Sustainable Design + Identity

Alumni in Action

Two of the unique course offerings in MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program are Creative Leadership and Biomimetic Design.

In this interview, Jazmyne Geis [MASD 2019] and her partner Julius Geis explore the intersection of what she learned in these courses with Identity Built Branding (IBB), a project recently launched by Julius.

Jazmyne, tell us what you learned in the program that you see showing up in Julius’s work.

Many of the MASD courses have allowed me to provide feedback to Julius and IBB.  We’ve been talking about design and where design starts. I really like how the MASD program goes beyond thinking about design as just an artistically-driven practice. It’s very interdisciplinary and can be used to solve problems, seek new solutions, and can be driven through different industries. I really like that opening up of design — you don’t have to be an artist. 

In Creative Leadership, we looked at different leadership models and organizational structures from nature, from hierarchies to flocks, and also how nature solves problems. We learned to look outside and ask nature, as well as look within ourselves. I recalled all of that when I was looking at IBB, because it has all of this self-reflection and understanding. It asks the organization to identify its values and check in with its core, and also take cues from the environment. 

Julius, tell us about your project and what you’re hearing from Jazmyne that has influenced your work.

I’m a brand strategist and brand expert and started in a more traditional sense. The journey for Identity Built Branding (IBB) started with a journey of my own self exploration. When I was just 25, I began to have a sense of burnout. I realized that I didn’t have answers to essential questions like: Who am I? What makes me laugh?

I took a sabbatical to Hawaii and met wonderful people, including spiritual leaders. I learned more and more about myself. At the end of the trip, implementing what I had learned and seen over time gave me more clarity on those essential questions. That led to the question: If that works for me as an individual, how can that be implemented on a collective level?

As a brander, we work with identity, but in a very different context than when we talk about identity on a natural level, a human level, or even on a universal level. That’s how I started working on Identity Built Branding. I asked companies to explore:  Who are we as an organization? What is our identity?  And then build from there.

Today, branding for me is holistic, based on the belief that the organization is a living organism. The goal is to strengthen all relationships. This is how the MASD program really overlaps.

I learned a lot about design from Jazmyne and her experience with the program. I understood that design is the holistic form of all creation. I understood that I am a designer. I am connected to everything when I try to solve a problem. The concepts of systems, and systems in nature, inspired me because that was something I didn’t articulate, but that I intended in my methodology of IBB. It was really beautiful to explore that overlap and how we could learn from each other. Her courses definitely made my project better.

Jazmyne, what are you hearing Julius say today that resonates with your experience before and during the program?

I grew up in Hawaii. Kids here grow up with a deep connection to nature — a connection that I discovered other people don’t have or may have forgotten. The word “Aloha” is familiar to most people globally as “hello/goodbye/love”, but here in Hawaii it’s more. It’s an innate understanding of the respectful, unconditional, loving presence and acknowledgement of each being in its life source and natural intelligence– be it the ocean, land, a bird, turtle, plant or human. We are connected to everything, and the MASD program affirmed the importance of this understanding. 

Julius had made several trips to Hawaii (before we met) and he too was able to put himself in this place of interconnection and openness to learning from the environment in this way. His Hawaii moment was my MCAD moment. It was during these years in the program where I had that ‘aha’ moment of systems, interconnection and circularity, and started to look at bridging this innate childhood knowledge with the methodologies and practices taught from my instructors.

Julius and I spoke many times on the ways his business methodology had similarities with what I was learning and we experimented with overlapping them for client projects for the last three semesters at MCAD.  For both of us, it’s about ‘experiencing the experience’ by being observant, curious and inquisitive, and then reflecting on how we can apply this understanding to who we are and what we do.

Julius, I’m curious about the connections you see among branding, leadership, and nature.

The world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years — including the relationships between business and society, and how business deals with crises — yet we are using the same medicine over and over again to cure these pain points. Same for the individual. We’re never taught in school how to answer the question: Who am I?  We are supposed to look to the outside to answer that, which is more about what you do rather than who you are. Because of that we’ve seen an increase in psychological distress, people looking for other answers, and seeking spiritual guidance.

For me, it was the observation of what was going on in the world around me that led me to create this new concept in branding. It is what I believe the world needs. The world is now asking for businesses to answer different questions, to have a bigger purpose, to have a different relationship with their surroundings, who see themselves as a part of our society, with responsibilities for a better world. I use the term “relationship-centric”, which is universal and reflects empathy for all of the things I’m connected with.

Jazmyne, talk about IBB in the context of the Conventional and Natural Paradigms.

In our Biomimetic Design course, we did 30-minute observations in nature: 10 minutes with eyes closed, 10 minutes with eyes open, and then 10 minutes reflecting on a question or problem we wanted to solve. With IBB, there’s a process of observing the world, reflecting, and then going through a process similar to the Biomimicry Design Spiral

The purpose of IBB is to help organizations move back to the Natural Paradigm. It’s based on relationships, synergies, and systems. He uses the term “organism” in his paper, so even the vocabulary is shifting. IBB also comes from a place of abundance rather than scarcity. The work involves a self-journey, developing yourself as a person while developing the organization, and includes journaling and feedback. 

What Julius is addressing in IBB with his different take on the term “branding” (as a relationship-centric approach) is exactly what we discussed in the program around the word “sustainability”.  People think they know what branding is, but if you asked different stakeholders  you’d probably get a variation of definitions from something very visual specific like a logo to a verbal identifier for services and goods. Just like “sustainability” is boxed into the idea of granola, recycling, and advocacy, when it really is a foundational value for businesses and communities.

In the program we learned that you have to use terms that are understandable and digestible to the industry that you’re working with. It requires empathy. I shared the work of Bob Willard with Julius as an example of how this can be done — positioning sustainability at the core, not just in the marketing department.

This is where sustainable design and Identity Built Branding come together. Building sustainability into their identity allows businesses to thrive into the future that we both envision. 

Thank you Jazmyne and Julius!

Denise DeLuca / Former Director

Denise DeLuca is the Director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program. She was co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry Creative for Innovation, a network of creative professional change agents driving ecological thinking for radical transformation. Denise is author of the book Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, which was illustrated by MASD alum Stephanie Koehler. She also teaches with the Amani Institute.

Denise’s previous roles include Education Director for the International Living Future Institute, Project Manager for Swedish Biomimetics 3000, and Outreach Director for The Biomimicry Institute. Denise is a licensed civil engineer (PE) and holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on modeling landscape-scale surface and groundwater interactions.  In addition, Denise is a Biomimicry Fellow and a member of the Advisory Council of The Biomimicry InstituteBoard Member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), on the editorial board of the Journal of Bionic Engineering, and an Expert with Katerva. Denise is based in Oregon.

contact:  [email protected]