I’ve been doing a lot of reading about branding lately. Much of my reading comes from Etsy—they have a number of very practical and inspiring articles, with great examples of logos and packaging. But I’m also reading Debbie Millman’s provocative book Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits. Brand Thinking is a collection of interviews that Millman did with leaders of the field in design. It’s dense reading but very inspiring in a different sense.
An early interview in the book is with Grant McCracken, described as an “Anthropologist, Cultural Commentator, Consultant.” He’s consulted with such companies as IBM, Coca-Cola, and Kimberly-Clark. In the interview, he says:
“I think when we create brands, we’re engaged in a process of ‘manufacturing’ and ‘managing’ meaning. We’re saying to ourselves, ‘In order for this brand to work effectively in the world, we must create a combination of exquisitely chosen, crafted, combined, and then managed cultural meanings.’ . . . A brand is composed of these meanings. These meanings are being carefully chosen and crafted” (32-33).
Heady words but I think they translate quite simply into the world of Etsy and the crafting marketplace.
Branding is more than the labeling / packaging/ logo, but those print / presentation elements are a key means of manifesting the brand. Looking at the examples of coherent branding and packaging in the Etsy Seller’s Handbook, you see plenty of “combinations of exquisitely chosen, [and] crafted” things. The most inspiring examples to me are the ones that allow you to recognize which shop the packaging belongs to just by looking at it. When I think about what allows an example of lovely packaging to point back so clearly to its maker, I think it has to be with coherence of aesthetics and a sense of intentional craftedness: the best packaging and postcards don’t happen by haphazardly but develop organically through the application of good design. And whether the makers of these beautiful packages are conscious of it or not, the various elements of the design—the color of kraft paper, machine stitching, a glassine bag—all attach various cultural meanings to the brand as well. And I think this is another organic process as well.
As an experiment, I wrote down the various components of the Poppy Fields Studio brand and brainstormed all the associations I have with the various colors, images, and components. I’ll just share what I came up with for the three-part tag I’ve created to include with every purchase.
From a 1920s postcard. I specialize in modernist literature and love art deco/ art nouveau design.
The Wizard of Oz
Oriental poppies and my eternal attempts to grow them
Long swaths of California poppies on the side of the freeway in CA.
Home making and the home arts
The first background pattern I made in Photoshop
The honeycomb pattern I’m using is, in fact, a happy confluence of other reading and web-searching I’ve been doing. When I first discovered Pugly Pixel’s site, I sent a good amount of time just going through every single post! There is such a wealth of information to discover there, and if you follow you’re blog, you’ll see several of her images and the results of her tutorials on my blog. During this run-through of her blog, I noticed her post on the honey comb pattern, but it didn’t quite register amidst all the other information and images I was processing.
I was immediately attracted to the vertical address stamp. I thought it would be perfect for Poppy Fields Studio—the clean lines of the honeycomb seemed to lend themselves to a more successful rubber stamp than a poppy image would, but the script element added a soften to the overall design too.
Then it hit me: the honeycomb background pattern from Pugly Pixel. I would make that the background pattern of my blog, incorporate it as a design element in my packaging, and then use the Lush Prints stamp as a return address stamp. I ordered the stamp, learned how to make my own honeycomb background from Pugly Pixel, and designed the three-part enclosure.
And, of course, bees have always had a special relationship to flowers.
What I like about this combination is that they don’t all perfectly match their original versions. I play with scale, color, and execution in each component. The two poppies on the logo reinterpret the 1920s postcard’s poppy (fig. 1); the honeycomb tag is a different scale from the website background; the glitter tag re-interprets the gold braid for the website. But they are still harmonious and work, I think, to convey a coherent message or feel to the Poppy Fields Studio brand. It is my hope that potential readers and customers will appreciate the thoughtfulness and care of these three elements put together and associate that with the Poppy Fields Studio.
Back to McCraken, he says that “we must create a combination of exquisitely chosen, crafted, combined, and then managed cultural meanings.” I think this is right. Good branding is about combining cultural meanings through the combination of aesthetic elements such as color, scale, and image. I can’t suddenly make the honeycomb pattern suddenly lose its association with honeybees and the cultural associations we have with bees. But if I’m smart, I can manage those associations so that they become present through my brand.