Cooper has worked for Philips and Sunbeam and he now works with brands such as Breville, Kambrook, Ronson Goldstar and Alex Liddy.
What do you see as the designer’s role in understanding the brand they are designing for?
I feel the challenge is for designers and managers alike to ensure that the products are appropriate to the brands. In essence, products are not an entity unto themselves... they must be part of an overall design strategy in which product design, product colours, graphics, packaging, advertising and so on are all part of the process of brand and product development.
The fundamental challenge for all involved in the product development process is to shift the focus from understanding product and production objectives to one of understanding brand objectives and then developing products, packaging and advertising that meet those objectives.
The designer’s role therefore is to ask not what are ‘good’ colours, and graphics for the product. But what are the ‘right’ colours and graphics for the product AND the brand. They need to use and develop processes that identify these opportunities.
The role of the product manager is to clearly define the brand in a way that establishes a framework for decision making, by doing this he or she can identify ‘good’ product from the ‘right’ product.
Often consultant designers, in the absence of a clear brand objective, need to take a scatter gun approach to concept development with ‘concept one’ being conservative and ‘concept four’ being radical.
Then they let the product manager choose where he or she thinks the brand is. I am convinced that setting clear brand objectives saves money as all stakeholders share a common goal.
I know of some designers who only deliver one concept at a presentation, sure in the knowledge that it is close to the target. But these people work with clearly defined brands with outlined objectives and clear understandings of what they want from a product.
They won’t touch a project without these clear definitions. If the brand doesn’t have it, they help the brand manager clarify it first.
I guess the problem is that there are very few occasions in which product managers and designers take equal responsibility for ‘process’ as well as the ‘product’. Process is what converts brand into product.
Can designers assist in defining a specific aesthetic that fits with a brand? Can you comment here?
Well, yes they can, that’s what keeps us all in business. There is no one ‘right’ answer...
Consider Dyson as a brand and a product. It has a very particular form language that helps deliver the promise of ‘constant suction’. But Dyson doesn’t make many products. It’s a much more difficult task for a brand like Breville to keep the brand clear in the minds of the consumer where they make a range of products from juicers to rice cookers.
In this case it’s not about a particular aesthetic that will cross all products that the brand produces. What is important is that a Breville juicer and a Breville sandwich press meet the same expectations of the customer, thus upholding the brand. Brand success is about developing a core promise and then consistently delivering that promise regardless of the application.
The designer’s job is to interpret this core promise and translate it into products that suit the brand. It is important to note that the core promise can filter out products too.
Consider this: who would want to put their feet anywhere near a Dyson (constant suction... power, power and more power) foot spa... The Dyson brand would probably not make a foot spa, as they could not deliver the product without eroding the brand promise.
Product graphics can go a long way in ensuring brand recognition and success. Can you explain how product graphics can be used as a tool to create a range?
The essence of range building is ‘story telling’. It’s not a matter of sticking three products together and calling them a range. There must be a story to follow. Successful range development requires all stakeholders (management, product design, product graphics, packaging and advertising) to be equally involved in the process, working toward a common objective.
The story must follow through the choice of forms, colours, names, graphics, packaging and promotion right into the customer’s home.
Product graphics operate on many levels and should be seen as a vehicle for making product values explicit in the eyes of the consumer. Every aspect of the product, including its name, should serve to deliver the brand to the customer.
At the top level is the brand mark itself. This mark creates the first tangible identifier a consumer recognises. The brand mark and the product graphics are not the same. The mark must never be diluted or modified; it must be treated with respect. The remaining graphics serve two main functions.
Firstly, to give a product character (defining the nature and position of the product in the market and operating as differentiator) and secondly, to describe the product’s use or its instructions for use. Any other graphics are mostly redundant.
The Breville Avance Cookware range is an excellent example of strategic clarity carrying over from product management through design to promotion.
Why are brand guidelines so important for some manufacturers when it comes to their lower cost brands?
