Archive for the 'Design' Category

How to hire a brand to get a job done

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The Victorinox Rescue Tool shows how:

I played around with one of these when I was in Hong Kong recently, no doubt terrifying the petite clerk kind enough to show it to me. It is serious business.

Rescue to the rescue

The bright lime yellow certainly fits the emergency mission, but I’m puzzled why Victorinox calls this a “Rescue Tool” on the device, squeezing the name to fit. It is a rescue tool, but why not just a big and bold RESCUE on the handle? It’s RESCUE that they’re selling, more than a “tool.” And I’d bet they’d sell a lot more that way, too.

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Google: the brand behind the logo

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Behind every logo is a brand trying to reach out to customers. Since a designer’s job is to help a company unfold its potential, one hires the best designer one can afford when developing the identity and logo. A good designer can raise a logo from “packaging” to long-term brand performance.

Wired’s How Google got its colorful logo describes the iterative steps taken by Google’s founders and their designer to work out the current Google logotype. The step-by-step details are fascinating. Through design, the brand behind the logo emerges front and center.

A brand identity with a customer context

Sergey Brin and Larry Page knew what they wanted in the Google identity, but weren’t sure how to express it. The different design iterations helped birth a Google brand identity with a strong customer context. For starters, the logo/brand respects customers, by not getting in the way of doing a search. Second, the generous white space on the search page sets off the logo, and invites customers in. That big white space is customer space. Third, the vivid colors announce that this is a space for human expression—where Google and searchers team up.

Room to grow the brand

Of course, the Google logo itself doesn’t make Google search any better. You need sharp engineers for that. What it does do, however, is provide room to grow the brand. The design helps make the Google brand friendly, relaxing, inviting, unpretentious, fun and productive, so that Google connotes discovery and opportunity, never “work.” Long-term, this can set an engaging tone that makes adding more Google apps and services to one’s life easy, or maybe even automatic.

And then there are Google Doodles.

Logo: Google
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Rolex raises the brand bar—especially for widgets

Monday, February 12th, 2007

A visual feature of the new Rolex website is so stunning in its elegance and simplicity that it sets a standard for brands on the web—and especially for widgets that wish to convey brand meaning with a single graphic device.

Brand quality expressed as graphic quality

Go to the Rolex website, let it load (Flash) and then admire the gorgeous oblique view of the Rolex GMT II as it adjusts itself to your time—and then keeps time as if it were on your own wrist. It appears uncannily real. Everything you experience is of the utmost authenticity, right down to the minute hand passing beneath the trademark Rolex magnifying lens.

Without a single word, this tour de force visual defines the Rolex brand for what it is: uncompromising quality. Rolex could have settled for less, but didn’t. It’s Rolex. It’s not just “different,” but in a class by itself.

I’ve never seen anything like this before on the web. Have you?

Widgets must rise to the level of brands

If you’re creating widgets with brand aspirations, Rolex has set the standard. Your job is to do no less, and preferably to take it to the next level. The last thing you want to do is to reduce a brand to the level of a widget. It has to be the other way around.

Thanks to: Scott Weisbrod
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How to design a customer

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

As stated in the name of this blog, the mission of brands is to create customers. Before we can create a customer, however, we first have to design one. In this post I’ll touch on what “creating a customer” means, and then follow with an overview of the customer design process.

In broad brushstrokes, the enterprise of brands is to 1) design the customers who will lead the business forward, and 2) create those customers through the many applications, programs and initiatives in our brand toolkit. And yes, we design our customers to win.

What “creating a customer” really means

When a business makes a sale, it does not automatically “create a customer.” It merely creates a transaction. A transaction is not a customer.

Creating a customer means connecting the customer to his or her passion or potential through the brand, in a way that fosters a mutually beneficial relationship. For brands, creating customers is a multi-tiered process of brand applications, platforms and programs, with specific deliverables across many stages, advancing the customer along strategic pathways, and engaging the customer as an innovation partner. It’s a strategic act of market creation rather than a quick ka-ching, a pimped out package, or a superficial campaign.

