Designing and Maintaining an Emergent Brand

When the Emotive Brand design team creates a brand system, we design it to last for many years. In order for a brand system to last that long, it needs to be consistent with a specific core idea, yet flexible enough to grow over time in order to accommodate changes in the landscape, growth into new sectors, building out sub-brands, etc. Let’s explore two different methodologies in conducting brand design and the end result of each: modernist design and emergent design.

Modernist Design: One Solution

In contrast, emergent design strives to give you the raw steel to work with, so you can create hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, drills, any tool that will naturally solve the problem at hand yet still remain true to its core composition.

Emergent Design: A Step Further

Just as nature is able to adapt to its environment, emergent design adapts to an ever-changing business environment. Take the butterfly. Within the core of a butterfly is a systemic solution to a specific set of problems, but those problems can vary across the entire planet, yet the core of the butterfly is able to adapt. Circumstances were created to benefit an insect that drinks nectar and transfers pollen across plants. This in turn became beneficial to the larger ecosystem. The butterfly never receives education or is told specifically what to do in its role, but the structure of the creature itself lets its behavior emerge naturally.

Designing To Let Your Brand Learn on Its Own

Let’s say that you’re a naturally curious teenager. Your curiosity is your core and it naturally leads you to learn new things. So you pick up guitar and learn a few songs to show your friends. You get a positive reaction and a big rush of dopamine. A new ruleset has emerged. Learning new things at a deeper level facilitates your core curiosity in a beneficial way and so that emergent ruleset of deeper learning becomes interwoven with your core. This modification to the core will change your behavior to not only be curious about things, but to learn them on a deeper level in the future.

Adaptation and learning are innate characteristics to emergent design. Take Darwin’s finches below. They are of the same family (share the same core), but have adapted to their environments over time. Emergent brands do the same thing. The core is not prescriptive, but emergent. The core family of these birds did not restrict their adaptations, because if it did they wouldn’t be able to propagate as much as they have. Because the core was able to be modified from external factors, the core let an adaptation emerge in order to take advantage of a new food source. In business, this means your brand can flourish entering a new market and still represent the core of your company.

An Emergent Brand Is Self-Maintaining

When a designer looks at an emergent brand, they should be able to take in the system from seeing just a few examples and be able to execute the system without drudging through 5 pages of what NOT to do with your logo. The componentry at work isn’t the thing that needs to be systematized. The most critical thing that a designer needs to understand about an emergent brand is what defines the core and what properties are being used to express the core.

When we consider the Embark example above, this is what the core of a brand looks like. Embedded into the geometry of the mark is a series of hexagons. This is all you need to design the rest of the Embark system.

But Emergent Design Depends on the Designer

How To Interview Designers for Your Emergent Brand

What is your philosophy of design?

Where do you start in your design process?

Can you show us an example of something where you had to research a really complex topic in order to come to your design solution?

What is the underlying idea in a specific project and how was that idea brought to life in componentry?

You wouldn’t use only a hammer to build a house. There’s a myriad of problems that you run into that require special tools suited to each individual job. Emergent design allows for multiple tools and solutions to naturally occur that all remain true to your original core element. It’s a flexible methodology for chaotic times and a philosophy proven by nature for 3.5 billion years.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco-based brand strategy and design studio.

Originally published at on August 19, 2020.

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