Escher at the Flea Market: Lenovo’s Design Mastermind Talks Art & Balance

Rebecca Welles is a dealer in shapes and warm hues, a mixer of both colors and competing ideas. She sees things we don’t see. She regularly travels to the fringes of art and returns with cohesive, palatable ideas. Rebecca is the visual mastermind behind our brand. On the eve of the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, She took a few minutes to answer some questions about art and identity in Lenovo design.

First of all, what artists or artistic movements do you draw the most inspiration from?

I draw my inspiration from all kinds of places, life, people. Balancing the classic against the unexpected. So for instance, I love to hit as many art museums to see how the masters create, then mash that up with a quirky style of life today. Sort of like M. C. Escher meets the State Fairgrounds flea market, if that makes sense. On a good day it’s a balance of the expected and unexpected.

You and I have talked about this before so I have to ask: when you do design for a big company, how do you balance the limitations of your own branding with your more daring (aka weird!) leanings as an artist?

Well, to be honest, you can't be a master creator on everything you touch in a corporation. But since Lenovo is such a big company, there are plenty of opportunities to get your game on as a designer. The environmental and event projects have been an excellent expression of creativity for me.

For our new Enterprise Campus, we partnered with a local museum and their director to work with talented mobile, neon, plant and urban artists. Events allow the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art DJs and graffiti artists who add so much dimension to the brand with sound and art. It's quite magnificent.

You’ve been at this brand design thing for a while, right? When (and what) was the first big design project you did for Lenovo and what does it feel like to look back at that now with the benefit of hindsight?

My first big design project was for Lenovo's sponsorship of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games. This was right after Lenovo bought the IBM PC Division and I was new to a project of this size. I kept my head down and worked with a small team to make our internet lounges, uniforms and cool miniature ThinkPad pins look like they belonged to the world's largest PC company no one had ever heard about. Looking back on it, it was cool to be the new kid on the block and, by keeping the design very simple, we had a big impact on our brand perception on the world's stage. 

Lenovo got a new logo this year—why was now the right time to do this and what distinguishes the new look from the old?

The former logo had been around for over 10 years which, in dog years, is a lifetime for a corporate logo. There had been a few attempts to add a sheen and three dimensionality to it along the way, but it was our hope and dream to be able to start from scratch and create something that people would pronounce correctly and have a contemporary attitude that matches our products.

Our old logo came in one color—two if you added the tagline. Our new logo is available in 10 colors, with the ability to customize the image behind the wordmark. Ours is a “never standing still” kind of brand which is a delight to work with and we are just beginning to see where it can go.

 

There’s been a lot of talk within Lenovo about being “customer-centric” and, while it’s sometimes easy to roll your eyes at companies that make claims like that, I’ve seen some strong evidence of this dedication in our design efforts. Can you explain?

Yes indeed. No longer is it alright to create and market products simply because we like them. We listen to how the world connects with Lenovo. Lenovo is a brand by and for people who make things happen. Our customers expect brands to behave and be present in a space that is relevant to them, and they look for products that allow them to express their individuality. We work hard to make this happen.

Big events like CES represent a great chance for Lenovo to showcase its identity in a dynamic, immersive environment. What does this year’s space look like and how does this living embodiment of the Lenovo identity differ from 1 or 2 or even 5 years ago?

You know, it's hard to use the word evolution to describe our history of designs at CES because, honestly, they don't build on each other so much as morph into something totally new every year. Being in the same space for 7 years, you kind of know where the best spot for the band is at night, but the real fun is how to push the limits of our marketing comms with artistic fusion, all while making our cool products be the headliners.

I am super-excited this year because it’s the first CES with our new logo. It comes pre-packaged with energy. I almost (and may have) recommended the use of hay bales for product displays just because we could but, alas, our strong new color palette and dynamic imagery won out. We are using copious amounts of PMS 218 pink and there will no doubt be a picture of an animal or two.

Thanks to Rebecca for shedding light on the ideas behind our brand design. We leave you now with a montage of images from CES between 2011 and 2015. (For bonus points, see if you can name the now-famous band in the 3rd photo below.)  

 

Gavin O'Hara is Lenovo's Brand Newsroom Lead.