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Design: the art of the visual brand story

What’s Branding for Andrew Gibbs?

Branding, in my opinion, is the art of the visual brand story. Branding is what makes one brand visually, and intrinsically different than another. It is what gives meaning to a brand and organization. Branding is one of, if not the most important asset of a brand. Branding is what makes one brand different from another. Done well, good branding is unique and completely proprietary to that brand. Not done well, branding can make a brand look like and feel like many others, intentionally or not.

In your opinion, are branding and design the same concepts?

No, branding is the specific visual identity to the brand, design is the means to get there.

Andrew, can you please share with Branders Magazine readers your story?

And how did you end up involved in the design world?

My story starts early on, when I was in my pre-teens my family got our first computer. For me, it, to open the door to the world of design. I became fascinated by graphic design and began designing logos, websites, you name it. It began with Microsoft Publisher then I moved over to Adobe Photoshop, Pagemaker, Illustrator, Macromedia Flash, and Dreamweaver. I took graphic design as an elective all the way through middle and high school, where I designed our school websites. It was in high school where I realized this could be a career, I began being paid by the school district for my services. I was then a paid designer, and being paid for what you love was and still is an amazing feeling.

Motivated to pursue a career in design, I graduated high school at 16 and enrolled in an accelerated design program where I graduated with my Bachelors in Graphic Design by the time I was 19. By the time I graduated I had my first full-time design job lined up, a production artist for a gourmet gift company. It was there I fell in love with the packaging. I moved up in my role there and began designing structural packaging, then graphic application to those structures. It was a packaging Bootcamp, as I was tasked to design full product lines within weeks. Shortly after I had the idea to start Dieline, I needed to see inspiring packaging from around the world and there wasn’t anywhere online I could. This was pre-interest, and Dieline was essentially my Pinterest board of inspiring package design from around the world.

Dieline took off quickly, within a year the site had grown from my little pinboard to a resource that was being used by designers worldwide. I continued my career in packaging design for another couple of years as Dieline grew and grew. By the time I was a creative director in my career, was when I began to sell sponsorships on Dieline and as the site began to monetize, I was able to quit my full-time job to focus on Dieline exclusively. It was the best thing I ever did in my career.

Today, I run Dieline, Dieline Awards, Dieline Conference, Print, and Print Awards with my amazing team and partners.

Why do you think Design is a key component of a brand? What does Design bring to Brand Identity?

Design is a key component of a brand because you can’t have a brand identity without design. Design is the process, and brand identity is the product.

How do you think good design ‘break barriers’ for brands and do you have an example you can share with our readers?

I really believe in the power of design to solve problems and change the world. Design is what empowers creativity, and creativity is the best tool to solve some of the biggest problems we have facing our world today.

A great example of the power of design to break barriers and solve some of today’s problems is our 2021 Dieline Plastic Free Innovation of the Year winner, the Prescription Paper Pill Bottle.

Last year, more than 4 billion prescriptions were filled in the United States alone. Most often, those medications come in pill form, and those tablets get packaged into cylindrical-shaped, amber-hued plastic bottles.

Unfortunately, all those bottles and their child-proof caps are more often than not too small to ever be recycled, making something good for our health bad for the health of our planet. Unlike bulk refill, you can’t bring back the same bottle to the pharmacist to refill for safety and hygienic reasons.

The solution? Good design. The Prescription Paper Pill Bottle is an open-source design so any pharmacy or manufacturer can use it. In addition to being made of sustainable paper, the bottle folds together, negating the need for glue, and does not require toxic inks or dyes. The ingenious design meets all child-resistant, strength, lightness, watertight, and low-cost needs.

Do you think a brand can be socially conscious through design? And how?

Absolutely, and here is a great example. For the second year in a row, the Print Awards 2022 Citizen Design Award specifically honors powerful work dedicated to so many vital causes.

Work in this special category runs the gamut—posters, graffiti, websites, nonprofit social media campaigns, and everything beyond and in between.

The 2021 winner, Creatives for Kitchens, is a charitable initiative that has worked to assemble teams of volunteer creative professionals and matches them with restaurants affected by the COVID-19 lockdown. The focus and result of their efforts have been pro-bono support for light touch updates to items such as menus, copy, signage, and websites. For example, many of their teams (typically a copywriter, designer, social strategist/content marketer, and photographer) have collaborated to create powerful and essential social media updates to communicate the changes in service, menu, and operations that restaurant patrons need to know. This is an ongoing project with no immediate plans to sunset: restaurants need them more than ever.

Some brands find it quite hard to create good experiences through design; what would be your advice to create better experiences using design?

