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BY Anjana Naskar

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Ever wondered why the new packaging of your favourite product suddenly appears more attractive than its earlier version or how a cluttered website turns into a delightful visual experience or even how a retail store turns more elegant in its look and ambience? All thanks to design and its power to weave magic into brand tales.
For a long time, design had been accorded lesser importance in the brand-building exercise while the other elements of marketing enjoyed the glory. With time, as marketeers have recognized the true power of design, the industry has seen good growth.
Moreover, the on-going pandemic and the rapid digital transformation have provided design agencies with the right kind of opportunity to use their skills in dealing with the crisis. Of late, brands brands have shown enthusiasm to play with designs using short-term tactical ideas like tweaking the logos or glamorizing their packaging, etc, as traditional approach of branding has lost some of its sheen.

Evolution through the pandemic
Immunity, hygiene, wellness, personal-care were among the factors leading to design innovations and launches last year. Tweaking the app icons or making aesthetic changes in packaging with masks or campaign logos to encourage safe practices are some steps brands and design agencies took in the last 13-14 months to keep up with the changing consumer sentiments in the light of the pandemic. Also, one can hardly ignore their renewed focus on sustainability to reduce carbon footprint.
“Designers are trained to navigate through uncertain results. They are used to exploring, experimenting and even facing failures. That is the only way to come up with something new or innovative,” says Deshpande. “As devastating as it was, the pandemic gave designers the opportunity to use their skills for dealing with uncertainty. Essentialism emerged as a strong trend, and brands that could spot the diversity of roles it needed to play in the lives of consumers managed to stay afloat with the help of user-focused design thinking.”
Geet Nazir, Managing Partner, Conran Design Group, stresses on design’s ability to humanise interactions. Brands have begun to recognize the impact that design can have in the way consumers experience and remember them. “The role of design has further evolved to deliver impactful storytelling on an emotional level, traditionally a role relegated to communications alone. This has become far more critical during the pandemic, where consumers sought solutions to help them navigate an unforeseen circumstance. Overall, we see the needle shift from brands seeking design for aesthetic gains to design thinking becoming an integral part of how brands engineer better value for their customers and greater competitive advantage for themselves.”
Andy Reynolds, Regional Creative Director, SuperUnion, is of the opinion that the design industry has evolved along with technology. “I think the industry evolved hand-in-hand with technology. With the proliferation of social media and the general use of screens, brands naturally become a lot more digital. So, brands have literally been there and we’ve also, as an agency, developed the next beat to accommodate for that change. For instance, only up until about 3 years ago, we used to outsource a lot of motion, 3D and tech stuff, but now we have a complete in-house tech team, because that is now interwoven. How a brand moves is as important as how it looks,” he says.

“So, when you’re building a brand for an offering like that, your brand needs to be super flexible, your design language has to shift from the older way of looking at things from a consistency perspective to thinking about coherence. So, 10 years ago, if you were a Telco, you would paint the town with your brand color and logo, and that was branding for you. Today, branding is about creating a coherent experience, which can work, let’s say, for EdTech and at the same time for e-commerce. It can also work for a payments wallet and so on and so forth. So there’s a lot more fluidity and coherence that needs to come into branding and design than having the rigid consistency that you used to subscribe to before,” states Mehul Shah, Strategy Director – India, SuperUnion.

“Design has to be agile and adaptive to the needs of consumers,” says Kurnal Rawat and Arnab Ray, Creative Directors at Landor & Fitch while explaining with Volkswagen’s example. “Take Volkswagen, the logo does not exist only on cars but also on new age platforms, communications etc. — hence the need for simplification. Looks great on a car, can look great as a social media favicon as well. Holistic cohesiveness from a design point of view is imperative. The pandemic has certainly pushed people to interact with brands at a more digital-level; hence design choices are often made keeping the screen in mind. Even for packaging, the new trend is to consider the ‘digital shelf’ and design accordingly — what will stand out on an e-commerce platform?”
“Last year was obviously very challenging for everyone, but other than that we have been steadily growing over the years with healthy double-digit growth,” shares Ashutosh Karkhanis, Creative Head and Managing Partner, Open Strategy and Design. “Our larger focus has been on brand design and transformation projects, and hence our mandates include more strategic investments for brands. We tell our clients that we are like investors — we bring in thought capital to push the value of the business. The presence of so many big, global start-ups that have designers as founders is not a coincidence. So, in that sense, we are creating a very different benchmark for the value of design projects.”

