Why Good Design Is About Creating Community

Why Good Design Is About Creating Community

SVA Alum talks about having a multidisciplinary point of view and how branding is about understanding the 360 degree landscape.

  • 10 november 2013

Branding has become an integral part of the business eco-system, but how can we become experts on the subject? As part of an ongoing series, PSFK will be chatting with alumni from the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Masters in Branding program. We caught up with recent grad Noah Armstrong to discuss pursuing more than one creative discipline and the importance of community in becoming a better designer.

What made you decide to enroll in the Master’s in Branding program? What is it about our current society that makes branding so important?

My background is in design, and that is one of the things I am most passionate about. I wanted to enroll in the program because I’ve always thought of ‘branding’ as the height of design. Branding occurs when design has moved past pure aesthetics and into a space where personal connections are made, even if it is often subconsciously. The practice of branding is a little mysterious. There’s no single definition and there’s not a specific method in which a brand is created, or even managed. I wanted to be in place where I could explore something that no one has really figured out. And frankly, there was no one better to do that with than Debbie Millman and the faculty of the program at SVA.

How has having a Masters in Branding degree helped you to further your career?

It’s been integral in the development of my career on two levels. First, it was critical in shaping my own personal point of view. Throughout the year, you’re getting up in front of your classmates and professors countless times to defend your findings and your ideas. The program prepared me to not only to know what I believe, but also to be ready to share it in a confident manner. Having a point of view is essential to a career in this field.

Secondly, the faculty in the program literally changed my life. After graduation, I went on to work on projects with four different instructors, spent nearly a year working in the studio of one in particular, worked on some really rewarding projects with former classmates, and eventually joined the Design Intelligence team at Sterling Brands. I can say with certainty that none of those things would have happened had I not been a student in the Branding program.

What is the most surprising thing you learned about the process of branding during your time in the program? 

The most refreshing thing I learned is that there are a million ways to come at the idea of branding. The most surprising thing I learned is how difficult it is to define the method that works best for yourself and for your clients.

What do you feel is your most valuable experience coming out of the Branding program?

Without a doubt, developing a community of friends here in the city has been the most rewarding experience. I can honestly say that I learned something valuable from each of my classmates. Admissions really knows how to curate a great class year after year. I moved to New York to enroll at SVA, and because of the people I’ve met through the program, it’s hard to think about leaving the city again.


Name two brands you think are standout examples of innovation in terms of their branding strategy, and tell us why.

Patagonia for their Common Threads program and Red Wing Shoes for repairing nasty old pairs of boots. Not only are both of their design aesthetics timeless and on-point, but they are brands that celebrate their function first and let the emotional connection follow naturally. Both of these brands want to see their products live long lives. They fix them when they break and they don’t fake patina. There is so much talk about ‘pride’ and ‘craft’ and ‘storytelling’ coming out of every other band’s mouth today but Patagonia and Red Wing are two that actually have those elements encoded in their DNA. They’re brands that legitimately do good work, and they’re richer for it. I can’t believe I’m qualifying this as innovative, but so many other mainstream consumer brands don’t seem to have this buttoned up.


If you had to offer one key piece of advice to interested applicants, what would it be?

Be prepared to kiss most of what you know goodbye for 11 months. But know that it flies by.

What is the one lesson you learned during the program that you use today in your job on a daily basis?

A quick backstory: I concentrated in both painting and graphic design as an undergrad and in the eyes of some of my professors, I think I was seen as wishy-washy, and I remember being told that I needed to choose one if I wanted to be good at either.

I say this because at SVA I never thought I had to ‘choose one.’ The branding program is made up of really intense classes having to do with design, pop culture, history, human behavior, and business – and we were encouraged to fall in love with all of them.  Each class was integral in how we approached the next.

As a design strategist, if I don’t have a solid understanding of my client’s business, a firm grasp of the culture in which they operate, and an eye on how design can help give them a competitive advantage, then I’m doing it wrong. I can’t choose to concentrate on just one of those areas. The program taught me that it’s actually essential to be passionate about many things.

Thanks Noah!

School of Visual Arts (SVA) // Masters in Branding





How Indiegogo Is Becoming An Adult Product Destination

Home september 23, 2016

Watch This Fire Pit Dance Along To Your Favorite Song

Music City Fire is a system that is designed to flicker in time to ambient music

Automotive september 23, 2016

Slick GPS Navigator Gives Directions To Moped Riders

This small, round device attaches to a sideview mirror to display maps for safer traveling


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Work

See All
Home september 23, 2016

A Clock That Beautifully Manages Your Information Overload

The wall-mounted timekeeper is made to help people maintain focus and stay up to date with their appointments

Arts & Culture september 23, 2016

Performance Piece Blends Dancers Into Folds Of Light

The work provides commentary on the increasing connection between programmed and analog dimensions

Related Expert

Manoush Zomorodi

Media Production, Digital Detox

Design & Architecture september 23, 2016

Design Firm Adapts Childhood Homes For Unemployed Young Adults

The studio has unveiled three prototypes of transformed living spaces for people forced to move back in with their families

Health september 23, 2016

These Chocolate Squares Claim To Reverse The Aging Process

A group of researchers from Cambridge University have developed a candy bar that promises to give you a youthful glow

Cities september 23, 2016

Food-Producing Architecture Competition Seeks To Better Feed Cities

A design challenge in Copenhagen highlights the need and beauty of urban farming


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed september 21, 2016

Creative Agency Founder: Using VR As A Race Relationship Tool

Maurice Bernstein, CEO and Founder of Giant Step, explores the value in transforming headsets from high-tech entertainment tools into empathy machines

PSFK Labs september 22, 2016

The Future Of Work: Why Innovation Is Every Employee’s Job

PSFK Labs sits down with management at Johnson & Johnson to learn how the company comes up with their next ‘big idea’

Health september 23, 2016

Wearable Monitors Sun Exposure To Prevent Sunburn

The clip monitors UV rays to make sure you're not receiving too much sunlight

Op-Ed september 23, 2016

Productivity Expert: The Magic Of The Five-Hour Workday

Stephan Aarstol, Founder of Tower Paddle Boards, explains why the modern notion of office hours needs to evolve

Culture september 23, 2016

This Exhibition’s Crowning Jewel Is An 18k Gold-Plated Toilet

The piece, titled 'America,' is meant to raise questions about the country's wealth inequality

Culture september 23, 2016

Match Up With Dates On Tinder Based On Your Music Preferences

A new partnership with Spotify lets people pair up based on shared tastes in artists

Entertainment september 23, 2016

Capture, Cut Up, And Configure Your World In 360 Degrees

To meet a booming 360 and VR video-capturing industry, a multimedia software company bolstered its media editing suite for 360-video creation


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Advertising september 23, 2016

These Trucks Drove Around In Circles For 24 Hours To Keep Time

The giant ticking clock was created by 14 Scania vehicles in a deserted airfield

Advertising september 23, 2016

Buy Movie Tickets Directly From Your Facebook Profile

The new feature is part of a campaign from Fandango to further imbed social media into the ticket vendor's digital presence

Asia september 23, 2016

Co-Working Space Brings The Calming Atmosphere Of Nature Indoors

An architectural firm in China has designed a new type of shared office that prioritizes the natural environment

No search results found.