Design is thinking made visual – Saul Bass
Good design is good business – Thomas Watson
Once upon a time it was easy buying products.
We’re talking 150 years ago here. You went to the guy who sold soap. Maybe he had a shop. You bought the soap off the guy. If he was a nice chap, then even better. Product and seller bound up in a small but pleasant experience.
Then brands came along. Layers of veneer were added – emotional benefits, empty promises and, in the case of TV advertising, metaphorical journeys that attached all sorts of mystical significance to what was, most likely, still a bar of soap.
What I find really interesting, exciting and energizing about the marketing landscape today is that these layers of artifice are being stripped away. You can’t get away with bullshit any more. If people want to find out more about a brand, they can go online and see if the reality and behaviour of the brand lives up to the message.
If the walk doesn’t measure up to the talk then people will just switch off and move on.
We are living in a world where non-fiction is as important as fiction. Where brands’ behaviours more important than what they say about themselves and the experiences that they create are more important than the metaphors that they weave.
Let’s go back to the man in the soap shop. He had two things at his disposal. His product and his personality. He wasn’t messaging. He was a human being. For sure he could be charming. A twinkle in his eye would no doubt persuade his customers to more readily part with their cash but if his customers took the soap home and didn’t get clean and smell nice then his business would be doomed.
I think we’re heading back that way. It’s way more complicated these days, of course but the fundamentals of marketing now are about products and the experiences that we create around them.
And what that boils down to is design.
We have ideas as a differentiator, of course. And we have technology, embedded within the creative process to allow us to create as well as be creative.
But the key to every aspect of the new, digitally-centred marketing world is design.
Back to the man in the soap shop. He, in modern terms had three different design things going on:
Product design. The soap.
Experience design. His shop.
And service design. His schtick.
(These are radical simplifications, I know.)
Modern brands do all of this as well.
Product design is still the king. If what you are selling doesn’t deliver the beef, go home. The packaging has got to be right. The product has got to be right. It’s all got to add up.
Experience design. Retail. Websites. Apps. Events. All of these are spaces, to be architected and perfected to be as frictionless and true to the product and its values as possible.
Service design. People, infrastructure and communication materials. What’s it like when someone engages with you or walks into your store? How do you make them feel? Think of the difference between how you are served by a top-end retailer versus a lower-minded competitor.
Visual design – every touch-point, every interface between a product/brand and its people has got to look right, not dominate and contribute effortlessly to the experience.
Information design. Knowledge is power. Look at the Nike Fuelband. Look at big data. Look at how it produces effective behavior change. We all want our selves to be quantified these days for a reason – it helps us become who we want to become. Beautiful, clear, differentiated information – the dog’s bollocks of non-fiction – is where brands should be playing.
So where does that leave advertising? Whither the sloganeering magician? The alchemist of old? Well, if my hunch is right, on the way out.
Advertising should become another part of the design resurgence: factual, demonstrative of design, pointing to deeper, online experiences, indicative of behaviours and reality. Sure there’ll be metaphor. Sure there’ll be bluster, probably for ever. But good advertising will be part of a bigger whole, an ecosystem of design that surrounds consumers and products.
I’d think of advertising now as Communication Design. To be done carefully, by considered professionals with a balanced view of the bigger marketing picture. Not at the heart of the ecosystem but in its margins.
Design, design, design. If your marketing company isn’t built around it then your days are running out. If you’re getting into our business now, look for the companies that have design at their core.
Design, creativity and technology.
We’re going back to the soap seller in his shop. It’s more complicated now: he’s got a website that recreates the experience of his store, advocates who evangelise about his soap because they’ve met him and tried the product and a funny little man out the back on a computer, creating lovely visualisations of the battle between soap and dirt.
Maybe he’s even developing a new product, hooked into the showering ecosystem? Maybe he’s even looking at disrupting the shower itself, analyzing the scum that comes off people’s bodies down their plughole and telling them about the environmental stresses they are putting their skin through?
Who knows what he’s doing now. What we do know though, is that it’s all about him and his product and what his brand gives to people that adds value to their lives and creates meaningful, two-way relationships with them.
Whatever the man in the shop is doing now, his success won’t be by accident. It will be by design.
Thank God some humanity is seeping back into our industry. It’s long overdue. Ironic, though, that it took technology, machines that we invented, to make it happen.
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