Skip to main content

Designing brands

Over the years I've become increasingly fascinated with the role of design thinking as a business strategy -- not just a form of aesthetics. I think my epiphany happened when I was first exposed to companies like IDEO.

In my work with the Merage School of Business at UC Irvine I've been following the rise of so-called "D-Schools" that are competing with traditional MBA programs as a post-graduate destination for aspiring masters of industry. Witness the rise of these programs at MBA powerhouses such as Stanford and Northwestern. The revolution is on.

So why aren't all companies embracing design as a core business strategy? Because it is very difficult. It requires a CEO-down commitment to have design influence and guide every aspect of the brand...every single customer touch point. Yet Apple has found a way to do this. As have Nike and Target. This month's issue of Fast Company features a very good article on this topic. Yves Behar, the superstar designer, makes a fascinating point: "Design is how you treat your customers." I love that idea -- design is an experience.

Car companies are truly design companies at their core, yet they keep design in a distant silo within the company. Odd. I've worked with a range of automotive brands (Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Toyota). These companies live or die based on design. But they tend to limit their passion for design to the products. Apple, for example, is equally manic about its packaging and store environments. Apple recognizes that all these touchpoints help define the brand. Yet I have yet to find a car company that allows its designers to get involved in shaping the total brand experience. Imagine how much more powerful the marketing would be if the same designers who defined the car's essence, visual identity and personality were also involved in deciding key aspects of the customer's experience with the car -- its positioning, advertising, the website, the showroom display, the autoshow display, etc.

At BD'M we embrace design as a strategic medium through which brands can connect with customers. Design in marketing communications can form a visual vocabulary that speaks volumes to customers. This is not a new idea. Youth brands have known this for years. There is a big opportunity for clients to begin embracing design with the same appetite with which they embrace digital or viral marketing. Design is essential in today's consumer and media landscape.