The Brand Identity

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Collins is a brand consultancy based in New York and San Francisco. We had some questions for Co-Founder Brian Collins and his team.

How has the ‘Convergence Era’, as you call it, affected branding and how you approach it?

The future we see is one where all points converge. Brand. Technology. Physical. Social. Environmental. Product. Digital. Biological. But the creative industries’ approach to brand building remains splintered. A ‘package design’ firm. An ‘identity’ agency. A ‘retail architecture’ office. An ‘app’ shop. An ‘ad’ agency.

Mobile systems exploded from nothing to become the crucial part of every company’s customer experience strategy overnight. Add now add 3D printing, virtual reality and robotics to the mix, too. Full-on. It’s all converging and recombining into something we’ve never seen before. And that’s beyond exciting.

From a customer’s point of view, though, all these experiences have been converging for the last 20 years. But like ad agencies still using an art director/writer ‘storytelling’ model created for TV in the 1950s – many creative disciplines remain stuck in the past.

We’ve entered an era where a company’s success no longer hinges as it once did on crafting one perfectly controlled ‘story’ defined by one dominant channel. Instead, people now seek coherent information and responsive experiences that enrich their lives – everywhere. Is Uber transportation or a brilliant interface? Is Oculus Rift branded content, gaming, technology or an environment?

It’s all of it. You can’t pull it apart.

These are new order problems that demand new order thinking. And they’re more behavior-based than communications-based. This makes it the perfect moment for design.

So for our clients we build teams of people from different disciplines – strategy, coding, media, design, architecture, branding – working together from the very start of every project. Working together, they all amplify the creative potential of the outcome.

Here’s the business implication: Nobody is competing with each other anymore. We’re all in competition with the future. And we leverage it as it rolls in our front door. It’s now our job to ju jitsu this much change to people’s advantage. So we work with companies who want to move faster than the culture. And who understand the need for more integrated, responsive ways to build relationships with people.

“Eos entered the game with a new idea and novel forms. And everybody else was white. Or black. Or beige. So Eos went in. With colour. Boldly.”

What challenges did Eos come across to stand out in an overcrowded skincare market?

Lip care products had been marketed more like a utility. And designed as such. Dull. No one had challenged the existing behaviors or forms associated with those products for decades.

Eos entered the game with a new idea and novel forms. And everybody else was white. Or black. Or beige. So Eos went in. With colour. Boldly.

The brand smartly differentiated itself in product design, quality, packaging and communications as something tangibly… better for people. And, frankly, Eos is better. I mean, there are over a half a million videos on YouTube made by Eos fans. That’s insane. But it shows you just how beloved Eos has become.

What was the process like of finding the right amount of tactility for the packaging?

Top secret. Perhaps a nice 2005 Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape might loosen my tongue.

What are the day-to-day must haves in the Collins studio?

Coffee… wine… Oreos.

Not necessarily in that order.

Truthfully, it’s the people here at Collins that are the must have. The talent, curiosity, fearlessness, and experiences of our people are what continue to question and push our work forward. Here’s the key: We never hire for that HR bromide called ‘cultural fit’. Ever. We want you to bring – and to be – something new. Something we don’t have. So we hire for cultural contribution. For what is different. Or, as Mr. Spock would say, we seek ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’.

Also a sketch session in our library. There are over two thousand books on photography, business, fashion, Chinese fairy tales, Joseph Campbell, ecology, Jane Jacobs, poetry, Bel Hooks, Coco Chanel, sex, Ken Adam, pancakes, Pablo Neruda, philosophy, Corita Kent, every issue of Art & Architecture ever published, Noam Chomsky and Wonder Woman comic books. Puts the internet to shame.

You should come by sometime. We make insane coffee.

“We wanted to ensure our typography had a clean, muscular voice to support this intense, new brand expression.”

Can you give us some insight into the typographic treatment used for the Spotify visual language?

Along with creating the brand design platform and language, photography and illustration styles – we wanted to unify the brand through a single, tailored typeface.

So we worked closely with the font foundry Lineto to create customised versions of their superb fonts in ‘Circular’. We wanted to ensure our typography had a clean, muscular voice to support this intense, new brand expression. Through the typography we unified the Spotify experience across mobile, web, environments and advertising.

