Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Miles Newlyn on the succesful creative team and the design process

September 19, 2012, 12:03 AM

Miles Newlyn is one very rare designer that seems to be involved in almost every significant rebranding project across the globe. Browsing his website (links at the end of post), you’ll be amazed to see how many top companies’ identities, logos or custom typefaces have been ‘helped’ by his hand. Miles was one of the speakers at this year’s Brand New Conference, and his presentation is just as unconventional, inspiring and thought-provoking as his work.

Two things have stayed with me the most — first, Miles’s description of the ideal creative team:

[…] the most successful teams consist of a classicist, a mannerist and a romantic — classicists have the attitude of being in harmony with their place in time, they rejoice things as they are; mannerists have the attitude that creates its own little cosmos amidst the chaos, and the romantics dream of better times and places than here and now — these three human qualities I feel always provide the best team. Ocassionally you may have somebody who embodies both, or all of them, or it might be a bit lopsided sometimes […]

and second, his thoughts on the design process:

My process begins with ugliness […] Part of design is to perceive what is ugly, and a deep understanding of ugliness is the flip side of what we do — how can you make something better if you don’t know what is wrong with it? That understanding of ugliness is necessary to be able to move towards beauty […] Once you got beauty, the next stage for me is realness […]  Once we’ve understood what’s ugly in a piece of work […] the next stage is an understanding of which particular beauty it posesses […] falling into three main categories, the same categories that I’ve mentioned earlier […] classical, mannierist and romantic. Each of these categories of beauty are particular human perspectives, and so each of them are beautifully flawed. I tend to think very deeply about which particular beauty something posesses, and wonder whether that’s appropriate for the job […] The end of the process, which is always the point where you know you’re finished […] is ‘Have I found truth?’ — that’s when I know it is finished.

There are many other bits of wisdom, don’t be fooled by the slow first part. Here’s Miles on stage, with one of his beautifully crafted designs:

One quote that seems to have become quite popular is this one:

Stories have an end, and unless you want to think of your brand as having an end, then forget the storytelling idea, and forget people who talk about brand storytelling.

While I like its wittiness, I can’t say I agree with it. Good stories are always worth being told again, even if they end (Disney aside, Jack Daniels comes to mind here, they always have so many nice stories about their founder and their traditions) — plus some stories have a way of going on an on an on, sometimes never ending. I hate to use this as an example, but Eastenders and other soap operas are like this, people don’t seem to mind their way of continuing, they come back for more, no matter how absurd. And there are also some stories (especially Asian ones) where the reader has to add, continue or complete them. But I do think that ‘brand idea’ as a term is better than ‘brand story’.

Here are some of the logos shown in Miles’s presentation that he has designed or improved (and that are not on his website). You can recognise quite a lot of them from other big agencies’ portfolios:

The video of his presentation is available for download on the Brand New Conference website (you can hardly spend £3 / $5 in a better way). And of course, do visit to see Miles’s impressive portfolio and maybe get some of his beautiful typefaces up for sale.


— some more quotes from BNC 2012 can be found on the BNC website;
— photos of Miles by Eric Ryan Anderson.