Design is having a red carpet moment
Tech, consulting and financial firms are snapping up design agencies. Designers are moving into CEO roles. Over the last 10 years, design-led companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 219 percent.
It’s no wonder design has become more important to business than ever before. It’s a vehicle by which brands can express themselves across an increasingly complex ecosystem of spaces. It’s a mind-set to solve complex business challenges. And it’s the means by which brands build emotional connections and immerse customers in an effortless world.
Over the last 70 years of design here at Lippincott, we’ve learned that the doing is just as important as the thinking. In this piece, we lay out the precepts and principles of the craft itself, the meticulous exercise of converting strategies to beautiful, simple and meaningful work.
Design for a deeper purpose
Design can be transformational, but only when it delivers a bigger purpose, when the creative vision and business strategy are seamlessly aligned.
This requires looking deep inside the culture of the company to understand its DNA, heritage, capabilities and hidden assets inherent in the brand. And it means looking outside the organization to understand the industry, the changing needs of the customer, the competitive context, and the vision for where things are headed. This is how the end result is saturated with meaning.
From our first interactions with Southwest, it was clear that this was a very different kind of company, with a unique clarity of purpose. Our exploration helped us determine that the hallmarks of Southwest’s culture — humanity and a personal touch — had to be expressed in ways that resonate in an increasingly jaded market. The goals were to distill this legacy of success into a modern, impactful look for an exciting new future. We wanted to unite a fragmented visual presentation and help present a more “buttoned up,” polished image that would connect with business and younger travelers.
We immersed ourselves in Southwest’s history, culture and operational practices. From this came the insight to focus on what has always made Southwest great — its emphasis on people as symbolized by its most important asset: the heart. But a heart is a common symbol, so the design needed to be distinctive and immediately recognizable. And to stop the heart from becoming sentimental, it needed to have a clear, purposeful role to play throughout the customer experience.
On the Southwest logotype the heart is the identity’s emotional punctuation. Placed on the belly of the plane, the heart is a meaningful symbol. You are not meant to see it at 37,000 feet, but the heart is a reminder to employees that every plane flies with heart. Next to the boarding door, the heart is at human scale, serving as a touchstone for the crew. And on the items passengers hold in their hands, the heart is an intimate reminder of what the Southwest brand is really about.
Beyond the heart, the brand’s friendly tone of voice is infused into every passenger facing element. The brand’s custom typeface, Southwest Sans, lets the brand be funny, insightful, clever or approachable as the situation demands. On board, flight attendants inject their personality into announcements. Ad campaigns such as “transfarency” focus on low fares and transparency in fees. Collectively, these elements help express Southwest Airlines’ purpose with meaning — as a human brand fueled by people.
Craft the whole experience
Brand expression today is as much about what an organization does and how it feels as it is about what it says. For many of today’s most innovative and up-and-coming brands, it’s the experience that is driving growth and differentiation. The goal is to immerse consumers in a bigger, emotionally centered idea, threaded throughout every aspect of the customer journey. To get there, we use a process called Immersive Design, which ensures a company’s unique ethos is deeply embedded and activated through all aspects of brand expression.
When it acquired the AmeriSuites chain, Hyatt had the opportunity to reinvent the fast-growing select-service hotel category. The chain was underinvested, drab in presentation and lagging behind top-tier competitors in average price per room. A new concept had to boost occupancy in rooms with higher rates, attracting the discerning Road Warriors who travel extensively for business.
We introduced a new name, Hyatt Place, and a visual system centered on “Larger than Home.” It’s a place where one can settle in, work easily and relax comfortably. A destination that understands that business people who live on the road want a place like home, or even a bit better. The idea came to life through the design of signature moments, spaces and experiences. In common areas, guests are greeted by music and scents that vary by time of day and help differentiate Hyatt Place’s sensory atmosphere from other hotels. There is a coffee-to-cocktails bar and an overall casual atmosphere with modern conveniences.
The rooms have a home-office feel. Each desk has a magnetic memo pad and a Rolodex with the hotel’s contact details that makes it easy for guests to access information in a format that is also cost-effective to update. Other amenities include branded expense envelopes, grab-and-go coffee mugs, and customer information folders designed with Hyatt Place’s bold colors.
The transformation of AmeriSuites to Hyatt Place also sparked change inside the organization as they shifted from a transaction-oriented hotel operation, with rigid brand and operating standards, to an environment defined by providing caring experiences for both guests and employees.
Emotional engagement and authentic interactions became the expectation... and the new norm.
Design for our on-demand culture
Today, brands speak using visual and verbal elements that echo the sound bites of texting and social media. Consumers have learned how to navigate an increasingly complex world by using intuitive symbols and other visual shortcuts, cues and conventions.
