Defining your brand for product design

23rd November 2016

Defining your brand for product design

The power of branding is undisputed, yet the concept of a ‘brand’ remains fairly ambiguous. Because of this many manufacturing companies struggle to articulate what their brand actually is. This can result in massive missed commercial opportunities.

The importance of this topic has just been emphasised by BMW, who have announced a new consultancy division dedicated to advising other companies on their branding strategy. So, what is the relevance of branding to your company and the products you make? 

What is a brand?

A brand is the synthesis of feelings that are associated with your company’s product or service. These feelings might relate to a whole range of things, such as quality, beauty, power, strength or success. Many successful companies have built their chosen brand values into their manufactured goods by developing a consistent design approach. Their products then become instantly recognisable. Apple, for example, is famous for extremely simple, but carefully detailed designs. Dyson’s products, on the other hand, tend to be overtly technical in appearance.

How to formalise your brand

One way to ensure your products embody your brand is by formalising a design guide that encompasses everything from logo placement and size, to product form and colour. A good example is Parker Hannifin, a global manufacturer of engineering solutions. Their guidelines cover every aspect of the company’s work, including product design. Our design team at Crucible applied these guidelines to the development of a new range of AC motor controllers, which helped a newly-acquired company become an immediate and recognised member of the Parker Hannifin brand.

For companies with diverse product ranges brand guidelines need to allow for flexibility. Different types of products should be produced with some consistency to reinforce the brand, but allow the freedom to for the designer to meet different practical constraints. Crucible used this approach when designing a new range of hand driers for Airdri in 2014. The Quest and Quazar driers were both based on curved housings with concave outlet grilles that swept up the sides of the housings. Despite having internal components that gave the products different proportions, the design guidelines were successfully applied to both driers to create a coherent family appearance.

Brand values must evolve

The use of a common design language to reinforce brand values is currently being taken to its logical conclusion in the premium sector of the car industry. Some companies are applying this approach to the design of their saloon models, and making it hard to tell them apart, except by their size. This, plus a trend towards evolutionary design in the car market, is causing some controversy in the industry. It will be interesting to see if the announcement of the radical Jaguar I-Pace shakes up design in this sector. The I-Pace is an excellent example of how brand values should not remain static, but must adapt to changing times and technology. Whilst the I-Pace concept looks nothing like any previous Jaguar, it manages to express the sporting values and quality that the brand has always sought to embody.

The challenge of developing brand values that keep up with social and technical change sums up the complexity of the subject – and highlights what is at stake. By adapting, traditional companies like Anglepoise and Brookes have achieved commercial success in new markets. To see the impact of remaining static, you only have to look at what happened to Nokia.

What will your brand guidelines be?

Whether your company is old or new, one thing is certain - having a strong set of brand values expressed through your products will improve your commercial performance and build a stronger foundation for your business. They will also make it resilient to competition and changing times. If you haven’t already done so, defining what you want your products to say about your business could be one of the most important commercial actions you take. I will be looking at this subject in more detail in our December blog and newsletter.

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