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07 July 2008

No Brand: The Zen of Living

Is the ultimate brand, no brand at all? It may seem strange, but in this world of pervasive advertising and relentless globalization a quiet movement is underway that rejects distinctive branding in favor of pure, unadulterated design. In Sweden, there is IKEA. In Canada, No Frills. In Japan there is Muji. What these three companies have in common is, outwardly at least, a single "no brand" for all the products they sell. Surely they are brands themselves. However, at the end of the day, the product comes first and foremost.

For example, No Frills' products maintain distinct design ethos: black on yellow with a set type face, regardless of the type of product. Taco mix, tuna cans and tapioca pudding are all very different on the inside yet outwardly they look the same – first among equals. Even the shopping carts at No Frills are yellow! What the "no brand" revolution seeks to project is a concept that establishes a brand from within.

Muji has arguably been the most successful in pushing their brandless agenda – the company sells pretty much everything a homeowner needs, even (in Japan) the home itself! Every Muji item possesses a common... well, Muji-ness. Here's how Muji itself frames their image: "Muji's natural and simple design proposes rational lifestyles for today's world." Muji products embody "the confident awareness that modesty and discretion are, together, the better part of style."

What exactly does that mean, in plain words? Muji products are simple, yet not plain. Neither are they cheap or cheesy. They're designed to perform their function smoothly and efficiently without distraction. Therefore, the design is primal, timeless, light, uncluttered. They do not depend on added decorative flair nor obtrusive detailing just for the sake of reinforcing a bespoke brand identity.

Muji's lead designer, Naoto Fukasawa, labels (pardon the pun) the aesthetic "Supernormal," with a deliberate nod given to the ancient Japanese concept of shibui, or "an unobtrusive beauty." Their products' free-flowing functionality reminds one of certain futuristic Fellini films or independent, avant garde productions set in an undated time and space. In this respect, they transcend time, eschewing passing trends and in doing so, have reached what some say is the end point of historical design vectors.

Beyond post-modern; almost anti-materialistic with a familiar look and feel approaching the organic, these products strike a deep-seated appeal that makes the need for an outward identifying brand irrelevant.

Think about it... do you yearn to break free from the constant product placements, blaring "new & improved" promotions and the frantic, constant pressure to buy/sell Our Brand instead of Brand X – when both are basically the same? The alternatives – the IKEAs, the No Frills' and the Muji's of the World seem to be a cool, calm, common-sense alternative that offers society way out while still providing good looks, good products and good value.

Article by Steve Levenstein from Inventor Spot. Submit your thoughts - click here!

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