Archive for the ‘ Design Thinking ’ Category

The local brand is dead. Long live the local brand.

by Criney Insalata

During my business travels abroad particularly in Eastern Europe, I always look out for local brands.

Their charm and chintzy qualities allow me a moment to escape the realities of business travel – to experience a little bit of the localness that is otherwise missing from the samey hotels I stay at.

The charm of these local brands cannot be easily replicated. They have forged intimate relationships over the years with local consumers that global brands can only envy.

We all have stories about brands from our childhood. I still remember the poems I read on the back pack of my local favorite crisp brand, Willards, about Zuggy the Monster. I would make-up songs about Zuggy and incessantly pester my mother to buy me this brand of crisps until l could buy it with my own pocket money.

Willards Thingz

Unfortunately, years later, this crisp brand died a slow and agonising death. A death brought on by the shinier and exciting complete-with-frills Pepsi brand.

Like many of my generation, I was utterly seduced by the new brand, such that my once favorite, was no longer good enough.

I watched the brand wilt and collect dust on supermarkets shelves until I stopped noticing altogether. I had moved on. My brand hadn’t. The brutal truth about it is, it wasn’t missed.

But, however the strength, more precisely, the money behind global brands, going local and trying to achieve the same level of intimacy as local brands smacks of disingenuouity. Lets look at Starbucks latest initiative of personalizing the brand experience by calling customers by their first names. My local Starbucks in Brixton has christened me Karen, Creane, Crying, Cringey… when all I want is my regular decaf latte.

Courtesy of Starbucks®

Quite frankly, more than having a fuzzy feeling towards Starbucks, I now actively avoid going there. Yet, for all the endearing qualities of local brands, the reality is they are struggling to defend their home turfs from these sleeker international brands.

Of course, one cannot discount their deep pockets and years of careful brand management. It has to be said that there are also a whole variety of other factors that contribute to the weakness of local brands. For example, the rising Chinese middle classes, the Russian nouveau riche prefer Western/Global brands to local ones, as an indication of their social status. This is due in part, to the Communism legacy that excluded quality or design, as a meaningful measuring criterion for products.

Shaking off this perception of ‘poor quality’ image is particularly hurtful in non-food categories and adds to the woes of local brands.

In addition, consumers have changed, they are now more demanding, super-connected, well-travelled and spoilt for choice.

But some local brands have relied so much on the tried and tested approaches, such that the original brand identity that may have been inspired by the Founder’s wife, has remained exactly the same since inception. Ordinarily, this is the stuff that makes up brand heritage, but in this instance, it signifies staticness, the past and a brand is that is out of touch.

So what can be done to stop what looks like an inevitable journey towards the dreaded confines of childhood memories, for local brands?

Obviously doing nothing in the surge of international brands is not an option. And, simply doing more of the same is not an effective strategy.

But there are a few things local brand owners could do to reverse their fortunes:

  1. Rebrand and re-energise the brand identity, bringing the brand identity to the same standard as international brands.
  2. Innovate – Introduce value-added offer on an existing brand or create new sub-brands with international tonality.
  3. Proactively engage consumers. Local brands can use all the tools available to them to fuel conversations with consumers through social media or other traditional means.
  4. Consider penetrating foreign markets – Use the Diaspora as potential brand ambassadors, this worked for Efes a Turkish brand now slowly penetrating the UK market.
  5. Create ‘iconess‘ that celebrates local culture.
  6. Emphasise quality and assert authenticity.
  7. Never stagnate and keep evolving the brand story and the offer.

A combination of the above, plus utilizing local knowledge, will put local brands in a strong position against the international brands.



The Edison’s Cradle?

Many of us have seen or even own what is called the Newton’s Cradle. Known also as the “Executive Ball Clicker”, and named after Sir Isaac Newton, the device was originally built by actor Simon Prebble to demonstrate the conservation of momentum and energy via a series of swinging spheres. When one on the end is lifted and released, the resulting force travels through the line and pushes the last one upward.

Newton's Cradle


In creating his senior thesis exhibition, japanese art student Yasutoki Kariya got inspired by this mechanism, and realized “Asobi“. Meaning “play”, the installation is made by 11 computer-programmed incandescent light bulbs hung from wires.

However, the bulbs would immediately crash when trying to replicate the movement of the Newton’s spheres, that’s why this concept is actually a play on the Newton’s Cradle and doesn’t not actually function like one: the bulbs on both ends don’t actually hit the middle bulbs to transfer energy like the Newton’s Cradle does. In fact, the moving bulbs don’t touch at all, but they are hitting two black box with a button that engages a micro-controller (most likely an arduino) which eventually triggers the light show.

