Lessons in brand design from Starbucks, Nike and Lego

Day one of the ever-phenomenal Design Indaba conference in Cape Town boasted an eclectic line-up of designers from across the creative spectrum, held together by an infectious passion for creativity and the power that design can have, and most importantly a burning desire to share it with the world.

Michael Bierut closes day one of Design Indaba 2015

Michael Bierut closes day one of Design Indaba 2015

Things kicked off with South African ad agency Joe Public's impressive dance routine to the tune of Michael Jackson's Black Or White, and closed with a hugely entertaining presentation from regular Design Indaba MC and longstanding friend of the conference, Pentagram's Michael Bierut.

Stanley Hainsworth in full flow during his Design Indaba talk

Stanley Hainsworth in full flow during his Design Indaba talk

In the middle of the bill was Stanley Hainsworth, founder of Seattle-based branding agency Tether, who previously spent 20 years as creative director at three of the world's most iconic brands: Nike, Lego and Starbucks. We caught up with him for a chat in between sessions to discuss the lessons that this career-defining stint taught him.

Nike: attitude is everything

"Nike is an attitude," argues Hainsworth. "You can describe the look and feel of Apple; with Nike it's hard to do that, but you can describe its attitude."

While there are countless ways to build a distinctive brand, Hainsworth believes in Nike's case it was understanding how that ethos could be translated across all its brand touchpoints that helped develop it into such an iconic force in the world of branding.

You can describe the look and feel of Apple; with Nike it's hard to do that, but you can describe its attitude

"That attitude very much came from the founder, Phil Knight," he adds. "It was about doing something that no-one's done before. The athletes they recruited, like John McEnroe and Charles Barkley, were bad boys. They all had attitudes, and that really fit the brand."

Lego: know your strengths

Lego, Hainsworth admits, was a much more conservative company. "It was really a case of knowing what they had: the brick is their baby," he explains. And for a brand that has such an iconic product at its core, it can pay to keep things simple.

"For Lego, the brick was everything. When I was there, they had a bit of a tough period and strayed away from it, creating some other products. One thing I learned at Lego is you have to know what you're good at. Sure, you could put a Lego logo on anything and sell it, but it doesn't mean you should."

Starbucks: selling an experience

Building the Nike brand was about communicating an attitude over and above any particular product; for Lego, conversely, it was about the product above all else. Starbucks was a different challenge altogther: it was all about the experience.

"When I started there, the idea was that we weren't a coffee company - we were a people company serving coffee," he recalls. "And that really was the case." Starbucks had become "the English pub of the world", as Hainsworth puts it – a place where people go to gather and talk and meet people. A community hub, rather than a coffee shop.

"Much more than a product, it's about the experience that you can have with a brand," he continues. "Of course, now that has to translate to buying a bag of Starbucks coffee in a grocery store too. The experience may not be there, but you can still have the halo of that experience."

Words: Nick Carson

Nick Carson is editor of Computer Arts.

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Head over to the Design Indaba site for a video interview with Stanley Hainsworth filmed at the conference, in which he discusses the possibilities of a blank white wall.

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