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NeXT Computer / Paul Rand

Branding and #DesignInTech

John Maeda
Jul 25, 2015 · 16 min read

Designer Dim Sum conversation led by Robert Padbury and Tim McCoy

An online seminar led by designer and entrepreneur, Robert Padbury, and enterprise IT design leader, Tim McCoy, led to a variety of viewpoints being shared in the Designer Dim Sum Network Seminar organized by Jackie Xu with John Maeda.

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Robert Padbury

Robert Padbury RP/ To start: What are some examples of brands being identifiable through their photography or use of photography?

PHOTOGRAPHY / IMAGERY

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Tim McCoy

Tim McCoy TM/ Airbnb has long recognized the impact photography on their brand. This post from 2011 announces their free photo service. Having high quality photos shows listings at their best, which lifts the overall perception of the value, quality, and security of the Airbnb brand.

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Airbnb photography program
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Uber Driver stories

RP/ Something that I think is interesting is how Uber and Lyft both use Instagram. Lyft uses photography for sharing moments and promotions. Uber also includes driver stories that are told alongside a black and white portrait of the person.

Ivan Bercovich

Ivan Bercovich IB/ I think the perfume industry uses photography almost exclusively to represent their brands. In fact, I often fail to see anything more to a perfume brand than their photography. It’s funny, because if you pay attention, you can tell a commercial is about a perfume within a couple seconds.

IB/ Not sure if this fits, but here is this great parody commercial, which is very photographic in nature, but still shows the power of images and how susceptible we all are to them.

RP/ I love the Generic Brand Video, because it really shows the antithesis of utilizing photography for expressing identity. Stock Video and Photography are so generic that it’s impossible to showcase the individuality of a brand with it. Stock Photography is a pastiche of an idealized reality pretending to be an expression or story.

TM/ “Stock Photography is a pastiche of an idealized reality pretending to be an expression or story.” Ooh that’s rich.

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Jannie Lai

Jannie Lai JL/ Thank you so much for co-hosting this great subject! This topic really hit home for me, as I am working for a photography startup. Since we are still in stealth mode, we have been using photography to express who we are and what light photography stands for. The work of photographers is not only the source of inspiration, they also help us to convey our passion and our point-of-view.

John Maeda JM/ I think it is great how POV (point of view) for a brand can include the literal POV for where the camera might be positioned.

RP/ Apple does a superb job at using photography in a way that makes the content immediately identifiable as Apple. The iconic slanted gloss lighting, the solid white or black background, and the simple light box create a look that is quite timeless.

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Original iPod Product shot
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iPhone 6 Site with Hero

RP/ The curved gloss on the iPhone 6 photographs is a really great twist on something that’s been in Apple’s photography vocabulary for a while. It both evolves the theme, but specifically serves to highlight the new rounded edges in the hardware design.

RP/ There is something unmistakably Apple about its product photos, and when the same photographs are filmed without this style, the look and feel changes. What I think has been really dramatic is how the way Apple Watch has been photographed in use. The old iPod Shuffle website I think had a very Apple style to it’s presentation. Apple Watch photography feels different from the way Apple has used photography in the past. I want to say it feels more fashion editorial than product photography.

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Apple Watch site

RP/ The photography on this page in particular I think is interesting. Look at how the woman’s face is completely obscured.

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Apple iPod Shuffle page

RP/ Quick Aside: I’ve always found it interesting how Apple photograph skin. The photographs seem to really show the top epidermal layer, whereas most photographs would smooth it over. Check out the way skin is photographed on the iPod Shuffle page above.

RP/ An industry that utilizes photography heavily is of course the Fashion Industry. However, Fashion houses tend to be beholden to the style of the photographer that they commission. Annie Liebowitz photographs are unmistakably her photographs. So for example, Louis Vuitton don’t have a signature look to the photographs they use in their advertising campaigns in the way that Apple does.

RP/ Here’s Annie Liebowtiz for Louis Vuitton on the left, and a similar style of photograph for Vanity Fair on the right:

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Annie Liebowitz for Louis Vuitton vs Vanity Fair

RP/ But here’s a recent Louis Vuitton campaign where two very different photographers contribute their own aesthetic; what makes it “Louis Vuitton” is the white frame around the photographs:

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Louis Vuitton campaign

RP/ Uber, as mentioned before, had a strong use of black and white photography, however it is inconsistent. The key to building any part of an identity is consistency and repetition.

