WHY DESIGN ISN’T EVERYTHING

Design is everywhere. For a thing to exist it must have first been designed, something the sheer breadth of the Design Museum’s 2015 Designs of the Year exhibition threw into stark relief. Swirling typography shared space with cutting-edge prosthetics; boldly designed posters appeared alongside self-driving cars.

But as more money than ever is poured into look and feel, we would do well to remember that beautiful or unique design is not a sure-fire recipe for success. There are other factors that, if a brand or product is to succeed, must be taken into account.

IT’S ALL IN THE IDEA:

We’ve all been schooled in the relative merit of the pen versus the sword, but it still bears mentioning: there’s just no substitute for a really great idea. Sometimes something comes along that is so compelling it carries people along by the sheer force of its power. The ALS ice bucket challenge raised over $100million with nothing more than a simple premise and willing participants. On the flipside, while the UKIP brand is as brash as it is rough and ready, this has done nothing to prevent its policies resonating with supporters.

THERE’S NO TOUCH LIKE THE HUMAN TOUCH:

When the airbnb redesign launched to great acclaim, commentators waiting in the wings were quick to point out just how, well, sexual their new Bélo symbol looked. While debate raged over what exactly it looked like, airbnb went on quietly extending its loyal customer base with the great personalised service the brand has become known for. And by engaging directly with the Bélo debate through blogposts and infographics, it’s only built further on this community spirit.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS ENDORSEMENT:

Our shopping tendencies reveal us as creatures of habit. So much so that, when a brand wins our loyalty, subsequent brand refreshes and packaging redesigns can cause havoc – people simply can’t find what they’re looking for. The disastrous case of Tropicana has been well documented, but the situation occurs time and again: a high-profile Hovis packaging redesign was lauded in the design press but overlooked on the shelves.

BIGGER THAN BRANDING:

In many circumstances, if you’re early to market and your proposition is unique, you can establish yourself without too much thought to the way you look. This was particularly noticeable amongst successful tech start-ups like Gumtree and Ebay. Stripped back and functional, they instead focused on clearly communicating their strong propositions. Only when new challengers arrived to cause insecurities did these market leaders turn their concerted attention to branding and communications. The irony of Facebook, one of the digital age’s true superbrands, launching a traditional TV and outdoor print media campaign has not been lost.

BEWARE THE BACKLASH:

For every action there is a reaction. The backlash against corporate whitewashing came in the guise of artisanal goods: handcrafted, ethically sourced products with an emphasis on one-of-a-kind designs from small, independent makers. But as High Street brands – from Urban Outfitters to KFC – saw an opportunity to capitalise on the hipsterfication of society, the inevitable revolt began. As ‘Hipster’ became a recognisable design trait in its own right, those in the know moved on. Trends now point towards Normcore, the celebration of the average and the unpretentious. As tribes like the self-confessed “Uniqlones” revel in the simple, indistinguishable form of Uniqlo products, it seems anti-design is the growing currency of the day.

Whether it’s the choice of competition, the power of an emotive idea or just to go against the grain, our minds are captured by more than just strength of form. A ‘perfect’ design may launch, but it seems us humans are complex enough that only a specific combination of factors will persuade us to engage with it.

Alice Walker is a senior writer at The Clearing

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