Adgully’s Twitter chat explores what goes behind an effective design

Power of Design in a Brand’s Journey was the topic for the initiative, which saw six industry experts discussing the different aspects of design.

31 May 2021 | By Aultrin Vijay

Taking a slightly different path from hours-long webinars and Zoom meetings, Adgully deployed a Twitter chat between six industry-leading professionals in the design sector on 28 May. The panellists were asked questions to which the panellists responded in the comments section.

The Adgully initiative, which was hashtagged #GullyChat on the social media platform, discussed the various functions and research that goes into making a design for a brand.

The panellists included Ashwini Deshpande (AD), co-founder and director, Elephant Design; Lulu Raghavan (LR), managing director, Landor and Fitch India; Prasanna Sankhe (PS), founder/partner, Hyphen; Sarvesh Raikar (SR), regional creative officer, Lowe Lintas and creative head, Lintas Live; Shashwat Das (SD), founder, Almond Branding; and Govind Pandey (GP), CEO, TBWA-India

The first question to the panellists was: Where does design begin when you are launching a new product? And how does one apply the function of design in creating a great and winning product?

Das started the discussion with a quote from Apple founder Steve Jobs.

SD: “The answer lies in a famous quote from the absolute design guru Steve Jobs. ‘People think design comes in when the product needs to be made to look good. But the truth is design is how it works’.”

GP: A sharply defined design challenge by building empathy for the people you serve.

PS: Design is the only constant in the whole brand process. If it’s not it should be right from the product design to designing the manufacturing process to save capital to logo and brand identity.

PS: Design can be easily integrated in any brand design journey by asking hard questions. The solutions are, most of the time if not entirely, versions of design thinking.

AD: Design is about aligning brand’s purpose, user’s need and category landscape. Design must begin at the beginning of an idea. Design is not a thin layer to be applied in the end. It is the blood that needs to flow through.

GP: Yes. It is not a layer. It is the process through which you create.

Design as an attitude

SD: Design should begin from the word Go. Design as an attitude can lead you to insights that will fast-track your trajectory to building what really matters as quickly as possible.

SR: Before deploying designing skills, deploy listening skills. Always, the best designs come from truly understanding the reason for the creation of a product/service.

PS: Design is inseparable from the brand. It’s not a question of when it can be incorporated in the process. The real question is how you can use design at all stages to make the brand better.

AD: Design is not a department that will come and do its job nor is it limited to being one of the functions. It is a mindset of adding value by genuinely looking at the user/consumer.

SD: Design can help make products easy to understand and use, be flexible and accessible, intuitively obvious, feel so simple, and yet be super functional.

LR: Design thinking starts in the beginning. Define the challenge. Empathise with the user. Develop user-centric ideas. Use prototypes to test ideas that best work to address user pain points and wow the user. Apply great design to the prototypes. That’s how a winning product is born.

SD: Design has to be stronger at discovery phase than delivery phase. Design can help answer: Will users find the solution valuable? (Value); Can users easily adapt to the solution into their existing lifestyle? (Usability); Can we even build this? (Cost)

Second question: Research helps you draw interesting insights. How much research is deployed while developing a new product by a company?

AD: If it is a start-up with founders that depend a lot upon their intuition, there is little scope for research and insights. Partly also because of paucity of funds and patience.

SD: Absolutely. When it comes to start-up investing, research is not always viable. Going by the gut feeling is usually the norm. However, understanding the TG is still the mantra.

SD: Any product development starts with understanding the consumer needs and pain points. Design can lead the charge by becoming a proxy for the consumer.

PS: Research is integral to the design process. The deeper we dive into the research the better the insights. The better the insights the more unique the design solution that comes out.

GP: New product development starts with research. Product designers wear strategist hats at start. They have to observe how consumers behave with the category to get answers to their hypotheses.

GP: A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is made on this research, but we need to test and see how well it works. Unless you don’t validate the MVP with research, you can’t move forward.

AD: Family owned family run companies also tend to take a lot of decisions based on their inner voice and entrepreneurial spirit. But MNCs rely a lot on research based insights.

GP: Need a check for desirability, feasibility and viability right up front.

SD: A product needs to be developed based on facts and not assumptions. Research helps us to focus on who is going to use the product.

SR: Research takes time and money. We unfortunately love to imitate as soon as a great design comes out. Take the pocket deo market (for example). Research makes breakthroughs possible.

PS: Designing is 60% thought (30% research 30% conceptualising) and 40 % execution.

