Galapagos brands

DarwinFinchMuch like Darwin’s finches, a new generation of sophisticated cell phones have evolved in isolation on the Island of Japan. A recent NY Times article about Japanese phones mentioned that even the average phone in Japan has technology that is far more sophisticated than the rest of the world. The problem is they can’t leave the island because they can’t talk to the networks elsewhere.

It made me wonder if this is true with brands, and whether in our modern world there can ever again be islands of isolation, where brands can evolve, slowly, and unnoticed.

While I suspect that it will be hard for brands to grow unnoticed, islands will remain. But these new islands are probably cultural not geographic. They will be based on lifestyle not neighborhood.

Here’s what I mean. I am an avid bicycle racer and don’t play golf. That means on my island we know a lot about the latest bike toys and nothing about the latest putters. And this interest is very finely tuned.

Folks on my island are very attentive to the evolution of materials like carbon fiber, titanium alloys, ceramics, and the latest research on aerodynamics, but only as they apply to bicycles. Wherever my island-mates are in the world we share an interest in these things, but we won’t know or care much about how all this same stuff applies to golf clubs or the flight of a golf ball. Even though these technologies do build on one another. As evidenced by the recent evolution of golf-ball-like dimples on Zipp’s new high-end time trial wheels. Supposed to make them faster. See its pretty esoteric stuff.

In the last couple of decades most of my clients have struggled with the evolution of their brands. They continue to spend a lot of time on questions like how to grow, where to grow, are we truly global, and what does this mean for the appearance of our package design in Argentina, India or Belgium.

My suspicion is that global, as it relates to geography, is increasingly an old school way of thinking. Many of my clients with large brands are thinking about what divides different types of consumers rather than land borders. Package design is beginning to respond to this new aesthetic, as more brands evolve based on cultural shifts, and fewer based on geography.

Maybe Jimmy Buffet was right when he sang “It’s these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, Nothing remains quite the same”.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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