Elements of design
Logo is very important; more like an ambassador for a brand while being only one part of the brand identity. Elements like colour, type, imagery, icons and voice give a brand its essence and persona. All these go on to visualise and verbalise a powerful brand idea/positioning. All the elements have to combine well to bring out the right brand essence and the right message it tries to convey.
“The elements of design together form the brand toolkit and eventually become the sacred assets of the brand. If used well and consistently, these very elements become iconic.?Over a period of time, the brand should be recognisable even if you hide the logo. Take Indigo airlines for example. The indigo colour, the witty tongue-in-cheek voice and the font, all come together consistently to delight onlookers,” shares Rawat and Ray.
“The expression of the brand, i.e., the logo, colour family, iconography, fonts, photography style etc. are all elements that need to be cohesively defined to ensure that there is no loss in translation between the envisioning and implementation of a brand, thereby ensuring brand consistency at every touch point.” states Nazir of Conran Design Group while adding that great design plays an important role across every single aspect of a brand’s identity.

How brands are experimenting
Be it new logos or change in packaging or new websites, we have seen a lot of brands rehashing and refreshing their identities or changing their style recently, especially to stay relevant in the new normal. Coca-Cola India’s home-grown brand Thums Up recently changed its packaging to support Indian Olympians at the Tokyo Olympics. A similar, path-breaking step was taken by Reckitt last year, which replaced their iconic logo for Dettol with pictures of COVID warriors on 4 million packs. FMCG major Nestle India, too, experimented with the logos of its iconic brands — Maggi, Nescafe, KitKat and EveryDay. The brand logos sported masks to create awareness about Covid-appropriate behaviour among the masses.
Brands have been saluting COVID warriors since the pandemic struck. But Pepsico’s fruit flavoured drink Slice has gone a step further by using augmented reality to achieve that. Explaining the unique move and the thought behind it, Anuj Goyal, Associate Director, Tropicana and Slice at PepsiCo, says, “We wanted to do something bold. So, we chose tech because as a responsible brand we wanted people to stay inside their homes. We thought can we enable them to get this message while being quarantined? With technology, they didn’t have to go out to buy a bottle of Slice, they could sit in their homes and still read these stories. The team came up with a solution wherein you can actually scan the logo anywhere — on a bottle, on the website — and read the stories. And that was the reason we didn’t go for a physical logo change.”

Yes Bank was one of the first few brands to have launched a musical logo and established a sonic brand identity to connect with customers across platforms and geographies. Speaking about the brand’s sonic identity and the role of design in branding, Jasneet Bachal – CMO, YES Bank, shares, “Design language has always played a pivotal role in brand building because it speaks to consumers without words. In my view, it’s not enough to say what the brand stands for; you need to bring it alive. The sonic identity, over and above the brand’s visual presence, has been conceived to create a distinctive signature that not only captures key attributes representative of the bank, but also resonates with customers in their journey with the bank.”

Recently, HDFC Life redesigned its website to offer a more enriching experience to prospective and existing customers. Highlighting the features of the new website, Vishal Subharwal – Head-Marketing, E-commerce and Digital Business, says, “Our approach with the new design was essentially about making it a customer/visitor first approach. We decided to go with our core purpose of serving the customer, which probably comprises about 99% of the traffic that comes to our website. We’ve designed the website to make it frictionless, reduce the bounce rate, which happens because customers tend to get lost on the website. So, product discovery; purchase; premium renewal; paying a claim; getting life cycle customer service; locating a branch and customer care have been made simpler with the new design.”

“Dimensional branding is one where you’re looking at screen — first branding and creation of motion assets for a brand, thinking about animation as a building block in the brand experience, etc. So that’s one where brands are certainly paying a lot of attention, particularly globally,” highlights Shah. “I think, in India, clients have still not woken up adequately to that space, but they should. And then the other one is sonic branding. I think sonic branding has been an under-celebrated form. And, as we go more and more digital in our experiences, and as video becomes the predominant means of consuming content, that’s going to change quite rapidly. So those are the spaces that are upcoming.”

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Tags : #brand #design # packaging # logos # Elephant Design ¸# Geet Nazir # Conran Design Group # Andy Reynolds # SuperUnion # Jan Eumann # Wolff Olins # Mehul Shah # Kurnal Rawat # Arnab Ray # Landor & Fitch