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Flexibility must sit at the heart of place branding

Opinion

Published by:

14 August 2019

Author: Chris Chapman

Image: The Tide brand identity by Droga5 London

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Chris Chapman of Droga5 London on why it’s crucial to delve into an area’s past and present, but have a malleable vision for its future.

The Tide, which opened in July on London’s Greenwich Peninsula, is one of the latest examples of place branding – the branding of nations, regions, cities and local neighbourhoods.

Fuelled by the financial rewards from attracting tourists, businesses and residents, place branding is an area of design that is growing rapidly – both in terms of investment and as a discipline in its own right. And it has its own particular challenges.The first consideration is how to represent and include local communities. A brand is a statement of what is desirable about an area, but too often it doesn’t reflect the people who live and work there, and make it what it is. Aside from the obvious ethical dimension to this, place branding that doesn’t feel truly rooted in a place, and flattens the diversity of its culture, has failed.

Another challenge lies in how best to communicate a place’s variety of uses to a wide audience. This means identifying and communicating relevant benefits, rather than simply slipping into the all-too-often default position that somewhere is cool. Inclusivity is key, then, which also means creating branding that is compelling and sympathetic to what is already there rather than simply selling the vision of you and your client about what that place ought to be.

One example of effective place branding is the Meatpacking District – an area of New York with a gritty past but latterly refreshed by a vibrant art, culture, design, fashion, food and technology scene. The clash between the two inspired a powerful piece of branding – with a logo split between two different fonts and using the tagline ‘the new original’ to convey its dynamism and contradictions past and present.

'The best place branding provides a flexible framework and idea, so the place has room to grow and change'

Coal Drops Yard branding by Droga5, London
'Branding that doesn’t feel truly rooted in a place – and flattens the diversity of its culture – has failed'

Coal Drops Yard in London’s King’s Cross, with its modular design inspired by the idea of consumption, is another. This place branding is inspired by the area’s diverse community and long and rich history, with the idea of ‘consumption’ redefined to its purest meaning: absorption, appreciation, being in the moment and engaging deeply with the world around you.

The best place brand communications reflect and form the culture of an area – looking into the area’s past, present and having a vision for its future, providing a flexible framework and idea, so the place has room to grow and change.

This involves going beyond the usual remit of design, which is to reflect the values of a space, to tell the story of the area. To persuade people to engage, strategy and design need to be blended and constantly intertwined throughout the process, informing one another to enrich the culture surrounding the space and to maximise impact. Singularity must also be demonstrated, rather than simply mirroring a space.

With a kinetic logo to convey the dynamic nature of the space and its fluidity of purpose through movement, Droga5’s branding for The Tide – a new linear park of walkways for people to explore the Greenwich Peninsula – neatly embodies all of this. Branding a place is about creating something with undeniable personality, an identity and system of communication that is flexible and establishes an area as worth visiting. It’s the only way to stand out.

Chris Chapman is head of art at Droga5 London, which created the brand and launch campaign for The Tide.

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