• Transform magazine
  • October 25, 2021

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Five minutes with George Lavender

Lavender George Bw

George Lavender, design director at brand design company, COLLINS, speaks to transform magazine about how powerful storytelling can help brands stand out, cut through the noise and gain the attention they seek.

Why is emotional storytelling important for brands?

Here at COLLINS we create and build stories every day. We say that a brand is a promise performed consistently over time. The best stories are those that have been passed down from generation to generation. Our role is to help companies identify what their best, most credible story is, one that makes them special, that makes them different and that makes people care. The loyalty of a customer is not based solely on any one product or a service. The most successful companies embody a higher meaning, a hopeful narrative that their customers can participate in. Only brands that captivate people’s hearts will stand the test of time.

How can brands achieve genuine emotional storytelling that really engages their audience?

Empathy is a popular word and it gets thrown around a lot in design. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another, a seemingly impossible task when you consider the massive scale of some companies and their audiences. But in my opinion we should no longer strive only for empathy. Empathy is now table stakes. In order to meaningfully participate in people's lives, now, we need a bolder value, like compassion.

Empathy is awareness. It's the attempt to discern how people feel. Compassion, on the other hand, is such a deep emotional response to understanding someone's problems that it creates a desire to take action. Action is what we now need a lot more of.

To make people feel seen and heard at COLLINS we try to build brands that are not only informed by the world around us, but that are really inviting. We're inspired by popular culture, and by the experiences of real people. Our approach to our discovery phase of any given project is extensive.For us, great storytelling is based on reality. A true story is the best kind of story. Our execution of those stories aims to be familiar yet surprising, finding ways to be reassuring as well as provocative. We want our clients' brands to be both trustworthy and unignorable.

What role does the increased use of digital and technology play in creating emotional storytelling?

As the landscape of digital communication grows, people are more exposed to brands than ever before. People have so many more options, but much less time. Companies are competing for people’s attention, and customers are becoming more aware of the tricks and tactics brands use to hook our attention. Old-school advertising is not sustainable in this new world.

Brand designing is future-making. Brands will continue to play a part in people’s lives, but in order to stay relevant brands have to more quickly adapt for the future. Snappy headlines and carefully constructed imagery won’t cut it anymore. So it’s now our job as designers to find new and better ways to communicate with people and to establish deeper connections - ones that will endure.

How has the pandemic changed the notion of design experience? 

For years, we've heard the endless drumbeat of simplicity in design. "Simple is best!" "Simplify, simplify, simplify! Less is more!" And designers fetishized the idea. But our work can no longer be about designers’ obsession with the reductive, minimalism or “simplicity.” That’s old thinking from the last century. For us, our work embraces complexity, connection, possibility and transformation. For us, mess is more. Complexity is useful. The way we see it, all chaos is just a pattern that hasn't been figured out yet.

For generations, we all lived our lives assuming we were the center of everything. Remember “human-centered” design language? It was popular with "design thinkers." In retrospect, a narrow philosophy. Covid 19, a microscopic visitor, took center stage in a matter of weeks and wiped the premise of human-centered anything off the table for good. We've all since learned a lot more about what it means to be human. We watched new protocols around division, connection and intimacy establish themselves overnight.

And while Covid-19 has driven some of us at COLLINS geographically apart (I moved from New York City to Los Angeles in the middle of the pandemic) it has also pulled many of us closer together. If we pay attention and turn these big changes to our advantage, it gives us a chance to be part of something new, better and bigger than any one of us.

How will brands relate to their audiences in a post-Covid-19 world?

The word relate comes directly from the Latin relatus - to "bring back." The implication is that a brand must be worth returning to again and again so you build a relationship. There's the same word; relatus. With so many more branded products, services and experiences around us now, the pressure is really on to build not only immediate relevance but enduring relationships over time. What people do is far more important than whatever people are told.

Marketing and advertising may get you in the door, but it's the design of meaningful experiences that gets people to return and stay.