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An interview with Luke Anspach on his quest to rebrand USA


t all started as a Senior exit project for Luke's Anspach undergrad in college but soon grew into a worthwhile revolving concept showing the United States as a melting pot through cohesive and yet unique state brands. He wanted to take a fun break from client work and explore a design style that he wasn’t typically able to do in a commercial setting. Since then, it has developed a new life of its own with a vision to “Reveal beauty and inspire wonder back into America.” He believes that so much of the United States has lost its patriotism and love for country. “We’ve taken our nation for granted.” He adds to this, our media is all very negative, never showing anything positive that is happening in the country or across the globe. And here comes the new vision for the Branding 50 States project is to put something positive out there about the United States and help foster a sort of national and state pride in where we live. Again, its purpose is to “Reveal beauty and inspire wonder back into America.”

“Reveal beauty and inspire wonder back into America.”

Get prepared for great amount of juicy information because Luke shared his opinions on Branding 50 States of America, what a designer should keep in mind while choosing the typography on a city branding project, which already designed city brands are considered worthy to his opinion and what people think on city branding.

What things you take into consideration when designing each state identity and what is the process?
I start with a good amount of research about the state. I look at its history, culture, economy, what it has been known for (both now and before), the various tag lines the tourism sector has used for it, what it’s like now, and where it’s headed. I basically try and take a large and over-arching look at “who” the state is and “what” makes it unique.

“I take into account the research that I’ve done, the values, and the vision and seek to communicate all of that through the design.”

In this process I look for over-arching themes that appear to be consistent and make a list of values for the state. After narrowing down the values, I develop a “big idea” or over-arching and inclusive vision. This typically becomes the tagline. Only then do I really work on the actual visual-identity. I take into account the research that I’ve done, the values, and the vision and seek to communicate all of that through the design.

You have managed to create unique typographic images for each city, that can actually represent it successfully. How important do you think typography is, when a city branding is being studied.
I think that typography is incredibly important and is quite often overlooked. Each typeface has numerous subtleties that are communicating ideas and emotions and it’s important to take into account and interpret what these are. I spend a good chunk of time in the process researching which typeface would be most effective in communicating the vision and who the state is, given the vintage-styled context. And then I usually try and see how I might alter that typeface and craft it to a place where it communicates what I want it to and is visually unique.

You have a visual style considering the overall image of the states, as you mention it is cohesive. Do you think that United States need a consistency in each State's design and why?
That is a great question and an interesting concept––that of unifying the designs of each state. I think from a design perspective, it would make sense. Like any brand with sub-brands, good design goes together and supports each other. I think if that were ever to happen for the United States it would become very effective in communicating itself and educating others about itself to both those inside and outside of the United States.

How do you see the project when all the 50 states will be designed? Any plans for the future?
With this new vision for “Revealing beauty and inspiring wonder back into America” I hope to eventually have a Branding 50 States “brand.” I’d love to have a website where I have incorporated these designs into hand-crafted, state-specific products and where photography, film, and story can all be featured to support this vision. I have been able to collaborate already with a number of U.S. Instagramers on the project’s Instagram as well as with a T-Shirt campaign startup that used one of my designs.

We see very often that cities around the globe put efforts on redesigning their identity. Do you consider city branding an essential thing and why?
I think that “Place Branding” is extremely essential. Makoto Fujimura, a Japanese-American art-philosopher, once wrote, “Art is a building block of civilization. A civilization that does not value its artistic expressions is a civilization that does not value itself…The arts teach us to respect both the diversity of our communities and the strength of our traditions”.

“A city that brands itself (hopefully well) is one that respects itself as a community.”

I would also suggest that this applies to design as well. A city that brands itself (hopefully well) is one that respects itself as a community. The whole process of branding is about becoming self-aware and understanding who the city is and how to communicate themselves creatively and effectively. A city that chooses not to do this or chooses not to do it well, shows no value for itself, both internally and externally.

Additionally, from a economic standpoint, if a city cannot respect itself enough to present itself well, then why would anyone want to invest in or be a part of that city? I believe design directly affects its well-being.

Could you mention some examples in the following cases:
Cities that need to be branded and cities that need to be rebranded.

I believe that the city of Detroit, Michigan, USA needs to be rebranded. This city is bankrupt and has the highest poverty rate in the United States. Branding has an ability to revive and redeem communities and cities as seen in the story of New York City with the “I Heart NY” campaign. The branding and logo turned the economy and view of the city completely around. Detroit needs something like that.

Please mention also some great examples on cities branding as well. It could be also outside of United States.

