The Power of Design [Thinking]

POSTED BY Nick Green on Oct 21, 2011

I love working with designers. They fill you with a sense of the possible. A rare breed not bogged down and constrained by the everyday. They have the imagination and intellect to see through the fog of reality.

I am not a designer myself, but I have learned that I am a design thinker. Everyone at Hornall Anderson is.

Design is a way of thinking, of creative problem solving. It is a wonderful fusion of art and science, creating solutions that are intelligent, concise and above all engaging.

Design intuitively understands that our first relationship with a brand is an emotional one; creating that feeling or intuitive response that tells you "this one feels right," or "this one is for me." Selling the sizzle, not the bacon.

Yet to be truly great, design must connect on the more rational (functional benefit) level as well. It is this heady cocktail of "head in the clouds, feet on the ground" that has the power to shape attitudes, influence behaviour and to build great brands.

Here’s the BUT...Design can be its own worst enemy, pigeonholing itself into specialist sectors (e.g. packaging design, website design, etc.). This can limit the ability for design [thinking] to create an impact at the brand level in terms of strategy and creative development.

Design [thinking] should transcend all aspects of brand creation, development and consumer interaction. This is when amazing things can happen.

Change is in the wind. We are living through a revolution in consumer behavior. Rapid increase in PDA ownership, coupled with advances in bandwidth/download speeds is exploding the potential of the Internet:

  • We are connected as a rule, not as an exception.
  • Our innate desire to search and find things has been amped up.
  • We are public as a rule, private only by effort.
  • Our ability to share information has gone super-sonic.

We are more and more able to filter and sort the ever-increasing levels of information and messaging that bombards our lives. We can tune in (and out) in real time. The relationship between brands and consumers is morphing and becoming more immediate and transparent. Consumers are increasingly in control of the 2-way dialogue and interaction.

Brands need to adapt (and fast) to this new world in order to remain relevant. Traditional marketing approaches are being challenged. A different approach is needed. Opportunity is abound.

This is a problem (opportunity) for design [thinking]. You only get one shot. I feel this is a moment in brand marketing history for design to step up to the plate, to raise its hand and take a lead.

Design [thinking] is a strategic marketing tool that can create competitive advantage and deliver sustainable growth for the brands and companies that fully embrace it. Intimate knowledge of the brand, consumer and market context is critical. From this distills purpose, direction and strategic clarity.

Now all you need is a talented design team and an environment that genuinely supports and cherishes creativity [where it is encouraged to try new things, where people are not afraid to fail].

These are the ideal conditions for design [thinking].

The phrase "strategic design" has been coined by one of our clients. I cannot think of a better way of putting it.

Each point of contact a consumer has with a brand is an opportunity to delight and engage. Whether it is picking a package off the shelf, clicking through a site, walking through a physical environment, or having a real-time dialogue, how and what we experience will define our feelings about that brand. Each needs to be treated with equal importance, with the same thoughtful attention applied to their development and delivery.

Working at this strategic level can inspire a holistic creative solution: integrated design strategies that amplify each other in creating memorable and relevant connections with consumers.

This is not necessarily about a consistent look and feel (although that might be appropriate in some cases). It is about ensuring that all touch points are equally considered and designed to ensure a consistent delivery (in real time) against the unique positioning and promise of the brand.

The result is a brand that is self-assured and authentic at all points of contact.

So why Hornall Anderson? With the recent sad passing of Steve Jobs it has been suggested that one of his most significant achievements was to create a company that cared more about design than it did about technology.

I concur. This is not the natural order of things.

The everyday pressures of business are not friends of design [thinking]. Design will not float to the top. It too easily gets pushed to the back and forgotten. Amazingly, even within creative businesses, creativity can be lost to the requirements of efficiency, process, budgets and delivery.

To echo earlier comment, your first connection needs to be an emotional one. You have to believe. I do not want to get too horticultural, but if design was a seed you need to invest time and energy in protecting and nurturing it, feeding and caring for it. Only with this love and encouragement will it grow and flourish to become rich and abundant, bearing amazing fruit. Okay, now I’ll stop with the metaphors.

Hornall Anderson understands this. Our business is built on the founding philosophy of design [thinking]. It is in our blood.

1. The right team (with design at its heart)

It is about putting the best players on the pitch. We are a proud company and believe we have amazing people. Our teams are structured around delivering world-class strategic design - strategists, designers and client service. Each a specialism in their own right but united by the philosophy of design [thinking] and the desire to create and deliver exceptional work.

Team is the key word. There are no silos. We collaborate in our quest for knowledge and in the search for powerful ideas.

2. Shh...the art of listening (with empathy)

“Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus, Greek Philosopher

There is so much noise in the world. Listening is the forgotten art. We are all so busy making sure people hear what we have to say that we forget to listen. So we busy ourselves saying it even louder…and so it goes on.

We understand the importance of listening. It is essential if we are to be successful: to develop great relationships with our clients, to build our understanding and knowledge and to have empathy with a brand, its consumers and market challenge. The art of listening is a key part of who we are.

3. Connected

We have made it our business to understand the consumer revolution. Hornall Anderson is committed to the way our clients’ brands are experienced at every touch point.

We have the aptitude to deliver a holistic design strategy for a brand as well as provide specific solutions in identity, packaging, environmental (experience) and interactive.

4. Creativity rules

Ultimately we are in the business of creating great design. Great design that can stir emotions. This is never forgotten. It is the most important thing.

The creative culture at Hornall Anderson is our most precious asset. It is what makes us unique. Our environment encourages imagination and curiosity, provides the freedom and resources for experimentation and promotes idea sharing and collaboration. We never rest in our quest to maintain and improve the culture. It is fed and watered, clipped and pruned every day of every week of every year. There I go again…

A closing thought. The consumer landscape is busy and complicated, full of noise and visual clutter. The trend is for it to get even more so. It is time to simplify. Brands need to develop intelligent, concise and engaging solutions. Sound familiar?

Design [thinking] is the answer. Strategic clarity – powerful ideas – great design – engaged consumers. Simple.

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