Earlier this year Forbes introduced to the world 600 of the brightest young change markers in all disciplines. In the 2017 edition of the list, and under the category of “Arts”, Ghada Wali, An Egyptian-born design talent captured minds and hearts. Her work has won the Granshan competition in Munich, as well as two Adobe Design Achievement awards. The Society of Typographic Arts Chicago considers her among the best 100 graphic designers in the world. Such game changers are the best to set trends. The Brandberries interviewed Ghada Wali to unearth her insights on key brand design trends in 2017.

BB: As advertising loses its impact, brands are on a constant look for new ways to win customers over, debranding came as one of the main trends in brand design this year. How can brands spot the right time to debrand?

GW: Debranding has been a strategy highly embraced this year. However, although of the many successful examples, a lot of brands have faced failures. The impact could be double bladed, and so, it should be applied carefully and not everyone is ready for it! First, the brand should reach a maturity stage, it should be an innovator at its industry, and it should be honest and transparent. Ideally, you should be a brand that serves much more than just a product; you should be already embedded deep in your consumers’ minds’ and lives’. Having both the online and offline resources for it, Debranding then comes as an evolution – a lovemark. It should be applied in a way that still enables user identification; the consumers should still relate and connect on the same intensity to the brand. Some industries cannot undergo debranding at all, as the nature of their products does not allow them this space.

BB: Brand design is now all about the experience. How can VR and augmented reality help designers in shaping better experiences?

GW: The relationship between designers and scientists is essential to our future. Innovation in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience. And human experiences happen through engaging with the arts – listening to music, say, or seeing a piece of art. Superior innovation comes from bringing divergents (the artists and designers) and convergents (science and engineering) together. Look at Apple’s iPod. A perfect example of technology – an MP3 player – that existed for a long time but that nobody ever wanted, until design made it something desirable, useful, integrated into your lifestyle. People are seeking experiences and not technologies, VR and augmented are all about enhancing existing human behaviors; the possibility of the human immersion inside different worlds in real time is groundbreaking. With the most complex network system of nerves and sensors, the human being by itself makes the perfect platform of a digital, interactive, movable & personalized tool of communication. The role of humanity is here being pushed to the maximum, not only individuals coexisting but carriers of global & local messages, precious information, ideas & thoughts. Only Design can shape and foster the limitless possibilities of today’s growing technologies.

BB: Audiences are becoming increasingly challenging, the fast paced digital world is keeping branders on their toes to avoid outdated strategies that would miss the mark. How can brand design cope with the global “digital transformation”?

GW: With the fast moving world of commercialism, social media and smart technologies. A world that is geared toward tomorrow and endless sea of opportunities. The human element is being replaced by screens, robots & machines. Researchers from the University of Oxford are claiming that approximately 47% of all currently existing jobs have a high chance of being taken over by machines within the next 20 years. Brands are as well transforming into intangible mediums rather than the static conventions. Brands should focus on visual content, tap into the world of wearable technologies; they should focus on ‘live’ and real-time engagement while keeping the classic element of ‘story-telling’. Customers are becoming brand influencers and ambassadors, user-generated content is the drive. Brands should hammer on the power of convergence, as creativity is now becoming a social act. For it to be “shareable”, content has not only to be meaningful but also makes you look “fashionable/cool” to share and be part of it, while still triggering the main factors of either humor, emotion, shock or sex appeal.

BB: To build loyalty, brands depend on tightening emotional bonds with its target customers. How can brand design stimulate the emotional appeal?

GW: It’s all about building relationships, catering towards serving customers’ emotional needs. More than selling a function, brands should sell ideas, belief systems, and ethos. Choosing to become part of this world is choosing a brand for life – hence brand loyalty. Brands should study and appeal to their customers’ changeable states, they should customize their looks and features accordingly and resonate with a direct emotion. Then, the single-minded response for a ‘buying’ action no more stands for logical reasons, rather becomes beyond rationale sometimes. The first and main manifestation of reaching this is through customer’s first interaction with the brand – “sight”, the visual language – branding. Brands should customize stories that intersect with their customer’s daily journey at important and intimate moments. Other than design should address to the consumer not the product, design should leverage on the medium used to maximize efficient communication. With a world over bombarding information everywhere, the attention span is diminished so Brand Design should focus on minimal yet impactful use of image and text to maintain strength and power; maybe even simplification to clear iconography is needed. If a question is raised through brand design then this will enable more consumer interaction and will create conversation. Visuals should ensure more than an appeal but a deep mental immersion to the world of the Brand. Brand design should be responsive to the consumer’s life events and to today’s technological advances.

BB: To rebrand or not to rebrand: Rebranding has always been one of the most important and strategic branding decision, and timing is crucial. When should brands rebrand?

