How to Raise Your Design Work to the Next Level
I found a book at the thrift store recently that reminded me of Apple Computer’s advertising campaigns as well as their product design over the years. "Think different." It’s a slogan, but it also embodies an approach to design.
The book I found at the thrift store is entitled Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company. It was written by Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery, with Russ Hall. The book takes the same approach to design that I have seen reflected in Apple’s products and marketing collateral. I think this approach is vital to good design and therefore relevant to both aspiring and seasoned designers.
To give you an idea of Brunner, Emery, and Hall’s thesis, here are some random quotes from the book:
"The difference between a great product and a merely good product is that a great product embodies an idea that people can understand and learn about—an idea that grows in their minds, one they emotionally engage with." (page 7)
"...the design itself is the marketing strategy." (page 23)
"You matter to customers only to the extent that you have become connected to their emotional needs and desires." (page 25)
"Apple did not invent what became the iPod. Instead, Apple developed the iPod as a portal to an incredibly valuable ongoing consumer experience." (page 41)
If you page through Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company, you will see images of products ranging from P&G’s Swiffer to Starbucks’ iconic coffee cup to Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones. These products exemplify the book’s thesis. The designers have built design into the entire process of product creation. (After all, when customers will spend $5.00 for a cup of coffee that used to cost $.50, Starbucks is doing something right with the product and the marketing.)
If you ask how all of this relates to design, then this book will open your mind. Granted, Brunner, Emery, and Hall focus primarily on product design. Since product design itself rests firmly on the same artistic principles that underly a good car wrap, brochure, or product package, I personally would say it is relevant to print and web designers as well as product designers. However, on a more basic level, both the products and the marketing items share the same goal: Find out what the client wants, and then give it to him or her.
Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company encourages companies to create an emotional bond with the consumer. It refers to the "joy of use" of the products. This is not an intellectual process. Rather it is an emotional bond between the manufacturer (as a brand) and the customer. This is what sets one brand apart from another and makes it successful.
Whether product design or marketing design, good design piques the interest of the reader and provides an intriguing and pleasurable experience. But to go further, good product design reflects a relationship between the manufacturer and the customer. (The manufacturer must listen to the customer, and then satisfy his or her needs with a product that elicits an enjoyable emotional experience.)
In some cases, the manufacturer must even anticipate the needs of the customer. And this approach must start with the process of product creation and design and then carry through all the steps in its development and sale.
With regard to promotional work and other two-dimensional design, this means that a good designer can’t start with an attractive design (perhaps a template) and then lay this over the product information to create an effective print ad campaign. Rather he, or she, must get into the heads of both the manufacturer and the customer. Only then will the print ad, bus wrap, building wrap, or product brochure catch the attention of the reader and provide an engaging emotional experience. And this will strengthen the brand.
When I think back over the last 40 or 50 years, I remember the Volkswagen ad with a small photo of the VW bug on a large field of white. The design approach was relevant because the VW beetle was small but remarkable. It stood out on the white newspaper page, particularly when all the other newspaper ads were crowded with either too much copy or too many images. The advertising layout worked (on the level of visual design) but what made it memorable was that the design reinforced the message.
Think about it, the next time you hand your car keys and credit card to your mechanic. In many cases, you really don’t know anything except that you just paid the shop for auto service. Your sense of confidence rests squarely on your level of trust in the mechanic. That trust extends to the mechanic’s logo, wall signage, and uniforms. (You’re happy when you see your mechanic’s tow truck coming to rescue you when your car won’t start.)
In my own experience, I would include Chipotle and the Whole Foods Market in the same category of effective branding, even though they provide a service rather than a product. In fact, in the age of the Internet, I think companies no longer just provide a service or a product. Usually they provide both. Even your auto mechanic fixes your car but also gives you information. This may take the form of advice on how to best maintain your car. In the case of Chipotle, this may take the form of information on responsibly sourced foods, the number of calories in a dish, or other benefits of a particular food. In a grocery store like Whole Foods, it may take the form of a brochure containing recipes.
These printed products reinforce the bond with the customer, provide information that’s enjoyable to read (most people like to learn something new), and usually sell more product (if your grocer gives you a recipe booklet, you will probably buy more food).
Graphic design has incredible power, as does skilled ad copywriting. Moreover, a lot of this power is subliminal. It touches the consumer below his or her conscious awareness. When you understand the end-user as well as the manufacturing company, and then you reflect this awareness in your print ads, product design, web design, or videos, that’s good design. And good design will make both your client, and you, relevant.
[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]