Find out how the world’s most valuable brands use design

The annual BrandZ report lists the world’s most valuable global brands. We look at how the leading companies in the ranking use design to boost their value.

The Apple Store in Pudong, Shanghai
The Apple Store in Pudong, Shanghai

Each year WPP and research consultancy Millward Brown release the BrandZ report, which lists the world’s most valuable brands. The research team uses financial information and consumer research to calculate the “value” of the world’s leading brands.

David Roth, chief executive of retail research consultancy The Store WPP helped to compile the results. He says that among the key to successful brand building are “a clear and compelling brand proposition”, “being different in a meaningful way” and “high trust”.

This year the table is topped by Apple, with a brand value of $247 billion (£160 billion). By comparison – last year Apple reached a market value of $700 billion (£444 billion) to become the most valuable company in history.

In this piece we look at how Apple and the other top ten most-valuable brands use design to boost their impact.

1. Apple – brand value $247 billion (£160 billion).

As well as being the world’s most valuable company, Apple also posted record quarterly profits of $15.9 billion (£10.5 billion) at the start of the year. The majority of these profits come through sales of its products, with the iPhone alone selling 74.5 million units in the first quarter of this year.

Since 1997, Apple’s product design has been led by Sir Jony Ive, who developed products including the iMac, iPhone and iPad. Ive is this week being promoted to chief design officer at Apple and will now lead on design projects across the entire company – from user experience to retail to the interiors of the company’s own offices

2. Google – $173 billion (£112 billion)

As well as its ubiquitous search engine, Google is also working on a swath of other products and projects – from the self-driving car and the Google Glass headset to a new smartwatch, in collaboration with Tag Heuer.

The car and Glass projects are both examples of concepts that came through the Google X research lab. Last November, Google boosted its research lab capabilities by snapping up California product design consultancy Gecko, whose team will now work across Google design projects

3. Microsoft – $115 billion (£75 billion)

As well as offering browsers, operating systems and online platforms, Microsoft is also branching out into projects such as a hologram headset. In 2013 it acquired Nokia’s Devices & Services business – including its design team – in a deal worth £4.6 billion.

Microsoft has also worked with a number of leading designers and consultancies in recent years, including Paula Scher, who created the Windows 8 identity, and Wolff Olins, which has worked on branding projects for the company.

4. IBM – $94 billion (£61 billion)

IBM is reported to employ more designers than any other organisation in the world – with a worldwide design team of 1,000 people. IBM has invested $100 million (£65 million) in design in recent years, with the opening of a series of “design hubs” around the world – including one in London.

IBM's new London studio. Image by Tim Crocker Photograhy
IBM’s new London studio. Image by Tim Crocker Photograhy

IBM design director Karel Vredeburg recently told Design Week that as well as working on client projects – such as the wimbledoninsights.com data platform for Wimbledon – the design team will also look to influence the rest of IBM as a whole – what he describes as “deploying resources for the strategic direction of the company”

5. Visa – $92 billion (£60 billion)

Visa launched a new identity at the beginning of last year, based around the brand positioning of “everywhere you want to be”. The company says that this reflects its offer of “secure, reliable and convenient digital payments”.

Visa’s design team is led by vice-president of design Kevin Lee, who has previously worked for Samsung and Paypal. Lee says he is responsible for designing and developing digital products for Visa, as well as helping to develop the company’s corporate strategy

6. AT&T – $89 billion (£58 billion)

Telecomms company AT&T has been using its Saul Bass-designed globe logo since 1983 – with the identity having been updated several times over the years.

In 2011 the company launched the AT&T Foundry programme – a series of innovation centres described as “fast-paced and collaborative environments”. AT&T says its foundries combine business, design and technical resources and since their launch have started more than 200 projects and deployed dozens of new products and services

7. Verizon – $86 billion (£56 billion)

US telecoms company Verizon was founded in 2000 following the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE. Earlier this month the company acquired AOL, a move it described as “a significant step in building digital and video platforms to drive future growth”.

Verizon’s executive vice president and president of product innovation and new business Marni Walden says that part of her role involves “developing and growing Verizon’s emerging businesses, like the Internet of Things and digital media”

8. Coca-Cola – $84 billion (£55 billion)

Coca-Cola launched a new “one brand” strategy in March – in design terms this sees a uniform look introduced across the Coca-Cola range. The company worked with Turner Duckworth, Epoch Design and Bulletproof on the new visual identity.

The Coca-Cola Bottle – An American Icon at 100 Mash-Up Collection
The Coca-Cola Bottle – An American Icon at 100 Mash-Up Collection

Coca-Cola’s vice-president of global design is British designer James Sommerville, who co-founded consultancy Attik. Speaking to Design Week earlier this year, Sommerville said: “As humans, we like to connect with a brand – something physical has a greater connection than a purely digital brand. I think iconic brands in 100 years will still be born out of something that’s very simple, real and part of life.

9. McDonald’s – $81 billion (£53 billion)

One of the most eyebrow-raising forays into design by McDonald’s is the recent launch of its fashion collection, developed with high-end Parisian store Colette as an evolution of its illustration-based French advertising campaign.

McDonald’s has also worked for several years with consultancy Boxer, which in 2013 created a new packaging design system which focuses on quality and provenance and aims to “challenge perceptions” of the brand

10. Marlboro – $80 billion (£52 billion)

Marlboro brand owner Philip Morris International is one of several tobacco giants which is taking legal action against the UK Government over the introduction of plain cigarette packaging next year. Philip Morris senior vice-president and general counsel Marc Firestone says: “We respect the government’s authority to regulate in the public interest, but wiping out trademarks simply goes too far.”

Last year the cigarette brand launched new packaging designs, which drop the previous black-on-white branding in favour of a blind-embossed white-on-white design.


You can read the 2015 BrandZ report in full at www.brandz100.com.

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