How Design Studies Transform Brands.

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Written by Matt Pringle,
• 9 min read
Sperry Ecommerce experience

So you’re in need of some branding work. Maybe it’s a new brand or maybe your launching a new product / service, or refreshing your brand to be more relevant. You’ve probably done this dance before. You go through the motions with an internal design team or maybe you’re looking at an agency.

Cough Have you met Digital Surgeons? Cough

But what you get back just isn’t doing it for you. It doesn’t get you excited.

That’s because seeing your new logo on a keynote slide all alone is difficult to get super excited about. Maybe you get a few slides with it on a hat, a billboard sign, the classic letterhead + business card combo, or my favorite, a color flood on an iPhone /laptop with the logo in the center of the screen. These things may look good, but they’re not actually solving anything. A brand is the sum of all the parts of your experience.

You’re being sold a logo design that’s being pitched as a brand design and there is a huge difference between the two. To be somewhat direct a logo is just a thing, and that’s what a lot of designers or agency will focus on, the things. But at DS we focus on the thinking and the outputs lead to outcomes that build brands. A Logo design is an extremely important part of brand design, but it’s only one touch point in the brand’s experience when it comes to designing a brand.

A logo in a presentation is just – a Keynote slide. It won’t communicate anything more than that either. What does your brand stand for? What’s its mission? Where does it live? How do people interact with it? How do you want people to feel when they think of your brand. These are the questions branding answers, and only when they are answered should you be seeing a logo — the product of purposeful branding work.

Too often I see designers and brands focusing on tactics or making shit look pretty. A keynote slide is not where your brand lives. A brand is the sum of all the parts. Nobody knows your brand like you do so it’s important that we – meaning us (DS) and you the client, do this together.

A Design Study™ is our unique collaborative brand design process where we experiment and explore your way forward. It’s a cross-disciplinary team, which is usually comprised of a designer, copywriter, strategist, and engineer working together to identify where your brand is at right now and where your brand could be. From there we develop concepts on a various number of brand executions.

Branding is a process. It takes time: lots of meetings, discussions, decisions, writing briefs, and getting buy-ins from stakeholders on every little thing. I’m not going to tell you a Design Study is a way to bypass all of that and have a great brand in two weeks. So if you go back to looking at Cybertruck memes I’ll understand. But what a Design Study does do is give you a great building block to see how your brand can come to life past billboard signs and coffee mug mock-ups.

From a creative’s perspective these are always fun, because there are really no rules or boundaries. This step is about possibilities. We don’t have to worry about budgets, timelines for execution, or stake-holder buy-ins. Think of it like when you have a casual conversation with your buddies and you say something like "It would be awesome if we did…" and then you get to do that. You concept, and show the execution. This isn’t just designing cool shit with your logo on it. It’s understanding your brand and showing it can evolve with your customers who are always changing.

Here are some samples from recent design studies we’ve done at Digital Surgeons along with their thinking and rationale. These are just small snippets from their respective design studies. Design studies can get pretty big. To date our biggest design study was done for Sperry which clocked in at just over 27,000 pixels long and came choc-full-of additional strategy decks with market analysis, channel strategy and lots of other fancy strategy stuff. Lots of great thinking and a lot of viable business-building concepts presented were later executed like an Alexa Skill integration that aided in raising awareness for improved environmental impact.

Sperry: Leveraging emerging UX patterns

At DS we like to start with the problem or the pain point your brand is facing. What that allows us to do as designers and strategist is to then work through how we’re going to go about solving it. In the case of Sperry, a footwear brand they needed to drive more online sales and make their digital properties – Their website and social, work harder for them.

We asked ourselves, how are people in general using apps and the internet today? Not even for shopping online, just in general.
When first working with Sperry, the Tinder UX convention of "Swipe right" was really blowing up. This gestural navigation pattern was so intuitive for users and completely transformed how people date today. We took inspiration from that interaction that users, and more importantly Sperry’s users were use too and came up with conventions to solve their problems. We wanted to implement “Swipe right” in a place where it hadn’t been used before (at the time).

Virtual assistants are becoming more and more a part of our everyday life. Google and Amazon are practically giving these AI devices away because they see the huge opportunity to sell more products. We explored this opportunity for Sperry at a time when no brands were looking into branded Alexa Skills.

Sperry Ecommerce experience

Mazuma: A better than new experience

Mazuma is a cell phone trade-in company in the UK with a big following. It’s a brand that people grew up with, highly known, highly remembered, but now highly irrelevant. They have an extremely high bar set in terms of standards for the phones they take in and refurbish. Their process is so good when it comes to refurbishing phones that their customers often said it felt like they had purchased a new phone. Mazuma wasn’t communicating this in their marketing, so we saw an opportunity. We showed them an exploration on how the brand could come across in their marketing with this idea of trading-up, not trading-in.

They loved the idea of communicating that Mazuma was a premium product so much that immediately following the design study we started redesigning their packaging.

iMend: Building the Bridge Between Brand & Experience

Coming of the success with our partnership with Mazuma and their rebranding. We were quickly introduced to their sister company, iMend. iMend wanted to become the Uber of cell phone repair and capitalize on the growing trend of “on-demand” and “as a service”. Today everyone wants everything with the touch of a button, with this in mind we at DS and iMend explored how we could communicate that story in their branding and marketing channels, and also with their customers in how they experienced the brand.

We created a concept for UX and design of not just a consumer facing application but also an app for technicians so they could keep track of repairs they have scheduled as well as accept new repair jobs coming close by. Design studies transform brands and great brands transform businesses.

Winners: Excite and evolve with your audience

Winners is sports betting brand with over 15 locations throughout Connecticut. They have a long history of being the place to go for horse betting, or an OTB (off-track betting). But aside from the Kentucky Derby, betting on horse races is a dying past-time that caters to a shrinking audience. Winners came to us so we could work with them on a new brand that would reposition them not just in the horse race betting space, but the entire sports betting category.

To do this we needed to have the brand appeal to a younger target audience, and to do this we had to consider all the touch points were that younger audience would experience the brand. We explored complete exterior and interior redesigns of their locations, making them more modern and approachable. If you were between the age of 21-40, these were the places you wanted to be on Sunday an hour before kick-off just to make sure you got a seat at the bar.

This brought us to our next customer touch point. Now that we’ve got them in the building lets make it easy for them to make their first bet. Leveraging NFC technology we would have it so the coasters would prompt customers to download the Winners app and easily place their first bet while watching the games.

Dazian: Giving meaning and purpose to an established brand

Dazian is a company that specializes in providing drapery, scenic elements, and fabrics for a wide range of events ranging from weddings to the main stage at the Grammys. They’ve been in business for over 175 years. That’s not a typo…175 years.

You know what sucks? Being in business for 175 years and your customers don’t remember you. Dazian had a problem with recognition. While they did stellar work and were a category leader trusted by some of the world’s leading brands, nothing about their brand resonated with customers.

With a logo already established we worked with Dazian to evolve their brand with a new branding system. We created this system to act as an indicator to the core 3 offerings, fabric, production, and the event itself. This system was implemented across everything from trade-show booths to email signatures. It was recognizable, distinguished, and most importantly memorable.

Nobody gives a shit about your business card

They care about what’s behind you. What’s behind your company. Your values, your promise. What makes you better or what makes you different? It’s a lot more than a business card. It’s a lot more than a logo.

What design studies do is take brands big goals and turn them into small sprints forward. And that sounds a lot more interesting than what your new letterhead will look like.