SD: Design research is what makes the approach to understanding users/consumers well-structured. It is fundamental to creating a user oriented design for a product.

GP: Researching with a beginner’s mindset – no assumptions based on prior experience. Personal experience can bias. Unlearning is very important to be able to see with a fresh pair of eyes to see new possibilities.

LR: Not enough user-centric insights. Companies can spend a lot more time deeply understanding consumers and their behaviours before developing new products. It is usually manufacturing driven, but outliers are companies like Whirlpool, Intuit, IBM, Pepsico and Godrej.

Question 3: A product or a brand should beat the clutter and stand out in the shelf space. How can design help here and what are finer points one should consider?

AD: If a design is just aiming to stand out, it will be noticed. But there is no guarantee it will get picked up unless the cues add value to the offering and in turn help consumers decide in favour of trials.

SD: Design can help you position your product against the already existing competition in a way that you still appear stronger. Design provides competitive advantage.

PS: The uniqueness or the stand out value of design comes from the problem the design is trying to solve or the way the design is speaking to a consumer or how the design is true to that particular product.

SR: Thanks to the pandemic, standing out in the pandemic has got a whole new meaning. You also have to improve the overall packaging and presentation – because the shelf is now someone's Facebook wall and it has some great stuff already on it.

GP: A good design says a lot of things without uttering a single word. It has to reflect a superior understanding that makes it more intuitive and creates an experience that’s addictive, or habitual.

AD: Sometimes, depending upon the category, there is a merit in using some category codes and then building relevant differentiation on top of those codes. A wheel does not have to be invented every time.

SD: Airbnb changed its design language to send a message of inclusion. The new Airbnb logo combines four principles – people, places, love and Airbnb. The pink-red colour palette conveys a sense of love and nurturing – a unique brand position in the travel industry.

PS: Like the name, the physical or the personality of an individual helps one stand out similarly design thinking applied to colours, typography, tonality of brand, every little detail can help the brand stand out.

GP: Design is a lot of things coming together at the shelf – element hierarchy, structural packaging, visual packaging, and product sensory attributes such as touch, smell, taste, others, words to drive engagement.

SD: Design creates emotional connection. Design connects with the consumers on the emotional level creating an instant space in their minds and hearts with positive perceptions towards the brand and its offerings.

LR: Design drives desire. Bold, provocative design that challenges conventions and category codes can create standout.

SD: Design can help deliver convenience that can be a big brand differentiator. If your product makes life easier for your target consumer, it may be more desirable than the competition. Biggest example is Amazon.

Question 4: Why are Indian packaging designs not able to match some of the international brands? How can this area be looked upon so that the wow factor comes out when you open the product?

AD: Firstly, not all international packaging is wow. Secondly, what works in one culture does not necessarily work in another. So, the whole notion of following ‘international codes’ needs to be revisited.

SD: I second that! This entire notion of aping the West needs to be relooked.

LR: We need to think about packaging holistically instead of focusing on just graphics.

GP: There’s not much of a difference when it comes to packaging. A lot of categories follow similar conventions. For example, a bag of chips will glamourise the ingredient, drive excitement with colour, words. From Doritos to Lays to Bingo, everyone follows a certain formula.

PS: It’s a misnomer that Indian design in general is not up to the international mark. Our solutions are different because demands are different so the tonality is different. There can’t be one scale of design judgement.

AD: India has a large subsistence level consumer base. Moving to a packaged/ branded product itself is a self-appraisal. Design is neither a luxury nor a cosmetic indulgence.

GP: To get the 'wow' factor, we have to design for an experience. How are we setting expectations when he sees our product? How engaging or participative makes it memorable and habitual?

SD: Indian brands are definitely evolving. However, user-centred design focuses on what the TG needs. Hence, Indian packaging design reflects the sensibilities of the Indian audiences. That doesn't mean it's falling short.

PS: Design should be judged only by the outcome desired and the outcome achieved.

AD: Promoter of a famous family owned brand once justified her going to international agencies by stating “Indian creatives just don’t get it”. While to each her own, what does this group think about that?

SD: I find it very funny when some brands demonstrate uncanny pride in having International agencies on board. Sometimes they reject similar design concepts coming from Indian minds.

GP: In India, given the subsistence level consumption/ low branded-ness of most categories, the usefulness etc sometimes play an important role. Different parameters come into play.

SR: I think our viewpoint has to change. We have great design sensibilities even in our villages that don't even have a design school. From the turbans of Rajasthan to the ships of Kerala we have the wow. It's the way we are conditioned, unfortunately.