Design systems are built with the tangibles, allowing for what we want the audience to see and hear, as well as the intangibles, what we want our audiences to feel. The visual elements of logo, color, type and imagery are paired with verbal and experiential elements that build on an immersive digital first ethos of sound bites. Symbols have become more iconic, language more conversational and actions more playful.
When we began partnering with Samsung on its streaming radio service, the goal from the outset was to create a disruptive offering that would challenge users’ perceptions of the Samsung brand. This strategy came through in every aspect of the music service, from the algorithm and user experience, to the Milk Music name, symbol and identity elements.
As users roll the dial, changing backgrounds and color gradations reflect the responsive nature of the service, as if the design were tuning in to the tastes and moods of the individual. The adaptations reinforce the promise of the brand — to help users widen their taste by finding music they weren’t looking for — and set it apart from other, more prescriptive, streaming services. Similarly, the Milk name and music note icon that are in constant flux reflect the varied bonds we have with music.
Celebrate the small, and the unexpected
Advertisements can be moving, but real emotional connections are built into the countless interactions customers have with brands every day. From an “off the script” empathetic phone conversation with a customer in need to a random act of surprise and delight, these small moments can unconsciously determine our relationship with a brand.
Of all the possible interactions for a company, the bill is arguably one of the most important. For British Gas, over time its bill had evolved into a communication with too much distraction, too many steps and too much effort required to discern the essential information.
Rethinking the information presented on a piece of paper that goes to 10 million customers can have a big impact. Driving the redesign was the desire to use the initiative as a catalyst to help rebuild customer trust in the business. The priority for British Gas was to transform the bill in a way that would move it from being a “demand for money” to a guidepost for saving money.
Part of the design solution boiled down to less is more. We understood that by streamlining the bill’s content and giving it more breathing space, people would feel less threatened and thus be more likely to engage with it. The bigger part was about putting ourselves in the customer’s shoes. Clearly delineated, color-coded sections were organized around the basic questions customers want their bill to answer. Language, too, had to be deconstructed. “Credit” became “We owe you,” “billing periods” became “seasons,” “complaints” (which, in reality, is telling the customer they are a complainer) became “problem solving.”
The bill redesign launch received no additional support, other than the inclusion of an explanatory insert that went out with the first new mailing. The bill was left to stand on its own, therefore, making its approval by customers even more significant.
Simplify and seduce
To help navigate our increasingly complex world, we seek out simplicity. But simplification doesn’t, and mustn’t, mean generic, bland or undifferentiated.
Design must create space for joy and seduction. It must find ways to surprise, delight and tickle the senses.
When Starbucks approached us, it had an expanding portfolio of products not derived from coffee, but its identity associated with the word “coffee” had come to define the brand. The issue had become more pronounced as the company expanded into global markets and the brand was increasingly living in third-party locations such as grocery stores. The Starbucks experience had become ubiquitous and needed a way to add the spark back into its loyal customers’ days.
We started by simplifying the logo and removing the words “Starbucks Coffee” from the brand’s iconic Siren. As we stripped away the unnecessary details, she emerged more alluring than ever before. Everything about her was rethought and hotly debated. Her hair makeover alone produced hundreds of iterations. Her destiny was to curate a new enticing experience of the Starbucks brand, not just new offerings.
With the Siren as our muse, we set out to develop a set of design principles that represented more than just coffee. Venturing beyond the traditional tools of expression like color and type, we took inspiration from the waves of her hair and the striped elements of her tail, as well as language, motion, actions and sound. We were designing for the holistic experience, from the patterning of in-store glass to the company’s high-end credit cards to the background of the digital app. Experiences that became richer and more emotive thanks to the simplified, yet emboldened, Siren.
Principles for Design Doing
The impact of Design Doing
While the traditional mission of identity design was to ensure a consistent presentation of the brand, design’s role has changed. A digital revolution, dramatically expanding set of touchpoints, shorter attention spans and shrinking life cycles all lead to a heightened need to break through with increased vitality and dimension.
Design is to business what evolution is to nature: Design enables brands to change and survive. Today’s design systems must be fluid and adaptive, incorporating a highly sophisticated suite of assets and experiential components that customers interact with across an expanding array of platforms, interfaces and touchpoints. Design, therefore, is becoming less a visual strategy than a means of facilitating continuous dialogue and building emotional connections in a complex world — striving to anticipate, seamlessly, what customers need and do.
By: Connie Birdsall, Lee Coomber, Rodney Abbot, Su Mathews Hale & Brendán Murphy