At some point in the course of product development, the task of applying your brand to the hardware or software comes into play. Too often, it boils down to a late-addition exercise in labeling — where and how to place the logo and color. What this seems to imply is that branding from a product standpoint is only skin deep, and the real burden of branding is the responsibility of marketing. This is misleading. Marketing has the role of promoting the brand. But it is the product that defines the brand more than marketing efforts ever could.
Brands are built to attract consumers. And consumers fall into two categories: prospects and users. Prospects are introduced to a product through various marketing efforts (e.g. website, ads, trade show exhibits, commercials, etc.). Some people mistakenly assume that all of these efforts constitute the brand. Not so. These efforts introduce the brand promise — a set of expectations for a product. But a brand is more than what is promised — it’s also about what is delivered. Because once prospects become users, the brand promise will either be fulfilled or not, depending on their experience, and this will ultimately form their perception of the brand. Additionally, there will be some users of a product whose perception of a brand will be based solely on their use of it and not by any exposure to marketing efforts.
What this should make clear to anyone responsible for developing a product is this: think beyond the product logo, colors, graphic elements, type, etc. to build the brand. The visual and user experience needs to come together into one seamless, consistent presentation of the product in order to convey the true meaning and value of the brand.
If you’re developing a software product, there are a number of things to consider to create a better user experience:
• The application needs to be intuitive and easy to use
• The navigation, icons and language should follow common practice
• Prompts, instructions, commands, etc., should be clear and concise
• Icons need to be understandable and distinct from one another
As communicators, designers can serve as a link between software engineers and users to help make the presentation of information and instructions simple and clear. This is particularly helpful when time or resources don’t allow for testing with user groups.
One of our clients recently asked us to develop the icons for the software interface of a new product they were developing for cell metabolism research. Icons are a visual language that serve as a shorthand for words, requiring less space on a screen. Some of the functions that we had to create icons for are common to all applications (e.g. save, delete, rotate), and so the icons we developed were universal as well. For all the icons that needed to be create that were unique to this product, we took great care to make sure each conveyed an intended action or element, and — this is most important — each was distinct enough not to be confused with any other icon. (Icon design will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming blog.) Clear communication enhances the user experience, which enhances the brand. We also designed the launch icon and elements for each interface to pick up the brand design we developed. This helped to reinforce the brand identity and give a consistent impression across the brand experience.
There are a number of considerations for hardware development as well. As with software, the quality of the product, engineering, and ease-of-use will shape the user’s opinion of the product. There are ways to integrate the brand into the look of the product apart from the logo and colors. The shape of the product is one way. For example, one of our clients was developing a navigation and robotic targeting system for interventional oncologists. As we were in the process of developing the overall brand, we received some CAD drawings of the new system from the industrial designer. While our brand designs were evolving toward soft curves and archs, the system was more hard-edged. Since the system design was still at a point where changes could be made, we worked together to round the edges of the system and introduce subtle arched lines. We also introduced an abstract graphic that we had developed for multiple uses to create a visual to link throughout the brand.
Regardless of what else you do, at some point you still need to include the basic branding elements — logo, color, graphic elements — that identify your company or product. Careful consideration should be given when applying these elements. Should the company logo, product logo, or both be used? Where and how large should they appear? If both logos are to be used, which should be prominent? Should they be in color? Black and white? Embossed? Each decision needs to be made in relation to the overall brand strategy. If color is used, it should look as consistent a possible between RGB and CMYK color modes (RGB is what you see on a computer display; CMYK is for printing).
In conclusion, introducing the brand design into the software and hardware development sooner will helps achieve the main point of this article: In order to convey the true meaning and value of the brand, the visual brand design and user experience needs to come together into one seamless presentation of the product.