LANGUAGE / WORDS

Robert Padbury RP/ I’d like to switch to our new topic for today: How brands express their identity through writing. To kick it off, let’s have a look at the twitter account @brandssayingbae. It’s cool when a corporation tweets like a teenager. It makes me want to buy the corporation’s products.

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Brandsd Saying Bae

TM/ There are so many aspects to communication that come into play here, too. The most obvious might be tone. Carl’s Jr (Hardee’s east of the Rockies) and McDonald’s both sell the same basic product, but the tone each take in their language establishes their brand bona fides extremely differently.

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Carl’s Jr
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McDonald’s

TM/ Carl’s Jr is all macho, guys-night-out style with language like “don’t bother me, I’m eating” and the “el diablo thickburger.” McDonald’s, on the other hand, goes all in on love and family.

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Joana Koiller

Joana Koiller JK/ This is a great seminar topic! Thank you for bringing the subject of expressing your brand through writing. It’s such an important, but often forgotten medium. It reminded me of a project I worked on a while back (geez, 8 years now) when I worked at a branding agency. The client was a hamburger restaurant called “Stand”. We took the approach on relying solely on strong copywriting and typography (as opposed to the traditional juicy food photos most restaurants rely on). Good copywriting can go a long way.

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Stand branding by Joana Koiller

JK/ Many restaurant identities rely on imagery. For this gourmet burger restaurant in New York City, the concept was to use typography and a tailored copywriting to create an identity. The choice of a “meaty” font and stacked text for burger-esque compositions set the scene. Writing was integral to the project, and was tailored to most of Stand’s applications, which include interior and exterior signage and environment, promotional materials and print advertising, menus, packaging, staff uniforms, and Show more…

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Alessandro Sabatelli

Alessandro Sabatelli AS/ I always loved how Apple was always teaching. From the keynotes to their print ads. Take a look at this Through photography and layout they engage and through copy they build a narrative. One which becomes your own story.

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Mac Mother Ship

RP/ What I think is amazing is how Apple has remained so consistent with the tone and use of language throughout the years. Something I always appreciate is the explanation of something new that would otherwise be ignored by anyone else (Focus Pixels, and the iMac fission-welding technique come to mind). I also love the plays on words and the dad-puns that are used (I still chuckle at the “Thinnovation” MacBook Air marketing). Interestingly enough, Apple has yet to join Twitter, and I’m curious at what their communication style be if they join it.

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Damian Madray

Damian Madray DM/ Branding in product has become increasingly challenging with the flat minimalistic style we ushered in. This is partly why there’s the rise of animations, that little extra push that delights, amuses and separates ones product. But no matter what we design into our product, no matter how clever, I believe that if we can’t pull it together in a consistent way for people to recognize as YOUR brand then we’re failing. No matter how good the product experience is.

DM/ I think when it comes to branding, it’s not going to be about identity or design as much as it will be about interaction and personality in the future. Let’s look at Magic or Luka whose brand is highly dependent on personality and the interaction than it does about how it looks. For Magic, there’s no design, no animation, nothing. The way I interact with it is not even its own. Less and less will the visual component of brands matter and more and more their interaction and personality. And I would argue that personality will matter a lot more.

PRODUCT / INTERFACE

RP/ I’d like to open the floor for contributions along the following lines:

  1. What examples can you share of apps that successfully incorporate a strong identity into their app?
  2. For projects you work on, where’s the line between using the native design of the platform versus inventing something unique for your brand?

JM/ This is such a key question that I get pulled into a lot — there is a common notion that brand and product are separate. Especially from branding agencies that might have done gas stations identities back in the day.

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Uday Gajendar

Uday Gajendar UG/ Across the range of projects tackled on this, at Adobe, Citrix, and now at Peel, I keep coming back to a few critical premises for successful expression of brand into/thru the product:

  • The product experience is the brand, period. How someone engages and “touches” the product/app/service at the various points along the journey is a reflection of the brand quality, in micro & macro levels
  • We often looked to Netflix, Evernote, Dropbox, for how a branded experience was both coherent across platforms, yet maintained certain “signature moments” that was core to their identity & essence of being Evernote, or whatever
  • Yet, gently seek out some nifty, clever, delightful aspect of particular platform that does interactions in a unique way particular to that platform (iOS/Android/Web) to give a bit of spark, charm, that doesn’t deviate or break the overall identity
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Matias Duarte

Matias Duarte MD/ Brand / “Product” is the Catresian Dualism of designers … but perhaps we should avoid that rabbit hole?

