Posts Tagged ‘Branding’

A Sign of Change – SunAmerica Wipes the AIG From Its Face!

Posted by Robert Weitz on May 5, 2009 10:48 AM

More changes in our neighborhood! The AIG SunAmerica sign that looked so very temporary to brand designers like ourselves has come down! The change has come, and now the tacky temporary sign that represented billions and billions of dollars is down. So, what’s next?

AIG SunAmerica

As we watch old established structures crumble, we inevitably wonder: What’s going to fill the void? The jokes have been flying around our studio—what three letters should take its place? IOU? PIG?

If you have any ideas, let us know and we’ll use our digital magic to add our favorite to a future post!

AIG SunAmerica – The brand identity tells the story

Posted by Robert Weitz on March 12, 2009 1:28 PM

I have learned all of my best lessons on the meaning and importance of “brand” from my clients. One of our earliest clients, Mike Katz, CEO of ICE Inc., and I were cruising around the Santa Monica Promenade one day looking for something “unusual” to snack on.

The two of us have spent hundreds of hours cruising around looking for snacks since the time we met traveling in Europe. Mike is particularly great at this pursuit since his early career included having opened, managed and cooked in some of San Francisco’s finest restaurants.

Snacking with Mike usually starts with the hunt and rarely ends in disappointment. The reason is that, between the two of us, we have a great sense of what is good, and how that manifests itself in the look and feel, the smell and the general vibe of the restaurant.

As we started winding down a few of the hidden little side streets that flow into the more touristy Promenade, we noticed an Egyptian restaurant. Our immediate reaction was “Wow, Egyptian food!” Within seconds, however, Mike was shaking his head. “Look at the sign,” he said sadly, “it’s crooked and dirty… I can only imagine how filthy the kitchen is if that’s how they keep their sign.”

AIG SunAmerica

When SunAmerica merged with AIG in 1998, somebody scabbed a lightbox-style sign (think laundry, fast food and used cars) onto the SunAmerica building in Century City, which is visible from my studio. The original SunAmerica logo and sign is well-crafted and suited to the modern tower they are bolted to. I always thought that the AIG part was a temporary fix, since the sign is dull, oftentimes looks dirty, is in a different style, and not even attached on the same plane.

Without any due diligence or knowing anything about the company, I could tell you that something was not right. Here is a sign that tops off a tower that can be seen for miles around, and it screams impermanence, shoddy branding and lack of interest in public perception.

The sign speaks eons about a corporate culture more interested in opulent internal incentive programs, exotic investments and executive payouts than a long-term relationship with their customers and shareholders. Why spend a couple of thousand dollars on a sign that tells everyone that our company plans to be around for a while and is proud to be an established business with long-term objectives?

If the brand is a herald that represents the attitude and standing of a company, AIG SunAmerica’s tacky, ill-conceived sign teaches us a lot about their attitude, culture and how much they care about what the public thinks.

MUJI Invades America

Posted by Dylan Tran on February 9, 2009 2:16 PM

It’s ironic that in brand-obsessed Japan, one of the most popular brands is MUJI (short for Mujirushi Ryohin). What began in Tokyo over 25 years ago as a simple concept to create “no-brand quality products,” has now transformed into a global empire with over hundreds of stores in Asia and Europe.

Up until now, MUJI products, which include stationery, housewares, clothing, and toiletries, were only available in the U.S. through select museum stores such as the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. But in the last year, MUJI has finally invaded America, opening three retail stores in NY (SoHo, Times Square, Chelsea) with plans for many more locations nationwide.

I’m excited about this because MUJI products have long epitomized modern simplicity and functionality. MUJI pays attention to the smallest of details for the most basic of necessities. Take this aluminum card case, for example, which is elegant and minimalist in its design. The lines are sleek and clean; the materials are beautiful and lightweight. And it works amazingly well.

MUJI card case

Notice there’s no MUJI logo on the product? You won’t find it on any of their 7,000 items. That’s because the genius of MUJI is that the design is the brand. The aesthetic is so unique you won’t have trouble identifying any of their products.

MUJI has also set themselves apart by simplifying the packaging. Most items come in a plain plastic wrap to let you see what you get. There’s no printing, just the price sticker. And they’ve streamlined the manufacturing process in other ways as well, reducing waste and improving efficiency. They use earth-friendly natural and recycled materials in their products. Check out these foldable cardboard speakers, for instance.

MUJI speakers

All of these smart strategies have helped to keep MUJI’s prices low and affordable, and to garner them a devoted legion of fans worldwide. By emphasizing innovative design and high quality as the standard for their “no-brand,” they’ve managed to distinguish their products in a crowded marketplace. And that’s something we can all learn from.

Imagination – President Obama Opens the Door

Posted by Robert Weitz on January 23, 2009 12:35 PM


“There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.” – Barack Obama

President Obama’s inaugural address moved me in many ways, but the word that jumped out and grabbed my “designer’s mind” was…”imagination.” It’s something that has been misused and suppressed in the last eight years. In fact, it seems that so much energy was given to subverting the rule of law and hiding inadequacies that there was no imagination left for building and planning for our future.

