Introduction to Intradesign

with Jacob Ristau

Background and Purpose

This introduction will give an overview of the Intradesign methodology, which is the outcome of prior applied theory studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), followed by the focused presentation of the methodology’s application to an ongoing place branding case study. The Intradesign methodology is being developed as a response to Design Thinking’s paradigms’ reliances on problem-solution language while networking their regulated feedback utilities. We are specifically interested in the codified force dynamics of cognitive linguistics because forces are not mediated like “problems” — and when things are important to us, we tend to not think of them as “problems.” Forces emerge and persist, amplify, or exhaust. The Intradesign methodology embraces cybernetic systems, emphasizing management of forces in regulatory relationships. We apply these lessons to the design typology of branding because branding (like politics) exists between signalers and receivers, and we are concerned with place branding because the new domain is increasingly employed around the world as a substitute for disciplinary institutions.

The aforementioned case study we will explore is the application of the Intradesign methodology to an exercise piloted since June 2017 in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood with the West Loop Community Organization (WLCO), a non-profit delegate agency of the City of Chicago. Chicago’s origins as a trading outpost and then an agricultural and manufacturing powerhouse turned international leader of trading commodities, stocks, and futures make the city more representative of the USA’s economic chronicle than any other domestic metropolis. The West Loop neighborhood has been undergoing an unprecedented development boom in recent years, and the area is now home to the corporate headquarters of McDonald’s and a corporate office of Google alongside hundreds of small businesses, large and historical public spaces, and lively events that attract millions of people to the neighborhood every year. These facts combined propel the public-private partnership dynamics that make the area an ideal place branding case study.

But why focus on community organizing? Firstly, targetable status classes assemble from sustained residencies, and the housing market is a central stabilizer of the national economy. (And the United States is a central stabilizer of the global economy.) Secondly, the home purchase places buyers between state regulations and market volatilities, necessitating enduring participation in globalized futures tradings beyond everyday awareness but in ways that influence homeowner behaviors day to day. These relationships are further outlined in Gilles Deleuze’s concept of “societies of control,” which presupposes the self-regulatory behavior modification operations that continue to ecologize following the post-War creative-destruction of supply-side symbolic communication systems (what most people think of when they think of “branding”). These events have enabled the praxes of place branding to substitute as a governance strategy across both public and private entities when other similar traditions are now in crisis management.

In 1969, marketing scholars Philip Kotler and Sydney J. Levy “broaden[ed] the concept of marketing to nonbusiness organizations” (Rainisto 2003, 15). Their writings are “regularly cited as a symbol of the moment when ‘place’ entered the academic field of marketing” (Rainisto 2003, 15). The “study of image as a factor in tourism development” (Vuignier 2016, 12) was pioneered by academic John D. Hunt in 1975. Hunt’s writings further spurred the “academic interest in ‘place’ as a potential subject of marketing efforts” (Vuignier 2016, 12). But there does not yet exist “a classification system that could be systematically used for all papers associated with place marketing and place branding” (Vuignier 2016, 16). One aim of this introduction is to outline the Intradesign methodology and to clarify an operative definition of place branding, its primary application, for future uses.


Our methodology for the studies presented in this paper is predicated on the aforementioned Intradesign methodology, a set of concatenating axiomatic pre-conditions used to contextualize and amplify our designs.

The application of these axioms drove the development of the conventional, prosaic “steps” of “the design process” in rebranding the West Loop Community Organization — and so by extension the West Loop. Research included both quantitative and qualitative methods but ultimately infers interpretative understandings from empirical-analytical extrapolations. There were six pre-existing research methods used in the initial rebranding of WLCO: an architectural survey; an anthropological/artifactual archiving; data and census aggregation; a conventional market study; socio-graphical narrative interviews; and industry brand identity techniques. Additional resources augmenting the case study’s networked approach come from a range of place branding examples, a comprehensive literature review, and numerous articles on urban and political processes from varying perspectives. Our findings support action research in that we seek to help place branding domain contributors align metrics and codify best practices.