In the case where companies have multiple brands in the same market, brand guidelines serve to protect the relative market positions of each brand and ensure that the brands occupy clearly different choices in the minds of the consumer. Brands have enough competition without brands owned by the same company competing with each other.
Do you think manufacturers should keep a ‘corporate identity manual’ to explain the specifics of product graphic or logo positioning on products?
Consistency is the key here. The designer must resist the temptation to wander when using a brand mark and graphics. Some controls must be set in place.
It is important to make a distinction between design manuals and house styles. House style was a concept that was tried in the early eighties in which a form and graphic style (fonts and colours) were pre-prescribed for use on all products within a brand.
The objective being that recognition of these styles and colours would create an instant recognition of a brand. This concept was discarded as it limited the ability of a brand to evolve and occupy more than one place in the mind of the consumer.
Design manuals are now more focused on development processes and tools rather than formulas and rules. These processes and tools allow designers to discover opportunities that are created by brand objectives rather than be limited by rules.
How are the brand and the subsequent application of graphics integral to the product? Can you think of a good example of graphics totally integrating with a product?
I think its better to say that the product and the subsequent graphics are integral to the brand. All the designed and engineered elements of any product must work toward the same strategic end. All aspects of a product must serve the brand.
I think that this is a very large step for a product designer to take – to accept that the product is the vehicle of the brand and not the other way around.
Make a toaster and call it a ‘Kevin’ and see how many you will sell. Create a brand called ‘Kevin’ that customers recognise and identify with and you will be sure to sell more.
Philips have achieved excellent results with graphics. The new Philips White and Stainless ‘Domesticated Cube’ kettle is a good example of elegant product design with well-resolved colours and graphics.
The only graphic (other than the brand) is a 2400w mark. Stamped graphics are tricky at the best of times and achieve variable results. The stamp and the graphic style serve to accentuate the quality of the materials and create the primary point of product comparison beyond form and colour.
Do you think that product graphics can change the perceived form and shape of a product?
Absolutely, changes in colour can significantly change any aspect of a product. Testament to this is the fact that many brands will relaunch a product with new colours and finishes to refresh the product and lengthen the time between redesign.
Good choices are about clear strategic intent. For example, “I want the product to look light or heavy”. “I want it to look more fun or more serious”, or look “medical or domestic”. The brand objective will define what you wish to achieve first and then find the colours that deliver that.
Can you think of a good example of a highly successful product graphic application?
Breville Avance Cookware, as mentioned, and Apple Mac have it all sorted out. These two examples show how graphics at all levels add value beyond the value of the product on its own.
Can you also think of a really bad example?
Shower mixers in hotels... Which way is hot exactly? Am I supposed to push to or from the side with the red dot to get hot water? I have seen both.
Bad product graphics effectively confuse the customer. The worst ones confuse them in store before they have even purchased the product. The activity of creating and applying product graphics make up about five percent the total time spent on product development but it guides the customer between brands and helps them finalise the purchase decision.
Graphics that show usage instructions are often terrible. Products like blenders and food processors with complicated usage instructions may have a very high return rate with no fault found if instructions are not clear. I have heard of return rates of up to thirty percent because instructions did not properly describe usage.
How are the colour ranges restricted in product graphics?
Some colours are not well accepted in some markets. Make red, yellow, green and blue kettles and you will always sell less green kettles. That is not to say that green doesn’t sell... It just doesn’t sell kettles.
That said, this not always true: The Philips Alessi kettle is green and it sold just fine.
What are the best ways to ensure that a graphic or logo is physically going to stay on a product?
Graphics serve to add value to the product. Sometimes you need to spend a little extra to raise the value even higher. Failed graphics can sometimes serve the opposite function to the one intended.
You can put a resin cap or an enamelled badge on a product... it costs money to add extra value and tooling must cater for the badge with a recess. If it falls off the product looks far worse had you just used pad prints, and the value is lost... and then some.