Boomtown graphic designer makes it a hat-trick for brands & branding

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Member of the Boomtown Brand Design team, graphic designer Michelle Conway-Cleaves, has designed her third Brands & Branding South Africa in a row – the hat-trick began with Brands & Branding 2021, continued with Brands & Branding 2022 and now, with the publication of Brands & Branding 2023, comes full circle.

Boomtown typically briefs two designers to generate individual concepts and creative expressions aligned with the designated theme for the Affinity Publishing-owned annual.

These concepts, along with cover possibilities, are presented to the client, and the final design brief is carried out by the designer whose idea is selected. This is the process through which Conway-Cleaves came to design Brands & Branding in 2021, when she was in her internship year at the agency. In 2022, she was directly asked to create the publication based on the success of the previous edition. This year, in 2023, the usual process was once again followed.

Commenting on the achievement, Conway-Cleaves said her three-year involvement with this project has taught her the importance of continuously digging deeper. This entails going beyond the surface and digging deeper to create stronger concepts and executing them visually through typography, colour, texture, and more, she said.

“I also learned that I not only loved design, but the conceptual thinking that goes into creating a great design and idea. Having worked on three consecutive editions, it is interesting seeing them side by side, as I can visibly see my growth as a designer from the 26th to the 28th edition, and I can see the wide range of styles I have been able to explore,” she added.

In 2021, the theme of ‘resilience’, particularly in the context of businesses adapting to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conway-Cleaves drew inspiration from the phenomenon of ‘typoglycemia’, which demonstrates that readers can comprehend text even when it contains spelling errors and misplaced letters. The creative expression of this concept came to life in the headings of the publication, where we intentionally manipulated letters.

In 2022, the theme was ‘Print versus Digital Media’. To visually convey this idea, Conway-Cleaves used contrasting elements to symbolise each medium. Solid, bold shapes represented print media, while intricate lines composed of binary symbolised digital. The concept truly came to life on the cover through a QR code that, when scanned with a phone, beautifully animated the elements on the cover, showcasing the synergy of print and digital media in action.

“This year, we were asked to explore the theme of ‘Artificial Intelligence versus Human Instinct’,” said Conway-Cleaves. “The inspiration came from the discovery that Martin Luther King Jr. improvised his iconic speech, with the famous phrase ‘I have a dream’ never originally appearing in his prepared notes.

“Throughout the pages of the publication, we tell similar stories of these pivotal moments where individuals, in the face of resistance, trusted their instincts and changed history. Visually, we showed this by creating the publication with a distinct human touch. We achieved this through raw, hand-written typography, evocative textures, and pen illustrations.

“Our hope is that this edition of Brands & Branding is a reminder to those in various industries who may fear the advancements of AI that our humanness will always be needed and essential to uncovering great insights,” she said.