MD/ Question #1 Immediately brought to mind Flipboard, because… well, it’s right there in the name, right? Yet, as their recent web launch shows they were comfortable with the brand expression becoming less literal. Would have loved to been a fly on the wall of some of those meeting tho’…

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Flipboard for the Web
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Raphael Schaad

Raphael Schaad RS/ We launched Flipboard Magazines on the web ~1y ago and they did flip horizontally, however, with the keyboard/mouse abstraction and the huge screens it just never felt right. When we designed the full web version it was clear to us that we’d use the web’s most natural transition: scrolling vertically. The ‘Flip’ remains but from a brand perspective it is moving from the*navigation*verb to our main*curation action* (as in “flip a story into your magazine”).

MD/ Question #2 is something I think about a lot… I cut my teeth on the platforms that were very opinionated about the complete experience of software written on them — “classic” Mac OS, Palm OS. For a long time I naturally assumed these were the ideal. The rise of the web, and the amazing diversity of graphic experiences that thrived there, was a real eye opener. Now I see the role of the platform as one which should be less opinionated about a particular brand or style, and strive to be more of the ideal “Crystal Goblet”. I don’t pretend that this is easy or obvious however. There’s a huge tension between the desire to be a transparent frame through which an experience can shine undiluted, and the desire to provide a helpful framework for the experience, so that it can be familiar, expected, and high quality.

MD/ As a tangible extreme example, I find it kind of offensive that when I use many of the different video services I have on my TV, they all present me with a totally different way to enter text. Will it be QWERTY? ABCD? T9? Flip a coin and throw your spatial memory out the window.

MD/ I feel like a platform has a responsibility to provide certain services and conventions that provide the “ground rules” for interactions. Any brand or experience framework you build for your company, likewise should respect what is provided or expected by the platform. A Honda or a BMW still feels like a Honda or BMW whether bought in Tokyo or Berlin.

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Material Design for Android

MD/ A design framework like Material is precisely intended to make it easier to build successful cross platform brand or experiences. It seeks to provide the value of a (ideally transparent) framework, but in a way that is portable.

VENUE / PHYSICAL + VIRTUAL

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Mindy Seu

Mindy Seu MS/ I work for a graphic design studio that works with a lot of cultural institutions outside of the tech bubble. Sometimes it seems like more and more studios are embedding technology into the museum space just because it’s new and exciting rather than useful. Many institutions want to create individual apps, but we encourage them to question whether a user will actually download an app to be used solely when entering their space. Usually, it’s more successful when we can thoughtfully incorporate tech into the museum space rather than forcing the user to pull out their phone (read: the failure of QR codes). It’s a way to refresh the identity of an exiting museum, but does it enhance or distract from the user experience?

RP/ Shake Shack’s identity actually began with it’s physical location: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3041777/the-untold-story-of-shake-shacks-16-billion-branding#16

RP/ Perhaps one of my favorite uses of physical space is by Qantas Airlines. They brought on Marc Newson to design both the first class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the interiors of the A380 Aircraft. The result is a consistent experience when transitioning from the lounge to the aircraft.

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Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney

RP/ Amongst my favorite designs for physical spaces is in the Tom Ford. The space feels like whole series of gigantic private walk-in closets :

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Tom Ford space design

RP/ My favorite example of offices is perhaps Pixar, in which every corner is filled with things that exemplify the core values of the company. During a tour of the building our host began pointing out the little details in the architecture. If you have the chance to visit, I highly recommend it. This is a great summary on BuzzFeed.

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Pixar HQ
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Anand Sharma

Anand Sharma AS/ I love Apple stores. I grew up in Glendale which was actually the first apple store ever, and we would usually go to the mall and hang out there and play around on the computers and they’re all different but have a very familiar design, with the aluminum and glass — it’s just perfect. though to be honest most retail stores/spaces, especially the high end ones, don’t really feel that nice to me. like they are well designed & architected but feels less welcoming because it is too high end and fancy. I’ve noticed that with fancy restaurants too, like sometimes it ends up being too much and just feels intimidating or uncomfortable. But there is stuff like a beautiful view which never gets old.

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Glendale Apple Store

Ivan Bercovich IB/ One thing to keep in mind on #2, is that getting featured in the App Stores can be a massive growth channel, and a very effective way to get featured is to build off the features and design guidelines that each native platform recommends. Aside from this ROI fact, I think following the platform-specific guidelines provides a sense of higher quality to those apps. First, there are objective benefits to the UX, such as slight performance gains due to the fact certain UI elements have been optimized in the rendering engine. Second, what does “native” mean? If it’s just the fact that the app is not made out of webviews, then platform design guidelines are not so relevant, but I’d argue “native” is also a matter of perception, so it matters.

