Designers are mostly known out there for making things prettier. I mean, which designer hasn’t heard something like: “I have some ‘designs’ over here. I just need you to make them look nicer”? Yeah, unfortunately this still happens quite often. In case you’re under the mistaken impression that design is all about aesthetics, in this article I will talk about how we as designers do more than just pretty things. Especially how branding and visual design, most of the time, go hand in hand with product design and how this relationship can strongly impact the user’s perception.
This post is not about trying to pigeonhole people. Skills and interests will guide which area each one of us would like to focus on and follow as a career path. But in my opinion, what really matters is the specific title we all share in our professional lives: “Designers”.
OK, after a (slightly) dramatic introduction I’ve got to be honest with you: I personally don’t think it’s a problem to expect designers to be responsible for delivering beautiful interfaces, illustrations and/or visuals. This is actually a great skill set some of us have and I would say these are some of the most ‘tangible’ aspects of the design discipline most people end up having access to. So this is understandable, but what I’m trying to say here is that this is not the only thing we’re able to do.
In reality, some designers don’t even work on the visual side of things. Their work involves continually asking questions, researching behaviours and competitors, thinking about how an experience or a service can be improved, what the journey looks like when someone uses a product from the start till the end of its lifecycle, and so many other aspects. Behind every product (physical or digital) you interact with on a daily basis, there’s a designer involved who might or might not be the one who executes the findings. As a visual or brand designer, all the things I mentioned above are also applicable. Designing a new brand or redesigning an old one requires a lot of market and target research, brainstorming, competitor analysis and various processes before finding a solution. You can read (and see!) a great example in this amazing article written by our Visual Designer Daisy Aylott on how our brand at door2door evolved. Regardless of the area of specialisation, we’re all designers and designers are problem solvers.
“Recognising the need is the primary condition for design.” Charles Eames
Visual design to solve problems
When designers work to develop a brand, it might seem like they are just playing with colours, shapes, icons and typography (which is partly true and lots of fun). But in reality, they’re solving a problem. A brief is provided and it’s time for the designer to jump in. In most cases, the project comes from a client who might want to start a new business, launch a new product or just reposition the company on the market. Lots of analysis and research have been undertaken to understand brand values, vision, where and how the brand will be applied, what the company’s product or service target is and so on… Only after gathering all this information is it time to start exploring proposals, concepts and ideas. And these methodologies can also be applied when designing any other visual deliverable.
We live in an era full of information and opportunities, from both a business and consumer perspective. New companies and products pop up on a daily basis, providing new services, new solutions, new experiences and sometimes just reinventing the way we perceive existing products. With all this competition, it’s quite easy to become ‘just another one’ out there. Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re at the supermarket and want to buy a good craft beer. You know a bunch of brands, the quality of them and the ones you like the most. But some days you just can’t decide what you want or you’re tired of the same old same old and just feel like trying something different. At that moment, you’ll probably stare at the shelves for ages, overwhelmed by the number of options. People tend to react differently in these situations but, at that moment, I think your first instinct will be to grab the one that commands your attention the most. It can be for its size, its bottle shape, its brand or label — it doesn’t matter, something will attract your eyes. I’m not saying you’ll end up buying it, but you might consider giving it a try. And this is the moment when, subconsciously, something clicks in your brain.
Aesthetics are subjective and everyone has their own opinion about them, but they definitely play a significant role in our levels of trust. Really well-designed products use visual aspects of psychology principles that focus on cognitive behaviours to attract people’s attention, creating emotions in the context of the experience. Studies over the years confirm that aesthetics play a very important role in shaping usability and credibility, sometimes even influencing a product’s success.
The digital era
So far we’ve been talking mostly about how brands are applied in physical products (labels, packages, price tags…) but let’s change the scenario a bit and switch to digital products. In the first quarter of 2018, there were 3.3 million apps available at Google Play and 2 million apps available in the App Store, according to Statista. Hearing the concrete numbers gives you a better idea of how competitive the market really is. Obviously, not all of these apps are considered competitors, but still, a good part of them could be positioned directly on the same (virtual) ‘shelf’ as yours. That’s when visual and brand design have the power to play a really important role. I will explain why:
Let’s imagine that supermarket I mentioned earlier is now an app store (regardless of the operating system). When a user is looking for an app to provide a service and types a keyword to search for results, this process is comparable to going to a specific aisle at the supermarket and stopping in front of a shelf (that beer shelf). As in the example, the user might not know what to look for or may just be willing to try something different. This moment could be the first contact with the product — and aesthetic satisfaction is one of the strongest factors of desirability, even before knowing how the service works and what its real purpose is. Developing a strong app brand is essential for bringing personality and originality to any product, even if the service provided is something the user is already familiar with. Colour palette, shapes, fonts, tone of voice, illustrations and icons are important in defining the brand communication strategy, engaging the user and bridging this gap with the product.
A couple of good examples
Airbnb is a concrete example of how much a brand can impact user perspective. They worked on a massive rebranding a few years ago. Especially from that moment on, they were able to revolutionise the travel industry. Apart from providing a really good service, they became much more connected to the community when they realised that their previous brand no longer matched their mission.
From typography to generous amounts of white space to clear CTAs, everything came together to make the whole experience much more appealing. “The brand we built initially was always meant to be something temporary (…) and a few years later, we were still looking at this identity and we realised that the business and the community didn’t map to the brand. That the business and the community had outgrown the brand. You can’t get this wrong, this is our identity,” said the CEO, Brian Chesky.
Of course, a strong, well-defined company mission and strategy also support outstanding brand development. When everything is nicely tied together, it’s a bit easier to work on branding and reflect it in a beautiful UI and consistent solution. The Airbnb rebrand is a great reference for a company which understood the problem they were trying to solve and came up with a solution that emotionally connected its users, brand and product.
Door2door is still a pretty young company, but we’re always learning from the market, absorbing knowledge and trying to put it in practice. With every new internal or client-facing product we have the chance to develop, we try our best to understand the business, the end user and to reflect this in the branding, graphics, illustrations and so on. Later on, visual and product teams work together on how to make this connection and deliver a digital product that reflects the tone of voice in messages as well as UI elements. We strive to deliver a consistent and complete experience.
But of course, everything I just mentioned wouldn’t make sense if the visual language doesn’t match the company or product purpose. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well executed the branding might be, if it doesn’t relate to the product’s concept or strategy or it doesn’t capture the user’s imagination, it can have a negative influence on how the product is perceived. As Jeffrey Kalmikoff, Product Designer at Facebook said: “You need to deliver what will make your audience the happiest and feel a connection to [your product], so that you start to build a relationship”.
Branding by itself will probably never save a product that doesn’t serve a real purpose. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, ‘form and function’ should go hand in hand. At the end of the day, products are out there to solve real users’ problems — be it how one decides which beer to buy, which accommodation to book when going on vacation or how to move from A to B within the city. So always make sure you understand the problem you’re solving and create something that really adds value. Understand the end user, the company mission, the meaning of what you’re designing and assimilate all these factors in an incredibly user-friendly product with well-designed brand visuals. If you manage to piece this puzzle together, you will most likely create a memorable experience that makes a human connection. Even more, you will have a successful product that amazes whoever interacts with it.
Any other nice example you can think of?
Share your ideas with us and check out our work on dribbble! :)