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How Brand Strategy and Design Go Hand in Hand

At Atlas Authentica, we believe strategy and design go hand in hand. We also undoubtedly advocate the importance of design, but we think most things should never be designed with merely an intention to look pretty.

The design should be in service of a carefully planned brand strategy, and it should bring an idea alive in its full potential. Brand strategy without design simply cannot be brought to life.

The Meaning of Design

To design is to plan the creation of a new product, service or system to solve a specific problem with the intention of improving the human experience.

Visual communication developed before the alphabet and the most primitive form of non-verbal communication came in the form of pictographs: symbols that we used to communicate ideas to each other. Alphabet then enabled us to share ideas that could not be translated through pictographs as clearly.

Thinking about the meaning of the design, some individuals go as far as stating, that perhaps only ideas that cannot be communicated in pictures should be in writing. It is an exciting idea that vividly depicts just how important design is. Design’s function is to make our lives easier. The following quote further demonstrates how important and practical part of our lives great design is.

Why should a user need to read a manual before they can use your program? Technology should adapt to the user, not the other way around.
– Melanie Perkins, Canva

The Importance of Design

Without a great design, a brand idea will struggle to clearly and engagingly communicate the benefits it brings.

Great design can therefore help convey a brand’s message, both internally and externally. It gives the brand a distinctive identity and differentiates it from other brands. Bearing this in mind, it comes with no surprise, that some of the most successful brands pay a large amount of attention to design. Often as much as in the quality of their products.

Good design is a cornerstone of successful branding.

Design is a part of every aspect of the brand. Like brand strategy, it affects both the internal and external parts of the company.

  • Externally, its most obvious function is in a product and customer experience. When excellent brand strategy and design work together, they help deliver a promise made to the customers.
  • Internally, design helps in establishing a visual culture within an organization. From signs to office furniture – design can function internally in several ways that ensure it is lived on the inside as well as out.
Design is the vehicle to make strategy tangible across all the touchpoints it has with internal and external audiences.

Great Design vs Good Design

Design in a toolkit. It is more than just a logo and a pretty colour scheme.

It is the visual behaviour of a brand across all of its touchpoints and elements that shape the way people interact with and respond to a brand.

Great design starts at the top

Chances of running and completing a brand project successfully without support from the top of the organization are relatively low.  Among some of the world’s most successful brands are several examples of designers who have built strong relationships with company leaders.

At Apple, Steve Jobs and chief designer Jony Ive were close. Jobs even called Ive his spiritual partner. Designers at Apple have always had a significant influence on the company. The situation is similar at Google. Its former CEO, Larry Page, made design one of his key priorities in the company. This allowed the design departments to unleash their creative potential and sent the message of the importance of the design to other departments.

Great design solves people’s problems in unexpected ways

To best demonstrate this point, it is time to use the classic Henry Ford quote: “If we had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’”.

Great design should understand that most people cannot always articulate solutions. What they do know best, however, is the problems they have. As brand strategists and designers, we should therefore research the issues and then come up with new ways to solve these them.

Great design is data-informed

At Atlas Authentica, we love data, and we make data-informed decisions all the time. However, we do not let the data drive all of them. Data is just one source of information on the way to solving a problem, and data-driven design may not always be great. After all, data cannot see the world with our eyes.

A great example of the data-driven design is booking.com. Through their data collection, they discovered that adding urgency messaging results in more bookings. But because of it, their site is now full of messages like “only four rooms left at this prices” etc. Adding more and more messages like this may improve their conversions by a small percentage. Still, the whole user experience started to degrade, and other players in the hotel booking field have since grown more popular.

Great design doesn’t try to please everyone

Great design is opinionated and challenges conventions. It has a worldview and values that it executes consistently. This is how Apple does it. Their products each have their own functionalities, and while some tasks can be done either on an iPhone or iPad, they both also have their unique features, so you know exactly what to use each of them for.

The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious. People know how to deal with a desktop intuitively. If you walk into an office, there are papers on the desk. The one on top is the most important. People know how to switch priority. Part of the reason we model our computers on metaphors like the desktop is that we can leverage this experience people already have.
– Steve Jobs

Great design never neglects the fundamentals

A mistake many brands make with their designs is they focus too much on the flashy parts of the design and neglect the fundamentals. Many websites look great but are not functional. If the typography on the site is not readable on screens, all of the fancy features will lose their appeal.

Elements of a Great Design

A world-renowned programmer Paul Graham created a list of elements that make technology well-designed. Many of them don’t only apply to technology. Here are some principles you might find in great designs.

  • It works with speed. Users should be able to access its functions quickly and without delays.
  • It has the ability to redesign.
  • It functions with simplicity: it has to be concise and easy to understand.
  • A great design is timeless. It surpasses trends, fashion and short-lived ideas.
  • It is solving the right problem.
  • It’s suggestive: you only need the most basic information, and you should be able to put the rest of the image together yourself.
  • It’s humorous. Humour makes it easier to remember things. Of course, this element is not necessary, but it is a great way to show confidence in design.
  • Creating a great design is hard. It is challenging to find the right solution for a new problem in a way that is not just a spinoff of another idea.
  • It looks easy: it is intuitive and simple to use but took much work to be created. The perfect example of it is the first iPhone.
  • There’ssymmetry, just as the symmetry we can find in nature.
  • It resembles nature. Nature is a source of inspiration for many great designs.
  • It can appear strange. It can force you to think. A great example is Airbnb – it made us all rethink what we thought about travel accommodation.
  • It’s daring.

 

How to design a brand

As mentioned above, top management should be aware of the importance of the design. This empowers designers to do their best and create something great. Then, it is essential to make the employees understand customers and their journey when buying from their brad. Customer perspective should then be taken into consideration when it comes to business decisions – also meaning brand strategy. After thoroughly defining brand strategy, it is time for the creative design process to start.

The phases of designing a brand

  1. Exploration phase: In this phase, the creatives explore visual territories that best connect with the company’s positioning. They research shapes, materials, colours, typography and imagery that best express the attitude and personality of the brand.
  2. Design phase: Creatives focus on the visual territories with enough potential to be turned into design concepts. A brand inspired design language is then tested on key applications and touchpoints that best represent the reality of the brand.
  3. Development phase: In this phase, creatives review the different design elements that have been created so far and establish the principles they will use in the design in the next stages.
  4. Implementation phase: The design is rolled out and tested in real conditions. Adjustments are then made to both the design and brand communication.

After that, the work is not over yet. The four steps were the foundations upon which the brand will be built. Although you should think about brand strategy and all the touchpoints in advance, this is sometimes difficult to determine at the beginning when not everything’s clear yet. Now is the time the system comes to life on different touchpoints. The newly created identity should efficiently work in the context in which the brand operates (online, in-store, etc.). Having control of your touchpoints and believing in the power of design is the key to connecting brand strategy with design, creating a cohesive and all-encompassing brand identity.

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References, sources and further reading:
– Jacob Benbunan, Gabor Schreier, Benjamin Knapp – Disruptive Branding: How to win in times of change
Jamal Nichols: Great Design Vs Good Design: What’s The Difference? Here’s The Truth
Angela Elizabeth Metri: Technology, the Beast
Angela Elizabeth Metri: The Importance of Design

Founder and lead strategist at studio Atlas Authentica. Her mission is to help businesses form agile and strategy-driven brands as well as mentoring young creative enterpreneurs.

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