Work with designers. No, seriously. Time and time again I have seen brand experiences that are driven by marketers, executives, and KPIs. How else can you create a good design experience if you don’t work with a designer? Bring a designer on early in the process so that brand design is just as important as the end business goals.

Other brands have a hard time creating good experiences is because they look like so many other brands. When your brand looks so similar to others, how can it ever be truly unique, proprietary, and one of a kind?

What are some of the lessons you have learned throughout the years while creating amazing and inspiring brands and projects?

As stereotypical as this is, one of the biggest things I have learned is YOLO: You only launch once. You only get one opportunity to make a first impression, so make it count. You can never go back in time to somebody’s first impression of your brand, so make sure that you are not only ready to go to market, but provide a well-designed brand experience across every channel.

What drives Andrew Gibbs? Where do you find inspiration for your work in brand design?

Lately, it has been sustainability in package design. In 2017 I had a life-changing health scare that changed my life as I know it. Over the course of several months, the left side of my body began to shut down nearly leaving me paralyzed. It was discovered that I had a rare spinal cord disease and a brain malformation and I had to have an emergency brain and spine surgery.

To say the least, it has been the most humbling experience of my life. As a newly disabled person whose body had been forever changed, and as someone who has seen how thin the veneer of health and ability can be, I quickly began to see the world through an entirely different lens. It has forced me to rethink my existence, my individual purpose in this world, and what my time left on this planet could best be used for.

And because Dieline is such a central, core part of me, it also forced me to rethink what Dieline’s purpose is for. I saw all the beautiful plastic packaging on the homepage of Dieline, and I also realized that I was a huge part of the problem. As the most visited website for packaging design in the world, I realized that I had an obligation to my industry and to our audience to educate and to guide our world towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

When we relaunched the Dieline brand in 2017, we made a new commitment to advocate package designers, brands, manufacturers, consumers, and the industry as a whole towards sustainable, plastic-free solutions.

We partnered with an incredible non-profit called A Plastic Planet, to pursue a shared mission:

Together, we want to ignite and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap. We want to dramatically reduce the use of single-use plastic packaging.

Tell us about the projects you are most proud of and why?

Our partnership with A Plastic Planet is one of the projects I am most proud of. Since 2017 we have co-created a tremendous about of sustainable packaging articles on Dieline breaking the myths of single-use plastic, and I have spoken around the world to package designers on behalf of the organization on the topic of plastic-free packaging.

In 2019, Dieline Awards partnered with A Plastic Planet to launch the world’s first Plastic Free Award for sustainable, plastic-free packaging. Together, we want to recognize the innovation and efforts of designers and brands for creating the solutions of tomorrow, today.

One of the other projects I am most proud of is the class I teach at ArtCenter College of Design with my business partner Jessica Deseo. Together we have transformed the class to teach sustainable plastic-free packaging and closed-loop systems exclusively.

Are there any other brands and/or projects that you admire? From colleagues, former clients or anyone else?

One brand that I really admire right now is Sway. Julia Marsh, the co-founder of Sway, found a new use for seaweed—using the ocean’s bounty to create alternatives to conventional plastics.

Since turning her master’s thesis into a bonafide company, Sway has gone on to do some of the typical startup things—seeking investors, winning tech competitions and grants, finding partners, and generally getting the word out about Sway’s biodegradable and sustainable alternative materials.

More specifically, Sway was one of nine winners of the Beyond the Bag Challenge, a contest from Closed Loop Partners, an investment firm seeking to scale up the circular economy by providing capital to startups. Funding comes from retail allies like Target, Walmart, and CVSHealth, and includes partnerships with non-profits Conservation International and Ocean Conservancy and design agency IDEO.

The young startup is now partnering with companies in the apparel, cosmetics, and household goods on both product development and test pilots for the material, some of which will see the light of day next year. Through the Beyond the Bag initiative, they are working closely with both Target and CVS to produce a biodegradable seaweed-based plastic bag.

For Andrew Gibbs, what are the biggest Design trends in 2022?

Trends are a big one for us at Dieline. We produce an annual trend report focusing on Visual Design Trends and Consumer Behavior trends. While we are finalizing our 2022 report now, I can share a sneak peek at one of the trends we are noticing: We Love the 90s. Yes, 90s nostalgia is here, kids, and with it, even beloved snack staples like Dunkaroos are back in new ways. Sure it could be what Pizza Hut is hawking by bringing back the Book-it program. Or new brands with distinctly 90s nostalgia looks. Stay tuned for our 2022 trend report for the details.

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