GW: As few brand images are simply ‘timeless’. Other become ‘obsolete’ Rebranding is classically undergone when a brand becomes outdated in a constantly changing world when look and functions do not match anymore. If a core philosophy is changed rebranding is also a key. However, it shouldn’t be undertaken just for the sake of it. If the brand is trying to tap into a new market, if a new competition is of danger, or to recover a visual crisis.

BB: How can creatives design brand identities that transcend the cultural boundaries and appeal for global citizens?

GW: One who doesn’t have a history, does not have a future. I create work that is relevant to who I am and where I come from. I have gained global recognition on the works that specifically celebrate my identity. My aim is to encompass the Arab & Egyptian flavor through portraying my work on the maps of global trends. An ancient civilization has been out looked, commercialized and fallen into the abused clichés. The role of design in fostering cultures, scripts, history and finding innovative ways to preserve history while keeping up with the fast moving future is essential. A fresh eye on history’s treasures with a contemporary approach while Celebrating a Nation’s history with global engagement is my objective – so our beautiful Arab Identity can be proudly showcased to the world. Local Vs. Global, Living in a small world we live in right now, designing a brand that looks and is understood to a global market is a factor that enhances its lifetime, however, this must not be caught against its relevance to its original local target. Cultural awareness is an essential asset that any designer should have. Designing brands that people could own and relate to is the only way we can make it in the constant bombardment and growth of brands. Creating guidelines that fit each and every platform is definitely also one of the challenging tasks. This is even more common in case of an international brand; language barriers could also form a huge challenge. For example, creating a bilingual brand that feels, looks and even communicates the same to the consumer both in Arabic and English Language, may seem an easy task but is much more complex when it comes to application. Also creating a brand that is consistent and yet not boring nor predictable is another uneasy task. A lot of brands fall in the trap of following the holy identity guidelines without focusing on creativity, innovation and change. The target group is also a huge factor that identity designers need to consider, brands that target various segments are harder to design for than brands with specific/smaller target groups. In the world of brand clutter, differentiation from the market competition is also another challenge. I think some of the common mistakes that designers fall into while attempting a global appeal are: 1. Copying, is one of the major mistakes designers could fall into. Creating an identity by default means creating a new unique being. Copying market leaders does not mean gaining the same successes at all. Designers should always look for and magnify what makes their brand special even if it is a start-up. 2. Irrelevance, designing is not a process of art, its main role is to serve the market. If the identity does not relate to the targeted audience or the nature of the industry then it is a failure! Relevance is not only about the target group, but also about choosing the typography, colors and elements that reflect the nature/industry of the brand correctly.

BB: Human-Centric Design: How can brands better reach and connect with the people who matter to their business through design?

GW: The definition of a brand is an open elusive concept; it has no specific boundaries or interpretation. A corporate identity is not only created to communicate a tangible product, in many cases it’s a service, a producer or even a person. A ‘functional’ brand identity is in my opinion communicates the brand personality, brand promise, unique selling point, and most importantly a brand that ‘honestly’ sells. Nowadays, a successful identity mark is not only about visual communication, it is about a real user-brand experience. A good brand identity is the one that does not only use appropriate well-designed concepts, logotypes, picture-marks, typefaces or colors but also a one that is able to go far beyond the tangible brand assets, such as the ethos, ambiance, brand strategy, consumer perception, corporate behavior, that surround their product. Real brands are ones that leave marks in people heads, the ones that interact, solve a problem or make their daily lives easier. “From the people, by the people, to the people.” is a great motto that I always keep in my head while working on identity projects. In my working process, Spending time of research and inspiration from the actual thing (people/place/product/service) I am working on is an essential asset to producing real, relevant and honest story-telling designs, People (consumer) for me constitute the main drive and cause of any design project I’m about to embark. I chose to spend time to study and explore their behavior, where they talk about their experience in the place and their real stories. Observing, recording, taking notes, taking pictures, running surveys, interviews etc. This process, which in turn inspires and expands the horizon if any designer in building a great successful brand. Of course in our very fast moving world, not all tasks I am assigned to could have a flexible timeline for a full satisfactory journey. However, working in advertising has made me work effectively under a pressured working mode that requires fast and constant results in best qualities.

BB: Can you list three lessons designers learned from 2016 and the predictions for the new year with regard to design trends?

GW: Minimalistic, monoline, flat, contemporary, geometric and bold typography has been taking over 2016. Minimal is something that I believe will stay. I think we will have more of responsive logos, animated cinemagraphs, and back to the beauty of more material-based & handmade-made execution.

See more of Ghada’s picturesque work on http://www.ghadawali.com/projects