Highlights and soundbytes from Brand Talks SXSW.

How do you stay timeless and futuristic when making type decisions?

Jessica Staley, Director of Brand Design, eBay.

For nearly 40 years, SXSW® has taken over the city of Austin, Texas, celebrating the convergence of tech, film, music, education, and culture. This year, Monotype brought our Creative Characters podcast to the festival slash conference for our first-ever live recording on stage.

Monotype Senior Director of Partnerships, Bill Connolly, hosted a diverse lineup of brand builders for a special Branding Masterclass episode, exploring questions like: How do brands inspire butterflies? How can a font give goosebumps? Why do specific memories spring to mind at the sight of a certain composition of colors and lines? 

Who were the Brand Talks SXSW guests? 

The live recording was presented on stage in the open air, to a packed house that was standing-room only. For a little over an hour, our guests shared stories, best practices, and insights on branding, design, and strategy.  

The highlights. 

“How do you stay timeless and futuristic when making type decisions?” - Jessica Staley, Director of Brand Design, eBay. Jessica told a story of working on a rebrand for American online real estate platform, Trulia, where they wanted to capture the essence of community in the identity. Working with Monotype Executive Creative Director Phil Garnham, they were able to infuse the typeface with attributes that represent the characteristics of different neighbors and neighborhoods. Jessica also spoke of the importance of “knowing when to trust your gut as much as the strategy itself” and the importance of “pushing out over your skis” to anticipate and solve problems of the future before your customers even realize they have a problem.  

“Hearing that something is ‘simple’ is the biggest compliment.” - Valerie Vacante, VP of Solutions Innovation at Dentsu. Valerie talked about her experience building simple, frictionless experiences and the importance of prioritization. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to solve all the problems when building new tech or experiences, it’s better to start by creating very simple test-to-learn prototypes that solve the main problem. After all, “the experience is the brand.” She also told the audience about a scannable tool her team built for Glenfiddich Whiskey that leverages AI to pull information directly from their brand content about the whiskies. By pulling from their already-approved brand content, there’s no risk of the AI sharing inaccurate information. 

“You don’t design because you want to make things that look great, it’s because you went to tell a story.” - Mike Storm, COO, Neurons. Powerful storytelling is just as important as good design. As the COO of a neuroscience firm that helps brands predict customer responses, Mike’s lessons in branding focused on how much design, narrative, and branding are all one symbiotic organism. Mike shared that brands that get this combination right and truly understand their ICP (ideal customer profile) can create products and experiences that grow to be more than a product – to be something that people truly love.

“Be very intentional about what you create.” - Holly Fraser, VP of Content at WeTransfer & WePresent. WeTransfer was awarded a 2022 Academy Award®️ for Best Live Action Short Film for The Long Goodbye, a short film by Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed. The film centers on challenges post-Brexit, created as a wake-up call against rising intolerance. Holly talked about how important it is to “pick the right partners and let them do what they do.” Often the important story to tell isn’t always the easiest or most appealing story, but spotlighting creators’ voices and narratives that are meaningful goes a long way in attracting a passionate audience. 

To round out the afternoon, Monotype Creative Type Director Terrance Weinzierl walked us through the history of type, graphic design, and why collaboration and humanity are key threads as we move forward into this increasingly complex digital world of AI, augmented and virtual reality. 

Afterward, guests mingled and played letter drawing games and hung out with our friends at PANTONE and Canva before heading off into another night of music, experiential tech, and film premieres. Thanks again to all who joined us, and we look forward to sharing the full podcast episode and video recording highlighting more of your voices in the coming weeks.  

Thanks again to our speakers for sharing their inspiring stories. To stay up to date with future Brand Talks events and all things Monotype, sign up for our newsletter.