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Product design characterises brand identity and has a significant influence on consumer perception. Nevertheless, the German Brand Monitor, the decision-maker study on brand management, reveals a surprising discrepancy: in just under 40 per cent of the companies surveyed, the product design is derived from the brand positioning. This result casts a critical light on brand management. How can brand decision-makers succeed in turning products into brand ambassadors?

By Katharina Kunze

Illustration from the German Brand Monitor

Product Design in the Age of Complexity

Product design today faces a complex catalogue of requirements: It must not only be aesthetically pleasing, but also combine functionality and sustainability. Digitalisation is opening up new opportunities and challenges, for example through the integration of smart technologies. Sustainability aspects are increasingly perceived as a must-have. Consumers have higher and often very specific demands and are making more intelligent decisions. And then the brand also comes into play.

Putting the Brand Promise into a Form

The product design is not only an expression of the brand identity, but also a promise to the customer. A brand-typical product design makes the brand promise tangible in the truest sense of the word. Multi-sensory design can convey the brand personality on many levels – via shape and colour, material, feel, weight and – depending on the product – via sound and smell.

Successful brand management therefore requires the seamless integration of design into the overall brand strategy. The aim is to create consistency and make the brand promise tangible at all levels – from the first visual impression to the feel.

Examples that Inspire

Well-known examples of successful brand-typical product design include the unmistakable products from Apple, Dyson and Hilti. These brands succeed in creating typical products with a very high recognition value that are congruent with the brand personality. A second factor is that the brands mentioned have been pursuing this strategy very consistently for a long time. The design has been “learnt”.

A more recent example is the Polestar brand, which offers premium electric cars. It was founded in 2017 as a sporty offshoot of Volvo. Polestar not only wants to be a manufacturer of electric cars, but also to set new standards in electric performance – with the aim of reducing its carbon footprint and acting in an environmentally conscious manner. For Polestar, this includes responsible sourcing, circularity, absolute transparency and innovation. The next goal: Polestar wants to launch a truly climate-neutral car on the market by 2030.

© Polestar

The design of the Polestar models conveys the car manufacturer’s brand-typical claim: it is minimalist and balanced, elegant and powerful at the same time. The body and interior design are characterised by consistent purism. Only the continuous LED light strip at the rear sets a striking accent when it lights up when the vehicle is opened and closed. The clarity of the car’s design is progressive, but at the same time familiar and approachable. This approachability is also achieved at the user level: the latest technologies are integrated in such a way that they can be controlled intuitively.

Steps to a Brand-Defining Design

  • There must be a design strategy, a design mission statement and a brand-typical design language.
  • These elements must be developed from the brand positioning in order to ensure a high level of consistency.
  • Everyone involved in the design process must have a deep understanding of the brand identity.
  • Design development should be collaborative and involve all relevant stakeholders, both internal and external.
  • Customer feedback should be generated through market research and tests and integrated into the design process.
  • The design should be flexible enough to be adapted to different products or product lines without losing the consistent brand identity.
© Polestar

Strategic, Brand-Typical Product Design Decides on Success

In many industries, the product quality of different suppliers is becoming increasingly similar. As a result, product design is becoming a key differentiator that sets products apart from the competition. A convincing design is a strong sales argument and contributes significantly to the success or failure of a product. This development is no longer limited to sectors such as automotive engineering, the furniture industry, household and consumer electronics or the luxury sector. It is increasingly extending to industrial goods such as mechanical and plant engineering or medical technology.

Companies should think strategically about product design and, above all, use it strategically. A product design that reflects the brand identity is an investment in the future of the brand.

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