The human brand

Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.
~ Steve Jobs — CEO of some kind of fruit company

The whole point of marketing is to enhance the way you are perceived by others. It is how other people perceive your design firm, it is how people perceive your product or service, or it is just for attracting the best talent for your company.

When you observe a product you see its form, its colors, materials, and its brand identity, or logo. This symbol or design element is the summation of a company’s identity, to be immediately recognized and understood by the consumer. However, the relevance of this image is empowered by the comprehension of the consumer, the way he or she receives the product emotionally. The consumer buys into the brand, creates the brand value, and promotes a new self-image; a brand is capable of connecting unique people to form a unique affiliation or identity. A company’s brand has one goal, to create an emotional sense of belonging in the hearts and minds of the consumer. Brands form promises and guarantee values for the consumer, inviting him or her to belong to something special.

Why are we drawn toward different products?

The answer is human nature. Different products evoke different feelings within us because no two people are alike. We may have like interests but the same product can be perceived as dark or inspiring by two different individuals. Our cognitive system draws conclusions about the outside world; it keeps us interested in the world around us when things seem dull and uninteresting. It focuses on the new and different encouraging us to educate ourselves about the unfamiliar product. Our eyes are typically the first to respond to sending messages to the brain with information about the discovery. We break down the object’s size, material, color, texture, etc. Once that is established we either like it or we don’t.

But where does this preconceived notion of beauty or ugliness come from? What makes something aesthetically pleasing over another? Well, design has four main goals it establishes with the consumer: to identify, to inform, to entertain, and to persuade. Branding however adds a fifth concept to the equation, the ability to differentiate.

Look at the “LIVESTRONG” rubber bracelets (try to forget the Lance Armstrong bullshit for a minute), how did this phenomenon happen? In May of 2004, yellow bracelets popped up everywhere (yellow due to the lead rider, Lance Armstrong’s jersey in the Tour de France). Foot-locker, NIKE, and several other retail stores understood the current buzz of Armstrong’s cancer story. Each bracelet sold for one dollar and the proceeds went to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

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So why did everyone and their grandmother buy this item and why was it so popular? No one was out looking for a cancer bracelet nor were they looking for the perfect yellow accessory for their wrist. The product didn’t help you complete a task or reach a goal more efficiently, and it certainly wasn’t a glamorous fashion icon. But it became all of these things and more.

The power of design and innovation can actually reshape an entire brand or the marketplace in which it exists. In the past, designers focused on making one new product. Today, they create a much broader story, an experience that consumers remember which has far greater impact on the bottom line.
~ David Rockwell — CEO of Rockwell Group

Suddenly, people were approached with an opportunity: seventy cents of every dollar spent would be donated to a foundation that empowered Cancer survivors, created Cancer awareness for the American nation, and contributed funds to Cancer research and prevention.

For years, foundations have existed promoting this cause, people could easily make multiple-dollar donations to several local and nationwide resources in the “fight against Cancer” — and yet this wristband craze swept our nation. 80 million Livestrong bracelets were sold… There was even a controversy involving profiteer-ing through the eBay venue as people sold the LIVE-STRONG bracelets for $8 to $10; in which no funds were going to cancer research…jackasses. Sure, most wanted recognition in supporting the foundation; others wore it simply to be part of an effort toward a greater good. And others wore it because they had someone close to them struggling from cancer. The bracelet was successful not only because of what it said, but because it came with an identity and meaning (some even created their own meanings); people belonged to an effort that felt good.

We all want to feel like individuals as we live our lives, but we all also want to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.

A combination of good strategy and poor execution is like a Ferrari with flat tires. It looks good in the specs, but fails on the street.” ~ Marty Neumeir

Road to Identity

Branding has made quite the journey. In the early 1900’s it was all about what the product had. The 1920’s emphasized what the product or service could perform, what its benefits were. The 1950’s advertised the “magical” experience you could have, the emotional “feel” of the product was its greatest selling point. And today, it is all about who you are and the identity you portray…ugh.

Brand Overload

There is so much branding garbage out there in the marketplace that it is beginning to congest our ability to comprehend the numerous products for sale… so we end up buying dumb shit we throw away or don’t care about in a few months, sometimes it’s simply because a friend of yours said it was dumb… and your whole rational behind the purchase is now out the window. I’m sure you have seen advertisements without giving one thought to them in an efficient effort to find your desired web article. Everyone knows the first fifteen to thirty seconds of your YouTube video are comprised of advertisements (sometimes you get to skip!); how many of those advertisements “touched you emotionally?” Probably not a lot, maybe even less than zero… oh it’s possible. The failure of this is not only strategy, but execution.

The Magic

The Ferrari has everything you need in a sports car but with flat tires you are not going to be heading anywhere any-time fast.

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Human beings are very social creatures; we enjoy being together in our comfort zone. However, to successfully differentiate ourselves from the rest, we must practice creative thinking. This is obviously more difficult as we “go against the flow” or “march to the beat of a different drummer,” this is obviously going against natural human tendencies, but there is a way…

Magic! Just kidding, (kind of…) If you live in the design world, you must look past reason and the approval of our peers and venture into this magical way of thinking. Looking past what the world is and creating how it could be.

People have very different personalities. Each person carries a unique story. These stories make them who they are and how they evolve as human beings. They provide knowledge, insight, and give the individual example on how to proceed in situations. We all have different dreams, answers and design languages. The role of a good designer is to provide people with a story, an answer and a language that defines them.