Findings and Discussion

Like traditional brand identity design, an effective place “brand identity creates a relationship between the brand and the customers with a value proposition” (Rainisto 2003, 51). Unlike traditional branding, “it is no longer enough to simply ‘sell’ a place; instead, one must alter and improve it in accordance with a long-term vision and expectations” (Vuignier 2016, 13), negotiating the history and associations of pre-existing assets in the construction of a new public value. So where traditional branding is primarily concerned with signaling to any given community an idea (a virtual product) for consumption, place branding is primarily concerned with the opposite and for production: viz., that, “in other words, ideas make communities, and thus, advocates” (Thellefsen 2008, 62). This inversion correlates with the thesis that “urbanization has always been [...] a class phenomenon” (Harvey 2008, 24), given that “the occurrence in the universe of [a class’s] members is due to the active causality of the defining idea of the class” (Thellefsen 2008, 62). It is important to remember that “[a] place brand does not refer to the physical, concrete characteristics of the place, but to the perception” (Vuignier 2016, 35) of the nature of their existence by “linking variables or presenting substantiated causal relationships” (Thellefsen 2008, 30).

Our findings include that: a) the branded quality of a place has the power to garner attention to itself across scales; b) the brand is able to evoke a sense of community among constituents based on shared experience and desire as a status class; c) place branding is an adaptively complex process involving many disciplines — some of them pro re nata; d) place brands create shared intersubjective memories based on their designed sign values; e) place brands produce system outputs that are reflected as system inputs; f) the attracted community will generate marginal capital returns for the place brand through participation in its expenditure, activity we summarize as “identity economics.” Thus, a new cybernetic understanding of place branding processes that integrate these adaptive structures is required — if we are to manage them successfully (in accordance with intention).

Our comparative contributions imply that: a) a place brand must communicate its semiotic (habit-forming) value through a strategic vision and identity program that leverages existing assets to generate political unity; b) a place brand must manifest as a sociospatial organizational capacity — as a natural community class — that adaptively negotiates both local and global input-output process coincidences; c) a place brand must produce products (even virtual ones) and services within an autopoietic system maintained and managed to the satisfaction of participants; d) a place brand must produce marginal capital returns to sustain its expenditure and effectuate lasting economic viability. The weaponization of identity economics is thus a logical extension of place branding, although such manufacturing is not necessary.

Place branding is a “power politics associated with place marketing strategies and tend to affirm that place marketing activities support a neo-liberal ideology” (Vuignier 2016, 31). Still, place branding “adds something essential to public administration perspectives, [...] that is, the role of influencing perceptions and motivating actors by means of symbolic constructions that mainly work by means of associations and emotions” (Thellefsen 2008, 8). Management of symbol systems is thus an axiological practice, since embodied emotional mnemonics are both continually intended and resulting. We believe, thus, that leadership should be skilled in the practices of branding, since branding also “refers to the process of managing a brand. It is an endeavor that highlights the brand through activities designed to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market” (Vuignier 2016, 5). Here, “leadership” refers to the “highly qualitative contents of management. [...] Leadership can be considered the most critical challenge in place development and place marketing” (Rainisto 2003, 87).

To maximize marketplace effectivity, as our most general finding, place brands should globalize the qualities that attract or accumulate capital and localize the qualities that position the brand for constituents. However, process coincidences (events not contained within long-term vision and expectations) are rapidly occurring input-outputs that demand place brands have generative life, since such occurrences “can be construed to constitute the process of establishing a common meaning agreement for the [place brand] through a complex interplay” (Thellefsen 2008, 59) of the forces ultimately jointly shaping lasting perceptions of places. To generatively incorporate process coincidence crises in the course of maximizing marketplace effectivity, place brands must be autopoietic: the branded system must be able to maintain itself through its very design. An effective autopoietic loop will in turn extend the individualized relevance and cultural longevity of the branded, increasing marginal capital returns over time as the shared experiences that grow brand equity are quantitatively exponential among constituents and foreigners (anyone not contributing to a place through sustained residency) adopting its sign values.

As a consequence: the incorporation of these sociospatial behavior modifiers into public-private marketplaces thrust design acts into dynamics of political and axiological power that must, by way of sustainability and equity needs, regulate themselves operationally. Place brands are different from traditional brands in that they can be generated for non-commercial entities, as the practices that govern them emerge from and result in communities — and communities emerge from and result in ideas. Place brands propagate metaphors and political unities through leveraging semiotic values culturally. They produce and consume capital (finance and otherwise), and their functions manifest as a primary cognition within the human species. In short, we are now always within design, and it is necessary to continue defining and instrumentalizing place branding since the domain’s influence on our daily habits only continues to grow.


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Sevy Perez