How design makes the difference
Rob Coke, June 2016

As software takes over the world, good design is becoming more vital than ever.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about an exodus of creative talent from agencies. And it’s not just individuals moving. Corporations, tech giants and management consultancies are putting such a high value on design that they’re swallowing up independent agencies left, right and centre.

Design is hot property. But why? As Jules Ehrhardt explains in this excellent long-read, more and more products, businesses and industries are being remodelled to run on software platforms. From transport to banking to healthcare, this is what we really mean by ‘digital transformation’, and these products depend on design, from conception, through delivery, to continuous iteration.

 

Brand = UX

If a brand is the feeling someone has about a product or service, then increasingly these feelings will be stirred by digital interactions in many more different environments. In this world, brand and user experience are inseparable, and every element needs to be carefully designed.

This merging of disciplines opens up new ways for independent agencies to help clients, from global brands to ambitious startups. We started working with the activity rewards app bounts last year, to develop their offering from the ground up – everything from brand strategy and naming, through to the visual identity and video content.

 

 

This made a huge difference to their success so far, becoming the UK’s no.1 fitness app early in 2016, with 100,000 daily users. But none of this matters if the experience of actually using the app doesn’t quite live up to expectations. For someone using it, the app is the brand.

We’ll be partnering closer with the bounts team (more on that coming soon), and are looking forward to enhancing the service and product offering. From initial awareness through to the app and beyond, we can start designing a more complete experience and become true brand partners.

 

Design creates value

As we’ve seen, design is so vital to business success that it’s becoming part of the corporate mix. Whatever sector you’re in, and whether B2C or B2B, startup, established player or non-profit, it creates value in two ways:

 

1. Defining brand experience

First, design defines and streamlines the entire customer experience, aiding utility and engendering trust. It helps people to navigate a journey, while conveying a brand’s personality and character across every touchpoint — and simultaneously demonstrating its unique qualities and difference.

Not bad for starters? As this Design Council guide describes, ‘Design is what translates ideas into communication’. It’s the physical embodiment of what a brand stands for.

 

2. Resonating with the subconscious

Because of this, design helps a brand resonate with people on a more emotive, subconscious level. An experience which looks beautiful and flows well creates perceived value. It gives people pleasure in ways they find hard to describe. It just works.

When we began working with J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore, the site had a huge global audience, but little potential to scale. As an external studio, we were able to embed a team alongside the Pottermore in-house team, combining an objective point of view with greater understanding and shared ownership in the outcome of the project.

 

 

By completely re-imagining the platform from the ground up, we enabled Pottermore to become the digital heart of the Harry Potter franchise, reaching new and existing audiences and allowing the magic to keep growing.

 

Design can go unnoticed

Although people trust and enjoy good design subconsciously, they’ll often only notice something badly designed, as the pain it causes is much easier to put into words. In fact, Adobe’s ‘State of content’ report found that 68% of respondents would stop engaging with a piece of content if it was badly designed.

This is why design can be under-appreciated: the more natural it seems, the less visible it is. When it’s right, it feels like there’s no other way it could be made. But we’re more aware when it feels wrong, or just doesn’t work properly. Because of this, bad design hinders both short-term results and long-term brand building, while good design will help achieve both.

 

The ultimate team player

Of course, it doesn’t do this alone. It’s no secret that a well-designed lemon is still a lemon. That’s why design needs to be an integral part of any strategy, not just an element of the marketing brief.

In 1999, the furniture designer Robin Day said, “Good design is a social force that can enhance people’s environments.” This applies to a much broader range of disciplines today. Contemporary design isn’t just about marketing and advertising, but digital products and services across a growing number of environments, in which the user experience is the brand.

David Butler, Vice President of Innovation at Coca-Cola says of this:

“It’s easy to see that things will only get more complex — not less. But design has the power to make this kind of complexity less complicated … simply put, the brands that embrace the full power of design will win and the others won’t.”

As we move towards a world driven by software, design will become increasingly important. It doesn’t just create value for brands, it’s integral to whether they have a future or not. That’s how design makes the difference.

 

To read more of Rob’s thinking, check out his other posts in our Opinion pages or on Medium.