Ije Nwokorie and the messy truth #designindaba
by Herman Manson (@marklives) Design Indaba 2014 speaker Ije Nwokorie believes in making a mess — especially when it comes to brands and branding. His unconventional but highly successful approach to marketing is traced, by Nwokorie himself, to his upbringing in rural Nigeria, and the creativity he had to display in dodging bullies and buses.
Today, he is the MD of brand consultancy Wolff Olins London, and another example of a new generation of Nigerians going into the world and not only busting stereotypes but busting open though processes and challenging dysfunctional design systems.
Call to marketers
Nwokorie (@onyeije) calls on marketers to forget the highly sanitised view of brands and branding, its space, systems and even how brands relate to people.
For him, life — and therefore truth — is messy, and truth is today a fundamental part of the social zeitgeist. So why more brands don’t extend their strategies and positioning to embrace our messy reality is beyond me.
Forget the office space presented in books or the pages of magazines. Work space is messy — it needs to be — and, similarly, brands need to reflect the places and spaces where they exist.
Nwokorie points to a case study for an ad campaign his team created for Skype. The communication reflected the imperfect reality of using Skype, managing expectations, making us laugh at ourselves, while still underscoring the changes wrought by VOIP services.
Disrupt the assumed
Brand guidelines doesn’t generally allow for a mess. They aim to control, when really they should be giving advice and sharing experience. Disrupt the assumed and the accepted, advocates Nwokorie, for a messier, but ultimately more worthwhile, experience.
Take prototypes and place them in people’s hands, Nwokorie urges, and see how it changes your perception of how you think about a brand. Be close to people when you build products; it narrows the gap between what you claim to offer and what you actually offer.
He uses an excellent case study from Orange, where his team sent an orange box with an on/off switch and asked people what it represented. The answers redefined how the company would look at its offering.
Adaptable and (re)imaginable
Nwokorie prefers visual communication that is adaptable — and can therefore be (re)imagined by masses of people. The Virgin Media CI is a good example of this: it can be adapted and redrawn by anybody while retaining recognition as a Virgin Media CI. Put brand into people’s hands — literally — and see what comes back.
Creativity, especially on this continent, is closely linked to survival, says Nwokorie. We don’t expect the system to work in our favour, so immediately we view systems from a whole different perspective. Increasingly, we are turning to technology to highlight and communicate system failures and to collaboratively, if sometimes messily, insist upon its repair.
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