Product, Brand & Experience: A Chat With Rinat Aruh and Johan Liden

During the fall semester of the second year, students take a course entitled Product, Brand, and Experience. They engage in a deep dive around creating products through a holistic, integrated methodology. This year the topic of the course is “Consumer Products for Protestor’s ”— a challenging and seemingly dichotomous brief that speaks to the very nature of commerce and behavior. We sat down with Rinat Aruh and Johan Liden to ask them about their course, now at its 5-week mark.

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PoD: “Consumer Products for Protestor’s” seems, on the face of it, like a near-impossible design brief, colliding two things that don’t, well, seem to match. How are the students attempting to reconcile the notions of consumption—with all its attendant difficulties—with the idea of protest, which, by definition, doesn’t seem to want to be co-opted by the marketplace?

RA & JL: Sure, protest doesn’t seem to want to be co-opted by the marketplace, as its efforts are inherently aimed at creating change. But designing consumer products that can enable people to more easily be expressive for that change can, in turn, create more appeal and assumption for use.

And by “protestor,” we are not solely referring to the political activist—protesting comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a child refusing to eat their vegetables or a sports fan at the big game, the bottom line is that everyone, at various times, wants to speak up and to be heard.

It’s interesting to hear our students think about this problem space; how can they design consumable tools that will be a source of motivation or inspiration for any person, empowering them to express themselves. They often turn to organization and structure as a starting point, trying to reconcile the chaotic nature of protests with some sort of cohesive intent.

From solutions that enable protestors to brand their message, to a mobile kit that allows the consumer to protest an idea or speak up at a moment’s notice—the students are creating products that enable people to get their message across.

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PoD: It also seems that “brand” might be antithetical to the topic, though that’s part of the challenge you’ve posed. Protests (and protesters) are branded all the time of course, or they “get” branded by media, storytellers, or various stakeholders. How are you able to leverage the notion of brand as a way for the students to see the context of their own work?

RA & JL: The idea of creating a consumer-facing brand for these products was important to humanize the products as well as the process of protesting. Creating a brand—a visual voice and look—for their products allows them to explore a point of differentiation for the offering. Many of the students are developing brands that are witty or humorous in tone to juxtapose the seriousness of the protesting topic. The “brand” aspect has really brought a new perspective to the products.

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PoD: The students have really just gotten started sinking their teeth into the work. What’s coming up in the final two-thirds of the course?

RA & JL: They will be formulating their ideas in their entirety—from brand identity, research, ideation and mock ups—all the way to packaging their product to ensure that it meets the demands of the retail landscape. Ultimately, there is a commercial part of this project that needs to deliver an experience at retail.

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PoD: How does teaching impact your own professional practice? You’ve worked with younger students in the past as well; how do find working with graduate students—especially students in a brand new program such as Products of Design?

RA & JL: Teaching has become part of our everyday. Whether it’s teenagers across New York City or our own staff or even graduate students, we approach each group the same way, actually. For Products of Design it’s most critical for us to teach the entire process of product, brand and experience, and to introduce all the realities that emerge in between. We’re having a great time.

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