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What matters is the human aspect

Following a series of lectures, Thierry Brunfaut returns to the subject of the Base Design approach, market developments and the company’s projects.

Thierry’s opening at Asia Design Management, Hangzhou, China

With a market of 1.3 billion inhabitants, China is whetting the appetites of businessmen the world over. But although he was back in China again this autumn to give a presentation on branding, Thierry Brunfaut – Creative Director and partner at Base Design – had other motivations.

To an extent this was voluntary work, but these conferences also and above all enable me to learn things, to see how my job is changing, to meet other speakers with whom we often have very rich exchanges. It also gives me the opportunity to look at my activity from afar, to take a distance. That is not only interesting but very useful.

The title of your presentation was "Forget your logo. Sign with words"…

I wanted to stress the importance of the word compared to the logo. Very often companies that come to see us are obsessed with their logo, they want it to express or illustrate so many things. The logo is important of course because it is the brand signature. The aim of my presentations is to show what the logo must do above all else and that is to initiate dialogue.

Hence the role of words,…

In 2008, we produced a video based on one idea: What happens when you interview someone and delete what they say? In our video we retained only the silences, the moments of thought, the hesitations. Is the message conveyed without the words? Simply with the facial expressions, the moments when one is lost in thought. It was fascinating! Until recently the approach was primarily visual. But over the past two or three years the importance of the message has become paramount for all our brands. In particular because of the importance of social networks. “Messaging” is everywhere. But customers are frightened of words. Many people shrink from writing. We must help brands engage in a dialogue with their customers that begins with their logo. What is strongest at Nike, the famous Swoosh or the “Just do it”? And the famous “I love New York” with a heart in the place of the word “love”? This has spread worldwide and remains a trusted value, today still. This is not just a logo but above all a phrase. And the reason it is a logo that has lasted is most probably because it is a phrase that engages personally with the reader.

Tell us about the kind of public your presentations attract.

In China, the presentation was part of the Asia Design Management Forum, in Hangzhou. The audience consisted mainly of business and marketing people: branding and communication professionals, students. I gave a similar presentation a few weeks later in Antwerp, as part of Integrated 2015. There it was a more creative type public, people from the world of design, graphics and typography. But in both cases we saw the same reactions at the same moments. Like a form of universality of attitude in the face of certain subjects

Branding with words only. The example of Graanmarkt 13.

Paul Stafford, from Design Studio London, explaining their rebranding of Airbnb

What developments are you seeing on the Chinese market?

The attention paid to design is growing in importance. This is following on from the lead given by Apple, among others. In China this is not yet the case for mass products, but it is becoming increasingly evident, especially for premium brands. Yet the fact remains that Chinese manufacturers are still not seeking to display their Chinese identity. That is no doubt their next big challenge and I am sure that we will see this, with brands that are finally originally Chinese, such as Huawei. Today they often prefer to copy or draw inspiration from the logo and approach of a major European or US brand. At this level they have very few qualms, very different to us. They seem to put Western design on a pedestal. For them, what we say is often taken as gospel. They are certainly very attentive.

What is the connecting thread running through your work, whether speaking of Mobistar, of MoMa, of the Louis Vuitton Foundation, the Olympic Museum or Delvaux?

The human aspect. When clients come to see us, they nearly all use the same words to stress their values. Words that are rather losing their meaning today in the world of branding: dynamism, integrity, transparency, etc. It is not a question of reducing the dimension, but what really counts, beyond the words, is what is done, specifically. That is the mutual confidence that is established between the brand and the client. Helping a brand and the people behind it to speak and act correctly. That is the essence of my work and I simply love that!

What kind of project would immediately appeal to you?

I would very much like to work with an airline. Or rebrand a major daily. Such as Le Soir in Belgium for example. With all the challenges that this represents: the paper publication and the on-line versions, developing ergonomic applications. Here too, building a continuous and ever changing dialogue between the daily and its public. That would be a great challenge.

What can we expect from Base Design in 2016?

We have just set up the BaseGroup, an umbrella entity bringing together our present and future agencies within a more dynamic organisation. This will benefit from a more flexible structure and make it possible to welcome new partners. We are also launching an additional activity, BaseDigital, that will be devoted to interactive media, to the Internet, to mobile supports. While continuing to remain true to our approach: no standard response. We develop an entirely personalised solution for each customer. Because to exist and succeed today as a commercial or cultural brand you must be radical above all else: 100% yourself and, as a result, different to all the others.

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