Problem Statement: This thesis explores the influence of street culture on brand identity in graphic design. Aspects of street culture include skateboarding, hip-hop, rap, punk, and street art. Street art is traditionally thought of as illegal or rebellious mark-making of public property or property that does not belong to the person making marks on it. Street art can also be defined as a means of crafting personal expression through the enhancement or augmentation of a natural or man-made environment. In this study, brand identity is defined as "the controllable and fundamental elements of a company, product, or service brand, such as the core essence, positioning, brand name, tag line, messaging, and experience" (Perry, 5). The premise of this investigation will be to examine how corporate identities have been influenced by street culture, more specifically street art, as part of the larger realm of pop culture that has originated from the New York City hip-hop scene in the late 1970s. Street art has relevant applications in the design of corporate branding, especially in the fashion and music industries since the solutions can be influenced from the ephemeral and vernacular everyday actions and objects that can be found in urban settings. This study specifically focuses on the styles, mediums, and processes that are local and specific to street art that have transitioned into more public, formalized, and mass-produced graphic design solutions for corporate identity and associated branding strategies. By comparing, contrasting, and studying how actual examples from street culture influence brand identities and strategies, it is hoped that new methods and processes will be discovered that could help graphic designers learn how to reappropriate street culture in terms of generating aesthetic solutions, conceptual directions, and voice or tone in brand solutions. Selected Key Questions: 1 In what ways has the overall street art idiom influenced some graphic designers and/or their clients? 2 How has street art inspired and influenced designers to explore new methods and processes when creating or using imagery and typography in graphic design solutions? 3 What are the different ways in which type and image have evolved as trends, or perhaps clichés, in brand identities for the music and fashion industries? 4 How has street art been a general influence on branding in the music and fashion industries? 5 How has street culture influenced visual communication intended for different age groups? 6 Are there varying motifs, elements, and themes that have emerged from street art and influenced brand identities and/or branding strategies? 7 How have different levels of abstraction and complexity of imagery or typography been used in brand identity systems? Have these abstractions been influenced by street art? 8 How have brand identities and/or branding strategies been interpreted with respect to the hip-hop subculture? Project Relevance and Importance: This study recognizes that street art is an art form, created by artists, and as such is worthy of respect and acknowledgement. This study explores design strategies and issues related to reappropriating street art in corporate identities and related branding strategies with an aim to present new methods and processes that designers can apply toward more meaningful, long-lasting identity solutions that do not misrepresent urban culture. Project Definition: Associated Areas of Study: Graphic Design, Marketing, Sociology/Urban Studies, Advertising, Branding, Cultural Anthropology Potential Application: A potential application for this thesis could involve the creation of a brand identity and/or associated brand strategy that misappropriates street art and needs to be thoughtfully amended, and one that studies a brand that does not use street art as an influence but could have in order to create a new successful solution. By comparing both approaches and how the actual solutions can be improved, it will demonstrate that the street art idiom within a larger pop-cultural perspective can offer new design strategies that could inspire graphic designers to present more appropriate and respectful design solutions. A second potential application of this study would be to define the syntax of vernacular signs and symbols that have emerged from generation-specific icons from street art for appropriate, noncommercial design solutions in a less expected and under-investigated area of industry. The design solutions, therefore, would represent an alternative way to communicate visual information to a specific audience without disrespecting the hip-hop subculture. The designs would also be placed in areas where the viewing experience to a passerby would appear to be a spontaneous or unexpected experience of message-making. Project Goals: The goals for this study are to discover how street art is currently reappropriated in brand identity and associated branding solutions and what strategies designers could explore to find influence from street art to communicate to a wide range of age groups within a specific and appropriate area of industry. Another important aspect of this study is to discover how street artists who are part of the hip-hop subculture use their talent and knowledge within the subculture to reappropriate the art from within their own branding solutions in graphic design. Based on how street artists' interpret their actions and behaviors through graffiti writing or tagging, designers who do not directly belong to the hip-hop subculture could benefit from this study to better understand how they could use the influence from the art form in branding solutions to positively contribute to the design field in a noncommercial way that is respectful, meaningful, informational, and the mode of communication operates similarly to the way the art form did when it was first conceived to communicate messages. Another goal of this thesis is to prove how street art is misappropriated in many design solutions for different industry areas to promote commercial sales in such a way that misrepresents and disrespects the hip-hop subculture. It is important for street art to be represented in a way that goes beyond meeting the bottom line so that the influence of street art in brand identity can be used for a more functional purpose in which the medium and mode of communication is used in a way that is highly informational, educational, and serves a purpose other than to sell an idea or product. A final goal is to implement the theoretical research into a real-world application.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Commercial art--Themes, motives; Graphic arts--Themes, motives; Street art--Influence; Branding (Marketing)

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Visual Communication Design (MFA)

Department, Program, or Center

School of Art (CIAS)


Deborah Beardslee

Advisor/Committee Member

Alex Bitterman

Advisor/Committee Member

Paul Grebinger


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes