Identity Design + People vs. Process + Intersectional Design Leadership with John B. Johnson — DT101 E70


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John B. Johnson is an identity architect and principal of A Small Studio. He works with corporations and scaling startups, using A Small Studio’s identity design framework. John and his team also work with creatives to bring peace to people's lives. Today, John and I talk about corporate and individual identity design, why people are more important than process, and intersectional design leadership.

Listen to learn about:

  • Defining identity
  • Identity design
  • The intersection of brand/identity and authentic design

Our Guest’s Bio

John B. Johnson is a brother, a son, a husband, a friend, and the founder, principal, and Identity Architect of a small studio. a small studio is a collective of creatives who use their design gifts to improve lives through branding and product design. They believe every design project starts with Identity. In less than 3 years, his team has built over 40 brands worldwide. John leverages his Master’s Degrees in Architecture and Business Administration to help people, start-ups, and enterprises benefit from infusing their identity into the work they do and what they offer the people they serve.

Show Highlights

[01:20] John talks about his path into the work he’s doing today in identity design.

[01:39] Design thinking is a core principle of architecture.

[03:06] John’s fascination with the people in the built environment and designing buildings with an eye towards the human interactions occurring there, and how that led him away from architecture.

[03:34] Leaving architecture behind to focus more on community and the human equation.

[04:45] Lessons learned during John’s first startup business.

[05:25] John discovers his passion for branding.

[06:10] John’s co-founding of a small studio, and a move to Seattle.

[07:43] Authentic design and how it feeds into brand and identity design.

[08:39] John defines identity.

[08:49] What happens during the branding process.

[10:39] The importance of frameworks and processes for John’s work.

[12:28] John uses deeply personal stories and moments to help build powerful visual identities for clients.

[12:59] a small studio’s Identity Architecture workshop — for individuals, teams, and corporations.

[15:25] Moving fully into remote work during the pandemic.

[17:24] The challenges of building a business.

[18:46] Time is a key factor when it comes to going virtual.

[19:55] The benefits that have come from folks needing to work remotely.

[21:35] Remote work has sparked creativity and innovation in ways we’ve never experienced before.

[22:36] Working remotely has led to more acceptance of the humanity of one another.

[26:00] John talks about his life and experiences being a Black man and a Black designer.

[28:27] His experiences being the only Black person in his education and work spaces and the unique way of seeing the world that came because of it.

[29:47] How his life has motivated him to be a connector and a bridge between people and communities.

[31:51] Intersectionality is the ethos of design and design thinking.

[33:55] Dawan and John talk about bringing what is unique to us as individuals more deeply into our professional and personal lives, especially as a designer.

[36:11] Bringing your full, whole self to every situation.

[39:10] “Constant becoming,” and intentionally designing a good life.

[41:47] Where to find out more about John and his work.

[42:45] Books and resources John recommends.


John on LinkedIn

John on Twitter

John on Medium

John on Instagram

John’s personal website

A Small Studio

Everything Starts Small podcast

Design Thinking Isn’t Just for the Privileged

Brighton Jones Talent for Good Interview Series: John B. Johnson

Book Recommendation: Community: The Structure of Belonging, by Peter Block

Book Recommendation: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

Book Recommendation: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, by Eckhart Tolle

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Fluid Hive Resources

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Fluid Hive: Learn — A growing collection of courses, webinars, and articles for people expanding their design thinking, service design, and human-centered design skills – people who want to think and solve like a designer.