Building strong customers

Before we can begin the customer creation process, however, we must design the customer that we intend to create. When we say we want to “build strong brands,” what we really mean is that we want to “build strong customers.” Strong customers are better allies than weak, credulous customers who act like sheep. One of our first design questions, therefore, is “Where do we put the muscles?” We don’t leave customer fitness to chance.

We’ll be designing a “high performance customer”

What we’ll be designing is a “high performance customer.” This is similar to the concept of lead user, except that a high performance customer is more of a “leverager” than a user. He or she can carry your brand down new innovation avenues, or across categories into entirely new markets. For example, Apple, Google and Facebook enable high performance customers by opening their software to third-party applications, resulting in dozens of new mobile apps and desktop applications, new business opportunities, and new avenues for growth.

Do you want an ecosystem that looks like plankton, or Paris?

Everyone wants their brand to be the center of an ecosystem. How you design your customers will determine if your ecosystem looks like plankton, or Paris. If you design your customers to be “consumers,” (or, God forbid, “shoppers”) the creative equivalent of lemmings, you’ll be a brand of lemmings, fated to end at the nearest cliff. It’s a case of value in, value out. If you design a passive customer, or envision your brand playing to an “audience,” you’ll be laying the groundwork for a passive, static brand.

The strategic importance of customer design

Strategically, you want to design customers who will advance beyond the reach of competitors. These are customers who will drive your business forward, returning value back to the brand as they advance themselves—and the brand—to higher levels. In essence, you are designing customers to be one of your most powerful competitive weapons. Not because they’re slavishly “loyal,” but because they’re relentlessly innovative, fueled by your vision and your deliverables.

Develop your customers as you develop your employees

Companies invest huge sums to develop their employees to be creative and productive problem solvers. A company’s brand is its tool to develop customers along the same path. A brand that desires dumb, irrational customers insults its own employees. Eventually it will degenerate into a brand of bureaucracy, where employees are slaves to process and serfs of departmental fiefdoms, slowing innovation to a crawl.

Designing dynamic customers

The brand challenge is to design creative, dynamic customers who will have the drive, cunning and courage to embrace and run with the forthcoming products on our product development roadmap. While the product development team is crafting the next great innovation, the brand team will be designing the customers who will do something totally unique and amazing with it. In this sense, the brand completes the product vision.

Designing “pull” into customers

In the customer design process we design “pull” into our customers of tomorrow, so we won’t have to bear the agony and expense of trying to “push” our products upon them. This design ability relies on a deep ethnographic understanding of customers themselves, plus the brand vision to discern new ways for customers to grow. With our brands we are cultivating an almost rampant customer garden, much more in the style of John Chapman than Jethro Tull.

Developing the holistic customer model

When begin to design our customer we can set aside our Wacom tablets for a while. We’ll need to focus on a larger customer canvas, one with more texture. Brands are holistic expressions of company and customer, and the first design step is to develop a holistic model of our current customer, including what makes him or her “complete. We then map out the customer’s next iteration through the brand. He or she will be a new being with a greater sphere of autonomous action compared to current customers. In this process we’ll design customers for new ways of being and doing, within richer forms of living. All of these will leave current competitors far behind.

In essence, we’ll be designing a “higher order” customer who will be “beyond” future products from our competitors. In other words, we’re designing customers who will shut our competitors out—on the assumption that only our products will be worthy of this customer’s higher-order demands. Does the iPod customers want to buy CD’s? Nope.

The customer template

Typically, we’ll be designing a template of the customer we want as our innovation partner two or three years down the road. “Template” is the key term here. We’re not trying to force fit the customer into a pre-defined mold. We want to create a customer platform of more autonomy, insight and imagination, so our customer can be more proactive through our brand. We leave lots of headroom for independent customer growth. We’re designing a proactive teammate, not a rank “follower.”

