Thursday, February 21, 2008

Best Practices in Corporate Design

The Heineken keg can, introduced in 2000

The late graphic artist Paul Rand is credited with the expression "good design is good business." Thomas Lockwood* has honored his legacy by cataloging a number of best practices followed by businesses that incorporate design into their corporate culture.

In an article derived from his doctoral thesis, Lockwood promotes the following ideas he has seen in action at these companies:

  1. Innovate by separating and differentiating the processes for managing legacy designs from those for managing new, "quick-release" designs (Nike), thereby allowing the former process to maintain the company's heritage while the second becomes the engine for reinvention.
  2. Keep the brand fresh but coherent by introducing innovative packaging that echoes iconic elements from the brand's heritage (Heineken).**
  3. Use iconography with a common design style to present a consistent visual image across all sub-brands. Microsoft maintains consistent imagery across more than 6000 icons for its Windows and Office platforms.
  4. Reinforce the information architecture with the design architecture by using identical icons and names for corresponding features and functionality across all product lines (Microsoft).
  5. Engage customers in the product design process as requirements are developed and preliminary designs are reviewed (British Airways).
  6. Reinforce cultural norms by designing work environments that promote those values. StorageTek promoted collaboration and creativity by remodeling common areas in its buildings with inviting lighting, materials and color pallets and using these spaces to showcase the work of local artists.
  7. Formalize design rigorously after developing design concepts creatively. Nike uses "sandbox meetings" with three-person development teams to come up with concepts, then expands the teams with specialists to drive designs to final forms.
  8. Treat design as a capital resource that both requires investment and creates on-going, differential value. Starbucks empowers key resources to review store designs and merchandise selections and schemes so that the essential brand experience can be preserved as the enterprise expands and develops.
By following these principles of alignment, empowerment, and process discipline, organizations can develop and maintain distinctive brands that concisely convey their values.

*See Integrating Design Into Corporate Culture, by Thomas Lockwood, Design Management Review, Spring 2004.

**See Shape of beer to come. Beverage packaging gets more emphasis, The New York Times, The Media Business: Advertising, 22-June-1999.

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