Branding, Symphony, and Cubism

Branding is as difficult to describe as it is to critique or actively observe. Equally so, symphonies, and cubism share the same difficulty.

Encompassed within a brand are a multitude of elements: logos, marks, typography, photography, illustration, tone of voice, all of which contribute to reflecting the personality and values of that brand. However, it must be noted that all of these exist through experience. In the form of your experience to those elements to then form a holistic perception in its regard, as well as your experiences over the course of your life which lead you to form that very perception.

When you strip branding of experience (of either form), it fails to hold water. In a similar fashion, an attempt to segment brand experience into categorized parts is to remove an underlying context which allows this complex system to manifest itself and operate within real-world environments. I specify real-world environments because a brand is not actually experienced through the work shared by the designer, just as a symphony isn’t experienced through a photo of their performance or an audio snippet, nor is a cubist painting digested in segments.

This conversation stems from Paul Smith’s text, “How a Cubist Painting Holds Together,” and in a similar regard, this addresses how a brand holds together.

Although Paul states that a painting is an intentional object, he also suggests that artists only understand their own intention once it’s made. Much is the same in the design process. Although each element is created with intention, it isn’t until everything is made and can be experienced in entirety that the clear intention becomes evident. Often times intention isn’t what we create, but what we reveal. Much like the process of research, by nature of iteration we’re in a constant state of discovery. The process of branding then becomes the understanding of intention, not solely the execution of it.

One could easily look at the common elements of Cubism, but trying to understand one of their paintings in segments is far too complex. Similar to seeing the forest for the trees, as Paul states, their understanding is “accomplished with concert.” Rather than the generality of concert, I’d suggest symphony for their sake of grace in the face of complexity. For one can’t solely focus on an individual instrument or class of instruments for that matter and expect to receive the full experience.

Furthermore, Paul writes, “An early Cubist painting is to make the spectator’s movement around the depicted scene explicit,” and continued on to explain that movement entails the dimensions of space and time. With that being said, one of the clear characteristics of Cubism is the use of multiple viewpoints which could demonstrate space (perspectives), time and motion (moving around the scene). He further explains how just a few lines are needed to register a 3D shape, yet Cubists continually use lines which contradict one another. Could this be to show time? Multiple perspectives? Motion? Perhaps all three interplaying with one another?

What can be observed here from this practice and the paintings role of making movement explicit, is how a brand is to take on a similar responsibility of guiding the viewer through an experience. We then pose questions like the ones asked in regards to cubism. How may elements interplay and cross mediums to, in effect, fulfill the many objectives of the brand and reflect their values—the equivalent of Cubism’s relationship to space, time and motion? With symphony, a very similar approach is taken. Every part is intended to contribute to the whole because no part truly exists independent of the other parts.

A symphony could very well be taking place in a theatre, and a person walking by on the sidewalk could briefly hear a part while passing by. They of course have the ability to make a judgement based on that short snippet, however, their input or opinion is uninformed by proper context and experience. What makes a symphony both enjoyable and successful is the convening of experiences. The first being of the piece itself through the revealing of intention through process then the intention being explicit to the spectator. While the second experience stems directly from the spectators themselves.

Cubist painter Georges Braque brings up another interesting point regarding his own work stating that “scientific perspective forces the objects in a picture to disappear away from the beholder instead of bringing them within his reach as a painting should.” When the objects are in the grasp of the viewer, the viewer has control over their own perception of depth and perspective. He also stated, “I have always had to touch things and not merely see them.” With these two statements taken into account, is painting a process of understanding?

Following this trend of relationships, how might a brand bring perception or experience within grasp of the customer or the individual interacting with it? Certainly not through conventional practices or entirely predictable means because it’s standardization or formalization which forces preconceived ideas onto the audience. Although in many cases, this is exactly what a brand requires, to instill a particular set of ideas upon their target market. But then there are cases where this doesn’t pertain, for instance, brands which intend to set themselves apart, mark themselves as innovative, or seek a more direct connection with their audience.

With these three (Brand, Symphony, and Cubism), they first must be observed in entirety—in a holistic manner—before they can be analyzed in detail or segments. The issue is that often times, the inverse occurs. The details are first worked to inform the overall, therefore causing disconnected points of gravity—increasing the likeliness of things collapsing in on themselves. Or it’s that we attempt to analyze segments without an experience of the whole.

So what can you take from this? Largely, it’s that experience and story become extremely important in regards to brand development, showcase, as well as critique. Experiences with a brand are often guided by a particular goal or genuine motivation. So it becomes important to experience the brand throughout development so we can reveal our own intentions and make those explicit to the audience. Then we must utilize story to provide context for those that lack experience with the brand to properly showcase its intention. Lastly, it becomes our responsibility to seek experience of the whole before we can attempt to understand the segments.