Developing customer design criteria

The customer design criteria will vary by business category and customer type. In general, though, we want to maximize the customer freedoms delivered by our brand. The more freedoms the brand delivers, the more the customer can excel, and the greater value the customer can return to the business as a partner in a brand value network. If our company is geared to innovate, a liberation brand model may be appropriate.

Here are some general questions we can ask to help develop specific customer design criteria:

  1. What is currently holding our customers back?
  2. How can our customers be “un-packaged” from current constraints?
  3. What is their immediate pain?
  4. What is their strategic pain? Their missed opportunities?
  5. What kinds of freedoms do our customers need?
  6. How can we make our customers more productive?
  7. What new skills, capabilities, values, sensibilities and attitudes do they need?
  8. How can our brand become a platform for continuous customer growth?
  9. How can our brand advance customers beyond the reach of competitors?
  10. How can our brand create the customers who will drive our business forward?

The brand as an engine for customer growth

Since our brand will function as an engine for customer growth, advancing the customer to a point where he/she will be ready for our next level of innovation, we don’t want to leave any potential growth avenues unexplored. Thus, we also develop our brand to advance the customer’s:

  1. Personal growth
  2. Social growth
  3. Economic growth
  4. Spiritual growth
  5. Creative growth

We need to get a handle on these elements in the design phase because the customer creation process is one of leading, learning and teaming that involves the whole brand, and the whole customer. A brand that aspires to market leadership must first demonstrate customer leadership. And a brand leads from the customer up.

Design the customer that you’d want to be

As a general rule, the customer you’re designing will be more capable, more proactive, and more independent than you are today. In other words, design the customer that you’d want to be. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, just like they do at Apple.

When you’re designing the whole customer, nothing is off limits. That’s the challenge, and the thrill.

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Brand architecture, from the inside out

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

Metropolis magazine has a richly illustrated feature on Google’s new workspace. It’s well worth reading. The new Google offices are playful, stimulating and collegial.

Google wanted offices that would be conducive to innovation. The architect’s design goal was to provide the social, collaborative environments needed by problem-solving teams, yet still retain the private spaces software engineers need for heavy-duty thinking and programming.


Just looking at the photos in the article gives me an energy kick, so I can see how these zippy spaces could deliver an innovation payback. That’s a strong start toward building a Google brand (our core def: Brands are avenues of value innovation in a creative engagement between companies and their customers.)

Google’s brand challenge

The brand challenge for Google is to do more than just “innovate.” It’s to pack their innovations with customer value, and to open up their sphere of creative engagement. A “black box culture” won’t cut it. At this point (as the article notes) the Googleplex, and Google culture, is tending toward the hermetically sealed.

Anaerobic innovation is OK for a mad dash to market share, but for the long haul (vs. those dudes up north) you need the fresh air, wide open spaces and rough terrain of a true customer landscape. Otherwise, eventually, you will be run down.

Hat tip to Scott Berkun.

Photo: Metropolis

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“Design thinking” and the brand team

Friday, May 26th, 2006

Going forward, brand teams will need a whole new set of processes. They’ll be creating and growing customers to produce strategic value. That’s a non-trivial challenge. Strategy as Design (pdf) by Jeanne Liedtka addresses some of the key process issues from a general business perspective.

A quote:

Design offers a different approach and suggests processes that are more widely participative, more dialogue-based, issue-rather-than-calendar-driven, conflict-using rather than conflict-avoiding, all aimed at invention and learning, rather than control.

If we were to take design’s lead,we would involve more members of the organization in two-way strategic conversations.We would view the process as one of iteration and experimentation, and pay sequential attention to idea generation and evaluation in a way that attends first to possibilities before moving onto constraints. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we would recognize that good designs succeed by persuading, and great designs by inspiring.

Since one of the first tasks of the brand team is to “design a customer,” all of these elements (and many more) will come into play.

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Gap peers into the abyss

Monday, April 10th, 2006

Fortune magazine has an update on Gap and its continuing struggles to regain fashion relevance. On the business side, Gap has reduced its debt and improved cash flow, but on the fashion side much remains to be done. Gap is not a fashion leader anymore. Same store sales have declined in 18 of the last 21 months. Some top talent inside the company has left. And analysts question if Gap has simply lost its customer vision.