The Asobi project is participating at the 2012 Mitsubishi Junior Designer Award. Other nominees can be found here.

Lumen’s design runs to Space

Here in Lumen, we all agree that the restyling of Velkopopovicky Kozel is one of our best projects. Kozel is the most successful Czech beer sold abroad, and you could easily find it in bars of Eastern Europe, or even in some pubs in the UK.

According to the Euromonitor International research agency, in 2011 Kozel has been the N° 1 beer in the world in term of market growth and sales. But conquering the world wasn’t enough, they also wanted to conquer the space.

Kozel then instructed Aleksandr ‘russos’ Popov and Den ‘netwind’ Efremov, two amateur russian explorers with the hobby of launching weather ballons in the upper atmosphere, to accomplish the mission: send the Kozel beer into space – or more likely, to the stratosphere. To make this unusual experiment more interesting, it has been arranged a competition between the light and the dark versions of the beer: which one would reach the highest altitude?

Of course the mission didn’t have only an experimental purpose, but also a promotional one: the launch has been supported by a campaign for the Russian market both on a dedicated website and the social media. With the promise of a year-long beer supply, users were asked to vote which type of beer would reach the highest height – however, voting wasn’t enough: to get eligible to win the prize, every user had to “bet themselves”: in case their beer bet is winning, they have to perform something; the more this performance is considered interesting/ridiculous, the more votes by other users/friends it can get; the more votes it gets, the higher the chances of winning the final prize are. A simple ‘social mechanism’, but very effective for the viral spread of the news.

Eventually, the winner of the race has been the dark beer, which reached the respectable height of 21,750 m., while the light beer stopped at 20,180 m.

Honestly speaking, when we designed Kozel bottles and cans, we expected to see them on the pub’s desks, or houses’ tables, but we would have never imagined to see our favourite goat reach even the stratosphere.

You can also watch the spectacular full video of the mission here on YouTube, or -if you know Russian- you can read Popov’s post on his Livejournal with pictures of the making-of.

So long, guys!

Ecodesign & Sustainability @ Milan Design Week 2012

The Milan Design Week just ended, and -as usual- registered high numbers:

  • 2,700 exhibitors
  • 330,000+ registered visitors
  • 64.5% of the total attendees were from outside Italy
  • 5,725 accredited journalists

However, this data only refer to the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, in Rho Fiera Milano, and were not considered all the initiatives which took place in the meantime all over Milan during the past week (the Fuorisalone). Confirming the ever-increasing trend of the last couple of years, the green design has been one of the leit-motiv of the exhibition. Due to the ongoing economical crysis and the constant needings to obtain more functionality in smaller spaces, a minimalistic design, together with the use of poor materials (as wood), characterized some of the most innovative projects: Scavolini presented the Social Kitchen designed by fashion brand Diesel, Domitalia showed it’s Eco-L chair made of ash wood instead of the usual plastic, IKEA presented it’s PS 2012 collection with new models of fornitures focused on sustainability, while Panasonic unveiled its stunning solar panel arrays Photosynthesis Solar Ecosystem designed by architect Akihisa Hirata, and Raúl Laurí’s decafé, a completely biodegradable table lamp made of coffee grounds, became the symbol of this year’s Design Week.

decafé lamp by Raúl Laurí

The decafé table lamp by Raúl Laurí

Sustainability has definitely been one of the trends of 2012 Design Week and, seems like a coincidence, during this very week we eventually received the assessment report by AzzeroCO2 (a society which helps its clients compensating their CO2 emissions by optimisating their resources and funding reforestation initiatives) stating that our agency successfully compensated its 2011 nocive emissions (about 48 tons of CO2eq), by acquiring credits for a reforestation project near the city of Pavia. I take this occasion to confirm that we’re still taking this committment very seriously and we planned to progressively reduce our CO2eq emissions in the following years, helping -and being helped by- our trusted clients to work in this direction.

AzzeroCO2 assessment

Certificate of CO2eq compensation (in Italian)

Google’s April Fools’ prank brings back the glorious 8-bit graphic

8-bit graphic has been an integrated part of the gaming childhood of many of us, especially those who grew up playing with SEGA or Nintendo. We couldn’t really avoid to mention this.

