hardware into software.

Second, in a communications environment where high-quality content is the new brand currency, marketing and communications departments are evolving into brand newsrooms, often headed by an emerging new executive role: the Brand Editor In Chief.

The evolution, facilitated by the always-on, hyper connected society, is demanding a conversational, informal approach in order to spontaneously engage people and build sustainable brand interest.

Gone are the days of the marketing calendar: brands are now part of the organic content cycle, they are creatively inserted into trending conversations with timely precision, thoughtfulness and, yes, a bit of fun. This is a significant shift compared to the regimented and highly controlled corporate approaches of just a few years ago to communicate their value to the marketplace and engage with their customers.

Third, how do you measure brand power in this fluid world? The jury is still out on this topic, but as of right now, there seems to be a belief that measuring intent to buy is a very valuable and precise dimension through which one can assess the impact of investments in omnichannel brand experiences. One of the biggest challenges remains turning social media data into business and operational intelligence due to the successful integration of structured and unstructured data.

And last, it is a fundamental truth that companies will be able to change only if their people are engaged with energy, clarity and a sense of personal commitment. However, it appears they face an uphill battle here: according to a global survey disclosed by Mark Fernandes, Chief Leadership Officer at Luck Companies, a surprising 70% of the global workforce is disengaged.

What people value most deeply will move them powerfully in their work and life,” said Mark.

It’s true. When personal values align with company values, lives are more satisfactory lived and work output increases exponentially because the organization becomes an expression of people’s unique talents, ideals and beliefs. Powerful brands will always coincide with powerful cultures.

So, everything flows: for brands to remain viable and competitive in the new world, companies need to go with the flow or be swept away against the currents of change.