Design is about nuance and planning. Designers are asked to “imagine” that which does not exist. We are asked to explain and organize chaos, excite the senses while abiding by the laws of physics and nature.

As we emerge from the first decade of the 21st century we will need to understand the role that the human imagination plays in bettering our lives and inspiring great deeds.

The last years have been dumbed down by our fear of expansive ideas, nuance and imagination. Those who boldly looked to the future in the sciences and the arts and social sciences were loudly ridiculed, stifled and sidelined. People who called for nuanced information gathering, analysis and planning were poo-pooed and the “just slam it” school took center stage, often leaving a wake of destruction and debt in their path.

“Imagination is joined to common purpose” well defines so many human endeavors. I would add that it is the balance between imagination and purpose that defines our values. Cultures and political movements that suppress imagination, choice and individuality are cruel, inefficient and hopeless. In all fairness, too much imagination coupled with a lack of purpose can result in chaos and disillusion.

It is the mix of imagination and purpose that will determine what our next century will look like and how good our lives will be. As a designer/communicator, I can see that we need to develop better ways of accessing information, improving human connectivity and conflict resolution, all towards an end “purpose” of world peace and a decent life for all of our inhabitants.

It’s a lofty goal but worth imagining.

FashionProp – One Revolutionary Style That Fits All

Posted by Robert Weitz on January 14, 2009 3:12 PM

There’s a great article by Eric Wilson in NYT Fashion & Style: Consumers of the World Unite. Saks Fifth Avenue apparently hired the brilliant Shepard Fairey (of Obama poster fame) to design their spring marketing campaign. Read the NYT article for an in-depth background, but what interests me is the complicated story this campaign really tells.

In the 21st century, we have tremendous direct access to information and media that covers territory both deep and wide. For instance, when I was an architecture student, the term Russian Constructivism was barely popping its head up in journals like Oppositions or Skyline, and you could sometimes find a book on the subject in the back of a used bookstore.

We share Shepard Fairey’s love of the Constructivist design language, and are awed by his deft handling of this easy-to-blow compositional style. But let’s take a step back from its compositional excellence and graphic power and talk about its cultural significance.


The visual language Fairey is paying homage to was that of Russian artist Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko. The group of artists that Rodchenko was associated with, the Suprematists and later the Constructivists, sought to create a radically new art for the Russian Revolution.

OK, this was not about raising your fist up high for better stitching on Prada bags. Russia was in the midst of tremendous social upheaval, war and starvation. The mechanisms of state and culture had to be re-invented to help save everyone from chaos and disillusion. The Constructivists set out to educate miserably poor, war-torn, illiterate peasants about socialism and the Russian Revolution…so they would feel more comfortable about sacrificing all their worldly possessions and moving to a Siberian hog farm.

As an interesting aside, the visual language of the Constructivists is a great example of a “media” look and feel growing out of the technology and funds available. With an audience that could not read, the Constructivists’ media of choice was graphic posters. Also, certain inexpensive inks and papers were chosen for their costs. Rest assured that the Soviet department stores of Rodchenko’s post-revolutionary Russia looked nothing like Saks Fifth Avenue. The “I Want” of Rodchenko’s time would’ve been something like: I want a half a bowl of half-frozen Kasha and two left-footed army boots so I can make it through the winter without starving or getting frostbite.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the work – but when I saw it, I had severe “irony pains.” The narrative is somehow askew…there’s this lady shaking her fist demanding the goods Saks Fifth Avenue offers…and she looks proletarian (if you will) and pissed off… or may just be cold-hearted. There is a sign that says “Arm Yourself,” which is softened by a cutesy: “With a Slouchy Bag.”


So, what’s the message here? Something in the narrative is amiss. By the way, I also wonder about the socio-political sensitivity since a large number of luxury shoppers last year came from abroad looking for bargains. Does your brand benefit from a narrative calling for a vigilant armed response to the lack of cashmere in our lives?

I mean there are great parallels between our time period and the early part of the 20th century and I’m fine with co-opting the language and drastically altering the meaning, but the end result is dripping with irony in the face of a deepening recession and decline in luxury retail sales.

All Your ‘Blands’ Belong To Us

Posted by Dylan Tran on January 10, 2009 11:15 AM

Bucksstar Coffee? Pizza Huh? No, your eyes are not fooling you: it’s the new Chinese shopping center in Nanjing featuring all fake brands.

Other brand imposters (or what I like to call “blands”) include McDnoald’s and Adidos. Un-brand-conscious shoppers may have a hard time knowing which to put on their feet and which to put in their mouths.

Seriously, though, the mall has predictably caused quite an outrage, not only amongst intellectual property rights owners, but also shoppers who feel they’ve been ripped off.

Read more about the controversy here.