How to avoid a branding backlash

If you want a community to buy into a new brand, you need to design with them, not for them, says Melissa Higgs, principal at design studio hcma

It seems like almost everyone is primed to have a strong opinion towards new brands these days, and the stakes for a rebrand are even higher. Take the recent We ♥ NYC campaign that launched in March. This update of the beloved I ♥ NY identity, created by Milton Glaser in 1977, was greeted with public ire and mockery.

Whatever its merits – or lack thereof – the response to We ♥ NYC is symptomatic of a wider cultural phenomenon. The same story plays out again and again. But is community backlash inevitable? Or are we, as designers, part of the problem?

First, I have a confession to make: I’m an architect writing about branding for an audience of brand experts. Let me tell you why I’m doing this. The problem of community backlash can be the same in architecture and, I think, the reasons can be similar.