Brands have always used a host of different tools, from advertising to product design, to clearly define themselves to their audiences. They understand that without communicating their voice, values, mission and approach, many brands would feel largely interchangeable. Sure, Nike makes sneakers and apparel for athletes, with a message that speaks to speed, design, and form. But from a high level, the same description could seem applicable to Adidas, Under Armour, or New Balance.
That’s why expressing a deeper, more nuanced brand identity is important. The right identity (or creative expression of that identity) resonates on an emotional level, illuminating the DNA of a company and building valuable connections along the way. In part, this is why a brand’s data is so exciting to designers (and experience designers in particular), whose skills make them uniquely qualified to understand and realize its potential for brand building.
When combined with the power of physical experiences, data is a direct path to the people, products and processes that make every brand unique. It’s a digital fingerprint, something every company has other than its specific products, innovations, patents, services or origin story. Data is often invisible, existing in the background. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, for the designers that can harness it to create visuals and immersive physical brand experiences, data can convey scale, scope, movement and (most importantly) authenticity in a way that is much more honest, intimate and engaging.
Data could prove to be the most effective resource for brand design and identity than any other force within a modern company. It’s more than a series of statistics — your data is your brand.
The Evolution of Data Design
For a long time, designers have been inspired by the challenge of transforming data into meaningful brand expression. But that process didn’t always result in interactive, data-rich interactive experiences.
The relationship between data and design started as expressions of facts and figures which resulted in charts. There were motivated creators like Feltron that fastidiously explored data from any source and plotted it in ways that were almost non-hierarchical; the number of sneezes against the number of steps taken, against the number of conversations, and more. This gave way to data as mapping, and later, an obsession with data transposed onto geography or landscapes, from human to global scale.
Eventually data became more humanized — using design to display information in ways that closely engaged the human senses. It was during this time that political data became objects, and transportation data became sound. Humanizing data softened it, making it more emotional, intuitive and revealing insights beyond the particulars of the data. It also reinforced the authenticity of the data and fostered a deeper understanding of the companies that used it.
This gave way to the limitless potential of more real-world data-driven brand experiences and even products — including cars that are designed by the data of optimal driving. As a tool for expressing brand identity, data’s current application to the physical spaces has opened the door to new experiences that have completely redefined existing concepts of brand engagement.
How Brands Are Designing Data-Driven Experiences
Brand experiences have already been celebrated for their ability to inspire better engagement than traditional marketing, especially among millennial audiences. But when brand data becomes a more central part of designing an interactive space, these experiences become even more powerful tools for fostering brand connections.
Several brands have already realized the potential power of data when treated as a core part of their identity and brand experience. For example, Uber and Lyft are loved because of their geographical, mapping, routing, and activity data which allows them to provide a fast and accurate experience across its apps and services. That seamless experience has become more indelible than the cars, drivers, or the literal branding in marketing and on the app.
By comparison, Nike’s early investment in the digital and data, through their Nike+, Fuelband, Fuel, and NTC experiences made them a much stronger brand. Their Nike Community Board was just one of many examples of how merging physical experiences with invisible, global data could be invaluable in reinforcing Nike’s connection to community building, more than any marketing or advertising campaign.
Equinox’s data experience is similarly unique. For their brand, data serves the science of their three-tiered philosophy around movement, nutrition, and regeneration by tracking physical activity, rest, nutrition, calories, and more. By quantifying everything you do inside and outside of their clubs, they can improve your the way you achieve optimal health. And as Equinox expands into the hospitality area with its new hotels, these physical spaces and the experiences they house will undoubtedly continue to leverage the data of their communities to optimize rest, nutrition and athleticism not possible in their clubs alone.
A Data-Rich Future
Working together, brands and designers can transform data into beautiful, expressive, functional experiences. But there is a potential for so much more. Data can truly become visual, sonic, physical, experiential interactions with a brand. And because data is unique to each brand that generates it, these interactions are closer to the future of “brand identity” than any logo, identity system or brand guideline.
Data may be inherently invisible — made of 1s and 0s — but brands and their partners should always be committed to that magical service of “making the invisible, visible,” and using data to create new modes of effective communication. How data is leveraged to build an authentic connection to audiences — via optics, interaction and insights — will determine the successful brands of the future.