When great design becomes its own language

By Joe Duffy

Principal and chairman of Duffy & Partners, Joe Duffy is one of the most respected and sought after creative directors and thought leaders on branding and design in the world.

Joe’s work includes brand and corporate identity development for some of the world’s most admired brands, from Aveda to Coca-Cola to Sony to Jack in the Box to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. His work is regularly featured in leading marketing and design publications and exhibited around the world.

In 2004, Joe received the Medal from the AIGA for a lifetime of achievement in the field of visual communications. His first book–Brand Apart–was released in July 2005 and in 2006, he was recognized as one of the “Fast 50” most influential people in the future of business by Fast Company.

Joe Duffy

Joe Duffy

Learning languages

I’ve never been very good at learning a language.

I was terrible in high school Spanish and couldn’t grasp it at all until I started traveling to Mexico and had to learn at least enough to get by or starve. I tried to take up French some years back when I was working on a project in Paris and could barely retain enough to order in a restaurant or ask for directions on the street.

I’ve been going to China every year for the past ten and I can hardly get beyond “hi”, “how are you”, “goodbye” and “thanks.” Learning languages and how to play the piano are my biggest failings in life. Oh well, there’s still time, some day…


Making up new languages

On the other hand, I am quite good when it comes to making up new languages–if I do say so myself.

Every new brand design project we take on requires that our entire team master the art of visual and verbal linguistics. If you think of any successful brand, you will no doubt know what I mean.

The brands that have been designed in the best possible ways have their own proprietary language that tells their story, sets them apart from all the brands they compete with, and connects them in a very meaningful way to their audience.

The basic elements of a brand’s visual language–type, color, photographic/illustration style and layout also establish a filter for making decisions on how to best “speak” from the heart.

If all the basics are in sync, it will make choices like story, set design, talent, wardrobe, physical space, dialog and tone of voice easy to make.

It’s really no different than being true to yourself when you speak to others about how you really feel or most importantly, who you really are. It’s also the key to creating the world that surrounds you in a one-off, true to you kind of way. You already know the real you, from where you came, what got you here and what you stand for.

These basics are the filter for designing your own language that sets you apart from everyone else. We all know the people who are most successful at this, as well as the brands that have been designed in a unique and meaningful way.

I can think of no better example of combining these two examples of originality–brand/person–in one piece of brand communication than this now somewhat old positioning spot from Apple that coincided with Steve Jobs retaking the helm and Chiat\Day’s brilliant new phase of work with him.

For my money, there has never been any brand that has so beautifully mastered the art of creating its own distinct language in everything they do.


About ranman

Design educator with a Masters of Design degree. 32 years of design experience. View all posts by ranman

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