San Francisco Museum of Modern Art / Self-Initiated
"(Re)Brand USA" is a series of essays that contemplates America (the brand) and nation branding against the backdrop of a series of commissions in which I asked four designers to rebrand the United States.2. The Brief: Summarize the commission you were given (or gave yourself). What was the context for this piece of writing, and what was the challenge posed to you? Where and when was it published? What is the approximate circulation of this publication? Who is the audience?
In the fall of 2012, myself and Suzanne Stein, the editor of SFMOMA's Open Space blog (for which I write), came up with the idea to commission designers to rebrand the United States in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections. The "(Re)Brand USA" series was first published online in fall of 2012, but reworked and supplemented for a publication (which I also designed) in January 2014 for the "All Possible Futures" exhibition.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the piece? What did you hope would happen as a result of your piece?
I hope that readers consider the ramifications of nation branding. Then also stop to question these age-old (and often clichéd) attributes of the United States' identity—how they are used, through design or otherwise, to unite AND divide us. My small, overly idealistic hope is that through better awareness and understanding of these tropes, it may promote more good will toward each other, however different our opinions on where our country is headed.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your piece of writing. (Research process, sources, reporting, fact checking etc., as applicable.)
The writing is primarily anecdotal and analysis (of the four projects I commissioned). I did do research for the first part, that touches on contemporary examples of nation branding. (The more academic analysis of nation branding was written by Karen Fiss who is currently writing a book on the topic.)5. The Value: How does your piece of writing earn its keep in the world?
Much of a writing about design is overly theoretical or concerned with issues only other designers care about or understand. Alice Twemlow writes in her 2011 piece, "Ordinary Values" for Eye magazine, that design writing should focus more how design intersects with everyday life. My hope with the "(Re)Brand USA" series is that it would be relevant to designers and non-designers alike. That alone, in the current landscape of design writing, seems to be enough justification for it "earning its keep."
Overall, a strong, well-written piece. We enjoyed the way the personal anecdotes segued into larger examinations of how the U.S. portrays itself to the world. The conclusion—about injecting ambivalence into the way we view ourselves as a culture—was a solid one. That said, we could have used a little less self-reference (and not as many clever parentheticals) and a few bigger examples that went beyond the author’s experience. Such as, how is the U.S. brand portrayed in the wider culture, in movies, books, art and design? Otherwise, very nicely written.