Everything actually started last friday, when Google posted a video introducing a new type of cartridge (with the adventure videogame GoogleMaps) for the NES system. This was purposely made as funny teaser for the April Fools’ prank Google was preparing for the users: a “Quest mode” in its Maps service, an entire world developed in 8-bit graphic with famous landmarks to explore and -no joking- monsters to discover all around the world.

And there’s quite a lot to discover. Here’s a map of the City of London, with some of its famous landmarks (the ‘A’ pin is the location of our office in High Holborn): Buckingham Palace, the Big Ben, Trafalgar Square with the Nelson statue, etc.

London map in 8 bit

But 8 bit graphics isn’t limited to maps: in Street View mode it makes buildings more ‘cartoonish’, like the Eiffel tower in Paris you can see here:

Eiffel Tower in 8 bit graphic

This 8-bit world is literally full of surprises, as well as UFOs and dragons..

It’s not the first time Google is putting such a big effort in April Fools’ pranks: last year they introduced Gmail Motion, a way to compose emails using ‘simple’ gestures, with a pretty semi-serious video. This time, however, they went for a more visual, but still funny, approach which went immediately über-popular once it eventually appeared on Reddit.

It’s not said whether this quest map will stay or will be removed in the next days. Many users are already claming to keep it as their default maps browser, since the landmarks and the monsters to discover are many. If you are lazy, you can check here the list of the most interesting objects.. otherwise, good luck hunting, Dragon Warrior!

Does each brand need a story to be social?

There was much of a hype around the announcement of Facebook’s new brand pages at the end of the last month. The introduction of the Timeline layout required companies to start a new, more visually inviting, approach towards their Facebook audience, with the offer of ‘a richer creative canvas for brands’.

Potentially, every brand can recreate with images its own story. One of the most visually inspiring is doubtlessly the official Fan Page of the United States Navy, with its collection of paintings and photographies which retrace the navy history in the past 2 centuries.

US Navy timeline

Fanta is instead brilliantly using its timeline with a different visual approach: instead of showing the brand history, the news feeds are used to make photo mosaics, giving a nearly spectacular composite effect (much more enjoyable if you have bigger screens).

Fanta timeline

With this new layout, it has been experienced a huge drop in traffic towards tabs and apps besides the brand’s wall (the Timeline), which before were used as the real instrument for the users retention: now they’re highlighted on a strip below the cover photo, making them harder to find and less inviting than the previous sidebar menu. Introducing the Timeline, Facebook went for a deep cleanse of the brand page from blatant marketing and promotions, forcing a more social experience from brands through policy and retention. Carefully looking in the Brand Page’s FAQ, about the Cover Photo, appear more strict guidelines:

Cover images must be at least 399 pixels wide and may not contain:

  • Price or purchase information, such as “40% off” or “Download it at our website”
  • Contact information, such as web address, email, mailing address or other information intended for your Page’s About section
  • References to user interface elements such as Like or Share, or any other Facebook site features
  • Calls to action, such as “Get it now” or “Tell your friends”

Translated, it means that you cannot use this area of the page to promote your products, invite people to Like or Share, tell people how to find you offline or online or otherwise contact you. So, no more default Welcome Tabs and no more ‘Like our page to get a 2% discount offer!’ claims.

Design and creativity now became the real drivers for communications. In particular, smaller companies and poorly known brands, whose history can’t evenly compete with estabilished brands or organizations such as Coca Cola or the U.S. Navy, can now focus on a more catching visual impact to leverage their relation with fans: a page with an effective and catching Cover Photo is more likely to intrigue and allure users; if the visual experience continues towards all the timeline (see the examples above), users are more willing to spend time reading and checking the page – therefore increasing the chances that marketing messages and ongoing promo initiatives will be perceived. But that might be not enough to keep users on the page.

Beside the pros, some contros still require a bit more of attention by the companies. A question: who will actually “read” the story published onto the Timeline? The Cover Photo, together with the possibility to pin a post on top of the others, pushes down the rest of the content, moving the posts down faster – quite a bad situation if fans are willing, or asked, to post on the page Wall. There might also be the risk of an ‘engagement loss’, in which interactions by the user slide away from the other users’ reach.

Exactly because of this, Joshua Teixeira and Victor Piñeiro, in their article on Co.Create, pointed out that ‘without a strong value-add and pull strategy from the brand, fans are less likely willing to venture into the brand page’. No matter how creative and nice your Cover Photo will be, only adding also authentic value to the fan base through social posts is possible to engage users and enhance their participation into the page.

Keep it in mind, Brands 😉

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