Levi-Strauss demonstrated that rising to fashion icon status is no guarantee of permanent success. Icons can easily become relics, effectively dead, rigid and remote.

Competitors make their customers look “special”

In San Francisco (Gap’s home turf), Gap now has very visible competition from nearby H&M and Zara. Visit those stores and you’ll see what Gap could be, but currently isn’t. Both competitors flash a fashion presence that reaches out and embraces the customer right at the door. It’s as if they’re saying to the customer: “We’re here to make you look special. Everything in here is all about you.” So in you go, gazing wide-eyed at all the new self expressions you had never thought possible.

While Gap makes you look like . . . Gap

At Gap, the brand still seems to say: “We’re here to make you look like Gap. Everything in here is us.

It’s a very big difference.

Singapore outclasses Gap along Orchard Road

Having just returned from Singapore, I saw first hand just how far Gap has to travel to get back into the global fashion game. Frankly, Gap has a long way to go. The spiffy malls and boutiques on Singapore’s Orchard Road make your average Gap store look like Old Navy. At the huge Takashimaya department store, the displays, presentation, styling and variety in the different “brand boutiques” are simply stunning. Style, cut, color and detail jump out at you from every direction. The same can be said for the dazzling Esprit store in nearby Wisma Atria. Gone is the famed super-saturated sub-teen panache that characterized the classic American Esprit. Now there are carefully tailored lines of Euro-sophisticated pieces designed to be combined and recombined, capable of energizing one’s whole wardrobe. And Esprit is growing attractive sub-brands, such as the ESP “sport” line, to plumb adjacent markets.

These brands have a life to them, a vibrant immediacy, even when hanging on the racks. They aren’t just “clothes,” and they’re certainly not “inventory.” They’re an incarnation of you, inviting you to touch. It’s as if you’re surrounded by palettes of potential as you walk through the store.

Limits of the Gap look

In the end it all comes down to what a business does with its design sense. The Gap approach seems intent on creating a merchandisable look, which it wants its customers to adopt. Its competitors seem headed on a different course, creating customers who are simply more fashionable.

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Robert Scoble on design and brands

Monday, March 6th, 2006

In a post called “The role of anti-marketing design” Robert Scoble argues that deliberately being ugly has its virtues. His post is worth a read to understand how non-designers often approach design. He also offers up a unique perspective on brands.

For Scoble, “anti-marketing design” is bare-bones design that’s a heartbeat from engineering, and isn’t “pretty”. You just throw it together. His prototypical example is a Canadian dating site that looks like a stripped down body shop, and according to Scoble, has “passionate users.” Heh.

Scoble’s own site is a better case study.

Scoble doesn’t want design to interfere with function. And I totally agree. I think “pretty” sucks, too. But Scoble writes for an audience whose idea of Incunabula is last week’s O’Reilly Radar. They pay a price for literal paradigms.

Regarding brands, he goes on to say:

Why does anti-marketing design work? Well, for one, big companies will never do a site that doesn’t look pretty. Why? Cause of the prevailing belief that great brands need to be beautiful. Look at what corporate branding experts study. Apple. Target. BMW. Everything those guys do is beautiful. Aesthetic. Crafted by committees of ad marketing department experts.

Target?? Please!! Target is Wal-Mart with lipstick. And both BMW and Apple have had their share of design dogs. And “crafted by committee” never creates anything of beauty, or of excellence. “Committees” and “aesthetics” are never on the same page, ever.

Here Scoble seems to be confusing appearance with design, and “looks” with brand value. Great brands do need to be beautiful, but brand beauty is not some refined aesthetic purity breathed down from the white-space deities. It’s a matrix of many different values, some of which include aesthetic appeal, but many more that touch on customer-based qualities such as functionality, usability, simplicity, character, and even virtues like “charm.”

All that said, I read Scoble every day. He’s a large part of the Microsoft brand–often the best part.

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