10 insights from the world of design

Stuart Chapman of design research agency The Big Picture shares some insights he has picked up during the company's 20 years of business.

This year The Big Picture design research agency celebrates 20 years exploring consumers' relationships with FMCG design for the likes of Unilever, GSK, and Reckitt Benckiser. We've used this milestone as an opportunity to take stock of some of the things we've learned about design over the years, and are now heaving open the vaults to create a series on some universal tips and tricks. Here are 10 of the best...

01. We are living in the design era

There was a time when people could mistake design for a luxury - a decoration that’s nice, but not fundamental to business. But now more than ever, the companies and brands that are winning - think Apple, Nike, BMW - are those that have worked out how to harness the power of design to delight their consumers.

02. Standout goes beyond 'standing out'

The idea of design 'impact' is hazy. So we developed an impact model that breaks down what happens at the moment of truth into three levels:

  1. Shout - do they see it?
  2. Show stop - do they look at it?
  3. Seduce - do they love it?

Does your design hit all three?

03. Consider the role in the marketing mix

Branding has differing purposes dependent on its positioning

Good design knows its place. For example in packaging design, the brief should state whether it is part of a replicatory mix - conveying the same messages as the above the line marketing - or a complementary mix - conveying different, but harmonious messages. Axe/Lynx is an example of the latter - while pack says 'efficacy' and 'gravitas', ATL says 'irreverence' and 'sex appeal'.

04. Look beyond the visual

A lot of emphasis is placed on the visual in design, but it is sensations, textures and sounds that are the most powerful tools in designers' armory. Get these right, and your brand can connect on a deeper, more subconscious level, invoking a level of brand affinity that goes beyond like - to love.

05. Context is key

Design lives and dies in context. Some designs look great - until you try to use them. Good design takes the context in which it is used into account. That’s why, whenever we research design, we research how it performs in context - on shelf, in use, in storage. That even includes body wash...

06. Sell the sizzle, not the sausage

It's an old one, but it's still true. It's not about how good your product is - it's about what that means. For example, the real point with soap powder marketing is actually not about how white it gets your whites, it's about delivering the feeling of being a great mum.

07. Not all design needs to change the world

McCain's packaging had a recent refresh, but key was retaining familiarity

Great design can be world-changing. But sometimes, great design is the opposite - very subtle. For instance, McCain's new packaging architecture boosts the range's presence in the freezer aisle, but the design work has focused heavily on ensuring that current buyers can still find their packs easily. Here, 'no result' is a great result.

08. Good design is flexible

Global design is tough. Take the concept of beauty - in India it's about being demur and subtle; in Brazil, it's more 'if you've got it, flaunt it'. So sometimes you can't get a single design for all markets, but instead need to develop a global framework with local flexibility.

09. If it ain't broke, it still needs polishing

Truly iconic designs might not seem like they need changing, like they should remain untouched forever. But in reality, most 'iconic' brands need to do a little polishing now and again. Despite the idea of changing Guinness, being enough to get you lynched in Ireland, we've helped the brand tweak their design to keep it fresh.

10. Research is a guide, not a hurdle

In the past, design agencies have often viewed consumer research as a hurdle that their design has to pass before it can get out into the wild. But the leading agencies are coming to realise that consumer design isn’t a hurdle, but a guide. Great design research can inspire, enlighten and enhance great design.

This is just a snapshot - the full series is available now on The Big Picture website.

Words: Stuart Chapman

Stuart Chapman is associate director of The Big Picture.

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Have any of these tips helped? Do you have any to pass on? Join in the discussion in our comments.

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