The High Five

In the crowded and competitive landscapes of most consumer categories, from automotive to technology, it is critical that your brand effectively communicates who it is, what it does, and why it matters. Design, when done well, is a powerful tool for telling your story and forming a meaningful connection with the audience. In order for design to function at its highest capacity, it is important to consider five key design principles for your brand:

  1. Ownable – Ability to be easily identifiable.
  2. Connectable – Ability to communicate the brand’s values, personality, and promise to its audience.
  3. Relevant – Ability to demonstrate standing within the category & current culture, while being true to its own brand personality.
  4. Intuitive – Ability to concentrate on its essential aspects (not only functional, but also psychological, and aesthetic).
  5. Extendable – Ability to tell the brand story consistently across multiple touch-points.

These principles guide the choices we make during the design process, help us evaluate design objectively, and establish a common language to critique a design, vs. getting into the subjectivity of “I like” or “I do not like.” This language, when used from the onset of any project, both internally and externally, will help keep programs on track and ultimately ensure a successful conclusion. Let’s examine these principles more closely.

1. Ownable

When we create and evaluate design, typically the first principle to be discussed is ownability. From being memorable to the audience, to protecting itself from competition, we need to represent the unique experience of a brand as the foundation of the relationship we form with its audience. We consider four critical vectors of ownability as a basis for a design’s success:

Is it Memorable? Will the audience be able to remember how it looks, what it says, or what it does?  Being unique is not the only requirement. We must also ensure the audience will remember the design and be able to easily describe it to others.

Is it distinctive from competition? Does the design differentiate itself from others in the category, or is it acting as a ‘me too’?  A successful design solution needs to have its own expression that allows the audience to not only find it in a sea of others, but also form the basis for why it is right for them.

Does it create a unique experience for its audience? Is the design providing its audience more than just functional benefits?  Often in crowded categories, the functional attributes of a product can be pretty similar – so, being able to communicate the brand’s experiential qualities to the audience is an effective way to create difference and tell the story of who you are.

Is it protectable? Can it legally be defended via trademark or tradedress?  As competition increases within a category, brands look to move in and capitalize on another’s success. We always make sure that we can legally protect our client’s brands from encroachment by others.

2. Connectable

In many ways, connectability can be the most important aspect of successful brand design, and from a designer’s perspective – the trickiest. Now more than ever, audiences demand to know more than just your brand’s personality, they need to understand what your values are and what your promise is to them. If a design doesn’t effectively communicate what the brand stands for, it risks confusion, or even worse – misinterpretation.

Can the audience see equities that reinforce the brand’s positioning?  When done well, not all of a brand’s equities will show themselves equally. We think of equities as levers. While they are all in the ‘on’ position, some will be pushed and pulled to different levels.

Is it forming the foundation for trust and loyalty?  Consistency and continuity are the best ways for a brand to form this foundation. If you want to communicate a certain value or promise to an audience, be sure to not only ‘talk the talk’, but ‘walk the walk’… and don’t waver along the way.

Is it allowing for an emotional bond between brand and audience?  This is the emotional hook we look for in design. We look for that one single thing that our audience will identify with, that will speak to them in a capacity beyond functional benefits.

3. Relevant

Relevancy takes on many dimensions as a design principle. Not only is there the balance of points of parity (POPs) and points of difference (PODs) from a category perspective – does a brand look like it fits within a given category? There is also relevancy as it relates to timeliness to current culture. Basically speaking, is a design contemporary or dated?

Is the design pertinent and timely to the audience, category, and of the times? Simply put, will people “get it” (the proposition)?  This encompasses the POP aspect of the design head-on. We look to ensure that category vernaculars are accounted for and whether design fits within the parameters of current/best aesthetic practices.

Is it compelling to the target audience? Does the design make a difference to the people we are trying capture and convince?  Here is where we delve deeper into the hearts of our audience while putting our design under the harsh light of reality, to explore and eventually find that something special that grabs our audience.

Is it calling the audience to action? In other words, does the design work?  This is the part where all the hyperbole and hypothesis fade away as the design must be effective both emotionally and functionally, in equal measures, to convince the audience to engage and ultimately purchase the product.

4. Intuitive

The foundational tenant of design is empathy. All successful design resides in the ability to take into account the lives of the audience and their hectic and often frenetic day-to-day existence. For example, within the world of fast moving consumer goods, typically a grocery store environment, time is of the essence as shoppers are overwhelmed with choice and not much time to stop and study. If a design cannot quickly cut to the chase and explain itself, then the product is likely to be out of consideration. We as designers and strategists focus on these key points to determine intuitiveness.

Is the design clarifying rational and emotional desired experiences? Put another way, does the design tell me what it’s for and is it communicating how it will make me feel?  Over-emphasize emotional experience, then stand the chance of communicating ineffectiveness or vice versa.

Is the design providing the audience with simple and clear communication?  Both visually and verbally, the design must show and tell the audience its features and benefits in a concise and effective manner.

Is the design allowing for ease of use and will it inform choice?  Not only is this aspect about the product’s explanation, in a multiple product offering it also rationalizes selection and deselection based on specific audience needs.

5. Extendable

As innovation pushes brands to extend their products and services into new offerings or even different categories, it is imperative that the brand’s story is consistently told across all potential touch-points. Whether designing a brandmark or a package, we concentrate on making sure design is reflective of the brand’s promise and values as the anchor, while leaving flexibility to communicate product specific attributes.

Is the design easily adapted across various applications?  Planning ahead is a necessity for success. Beyond various printing implications, we must also ensure that any primary and secondary brand assets are transferable to all media and executions.

Is the design relying on the core message of the brand to be the conduit?  When the design effectively demonstrates the overarching meaning of the brand, it will allow for specificity in relevant areas, without eroding or confusing the functional and emotional points of an offering.

Designing an effective solution for a brand can be a difficult journey at best. Design, like any endeavor, requires rigor, planning, and focus. Having tools, like our 5 Design Principles, can level-set expectations and determine successful, objective criteria from the onset. Most importantly, having both internal and external partners aligned to these principles can keep the conversation and evaluation process grounded in objective-based choices.