The nature of branding features elements of design, strategy and the visual arts, which might be why it is so all-encompassing an industry. That’s one discovery Payal Shah made during her Masters in Branding at SVA. In the lastest installment of PSFK’s SVA Alumni interview series, Shah discusses what she has learned during her degree, and how it has recast previous ideas she had on the field.
Branding is certainly not a modern notion, its centuries old. Why do you think this is such a unique area of study that is now gaining traction in both the creative and business worlds?
There was a serious need for a radical paradigm shift in the mindset of the business leaders who are indeed the custodians of the next big change. In the past few years, the grammar of business has been converging because of the consumer’s metamorphic nature. The consumers are more aware and companies are obligated to be transparent and adhere to their responsibilities. Branding plays a vital role in communicating these responsibilities. Branding focuses densely on human nature and their needs, which define our habits.
Being from outside of the United States, why did you choose this Masters program?
During my Post Graduate studies in Graphic Design at MIT Institute of Design in India, I enrolled in a short course on Branding which sparked a great interest in me to pursue further studies in the field. Being in India, I wasn’t able to participate in the diverse design community or contribute to a larger conversation. The design community there was still in its infancy and was subdued by a limited spectrum of mindsets.
So there were two major drivers that helped me make this choice; Debbie Millman and New York City. I have been a follower Debbie Millman for years and knowing that she was chairing the program only built faith in my decision to pursue it further. Trusting her body of work and contribution to the design community strengthened my belief that she would bring in the best faculty and carve the program to its best shape. To have the program in New York City was like the best maple syrup poured on the much-awaited waffle! I believe it’s important to grow and thrive in the heart of it all, and New York City is it.
What is one common misconception about Branding that you think people have, or you had, before entering the program?
After interacting with a few prospective students, the most common misconception they have is that it’s a design program and that they are expected to be Designers. The program welcomes everyone who is passionate about brands and a believer in the process. You could be an Entrepreneur, a Media Manager or a Fine Artist. The program is strategically fabricated to work around various interests and avenues of the brand culture.
Many graduates of the Masters in Branding Program go into different fields of strategy. How did the program change your approach to business and brand strategy for small and large businesses?
One of the major lessons I learnt was how the smallest consumer insight can make revolutionary changes for a brand. The program equipped me with the tools to create a holistic brand experience. While working in the Global Brand Strategy and Package Design department at Colgate, I started to approach projects very differently. I concentrated more on consumer insights and the quality of engagement with the brand rather than focusing on a small mechanical issue. Working on strategic platforms became more of a business problem than a design problem. Understanding key touch points and being on par with the global trends was pivotal.
How has having a Masters in Branding helped you to further your career?
The creative industry is in a state of reinvention and therefore there is a constant demand to retool. And that’s exactly what the program aided me with. My journey from being a Brand designer in a mid-sized agency to a Project Manager on the client side has been quite a migration. This has only been possible because of the tools introduced to me during the program. The interactions and project engagements with the finest design professionals during the tenure of the program nourished me with the opportunity to hold dialogues that influenced my future career decisions. The program laid a very strong foundation to my thinking process and has been a game changer for my career as it has brought so much more clarity to my professional vision.
What was the greatest challenge you faced while in the Branding program? How did you overcome it?
The pressure was high and it demanded more than 100% of me. Therefore prioritization was a challenge. I had to make a conscious decision to put the program first before everything else since I wanted it to change my professional lens.
Considering, that I had moved to NYC for this program, everything was new to me. New culture – new mechanisms – new behaviors – new people – new EVERYTHING. My peers in the program became my strength to face trivial challenges. We were each others mentors in a way. The support and the love shared by Debbie Millman and J’aime Cohen cannot be dignified in words and the only way I could overcome and sail through this ocean was because of these people. They are irreplaceable.
What do you feel is your most valuable experience or memory to come out of the Branding program?
This program has turned my life around 180 degrees. Literally! Interacting with preeminent design professionals from all over the globe and holding a dialogue with them has been an invaluable gift. Going to the studio and sharing budding ideas with my peers and getting constructive feedback is an experience I would not trade. We became a small branding family that helped shape each others’ thoughts, and I’m highly honored to be a part of that community.
If you had to offer one key piece of advice to interested applicants, what would it be?
Learn to work with others — teamwork is crucial for this journey. You need to look at a problem from as many angles as possible. This is what the Branding program is all about.
The Masters in Branding at The School of Visual Arts is a one-year Masters Degree program that examines the relationship between design and strategy, the power of design thinking and the decision-making processes of design and business. They are currently accepting applications until February 23rd 2013. Please contact: J’aime Cohen for more information or Apply here!