Posts in What Are We Learning?
On Brand and Religion Part 1
King David playing the harp by Hendrick ter Brugghen.

King David playing the harp by Hendrick ter Brugghen.

Brand and religion are two things I think about often. Branding is what I choose to do as a career, and religion helps me frame my faith. Not a day goes by when I don't think about these two subjects. However, it's not often that I think of them at the same time. Yet, these past weeks, I've been starting to wonder if the two have more in common than expected. Think about it. Far more than a product, you buy something you believe in. For instance, Nike promises victory. More significant than a shoe or its function, an idea persuades loyal buyers towards Nike products. How does it do it? Like religion, Nike has gods. While they're far from perfect, their stories always end in victory. Consider the recent narrative of Tiger Woods. He was pretty much down for the count after a period of self-inflicted turmoil in his personal life. Then he started to make a comeback. Then he won The Masters. It's practically a miracle. Nike's creative team was there to immediately broadcast a commercial of Tiger's metamorphosis. They weren't selling a product. No, it was a reminder that you can be faithful to Nike and its promise of victory no matter the situation. Sounds a bit like religion, right?

I can't speak for all religions, but in my faith tradition, there's quite the cast of characters. Each purposed, like Tiger, with reminding believers keep the faith. I think of King David (of David and Goliath). Here's a guy, like Woods, who couldn't control his desires and made colossal mistakes. Yet he lands in good graces. He even ends up with a king greater than all kings in his blood line. It's a reminder that kings are human too. That if David can be forgiven, then so can you.

A brands currency, like religion, is belief. If followers believe, they will buy. The problem with this, which also applies to religion, is that followers are often unaware of the power belief can have over them. Recently, I was talking to marketing students at Cincinnati Christian University about branding. I asked questions like what are your favorite brands? How do you relate to those brands? Are brands good, bad, or inevitable? The students had answers (some inherited brands from their parents, not unlike religion), but I recognized that it was not something that they think about often. They each had brands that they're loyal to, but it's more reflexive than reflective. Meaning, they're loyal, but they don't think about why. It reminds me of the story of the two fish who are approached by an elder fish who asks, "how's the water?" The two fish are confused and ask, "what's water?" Brands and religion are like water. Pools of ideologies and aspirations that drive the decisions people make, often unknowingly.

That's not true for all brands and religious expressions. Some aim to create more reflective believers. They're a lot like the elder fish who asks questions that lead to more inquiry, rather than involuntary (reflexive) behavior. I think of REI's Opt Outside campaign or the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. The hero shot on the Opt Outside page leads with “There are questions that only the outdoors can answer.” The first paragraph on the Ignatian exercises says they’re meant to “help people deepen their relationship with God.” Both examples can lead to deep discovery and greater belief. But, it’s through the conscious efforts and consent (reflective choices) of the shopper/follower.

Beyond gods and men, brands, like religion, have many other approaches to building belief. I hope to write about more commonalities in the future. For now, I'll leave you with a question. Are you reflective or reflexive in your loyalty to brands (and religion)? Or, instead, how's the water?

Mid-Semester Lessons from Capstone

Behold, the Capstone!

Behold, the Capstone!

It’s the end of February, and we’re about at the half-way point through the spring semester. I’ve been teaching the Senior Capstone course at DAAP. The primary purpose of Capstone is for the students to exhibit the skills they’ve acquired during the last four years at DAAP. In that way, “teacher” isn’t quite the right description for my role because the end goal isn’t to learn from me. My job is to help the students express their knowledge and to encourage them through the most extended project they’ve worked on to date. It’s a lot more like the role of a coach. 

I’m new at this, so it’s been my temptation to teach rather than to coach. I’ve been critiquing their work based on where I think it should be on a made up timeline in my mind (i.e., finished yesterday). Likewise, I find myself attaching to projects, imagining where I’d take them, and sharing feedback to that end. If I were to name the fear behind these behaviors, it would be that I’m afraid people (other professors, designers, etc.) will judge me based on student outcomes. Not cool. I’m aware.

It’s dawned on me that the outcome isn’t nearly as important compared to all that they are learning in the middle of the process right now.

Equipped with that awareness, I’ve begun to loosen up. As I walked up the stairs to DAAP before class the other day, I told myself to have fun, get to know the students, and focus less on critiquing the work. They have plenty of avenues for feedback. What if my task is more to cheer them on, over all of the inevitable design blocks, through this daunting design journey? It's dawned on me that the outcome isn’t nearly as important compared to all that the students are learning in the middle of the process right now. Trust and be faithful to the process and the results will work themselves out. That's a lesson I’m continually learning in my work as an adjunct professor and professional designer/business owner. It’s a lesson that I’ll need a reminded of again and again.

Speaking of process, the students are keeping an online journal of their Capstone process in a Medium publication. Please take a moment to check their work so far. If you’re feeling extra generous, make a comment or “applaud” their posts.

Click here to view the publication.