Inspiration

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Trailblazers: Branding environments with Bruce Mau Design

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Bruce Mau Design is a multidisciplinary design firm specialising in brands and their environments by developing brand systems, visual identities, packaging, digital experiences and physical environments for a roster of clients including Sonos and Unilever.

Working with environments in this way brings brands into physical actuality, transforming their appeal and helping them to grow and evolve away from the constraints of print and digital campaigns. We asked Bruce Mau’s Creative Director, Laura Stein, to tell us more about how the agency creates and nurtures a customer’s physical reaction to a brand in this way.

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Hello and welcome to Creativepool, we love what you guys are doing, can you tell us why you’re different to other design studios? 

One of the things I love about BMD is the mix of strategic, conceptual and highly visual work we do. We love to inhabit different cultures, understand where are clients sit and where they want to go, but we also want to push design and take it somewhere that we haven’t been before. When we can do all that and make it beautiful, that’s when we’re doing our best work. It’s difficult to bring it all together, but I think we do!

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We loved your brand identity for Sonos back in 2011 and we see that recently you've been working with them again. What was the new brief about and how did you go about fulfilling it?

It’s interesting working in a fast-moving disruptive field – the landscape changes very quickly. When we first started working with Sonos, they were pioneering the world of streaming home audio and the competition was pretty niche. By the time 2014 came around, the competitive set had grown and there were a lot of brands clamouring for attention so we wanted to make sure that Sonos claimed their leadership in this space but also that we recognized their larger purpose, which was less about making audio products, and more about creating the ultimate music experience.

We assessed what we did with Sonos and decided together that we needed to push further. We didn’t want a brand that would show up the same way every time, but one that could surprise and change and feel ‘album art-inspired’. We designed a toolkit that could be mixed and remixed, the same way we mix and remix contemporary music.

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What projects do you have coming up that you're excited about?

We are working on a rebrand for ASICS Tiger - the global, lifestyle sneaker brand that started in Japan. We were excited by the history and cultural aspect, and the challenge of bringing forward the idea of 'heritage evolved’. We loved the original logo created by Herb Lubalin, and commissioned a typeface from the firm Kontrapunkt based on those letter forms that could be used as a display face. It’s really expressive and unique to them and provides a consistent backdrop in our wild-posting inspired layouts. We helped created some key elements for their first flagship in Kobe, Japan and we're rolling them out now.

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What's your methodology when a brief comes in. Do you have any rituals or set ways of working?

We always start with research – less of a ritual than an approach as there are many ways to get the information we need to start a project. We consider ourselves partners to our clients so it’s important that we understand and direct the strategic implications of the work. The more we know of our clients’ worlds the better. Designers are part of the research process, concept and execution and so there’s a through line in the work that makes for really relevant design work. I wish we had a ritual though - I’m going to look into that.

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Can you tell us more about the branding environments you create for clients?

Bringing brands to life in physical spaces allows us to bring a certain depth to the experience as we consider things like interaction, light, texture and materiality. You can often feel a brand best when you’re in the brand's environment and have a kind of visceral reaction to it.

We worked with Unilever to create a visual identity system and then rolled out that experience across offices in the UK and Singapore. The identity was based within sustainable living and storytelling and that became an important element in physical space as well. Sculptural elements, furniture, wayfinding and signage were all part of the program and even with some subtle material shifts (depending on region), you still got the sense of the spirit of the brand.

We loved the 'hi' brand you created for Surface magazine recently. Do you often work on fictional projects like this?

Every now and then we do something that is more of an investigation than client-focused. ‘hi’ was one. We also did a project for WNYC’s Studio 360, where we looked at how Canada is misunderstood south of its border. The end result was an educational rebrand that imagined a full campaign called Know Canada. We ended up making our own ‘Know Canada’ app, so that people could participate in the campaign as well.

I love these kinds of projects – we get to explore design as a cultural driver without addressing all the pragmatic needs that come along with client work.

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