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Is Your Brand a Great Design Story in the Making?

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As a designer, I believe that every brand has a great design story just waiting to be discovered.

It’s more obvious for some brands, certainly – design was a crucial element for Apple early on, and continuing to lean heavily on its design pillars has always come second nature to the tech leader. Burberry, despite a moment of lapse in the early 2000s, has successfully resuscitated its iconic luxury look. And US broadcaster ABC recently launched a refreshed identity inspired by the channel’s original logo by Paul Rand.

A number of brands have embraced nostalgia in recent years, harking back to their roots through visual cues, and this trend, intentionally or not, celebrates these brands’ design histories.

In owning the legacy of their design, brands from Apple all the way through to Burger King don’t just create recognisable and laudable visual stories over time, they create meaningful shortcuts to emotional connection with their audiences.

Which is all well and good for brands with rich design credentials to fall back on… but don’t forget that all design-forward brands started somewhere. So if you’re ready to start building a design legacy that can carry your brand through the ages, here are some essential tips to get you started.

Look to the history you do have

Japanese publisher Kodansha was 100 years old when it launched its first ever logo, but just because the brand didn’t have a strong design history in its own right, didn’t mean there wasn’t a wealth of inspiration to draw on. The history of Kodansha’s products and content became the foundation for the brand identity, with the logomark emulating Japanese henko stamps, manga panels, and the Kondansha “K” all in one.

Of course, your brand doesn’t have to be a hundred years old, or even a year old, to draw on meaningful history and tell a compelling story through design. Electric car company Piëch, launched in 2017 with a brand that was largely inspired by its founder’s personal history – Toni Piëch, is the great-grandson of Ferdinand Porsche. The Piëch brand pays visual homage to its founder’s European heritage, celebrating the beauty and emotion of classic sports cars, whilst simultaneously steering the company forward toward to an electric future.

Look to your industry and market

Companies wholly new to storytelling through design can start crafting a compelling design message by looking to the cues present within their market. Knowing the design conventions within your industry can help you do two very important things: speak the design language of your customers, and set yourself apart from the competition.

Whether you’re subverting classic cues within your category (like Innocent did for juice) or incorporating iconography your ideal customers will recognize (take Mozilla’s 2017 rebrand), you can use the wider narrative around design in your market to help your brand leave its own unique and memorable mark.

Look at yourself

The greatest design stories are usually the ones that transcend history and category, and represent something bigger than the brand itself. Nike, Disney, Chanel, Volkswagen. These brands created the histories and categories that other brands look to for design inspiration.

So why not take a leaf out of their book and use design to start telling a wholly new story? Airbnb did it in 2016 when the company used design to launch itself out of the budget-travel sector and onto the global tech and lifestyle stage. Airbnb didn’t lean on its own history, or confine itself to industry conventions, and as a result, the brand became a legend in design and marketing spheres.

Look behind the curtain

However you ended up finding your design story, don’t forget that it’s only as successful as its implementation. Design isn’t just about the identity that customers see in front of them, it’s about how well that design story is integrated behind the scenes and across the business.

Apple isn’t just a great design story because its logo is iconic – in fact, the logo is iconic because design pillars and design thinking play an integral role in Apple’s business and marketing strategy – ditto for the likes of Airbnb and Innocent.

Your brand has a great design story to tell, I promise – but remember that no matter what the story is, the real success is in the consistent telling of that story, inside your organisation and out.

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