WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FEARLESS IN DESIGN?
News Post, Posted on June 10, 2014
We’re putting the finishing touches on a campaign we created for Portland State University. The campaign is built around the idea that we all have hopes, dreams and aspirations. And we all have fear. At PSU you gain the mentors, transformative experiences and practical skills to pursue those dreams with confidence. To be bold. To even be fearless.
After interviewing countless students and alumni for this campaign, listening to them relate to what it means to “be fearless,” I found myself contemplating the idea and how it applies to design.
When I googled “fearless design,” I found things like this:
So, does fearless design need to include needles, ink, and pain?
Perhaps, but I also found this using the same search.
That makes sense to me. Jaguar, the British luxury car manufacturer known for its pretty but unreliable cars, recently undertook a brand refresh that contemporized the aesthetics of the brand at every customer touch point. The brand has been turning heads with its “Good to Be Bad” ads and emphasis on digital marketing (#GoodtoBeBad was the most used hashtag during the 2014 Super Bowl). What’s more, Jaguar sales were up 15% for the first quarter of the year.
Which led me to think about how I judge good work and what it means to be fearless in this world of branding and experience design.
Webster defines fearless as a verb meaning “not afraid and very brave.” When it comes to our industry, I think being fearless is about doing what you know is absolutely right. It’s not just about being bold, although that often has a part in the equation. Sometimes it’s about being fearlessly subtle. It’s about doing your research, exploring all the options, and thinking about the big picture, while still tending to the smallest detail.
It can be about being different, but not just for the sake of being different.
Being different has to match your audience’s needs and reflect the brand’s authentic promise. It’s about pushing the envelope while respecting constraints, celebrating aesthetics without sacrificing function.
I think that’s one of the reasons I love this business so much. It challenges me every day. I don’t know many clients actively searching for a design partner to produce safe, predictable, reticent work. I do know a fairly large number who want work that’s smart, inventive, and creative. To be an active listener and confidently lead them and their brands to a better place.
So when have we been fearless?
When we told 3M’s Car Care division that they needed to change their name to 3M Auto and eliminate half their products and brands. It was tough for us to say and tougher for them to hear, but it was confusing consumers to have so many offerings. The streamlined approach yielded clearly defined product groupings that led to compelling packaging and retail merchandising solutions. And an increase in retail floor space and sales.
Charter Construction is another example. We elevated this quiet professional services firm to a prominent and memorable brand by celebrating their true spirit. At disaster clean ups, defect repair, and the most ambitious projects, Charter comes to the rescue with unfailing dedication and unrivaled craftsmanship. It felt extremely bold when we offered up the idea, but they’ve lived up to the claim and continue to be exactly what we suggested: Heroic.
Woodland Park Zoo is another example of this type of bold guidance. We broke all conventional rules when we re-branded this Seattle institution. No animals, no silhouettes, no kid-like cartoons. Just a strong visual tribute to Woodland Park Zoo’s up-close-and-personal brand of engagement and a theme line to anchor the look: More Wonder. More Wild.
So, in the end, I decided that fearless design is less about bravery than it is about being confident enough to do the right thing. To pursue what you love in order to take a brand to a new place. And to create work that helps humans connect.