There are various names for the process of creating a “family” look for a product line. The most common are: Form Language, Design Language, or Visual Brand Language. Unfortunately, these are often used interchangeably and they shouldn’t be. Here’s why:
I won’t attempt to define these three terms because they are mainly misnomers used in today’s conversations. Instead I’ll concentrate on describing what a Visual Brand Language should be and why it is so important to create one. Lastly, I’ll challenge us all to ask: Is that enough?
A Visual Brand Language is a framework for product design used to:
- Create a unique, cohesive, recognizable product family
- Communicate brand attributes
- Build brand recognition
- Gain efficiencies in innovation cycles
It provides guidelines, standards, inspiration, and structure to NPD teams and their process. It is a language in the sense that it provides a tool kit of signature design elements and principles which, when combined, communicate and reinforce the unique, important, and valuable position of your brand to customers and users.
It is imperative that a Visual Brand Language be created from the foundation of your Brand—specifically the brand pillars, brand attributes, brand values, and brand personality.
Your brand is one of the most unique and valuable assets you own. Once it holds a position of distinction and value in your customers’ and users’ minds, then reflecting that in a meaningful way in your products gives you a unique advantage. It distances you further from competitors.
You might consider an initiative of this dimension to be for mega brands like BMW, Apple, Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson and John Deere. True enough. But if you’ve built value into your brand, then why shouldn’t you leverage that value into this most intimate connection with your customers? Consider OXO kitchen utensils, Kobalt Tools (a brand out of our studio), DeWalt, KitchenAid, Viking, Weber Grills, or YETI Coolers. They are all leveraging their brand and its value through their Visual Brand Language.
Can you imagine harnessing your brand’s value in this way? Perhaps you already have.
But, hold on. I said I was going to challenge us further.
So is a Visual Brand Language enough?
If a brand like yours was to embark on an important initiative like this, why would you limit the expression of your brand to just the visual. In the brand world, it’s all becoming focused on the entire brand experience. Every touchpoint, all the senses, the whole enchilada! So why not incorporate the greater sensory field into this Product Brand Language you are creating?
Visual, yes. But what about touch and feel, hearing and sound, emotional response, and perception? Could your brand encompass the senses of taste and smell? Scents are all the rage in some product categories.
Think about some of the brands listed above. The feel and balance of a DeWalt drill. The sound of a BMW engine and the quiet “dumph” of the driver door as it secures you in place. The intuitive and enjoyable use of an Apple iPhone. Or the signature growl of a Harley engine.
I wonder if these brands still call it a Visual Brand Language. Or maybe, in their world, that’s become a misnomer too.