Brands as Patterns

But without repetition, how does a brand create consistency? And without consistency, how does a brand maintain value?

In his 2011 article for the design agency Method, of which he held the position of Principle/Global head of branding, Marc Shillum explores the notion of using ‘patterns’ as a way of branding in contrast to the more conventional method of repetition. In this theory, he is introducing a style of branding which is far more intuitive and adaptable than the traditional idea of using “consistency” as a strategy. His essay caused waves in the industry, being picked up by multiple advertising and branding publications, including PSFK, who described the use of patterns as “the ability to continually reinvent the brand image according to what is most relevant at the time”(Woloszczuk, 2014)

In his article, Shillum describes the 5 key elements that make up his argument:

01. Patterns are both adaptive and coherent

This is the idea that a company is able to tap into the human psyche, and understand that consistency is one of the key elements that contributes to brand value and encourages brand loyalty. However, Shillum explains that this consistency does not necessarily have to come from repetition (as widely believed), but can also be derived from the “formation and recognition of coherent pattens” (2011). These patterns can be a number of things, from behaviour, thoughts, actions and memory, and can “create consistency around differences and variation” (Shillum, 2011). 

This idea is expressed most succinctly in the following sentence: 

“To succeed in a more agile world, a brand needs to think less about defining a fixed identity and more about creating coherent and flexible patterns” (Shillum, 2011)

02. Patterns can be both a big idea and multiple small ideas at once

Think of this as a big-hit tv show, which gains a huge number of fans in a small space of time; in order to capitalise on this success, a ‘spin-off’ show is created which appeals to both existing fans and brings in even more viewers. 

Or even, a fashion house brings out multiple collections for a single season: resort wear, sportswear, leisurewear and couture. Each of these collections is different yet has a consistent mark/vibe of the designer.

“Patterns can communicate different messages in parts and a comprehensive message as a whole.” (Shillum, 2011)

03. Patterns are the way people remember and recognise new value

“Repetition of patterns build recognition, but variation in patterns creates relevance and sustains interest.” (Shillum, 2011)

Patterns can be utilised in order to create infinite variations whilst keeping a strand of continuity. Take into consideration the English language, composed of only 26 letters yet, as of January 2014, there are currently 1,025,109 words officially recorded. From these words, an almost infinite amount of sentences can be constructed, create interesting linguist patterns, yet there is still a degree of consistency because there is only a limited number of letters. If you suddenly introduce a word in French, this would disrupt the discourse and become difficult to understand. TBC

04. Patterns are both foundational and transferable

“Self-similarity makes patterns easy to follow, and when applied as an organizational system, the power of a pattern can be exponential. Because self-similarity is a more complex form of repetition, it creates the same consistency and brand value, yet it is distributed and not centralized.”

05. Patterns create belief and trust

“Trust is built upon this understanding of the meaning of a recognized pattern. Recognition of a pattern becomes associated with a desired outcome, conditioning people to respond to the pattern with belief.”

Woloszczuk, N. (2014). Marc Shillum, Method Design: Consistent Brands Through Repeating Patterns – PSFK. [online] PSFK. Available at: [Accessed 27 Jan. 2016].


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