Brand Thinking: Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Pink, and Other Mavens on How and Why We Define Ourselves Through Stuffby Maria Popova
“The modern version of introspection is the sum total of all those highly individualized choices that we make about the material content of our lives.”
The art of the interview may be nearly obsolete, but a handful of its contemporary masters still hold its fort. One of them is Debbie Millman who, besides being an extraordinary artist andmodern-day philosopher, is also a maven of design and branding who has spent nearly a decade interviewing some of today’s most revered designers, writers, artists, anthropologists, and various other thought leaders on her Design Matters radio show, which earned the prestigious Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in 2011. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits (public library) is the equally fantastic follow-up to the 2007 anthology How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer, culling and synthesizing some of her finest interviews with such admired minds as Daniel Pink, Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, and Wally Olins.
Cumulatively, the wide-ranging conversations — often optimistic, but never without necessary friction and the intelligent push-back that is the hallmark of a great interview — underline the little-appreciated yet invaluable fact that the best way to illuminate a discipline is by exploring its darkest nooks and furthest fringes, those myriad cross-disciplinary touchpoints where it connects to the intricate web of interdependencies that is life. And in a culture where we continually make sense of life, ourselves, the world, and our place in it through the stuff we consume — be it the books we read or the brands we buy — these meditations on branding, design, and psychology reverberate through the deepest, and at times most uncomfortable, layers of our behavior, constructing a powerfully introspective framework for what it means to be human.
In the foreword, the inimitable Rob Walker provides his seemingly simple but enormously insightful definition of branding:
My view is that branding is the process of attaching an idea to some object, or to a service or organization.
In the introduction, Millman herself offers a brief history of branding:
Article in BrainPickingsThe word “brand” is derived from the Old Norse wordbrandr, which means “to burn by fire.” … In 1876, after the United Kingdom passed the Trade Mark Registration Act, Bass Ale became the first trademarked brand in the world after submitting its now-quintessential red triangle for trademark status. The act gave businesses the ability to register and protect a brand marker so that a similar icon couldn’t be used by any other company. In addition to clinching trademark number 1, Bass’s trailblazing history includes its appearances in Édouard Manet’s 1882 masterpiece A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Pablo Picasso’s 1912 painting Bouteille de Bass et Guitare, ostensibly providing the brand with the cultural distinction of “first product placement.” … A little more than a century later, we are living in a world with over one hundred brands of bottled water.