Partisan branding. Do design and politics mix?

05th November

The latest limited-edition for Converse is by 104-year-old Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer and carries his famous quote about curves, ‘It is not the right angle that attracts me, nor the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. What attracts me is the free and sensual curve – the curve that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuous course of its rivers, in the body of the beloved woman.’ A statement that only sounds right in a specific accent, I reckon.

Neimeyer’s shoes appear to be a genuinely personal statement from the designer – the red tongue seen as a reference to the cantilevered entrance of his São Paulo Ibirapuera Auditorium. Meanwhile, the drawing on the lining references an architectural illustration for the Landless Workers’ Movement. The Guardian questions the appropriateness of such references (from a former president of the Brazilian communist party), given the criticism of Converse’s record on workers’ rights in Indonesia. You will be the judge of whether they have a point.

Good design is often political. Anything that impacts society is bound to be. With brand design however, the relationship is a little more tricky. We read much of how corporations are becoming the new global powers. Red Bull taking a skydiver to the edge of space feels like something we wouldn’t have seen a decade ago. Perhaps it is a harbinger of this sense of brands being more than products in their ambitions.

This week’s US Election has seen several brands coming out for their favoured party. Pizza Hut took flack for asking attendees at the presidential debates to ask candidates what their favourite topping was. A crass idea with extra cheese. In pure design terms, the ‘Seven Election’ at 7-Eleven encourages shoppers to declare their preference via a red or blue cup. Bliss Spa has produced some limited-editions. But I don’t think any of this is particularly political, rather opportunistic media strategy.

Do we want political design for politicised brands? I think most of us could do without it, even if it does add a little edge to things. But there are notable exceptions. When Ben & Jerry’s produced packaging celebrating same sex marriage, it was a neat and brave piece of work. I can’t think of any other example from a corporation which goes further in sticking its neck out. Brands can normalise such progressive politics, which is a good thing. But with power comes responsibility and on the whole, I think the majority of us would prefer brands to get back in their box.

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