Justified Studio’s Joshua Ogden on climate change’s branding problem and how creatives can fix it
Between March 2021 and April 2022, in collaboration with Two°Creative, we invited designers to redesign the confusing Green Dot symbol to better represent its original meaning. Continuing on from this open brief, The Change We Need is an interview series exploring the design industry’s role in the fight against climate change. For part six, we spoke to Joshua Ogden, the Founder and Creative Director of London-based creative agency Justified Studio.
EM Can you tell us about Justified Studio and your role there?
JO Justified Studio exists to use the power of strategy, brand design and digital to support organisations to keep progressing, developing and evolving to make a positive impact. My role as Creative Director is to make sure the strategic opportunities are realised through visual executions and digital/physical touchpoints.
EM As a creative, do you think you have a role in the fight against climate change, and if so, what is that role?
JO In 2022, we believe the future is very much already here. There is no denying that we are going through a paradigm shift and the climate crisis is at the forefront. Businesses, organisations, institutions and human beings must drastically rethink the way they operate, not only to become more ‘sustainable’ but to drive products and services with purpose and impact.
The main questions we ask as a studio are: What role will creativity play in this process? What creative campaigns could become useful tools to help inspire change? How can we drive products and services with purpose and impact?
At Justified, we are aware that the creativity underpinning our work (brand design and advertising) has the potential to be an incredible tool in the coming decade. Brand design and advertising, by their very nature, seek to change perception on a given topic; to entice audiences to purchase/buy into products, drumming up love for a brand or humanising organisations.
In short, the work we create as designers has the power to persuade and become a driving catalyst for action and change.
Make it immediate and make it sexy.
EM Can you give us an example from your practice in which climate considerations impacted or changed a project?
JO When we were approached to rebrand Sweden’s biggest solar company SVEA Solar, there was a very interesting challenge to try to solve. To begin the death of ‘Stock Sustainability.’
The current visual language of green energy companies, sustainability and most environmental movements is built on the cliché of ‘Stock Sustainability,’ a saturated visual language highlighting solar panels, wind farms, roofs, earthy products and of course the colour green. All of these codes do not communicate the urgency to act.
It is a disastrous problem tbh… however, entirely solvable. It is about looking at sectors that have managed to bridge communication codes to make products desirable. So, if the task is to make more people switch to green energy, do what Apple do. Make it tech. Make it immediate and make it sexy. Which is the approach we took to SVEA Solar.
XR treated their first year of inception as a creative brief.
EM When did you first start being environmentally conscious in relation to your work?
JO It happened when I was living in Paris in 2018 and was travelling back home to the UK when London was all but shut down by a non-violent yet disruptive movement; Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR. At the time, I had no immediate connection to the climate narrative, but it didn’t take long until I was engaging with the XR manifesto and trying to wrap my head around it.
The part that I found impressive was how well XR in 2018 understood their audience and the tools required to connect to that audience, and they understood who to work with to ensure the message had the most significant possible reach.
XR treated their first year of inception as a creative brief. Firstly, XR identified their primary support as youth, positioning themselves perfectly alongside the already powerful ‘school strike’ movement kicked off by Greta Thunberg. Then, XR quickly gained momentum by using an almost identical model to a brand pushing a product launch. They used Instagram as a primary communication tool, used strong brand symbolism to form a clean graphic identity, and worked with celebrity ambassadors. This was the moment for myself I started to think, ‘what if creatives working in the design and ad industry put our thought, time and energy into treating the environmental crisis as a creative brief? What would that look like?’
Within a couple of months, I moved back to London full time to join Museum for the United Nations, which then later became Justified Studio’s first client. <3
EM What could the design industry do more of or be better at in the fight against climate change?
JO We have a tendency to design for other creatives. We need to design beyond our echo chambers. Reach out to NGOs, youth projects and grassroot organisations. A lot of creative freedom can be found but also unexpected positive results from the creative will be found.
“As mediators between the public and brands, the creative industry is uniquely capable of driving rapid behaviour-change across society, around the world and should take the lead rather than be driven.” (source)
There is still SO much to be done. In my opinion, there is a huge branding issue with climate change – but one that can be solved. As with any successful exercise in branding, there are a handful of universal questions:
Is the branding unique? Not only from the actions it inspires, but from the immediate, visceral reaction to its visual codes such as typography choices, colour palettes and how the two interact.
Does the brand hold an ‘untold’ narrative? Does it create a universe that you feel part of? Or want to feel part of?
Does the brand cross genres? This part, if done correctly is the most important. When a brand reflects an inclusive audience, it has a greater reach, a greater sense of community and often, a more powerful impact.
The climate movement answers these questions poorly, at best. Ask someone to draw a logo or icon for climate change. Most likely, it will be green, feature a burning globe and include messaging saying ‘No Planet B’ or similar. Predictable? Yes. Effective? Unfortunately not.
Why is the biggest preventable tragedy of our time so badly represented? For us all as design and communications creatives, this opens up the opportunity for writing one of the greatest briefs of our time: to make people (everyone) give a shit.