Big ups to Benjamin Crick, Christian Widlic, Gabe Benzur, Seth Mrozcka and my Co-Founder Leland Maschmeyer for this work.

What is your dream branding project?

What we’re doing right now. Designing responsive environments at retail. Building new products. Revitalising a legendary brand. Working with Airbnb. Chubb. Coca-Cola. Everlane. Facebook. Instagram. The Guggenheim. And Target.

Also The Muppets. But that’s a story for another day. Miss Piggy is picky about her press.

I guess the best definition of what excites us most comes from a thought from Edgar Degas. ‘Art is not what you see, but what you make others see’. Every project we’re doing seeks to embody that ideal: what can we better enable people to understand or do?

“The Freewheel logomark itself is derived from a simple goal: to encourage more freedom of choice for people.”

Can you explain the concept behind your identity for Freewheel?

Sure. Freewheel is a mobile phone product powered by a giant, dedicated wifi network with over a million hotspots in the New York State area. It was created so people could have a really easy, economical alternative to all the expensive data plans and hidden fees of giant cell phone companies.

The Freewheel logomark itself is derived from a simple goal: to encourage more freedom of choice for people. All those energetic, flying lines in our design language express the wifi signal that’s available everywhere our customer goes. The system of lines stems from the Freewheel logomark we did.

After the product launched we saw an explosion of visits on the Collins site from Cupertino, California. We guessed we hit a nerve.

Tom Wilder, Christian Widlic and Natalie Vartanian here crushed that.

The Tribeca Film Festival has stood the test of time through a multitude of trends and still looks current. How important do you think is to stay in touch with what’s current in design? 

It’s important. Because you must be aware of the cultural moment you’re working in. And it’s irrelevant. Because differentiation, working against trend, is what makes an idea intriguing. It’s what hooks curiosity.

While we’re obviously aware of what’s stylistically current in design, we’re more inspired by fields outside of design. I hope things like poetry, art, fashion, music, theatre and fiction influence our work more than what’s currently ‘in style’.

A famous and very good designer once said ‘Style = Fart’. I disagree with him. The way we see it ‘Style = Accuracy’. To find a precise answer, we like to play with both the familiar and the surprising. You need both in different degrees, depending on the behavior you wish to enable.

And, thank you. I still like the Tribeca Film Festival work, too. I did that with my colleague at the time, David Israel. And Jane Rosenthal and Robert DeNiro were awesome clients. We were warned they might be… difficult. But after having Miss Piggy as a client, they were a piece of cake.

How do you feel about the current design scene in New York?

I lived as an art student here in the very early – and outrageous – 1980s. I lived in Union Square. The words urban decay, gritty and deadly don’t even come close. One morning my roommates and I walked out of our lobby to get to school and stumbled across a body spread over the 14th Street sidewalk. The guy had been shot. Recently.

Yet the city was at the very height of its art and music scene. The Mudd Club, The Ritz, CBGBs and punk on one side. Paradise Garage, Studio 54, and the collapse of disco on the other. You could nab Keith Haring graffiti as he was painting over ads in the subway. Andy Warhol walked around Union Square passing out fresh copies of Interview. This was pre-AIDS. It was one endless, giant, colourful, glamorous and dangerous party.

So that New York informs the way I see this New York. And this New York is more sanitised. But that insane energy is still here. And everywhere. Ambition. Talent. Resilience. Grit. All propelled by hard work. We’re in an amazing neighborhood in Greenwich Village. And the new Whitney Museum just opened down the street. So, artistically, it’s as exciting as ever. And for design, I think we’re entering a golden era.

And it attracts the best players in the world. My creative partner Matt Luckhurst, for example, came here from Canada and started out as my graduate student at The School of Visual Arts. He now leads our booming office in San Francisco.

So Collins really lives in two cities now. New York and San Francisco. And in both cities we work really hard to create the kind of place we didn’t have as kids. And make the kind of community where we can all learn and grow and push ourselves together to do the best work of our lives.

And, you know, eat Oreos.

wearecollins.com

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