Well, first of all I have started to avoid the term branding altogether. I prefer to talk about identity, which is a very different concept. Identity is who you are, branding is taking possession of something.
The other thing I am exploring – and that’s the actually tricky one – is how to get away from a monolithic, top-down approach to visual identities. Usually this is given by the fact that companies are pyramidal in structure (which is also why it’s so easy to compare the visual guidelines issued by the third reich with modern design styleguides, since despite efforts to make our countries more democratic, company structures are still closer to a monarchic/feudal system). Fortunately I work with many people who have a different approach to these things, which opens up many possibilities also for visual design and actually calls for a different approach. Still… it’s not as easy as it seems.
having a logo, typeface and colour palette that you can just put on everything is still the easiest thing to do. Opening up the visual identity to a community, making the creation process participative or even just getting away from a static identity system (where things always get used as defined by the initial design) to something dynamic, adds a big layer of complexity, which many people (understandably) are not willing to accept, since they have enough to deal with already.
So far I have experimented with creating “logo toolboxes” instead of finished logos (like this one for example: http://www.papernoise.net/portfolio/topographer/) and am currently experimenting also with creating visual identities as a process (not much to show here yet I’m afraid). Another thing I have done in the past, and which has some potential for further development is approaching visual identities as an organic process that continuously evolves in time. This doesn’t just mean that the logo get’s changed all the time (like Google does), but more that you consciously leave things undefined in the initial design process. You leave some holes that can be filled later. If you combine this with a certain openness to redefining elements and processes as you go ahead, this can create in interesting results. So even if you don’t open up the design process to a broader group, you are still able to make a visual identity behave more like life itself in a way. Our personal identities are not something static, we keep changing (even if just a bit) throughout time.
Of course none of this is my invention, there’s many interesting examples out there that I have been inspired by (need to look up some of them).
That’s an interesting approach, need to read that! Thanks for the link! Without having read it, the sentence “reprogram yourself using random processes” reminds me of how Cage used randomness and chance to get away from the traditional role of the composer in music.