When two seemingly disparate categories collide in unexpected ways, we see an opportunity. When kicking-off a new project, the goal is to quickly immerse ourselves in our client’s world; beginning with getting to know their brand and consumer. Our next step is to then benchmark a range of experiences that we believe will influence the consumer’s perception of their brand. In doing so, we look at direct category influences as well as non-adjacent categories to surface new concepts that may not be readily apparent. We conduct secondary research. We prototype. We run guerrilla-style research as needed. By way of example:

A project we recently delivered was focused on creating a next-generation line of safety equipment for a Fortune 500 brand. Once we received a download from the client, we benchmarked other safety equipment brands, as well as analogous categories — like outdoor equipment — that were successfully keeping people safe. We also looked at categories focused on movement, such as sportswear. We looked at gaming dynamics. We looked at fashion. Etc. The goal of this collective effort was to breath fresh air into the commoditized category of industrial safety equipment, resulting in insights gleaned from outside categories.

Another recent project that took advantage of cross-category inspiration was a worksession with the Nike Foundation. The team we were working with, the Nike School Innovation Fund, is focused on improving Oregon’s education experience and increasing the graduation and success rates in the state. To their credit, they have received presidential recognition for what they are doing, as it is so unique. Rather than simply looking to the education world for solutions, they are drawing inspiration from business and strategy; applying these insights to education by partnering Nike executives with educational leaders. We led a workshop, identified a range of opportunities, and helped bring a new perspective to the table.

We see a cross-pollination happening between fashion, lifestyle, music, entertainment, and technology. While wearables are still scrambling to find meaningful usages, technology is undeniably moving more and more into the lifestyle space; the more authentically it does so, the more successful it will be. We recently featured David Watkin’s suite of lifestyle technology products — with his two brands Caeden and ADOPTED — in a Q&A post on our INSPIRE site. Drawing inspiration from luxury fashion, furniture, and architectural details — as well as all categories in the lifestyle sphere, Watkin’s products are successfully walking the line of wearable and cartable technology by bringing technology and lifestyle together into an amazing product offering.

To boil it down, one of INDUSTRY’s co-founders David Thorpe calls this method “zoomability,” which is the idea that we can get a big picture view beyond one brand, product or service, but we also are able to zoom in and focus on the details that become winning touchpoints. You could think of it like rings of a tree vs. the entire forest. The consumer experience is a forest, from which each consumer can construct their life experience. But each category is a tree with many layers. If your brand only looks at related experiences, products and services, they are missing out on all the other things that the consumer is experiencing. We see the forest for the trees and visa versa.

When brands in the market successfully identify opportunities at the intersection of disparate categories, they then become a benchmark for future experiences. For example, a recent Fast Company article describes a travel service that is “the Buzzfeed of city guides” and another describes a gym membership described as the “Netflix of Fitness.” To standout as a brand in 2015 and design experiences that will resonate with the consumer, look for inspiration beyond the expected and adopt a genuine consumer lens as opposed to being siloed.

SHIFT by Natasha Michalowsky, Brand Designer at INDUSTRY.