Design makes the difference for products

A meeting with IBM’s design team brought it home to me that blue chip companies are largely dealing with the same technologies now. The technological prowess of such firms is barely indistinguishable, in terms of what they can do. It’s crucial, therefore, that they look to design to bring out the difference that gives them a competitive edge. This is true across manufacturing and services industries alike, and corporate identity specialists have never been so busy as businesses merge and new companies are born. IBM’s classic logo, created by the late Paul Rand in 1972, is not up for grabs – nor do we expect its rival, Apple Macintosh, to change its rainbow marque. They carry too much equity – and do the job admirably – though they are exceptions in the sector. But Apple and IBM are both actively improving their products. Apple has made a big comeback on the strength of its E-Mate, iMac and other colourful icons – great marketing tools those. IBM, while more sober in its product innovations, is continuously rethinking its lines under the watchful eye of its celebrated industrial design consultant Richard Sapper. Keen attention to detail and expressing “beauty” through function are key here. Both of these companies handle most of their design work in-house. But as other firms look to design, there’s tremendous scope for product design groups to make a difference, to the bottom line and to the consumer’s experience. Instead of squabbling about demarcation, designers and engineers ought to pull together to give industry the best products it can make. On the subject of identity, the heavyweights are going through a period of high-ranking change. The most recent move is by The FutureBrand Company, which has poached Enterprise IG London managing director Charles Trevail to head its European operations (DW 25 June). FutureBrand is feeling its way, having, like Enterprise, grouped its identity network under a global brand last April. Bringing in a new man is going to influence the shape of the network. Both groups see the move as positive. As corporate design continues to mature, we need more people of Trevail’s calibre. Enterprise and FutureBrand are rivals, but both realise that the stronger each of the specialists is, the greater might design wields in the client’s boardroom.

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