PS: If the question is how we can design better as an absolute yes then we can start by investing the right amount of time in the process. Nothing can substitute the importance of time in development and prototyping.

Question 5: Design is one aspect of a product. How can one blend the colours to the design of a product so that the look and feel of the product is well presented?

PS: Colour is just one sub parameter of the whole design process. Any one design element – doesn’t matter small or big, complicated or simple – has the power to become the anchor of the brand memory or brand experience.

SD: But colours can greatly impact Purchasing decisions and they affect how consumers perceive a brand.

AD: Colour, shape, picture and words - the order in which we notice things. These really are the semiotic principles for designing any visual expression. Packaging design is a balance of all these to convey the desired message.

SD: The right balance of all these elements will work out to be a great design.

PS: Having said that all aspects of design should work as a collective and in harmony with each other to amplify the brand experience.

SD: Second that... All the aspects of design should work in perfect harmony to create a boom.

LR: Colour used strategically in design can be a powerful differentiator and very ownable. Think Tiffany! We need to think about packaging holistically instead of focusing on just graphics.

SD: Colours act as a great element of brand recall. A brand can almost own a colour space. It is one of the first things that your TG sees and remembers and hence can play a significant role in driving consumer behaviour.

GP: Design considers many things. Good brand recognition not only happens with colour, but also with form. For example, for telco, red is a huge recognition for Vodafone, Airtel. But Jio dots and Idea SIM card are form recognition for the brand.

GP: And then how well do you blend colours with form? This allows creating visual mnemonics to strengthen equity. Even audio. Ting, ting, ting, ting from Britannia is a good musical logo. Even the design of smell and fragrance can play a huge role in representing the brand well.

GP: Smells also... Face with tears of joy, Subway smell of bread, and Starbucks smell of coffee are part of the product experience design.

SD: Colour is the secret sauce to creating great brands as it creates the first impressions. It's more than a visual aid as colours can drive feelings, convey emotions and provide memorable experiences.

SR: The idea is to use colours by design to form memory structures, like the Ferrari will always be red - no matter how many colours it will come in. Also something like the Product RED iPhone which comes with an idea attached is smart use of colour.

SD: When you think of brands like Jio, Coca Cola or Cadbury’s do you instantly get reminded of a colour? That’s the power of owning brand colour.

Last question: Finally, how can the brand manager, R&D and design team work together so that core positioning that the brand wants to communicate is delivered?

GP: Think brand out, and how it intends to serve its audience. This is the best way to inform your R&D efforts and your design efforts. Brand helps you set constraints in place. Those constraints are very important to define the guardrails of the R&D and the design process.

PS: I call upon all clients who I like to call brand custodians to seek out the best holistic design minds right from the beginning of the brand journey. A design custodian if you will call it that.

AD: #1 all on the same side & ideally focused on user/ consumer #2 genuine shared belief that we can build something of value to the consumer using our core expertise And #3 the ability to build on each other’s ideas instead of being reactive.

GP: #1 all focused on user #2 genuine shared belief that we can build something of value to the consumer using our core expertise #3 the ability to build on each other’s ideas instead of being reactive.

PS: Right from inception till sale, a completely involved design professional can enhance the process and will be directly able to increase the premium the client can harness from the product.

LR: Cross-functional collaboration and teamwork are critical for success. The process has to be brand-led and any idea that does not fit the positioning must be killed.

PS: In the Western world there are design-thinking departments as a function. We can as small steps, start roles of design custodians who can regulate, unify and improve the entire brand journey and make brands better.

SD: When Design is closely tied to brand strategy, which in turn is linked to business strategy, all the teams work towards the one goal. That’s when brand positioning is established through all touchpoints.

AD: Quoting the story of the elephant and blind men. Each comes with their own perception, belief and expertise. You have put the pieces together to see the big picture.

PS: A baby step for this is also educating corporate houses on the intricacies of the design process and to include design as a mandatory subject in all MBA and business courses.

SD: Truth is that People do judge a book by its cover. People form an opinion about the product based on the signal it sends.

SR: The key lies in collaboration and by placing the end vision first - often each person is biased towards his/her speciality. Someone will be obsessed about form, some about costs. Teams have to think as one, no other way.

SR: A brand can survive without purpose. But a product design can't. You can't fake it. It is the truth, experienced by people, eventually. And you can only get it right if all contributors in the design journey realise this.

Tags : Adgully;