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The Apple App Store (2015)

EVERYTHING IS BRAND

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Marcos Ojeda

Marcos Ojeda MO/ From a pragmatic perspective, it’s often necessary to embrace the dominant paradigm: in cases where it’s possible, it’s just plain harder and more resource-intensive to go out of your way to trail-blaze on every platform you want to be on. if it takes more engineering resources, more design resources, more everything, and at the end of the day, you still need to justify this novelty to your customers or end-users or somebody. The decision to do so, at least to pitch it well, is often a pitch as much as it is a legitimate rationale: going default can either seem “cheap” or it can seem “conciliatory” or it can seem like a “smart move” depending on who you ask and who you are as a brand and how closely that decision aligns with your goals or brand.

MO/ The thing is that it’s hard to see your choices objectively because your decisions are so rooted in time and space and the culture at the time you are making them. The best you can do, i think, is be honest about why you took the path you did because at least that statement is liable to age well even if the aesthetic choices you did won’t. how we accept or pigeonhole or break away from ourselves and our decisions is as much an expression of us and our brand as much as it is of our cultural norms and how confident we are to rebel against them or hew to their constraints. the unfortunate bit is that our end-users become responsible for shouldering whatever decision we’ve made and then having to live with it. How far do i pursue aesthetics when my changes will (likely) have a marginal effect on the activity at hand. How long do I hold back a feature that could help somebody get the benefit of the activity? I lean on the side of shipping earlier and being critical of my flubs and committing to address them, but maybe i’m just rationalizing?

MO/ Tangentially, i’m reminded of this quote from an Errol Morris piece a few years back:

“Forgery is about the way the present looks at the past. The best forgeries may imitate the style of a long dead artist, but to appeal to people at the moment that they’re being tricked, forgeries must also incorporate some of the aesthetic prejudices of the moment. When fakes work well, they give us a vision of the past that seems hauntingly up to date. And that’s one of the things that makes forgery so seductive.” via Errol Morris

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Jason Mayden

Jason Mayden JMay/ What I find fascinating is how the idea of a “brand” has evolved and in turn the impact of art direction and strategic signifiers has increased. One could argue that individuals are now brands via their activity on social media platforms such as Instagram and VSCO. While no one person owns a photographic style on these platforms their choice of composition and usage of filters has created a shift in how we digest and consume content creation and curation. Traditional brands such as @nasagoodard and @charitywater have leveraged these new mediums of photographic expression to appeal to millennials through rapid consumption of content rather than deep post production enhancements to drive home a distinct look. This is also true for individuals such as @richnyc or @juncha who both have cult followings for the B&W photography. However, I must ask if we have traded artistry for access? And if so, what does this mean for the future of art direction?

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Brian Schmitt

Brian Schmitt BS/ Thanks for facilitating this discussion, Robert and Tim! Super interesting! I wanted to add some thoughts, as I think you guys are making great points but I have a slightly different perspective to chime in at the end. I agree with Alex and Angel that essentially product is brand, but I would also say that everything is brand. It’s the relationship between your user and the mindshare you have created with them that makes up your brand. Jeff Koons once said:

“Art happens inside you the viewer, and the art is your own sense of your own potential as a person.” via Jeff Koons

BS/ In any product relationship, the user holds an image that embodies their experience. This is where I believe that designers should spend their time, crafting that image by showing the user their own potential through interactions.

BS/ We have so many tools at our disposal — a lot of the work is knowing what to put in and what to leave out to let an idea emerge in the mind of the user. Product continuity demands that a designer or design team craft the product experience as a whole.

THANK YOU TO ROBERT AND TIM!

FYI John Maeda and Jackie Xu are pleased to let you know that the #DesignInTech Report (launched in March 2015 at SXSW) is now available in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.

Design Playbooks, for #DesignInTech

are read-write, and illegible sometimes …

John Maeda

Written by

John Maeda: Technologist and product experience leader that bridges business, engineering, design via working inclusively. Happily working at Everbridge☁️ :+).

Design Playbooks, for #DesignInTech

are read-write, and illegible sometimes …

John Maeda

Written by

John Maeda: Technologist and product experience leader that bridges business, engineering, design via working inclusively. Happily working at Everbridge☁️ :+).

Design Playbooks, for #DesignInTech

are read-write, and illegible sometimes …

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