The Anthropologic Designer
By Sebastian Guerrini
(This article was published in Branding Magazine, New York)
“I have worked in 26 countries and have come to the conclusion that I can create brands for clients anywhere in the world. Why? Because I am an anthropologic designer.”
What is that? An anthropologic designer is the role which allows one to understand the Other, a role that helps one to comprehend as much as possible about each case, each community, each market and customer’s expectations. Moreover, being an anthropologic designer helps one conceive the accurate communication strategy for every context, whether global or local. I invite you to this, then, my stage of action.
As a result of the influence of present media and the fragmentation of communities, new identities are constantly been produced worldwide. Accordingly, there is a special claim in businesses and institutions about international communications, but international communication is a special topic. For that reason, five issues are important to note:
First we have to realize that in social life nothing exists without being interpreted and represented.
Even the world can only be grasped just by our interpretation. Places or nations do not have life in themselves: Their truth is the result of people’s thoughts and imaginations. Moreover, we have to recognise that we cannot see things as they are, but rather can only see things as we are. That is quite a challenge for international communications, a topic that requires us to go beyond ourselves. It expects us to recognize the humanity and essence of each social group, even if they have criteria, thoughts and habits different from ours.
Branding is part of this process of acquired sense, of interpreting our social soil. As designers, our job is to represent: We create images which act as characters within fluctuating action scenarios and bridge messages between different cultures. That means that we do not work with shapes, fonts and colours, but with meanings and our duty as brand designers is to communicate these meanings through images.
Secondly, if we want to design cross-cultural brands, we must accept that images’ power lies in what those images arouse in spectators. Furthermore, we must realize that images never truly have power, but that their power always comes from what viewers have deposited upon them. Hence, what a brand says or shows does not matter; what does matter is what it achieves. This means that image, design and stories are not relevant per se, but only serve as useful resources to transform the viewers’ lives. In other words, the aim of the brand is never as crucial as its concrete influence upon the beholder.
Third, we must gather that the biggest challenge for any inter-cultural brand is to integrate diversities by finding common denominators among regions and cultures. In that way, the efficacy of the brand depends exclusively on how different people feel, take and assume that brand as their own. Thus, dialogue and consensus are more important than the aesthetic when it comes to the success of this kind of brands. Pictures that cannot be decoded require us to try to impose them by force, which ends up being more expensive and provides no guarantee of achievement. For that reason we must listen, read and see. And in order to do so, we are required to research the specific action scenario and deduce the likely viewer conduct.
But how is this done? It is accomplished by conducting participatory interviews, face-to-face or video meetings or questionnaires with open-ended questions—all looking to explore and identify the points that unite and separate the different subgroups. With discourse analysis in pursuit of imaginaries, the regulations and realities of each sector are also involved. Either way, there are many tools indeed that can be applied for catching common denominators, but we must explore the subject and be flexible. Without this capacity we cannot achieve what we need.
Finally, as anthropologists, we have to create a kind of social map of our brand’s field. Later on, as a designer, we have to draw over that map and create the path that will allow us to reach our desired destination.
Fourth, we have to recognize that brand designers are storytellers. In this context, the symbol must always arouse a story in its audience’s mind—a story that should come from the depths of what individuals, companies and organizations want. Then, the question is to find what we have to narrate by the brand; so, in turn, the basis of the brand’s story must always be a communication strategy, since the brand is what makes that strategy visible.
Fifth, the device that employ in our storytelling can always be strange to us. This is a complicated item because, in order to architect the brand accurately, we must learn about the cultures involved and how they express themselves. For example, to find the appropriate symbolism, I studied Arabic calligraphy for one job and Japanese Kanji for another. Then, within this knowledge, you must utilize your best art for creating the visual message.
Is it necessary to do all of this? Another methodological option is to think that the brand itself will magically find the hidden symbol that everyone searches for, a symbol that can be decoded by the diverse citizens of this world. However, this method is dangerous as exampled by the many brands that have failed. It is up to you to decide.
© Sebastián Guerrini, 2013. www.guerriniisland.com