Apple’s market capitalization is higher than that of Dell and Hewlett-Packard put together, even though the duo’s combined sales are five times greater. Apple’s weapon is its unique mastery of product design and innovation, which can ignite tremendous economic value. Two leading design practitioners shared ideas on how to successfully blend creativity and commerce at the fourth edition of the Kyoorius Designyatra 2009, an annual conference for an ever-growing tribe of graphic and product designers from across the country.
Product designer as brand
In the fashion industry, the designer’s name itself warrants a label and is inextricably woven into the brand. Product designers generally don’t enjoy such an exalted status. Some might have heard of iPod’s Jonathan Ive, or perhaps the multifarious Philippe Starck, but most of us associate our everyday products with their makers, not creators.
Ross Lovegrove, an award-winning product designer, shared insights on how individual designers can elevate a company’s culture and veer towards becoming brands in themselves. Lovegrove calls himself a “sculpture of technology”, whose work blends “design, nature and art”, with an emphasis on “fat-free products with an emotional value”. Supernatural, a gas-injected polymer hair by Lovegrove for Italian furniture company Moroso, weighs only 2.5kg, which he claims is “half the weight of the nearest competitor”.
He is versatile and global, having designed watches, water bottles and chairs, worked with ceramic, polymers and magnesium for Japanese, US and Italian companies. Yet his work retains a distinct visual consistency — lightweight, lean, almost anatomical forms. He believes design-led companies can adopt his philosophy to make it a part of their brand identity, citing the example of Vitra, a Turkish sanitaryware manufacturer, for which he is both the brand ambassador and product designer. As Indian product design comes of age, it will be interesting to see whether designers will be able to similarly imprint their vision—and convince consumers to pay a premium.
Holo, not logo
Paul Hughes of Lava, a Dutch design agency, presented a provocative template for corporate brand identity. He believes most brand identities are static and unchanging, and thus out of step with a rapidly-changing society, professing that “brand manuals are the weight around the neck of a brand, pulling it down”.
To ensure that organizations continue to appear agile, he proposes they adopt dynamic visual identities. One way to do so is to adopt “holos” instead of “logos”. A holo is essentially an inherently flexible logo and is designed to change continuously, without losing its consistency or, as Hughes puts it, “is alive with changeable content”. The word is derived from the Greek concept of the “whole” and alludes to the idea of “many truths”, as opposed to logo, which signifies one single truth.
Lava has implemented this concept for many brands, including Vuture, a new university, Impakt, a contemporary media festival, and a national networking event called 7 Days of Inspiration. For the latter, the number 7 was selected as a straightforward symbol that would work across all media formats. A design language was then created around this symbol to allow much wider visual expression and communication—the same number 7 hoists the national flag, explodes into firecrackers or provides directions in varied avatars, depending on the audience, desired message and medium.
Hughes feels such an approach to branding can work equally well for both conventional product brands and new media service brands, despite the differing communication needs. The costs of continuous change are less than those associated with complete brand makeovers that companies choose in order to appear dynamic—certainly something that Indian banks and telecom service providers could consider.
Aparna Piramal Raje is director, BP Ergo.
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