From West to East


Not many people can say they’ve worked in three different offices, on three different continents, but I’m lucky enough to have done that with Cowan.

Here in London, I spend a lot of my time working on global brands: developing the rules and brand guidelines so that everything is implemented consistently around the world.

But can brands truly have a single global approach? Based on my experience in Asia, the short answer is no.

When I started working with global brands launching into Asian markets, it raised a question that I’d previously never considered during my 20 years in design. Can and should local cultural differences have an impact on brand design? It’s a strange question to ask a man who has spent most of his career developing global guidelines, but it’s one that is massively relevant in Asia.

We design brands to talk to a global audience, and expect that audience to become a champion of the brand no matter where they are in the world. But what if that audience talks a different language than you in every sense of the word?

In Western society we take it for granted that the colour black conveys premium. Black cars, black clothing, black brands are all synonymous with luxury. However, I remember standing in front of a client about to present work for a brand in the Philippines. The brief was to make the brand feel more premium.

They casually dropped into the conversation, “We don’t like black as it’s the colour of death, so it brings negativity with it”.

As you can imagine, that was an interesting meeting.

Another factor I’d never considered was that you could have the best looking logo on your pack, but if a large part of your country’s target demographic can’t read or write, then it’s important that symbolism plays a vital role in how your brand looks and behaves. This is a massive factor when designing for emerging markets such as South and West Asia.

Only 61% of females in India can read or write, so trying to influence those purchasing decisions means a brand has to behave in a completely different way to how it would behave in Europe. More than three-quarters of the world’s 781 million illiterate adults are found in South and West Asia.

It’s the misunderstanding of these cultural differences that in my opinion have resulted in the closure of some branding agencies in Asia over the past few years. When asked what brought about their downfall, I hear them say “Asia doesn’t really understand good design”. I don’t believe that to be true. Brands have to behave differently and it’s important that their agency listens and adapts to their local market.

At Cowan we are proud to say we have staff from 14 nationalities, speaking 15 different languages. We really understand the value in engaging with an agency who can offer brand design from a truly global perspective.

Omo packaging designed by Cowan Shanghai

Lee Barnsley - Assistant Creative Director - Cowan London
1st October 2017