Yesterday the DiaTipo DF conference was held in Brasilia, Brazil. Thanks to Twitter (where I found out about it) and Livestream (where I caught the live online video), I was able to follow it.

During a roundtable discussion, there was an interesting exchange between Fabio Lopez and Fabio Haag left me thinking. It happened towards the end of the video I embedded at the bottom of this post. Here is my (approximate) translation of Fabio Lopez’s question:

Those who have analyzed corporate identity and institutional communications historically throughout the decades have noticed that in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the message and objective was neutrality. Companies wanted to present themselves as being neutral.

Moving on to the 90s and the first decade of this millennium, the message was that of being modern, of showing how advances in technology was changing all aspects of business.

And now it seems that the message is to be informal, approachable, friendly. These days, very company is informal and friendly. It is thanks to the talent of designers that within this common objective that companies share, a lot of diversity exists.

But it’s true that every time a new client arrives with the need for a new identity, they ask to be simple, informal. Even though they are big companies with millions in revenue, they want to appear to be simple and approachable.

How to survive this, and what is the way forward for identity? In 2020 and beyond… what will companies want their identities to be?

This certainly got me thinking. It is very true that now everyone is friendly and approachable. He missed innovative, another overused word. All corporations think they are contemporary Leonardo da Vincis.

But the big question, which I hadn’t considered until I heard it in the video, is what will the next decades bring for identity? Where is it heading?

The answer from Fabio Haag was instructive, if not all-encompassing:

More and more, the definition of a brand is coming from the users. Because of the internet and social media, people are less and less buying wholesale the message coming from the top.

It’s true that in the past, these messages felt very corporate and distant, whereas today the attempt is to appear to be near. But it seems that as time goes by, the message (advertising and identity) is less valuable, and it is how a company behaves that becomes more important.

Actions and attitude, in the practice. True actions that have a real impact in people’s lives shape a brand more than any verbal or visual message.

Identity is escaping companies hands, and it is consumers that are beginning to take charge of the relationship.

While this is true (and it has already began), I found the answer lacking because a visual and verbal message will still have to be created in the 20s, 30s and beyond.

The big trend I see moving forward is the collision between the extremely adaptable, and the extremely personal.

More and more we are seeing generative identities, ever-changing and reactive whether manually or through the programing power of Processing and the like. Examples abound: MIT Media Lab, Casa da Música, Aol, Google’s doodles and many others.

But thirty years from now, these will not look timeless. They will probably feel dated and rudimentary. Massive amounts of data are being collected from tracking our online habits (what we do and see on the web, smartphone, etc.), and in time it could give corporations the power to personalize not just their message, but why not all the way to their identity when they talk to each of us.

Maybe in the future, each screen will adapt to the individual user in ways that affect even the identity of the company communication. Screens could even replace packaging labels, which  powered by LED or e-Ink displays could show a different design to each person looking at them.

In such a world of extreme adaptability, where all messages can become local and personal, why would identity remain a universal constant? It’s hard for me to think that corporations will not find a way of “owning the relationship” once again.

Se você fala portugués, jump to 01:29:00 in the video to follow the exchange I transcribed above. Or watch the whole event here. Most of the presentations centered around typography, from creation to usage.

The roster of presenters was very interesting, and included Frederico Antunes from ChibaChiba, Fabio Lopez and Daniel Souza from Tátil Design (whose work includes the identity for the Rio 2016 Olympics), Fabio Haag (type designer at Dalton Maag, whose founder Bruno Maag run the workshop I attended in Urbino last month), Elaine Ramos (art director at Cosac Naify, a very cool Brazilian publishing house), Eduilson Coan (type designer from dooType), Dino dos Santos (type designer from DSType), and Alceu Nunes (art director for VIP magazine).