People have always been fascinated by design, but it is only recently that companies have started to make design central to the brand proposition – which takes commitment across the organisation.
Excellent design can appear effortless, creating smooth and seamless customer interactions with the brand at every point of contact, be that physical or emotional. It is hard work – what can appear simple and effective at the end point invariably involves significant effort and thought throughout the development. The end result is not accidental but achieved through method, insight, creativity and process.
That is why brands should make design core to their strategy. Previously, businesses might be proud of a smart packaging design, a revamped logo for the next generation, or an innovative new product. However, the world is far more intricate now, requiring us to consider an abundance of other elements across channels and outlets, from in-app experiences to internal branding to multi-channel marketing communications. Saying you want to be good at design is one thing, but making design core to the business is another matter entirely. It requires dedication and determination.
One of the challenges for making good design central to the business is that the discipline is hard to measure and quantify, yet it is part of everything we do – from the human resource (HR) system with its user experience (UX) and interface (UI), to the latest product we launch. Without easily fitting with predetermined metrics and measurement, design runs the risk of under-investment and, ultimately, misses the point. Design it is not one tangible thing.
The benefit of a strong design cue is that it runs through all elements of branding, subtly reinforcing values at every moment a person encounters the brand. So, the discipline must be woven into every step of the brand experience – both internally during development, and externally as consumers encounter it.
When consumers experience good design, they do not quantify what they see, feel and touch. Design’s simplicity means one needn’t be literate or good with numbers to experience it, while its subtle complexity determines whether it will be appreciated or not. Very few parts of a business can lay claim to such fundamental, over-arching influence.
At all levels of business, we must rethink the role of design within our objectives. Of course we need to be concerned with return on investment. But our starting point shouldn’t be the spreadsheet. Instead, we should ask “where else can design add value to the overall strategy?” We should begin with how it can help improve the lives of our consumers – something especially important in the healthcare sector.
This is because design is creatively agnostic, unworried by share price, social media likes, or gross rating points. Design is obsessed with the consumer above all else. It is much less a fishhook trying to do one simple job, and more like Velcro – lots of little hooks all adding up to one great net effect.
Good design pervades every nook and cranny of the business, and once you’re tuned into its effect it emerges everywhere – company intranet sites, apps, products, packaging, point of sale material, the list is endless.
In healthcare, the need to imbue a sense of authority and trust through all design elements of the brand is vital. Our products are created to improve people’s lives whether that’s actively improving – or easing symptoms that limit – their health and wellbeing. There is a unique need in this sector to instantly instil trust in the efficacy and ability to deliver on a brand promise through all aspects of design.
From packaging and delivering the product, to clear and simple instructions, design both leads and eases the way for scientific innovation and endeavour to meet people’s everyday health needs.
It’s all too easy to view design purely on a grand scale – buildings, personal technology, fashion – but some of the very best and most effective design can be on a much smaller scale, involving personal and everyday moments that benefit people’s lives. The value in this level of brand experience should not be underestimated. Through small things we can open people’s lives, making them better, easier and more straight-forward.
Marketers and strategists love to talk of the customer journey, and good design is a guiding light here, ensuring that at every point the reliability and value of the brand is reinforced. We may not be able to control the environment in which consumers first encounter the brand – we can’t necessarily limit the stresses and time pressures of a store shop or ease the navigation of the supermarket aisle – but we can ensure a product’s standout, clarity and purpose within those limitations.
Indeed, while some businesses are only just waking up to the need for design inclusivity, healthcare has been at the forefront of this thinking – championing clear messaging and easily understood instructions, and perfecting packaging design for the central product purpose. These should all be tenets of the design work we do no matter who our consumers are, but making sure we’re considering people of all abilities – be that physical, cognitive or socio-economic – is a good place to start any design thinking from, within the healthcare sector and beyond.
There is an onus on businesses to embrace design throughout their organisations so that they are best placed to meet their consumers’ needs. Failing to adequately use design at the strategic level of a business often leads to siloed departments and individualistic behaviour, which is not how consumers think, act, or feel in their daily lives.
A disconnected business creates a disconnected brand experience for consumers, which can lead to people making poor purchase decisions around what might be best for their healthcare, not finding the right product at fixture, unclear instructions online, or difficulty contacting the customer support team when needed. The expectation of brand experience and communication is continually growing among customers which is why, regardless of the difficulty in quantifying outcomes, businesses must build structures that allow for design considerations to be incorporated at every step.
As businesspeople, we know that sales remain essential in all our decisions; we are all here to sell our wares. But as designers, we have a responsibility to colour outside the traditional lines of our own design silos to ensure that we guide people to make better decisions that will improve their lives. For that to be achieved, we must be willing and able to talk to all disciplines within our organisations, to champion design-led thinking, even where that is not an automatic consideration and people may be less willing to hear what we have to say.
These unique and challenging times should be seen as an opportunity, and a time for many of my industry peers to commit to more effectively using strategic design-thinking – to blur the edges between functions, disciplines, media channels and more – to achieve this ambition.
Andrew Barraclough is vice president of Global Design at GSK Consumer Healthcare