John Tan Discovering the Self

  • Tauira / Student
    John Tan
  • Kaiako / Lecturers
    Rachel Carley, Jyoti Kalyanji

Discovering the Self, is a practice-led research project that explores how personal branding can be more sincere and intimate. Creative practitioners face a ‘personal brand paradox’ between wanting to create a sincere creative practice and pursuing commercial success through personal branding. As Debbie Millman mentioned in her 2023 article, The Personal Brand Paradox, as an individual, pursuing being a brand takes away the earnest nuances of one’s self and humanity.
Instead of hinging the personal brand on commercial factors, I challenged the current industry norm by focusing on the self and self-formation from an interactionist perspective: the concept of how the self shapes, and is shaped by, the society and the environment the individual is situated. Memories, experiences, environments, families, friends, and all the social networks we interact with are parts of ourselves. All these bits of ourselves construct and reinforce our reality and the craft we constantly practice.
This exploration started through a series of experiments for my postgraduate paper. Following the class’s constraints and reflective enquiry, I was able to test out different materials and formats. As a practising brand designer accustomed to implementing branding frameworks, I intentionally focused on an aspect I was unfamiliar with — the self in relation to the design of the brand. To further understand this, I explored my identity through my experiences from the past, located in the Philippines and my more recent experiences in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Looking through the captured moments, I saw many similarities between the two environments. It is not that the two countries look and feel the same; instead, the similarities I saw were framed and captured by my photography. I capture what I want and love, my tendencies: Silhouettes, nature, architecture, and specific colours and patterns. My aesthetic and taste since before are consistent.
I placed these memories in a zine with different cover sleeves: the red sleeve red for the Philippines and the blue for Aotearoa. The window on the cover shows my logo. The zine is bound by a yellow thread, making a red, blue, yellow, and white combination representing the Philippine flag. Working against my brand design tendencies, it was my first time creating the layout by hand. I intricately cut and pasted the collages. Handcrafting demonstrated how creative practitioners put themselves into the craft. As the layers of the collages took shape, memories flooded back to me. My experiences were recreated piece by piece on every page. After composing the layouts, I then started to write: black ink for reflections, red ink for observations. It was a dialogue between me, the creative practitioner, and the brand designer. The reflections helped me see through myself, while the observations showed me my inclinations and biases.
After focusing on myself and exploring my creative identity, I have gained insights into making my personal branding framework more intimate for other creatives. I hope to recreate this unfiltered experience for others undergoing a personal branding exercise. Just like myself, this research is just starting to unfold.