My favorite place branding since the beginning of this project has been of the city of Melbourne, Australia. I love its flexibility and energy and how it so reflects the energy and creativity of the city. Here’s a link to the case study

Another favorite city branding of mine is that of the city of Greenville, South Carolina, USA. Though this is not an “official” city logo, I believe it still runs the gamut of the topic at hand. I love how this logo and overall brand conveys a freshness and life-giving emotion. The city is healthily full of life and activity and the brand conveys this.

Another place branding that I thought was well done was for the state of Colorado, USA.

And finally a very unique spin on place branding for a city was done by Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England. I’ve never seen a city do what they have done before and include the members of the city within the branding and logo. It’s flexible, unique, develops community amidst the city, and inspires ownership by its members.

Which brands of the ones you have designed you think that matches greatly in the real world and why?
I think that New York, Colorado, and Louisiana are probably the most effective and accurate.

The New York logo and brand conveys a visual solidity while including its history and diversity between city and country. Though it’s not talked about nearly as much, most of the state of New York is rural and I believe it has the ability to convey that given the right context. The idea of “embodying freedom” is not only a reflection of the state, but also a challenge and a dare. The reflection takes place as this state illustrates and symbolizes the effects of freedom: Stock Exchange, West Point Military Academy, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Broadway, the United Nations, the possibilities of choices, and even the general booming economy. Its history calls on its significant part in the Underground Railroad and the role of Ellis Island which welcomed immigrants into a free country. The challenge says, “I dare you to embody freedom. Show me what it looks like. Show me how its done.” In result is New York. “Embody Freedom.”

“I dare you to embody freedom. Show me what it looks like. Show me how its done.” In result is New York. “Embody Freedom.”

The Colorado logo and brand is actually very similar to the new branding the state that was released recently (as a disclaimer, I had created my design well before they had released theirs so it’s been cool to see the similarities). The vision of “Fearless Lifestyle” is a vision that lives boldly, that defies the odds, and that seeks out a new adventure or vision to achieve. It is a brand of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial thinking and doing.  Its overall mentality is positive and looks to always move forward and continue on.

Colorado has been known for its incredible outdoors including mountains, rivers (Colorado R.), forests, canyons, plateaus, desert, and plains. Thrill seekers and adventurous hearts seek out Colorado for the amazing landscape and opportunity for hiking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, rafting, as well as many other activities. The state has been rated the third top state for business in the nation, is known for its green initiatives, and houses more technology based jobs than any other state. Colorado is filled with adventure both in the office and lab, as well as out on the mountain and the river. This state truly reflects a “Fearless Lifestyle.”

And finally Louisiana brand is filled with energy and life. Its vision, “Cultivators of Life,” fuses history, culture, the arts, and the outdoors into a vibrant combination. Louisiana, itself, is a melting pot of cultural history with influences from France, Spain, Native Americans, Africa, Asia, Creoles, Haiti, and Central and South America. Art, music (jazz was born here), culinary arts (cajun cooking: hot, seafood, jambalaya, gumbo, etc), dance, and celebrations (Mardi Gras) all support this exuberant brand. Even with its history of hurricanes and floods, Louisiana shows its vitality and strength through valuing life. “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” a common phrase in this state speaks for itself translating, “Let the good times roll.”

What have you learned from this project so far?
My advice to any creative professional is that you are not doing the best and most authentic work until you are doing something that you love to do and that you’re passionate about.

I’ve probably learned a number of things, but two come to mind. The first deals with doing something you love. I’ve heard over and over from amazing creative professionals that “you need to do what you love and forget about the money” because essentially when you start doing what you love, it shows and people recognize the authenticity of it. Surprisingly, people have really enjoyed what I have created and I have received such an encouraging response. My advice to any creative professional is that you are not doing the best and most authentic work until you are doing something that you love to do and that you’re passionate about.

“I found that the problem is not that they don’t care, it’s that they haven’t been given the opportunity to show it or express it.”

The second is that people really do care about where they live. This surprised me because I always thought that people didn’t care. I found that the problem is not that they don’t care, it’s that they haven’t been given the opportunity to show it or express it. I think that these state brandings have given Americans an environment to say, “Yes, that’s my state and I love how you captured it or communicated it” and it has revealed their love for their home. I think that place branding, when done well, gives people the opportunity to express their pride in their location, which in turn, increases the love and quality of that place.

Give us an exclusive short statement, anything you want. Something like a tweet.
Design is powerful. And it’s so powerful, that it can raise a city back to life.


Luke thanks a lot for your time! You can view more of Luke's work in his website.