Words Matter - Branding

The design world is FULL of the word “brand.”
Brand Design.
Brand Development.
Brand Identity.
What your “brand” is.
What your “brand” is not.

There’s a lot of debate around what a brand really is.
Is it your logo? Is it what people say? Is it your website? Your colors? Your business card? More than that? Less than that?

Well, we aren’t talking about what your brand is or is not today.
In fact, you’ll never hear us talk about your brand, or any brand, ever again.

Aside from this blog post, you won’t find the word “brand” anywhere on our website.

Instead, you’ll hear us use words like “visual identity” when referring to the design elements that represent the aesthetics of your product or service.

We're doing the work to remove it from our vocabulary.

Because words matter.

The word brand appears all over history. Dairy farmers and ranchers, even before they were called ranchers, often used a brand to identify their livestock apart from others. It was a way to discourage cattle raiding - as much as one could back then. The act of branding traces back to as early as 2700BC, depicted on ancient Egyptian tombs. Branding has been around since some of the earliest records of mankind. But we aren’t just talking cattle. There’s a much darker history here.

Human branding traces so far back that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it started. It’s been around for as long as slavery existed. Branding was used to mark ownership. A hot iron would be pressed into the backs of slaves to designate that they were no more than goods or animals to be traded or sold. Sometimes as punishment, additional brands would be burned into the skin of slaves, particularly if a runaway slave was caught.

Do you see where this is going?
Let’s just add one final point for good measure.

The etymology of the word brand has very little to do with the way we would define a “brand” today. At its very roots, the word brand comes from words meaning “to burn” or “to be on fire.” The Dutch verb branden translates literally as “to burn.”

The word “brand” carries a history that we cannot ignore. Branding did not translate to logos or typefaces or colors. To brand something literally meant to burn one’s mark into the skin of a slave. For far too many, branding carried implications of dehumanizing torture. The history of this word is more than enough for us to move on from it in our language.

Because words matter.

Does it hurt our SEO? Probably.
Does it make it tricky sometimes to navigate conversations about what “visual identity” means when we’re talking to clients? Sometimes.
Is it hard to remove a common word from our vocabulary? Yep - it takes work.

But the impact of the history of this word goes a lot further than some slight inconveniences that we might face. We’ll gladly work through those adjustments to leave behind a word so closely tied to slavery, human trafficking, and a dark, dark history. Because for us, the impact of the language we use matters in every bit of our lives.

If we can remove one word from our vocabulary to take a step forward toward something better, then we’ll remove it as quickly as possible.

Because words matter.

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