Leading by design

Pop-up stores, anechoic chambers and sustainable bags are just some of the initiatives being adopted by major brands repositioning themselves to cope with changing markets. Tom Banks investigates these design-led strategies

Following Sony’s much-hailed collaboration with consultancy Barber Osgerby at the Milan furniture fair, the electronics company says it will ’definitely’ work with other designers on projects to show it is a design-led brand, and vows to effectively ’open its doors’ to the public.

Sony is not alone in explicitly aiming to position its brand so consumers see it as being design-led.

Brands including Nissan and Puma have recently taken steps to show their design credentials, either by commissioning designers to articulate the brand in an abstract form, by exploring research and development projects and seeing them branded as design-led, or by developing a presence at design shows.

Barber Osgerby’s ’experimental living space’, revealed last month, was an attempt to articulate Sony’s design-oriented approach to its work through a physical space, according to the consultancy’s Jay Osgerby.

The anechoic chamber – a shielded room designed to attenuate sound – shows ’how technology might be used in the future’, Osgerby says, but, crucially, no products were actually shown in the space.

Philip Rose, director of Sony Design Centre Europe, says, ’Sony has been rather coy in revealing its design activities and has kept everything behind closed doors over the past 50 years.’ He goes on to explain that the Barber Osgerby project was devised to ’show people what the creative process is like during a work in progress, behind closed doors’.

Rose says part of the rationale was to convey the structure of Sony, adding, ’Many companies have design sitting under engineering and marketing, where it’s been taken out of the factories. We have a direct link to the board.’

The essence of the Barber Osgerby project would have been hard to show through ’traditional communications or a retail environment’, says Rose, who adds that the company will look to develop the themes explored in the project with future collaborations.

’We had an amazing relationship with Jay [Osgerby] and Ed [Barber], so rewarding either them or another consultancy would be a pleasure,’ Rose says. ’We’re working with top creative people in London already.’

The next Sony project will develop the themes explored with Barber Osgerby, but in a less abstracted form. ’It would be nice to show the next stage of the journey to the public,’ says Rose, who indicates that similar projects may be commissioned to reference other areas of Sony design.

When Nissan Design Europe opened its doors to the public as part of the London Design Festival last September, it was a far more literal and direct process.

’It was the first time we’ve participated and it was really to celebrate East meets West, embracing our Western designers and the contribution of their cultural influence,’ says global communication associate at Nissan Design Europe, Eva Ng Kon Tia.

The launch of Nissan’s Cube vehicle in February triggered a series of design-led experiential events set up by the company, with Nissan Motors GB marketing director Guillaume Carter saying at the time that it would ’concentrate on an underground below-the-line campaign’. A pop-up store in Brick Lane sought to link the car’s design with ’lifestyle choices’ and other spheres of design, says Ng Kon Tia. Talks on trends and fashion were given, and the Parisian brand Colette set up in the space.

Like Rose, Ng Kon Tia maintains that Nissan has always been design-led. ’This is the first time we’re communicating it, though,’ she says, adding, ’It has always been in [our] DNA.’

Ng Kon Tia says Nissan will continue to communicate its design credentials ’strongly’, adding that the design-led strategy in marketing the Cube ’was not a one off’. She suggests Nissan will look to follow this approach with another car at the 2010 London Design Festival.

Sportswear company Puma has maintained a design-led approach to its branding and marketing in recent years by initiating research and development projects which aim to suggest the diversity of the brand’s design expertise, while looking to outside help from London consultancy GBH to position and brand them.

GBH partner Peter Hale is currently working on the branding of a Puma telephone which will launch ’in the next few weeks’, he says.
With Puma known as a sports brand, Hale says, ’The phone is a good example of how it has gone into the product at every single level. As a brand, it’s interested in areas that can touch new people.’

Given an open brief, Hale posed himself the question, ’How do we take the brand into this phone without just slapping a logo on the front?’
A brand was developed targeting consumers who are involved in sport as a participant or as a viewer, partly based on the phone’s interface which ’mirrors sport lifestyle’, according to Hale.

GBH also branded Puma’s sailing boat which entered the Volvo Ocean race last year. The boat was branded ’to effectively make it look like a giant shoe – as though it’s made of fabric’, Hale says. He adds, ’We did it to show Puma is a sports lifestyle brand with an innovative approach to representing itself.’

Last month Puma’s design-led approach gained further momentum when it commissioned Yves Béhar to design packaging for its Clever Little Bag, which is reusable and reduces packaging weight. The project is part of Puma’s long-term sustainability plan, and launched at the Puma-sponsored Sustainable Futures exhibition hosted by the Design Museum.

Future projects

  • Sony plans to follow up its Barber Osgerby commission by working with designers to further explore the themes of the project in a less abstracted form
  • Nissan will continue to develop its design-led strategy with a model at the 2010 London Design Festival, and through associated campaigns
  • The Puma Phone, branded by GBH, is expected to launch within a month

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