Last week it was announced that gov.uk — the government’s new digital presence — was the winner of the Design Museum’s Design of the Year award, making it the first website to claim the prize.
Gov.uk (designed by the government digital service) aims to combine all the UK government’s websites into a single entity, the idea being to save public money and make vital services simpler to use.
A lot has been made of gov.uk’s design — its stark functionality, and the simplicity of the visual language. It all adds up to a product that is very, very fit for purpose. It could be said that great design feels inevitable, but this goes one step further. The experience of using gov.uk leaves you with no opinion on the site whatsoever, only the information you were looking for. It’s moved beyond inevitable, and become invisible.
This success shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, we have form when it comes to big, civic design initiatives: the London Underground map and our road signage systems being the two obvious examples. No lost tourist in a car full of screaming children has ever stopped to appreciate the reassuringly clear hierarchy of our motorway signs when looking for their hotel; they just get where they need to go. The design itself has become invisible. Gov.uk is merely the latest in a long line of Great British design projects (in fact, Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert’s Transport typeface has been re-worked and used by the government digital service).
This history of ‘getting it right’ is the best part of the whole affair. It speaks volumes about our nation, our abilities and our sensibilities. Successes like these do wonders for our soft power, and help create ‘Brand Britain’. This particular win goes further than anything before it, as there now exists a visual language, tone of voice and set of guiding principlesfor the Government of the United Kingdom. Gov.uk is so much more than a functional website: it’s defined the visual identity of an entire country, and is defining how a government interacts with its citizens (it just doesn’t know it yet).
Where we go from here is really exciting. The Government Digital Service have created something with the potential to define and improve the experience of everything from voting in a local election to receiving treatment from the NHS, and they’ve done it in an open and collaborativeway. Gov.uk as a site is great, but what it’s doing beneath the surface is what’s truly game changing.
Tom Petty is a designer specialising in experience and interaction at Wolff Olins London. You can follow him on twitter @tp
Yesterday morning, I was met with a rather depressing message during my reading routine. “On July 1st, 2013, we will retire Google Reader.” Behind the decision, apparently, is Google Reader’s steady decline in users and Google’s bigger aspiration to focus on perfecting fewer products as a company.
The news caused momentary panic, but it soon changed to excitement — as I started looking for alternatives, I realized there are actually a number of new and perhaps more desirable ways for me to interact with digital content. (I’m not saying that I wont miss the stripped back minimalist design of Google Reader…I’m just pleasantly surprised by its soon-to-be replacements.)
Whilst I’m ready to embrace the alternatives, others aren’t responding so well, already there’s a movement against the decision to kill this product. Within one day, there’s a petition to keep Reader running signed by over 100,000 people. Why are we all so afraid of change? I find it even more interesting to see a separate motion was even put to the White House asking Barack Obama to ask the company to rethink its decision to shut down this popular product.
I can imagine from Google’s perspective, there’s no need to give more attention to updates and design when there are so many alternatives, which specialize only in that field. The last update to Google Reader came in 2011, testament to their decreasing focus on RSS. Despite the variety of online debates that continue to form, Google’s grounds are good: so many popular competitors in RSS are doing it better. Pulse, for example, a reader endorsed by the late Steve Jobs, boasts a user database of more than 20 million (adding more than a million every month).
So what’s my soon-to-be replacement? I think my favorite so far, is feedly —within minutes of using it for the first time this morning, I can already see the benefits over Google Reader. A little cog on the top right allows me to view content in a variety of ways, the layout and typography brings the experience back to the user. You feel like you’re on an actual blog again and as such the content is much easier to digest.
We’re looking for two crazy, innovative, digital savvy Design interns. You will work with our team in San Fran.
There are no “junior” designers at Wolff Olins. Even our interns require a certain instinct and raw skill from the start. The work we aim to deliver is bold, ambitious and different. The primary role for the designer is to explore. This is the creative position freest from other responsibilities that come with longer tenure or seniority at Wolff Olins. Designers should see this as an opportunity to learn and grow through collaboration and exposure to others on their teams.
We’re looking for someone who has:
You must have strong graphic design and typography skills and experience in Adobe Creative Suite. Experience in After Effects is a huge PLUS
You’ll get to:
Experiment and contribute to design solutions for a number of different clients.
We’re looking for someone who is:
Really, really, creative!
Curious about the world and passionate about brands
Energetic and enthusiastic
Collaborative and fun
Strong skills in motion (animation, 3D, film/editing) and/or digital prototyping a PLUS
There’s now a widespread belief that talking about brand in the conventional sense slows everything down, and that all those brand strategies, brand models, brand onions and brand guidelines just get in the way.
And we’re finding in our work with clients that the old ‘positioning + visual identity’ formula no longer helps – it doesn’t answer the most pressing questions of the CEO and CMO. If you’re trying to kick-start growth, or digitize your business, or reach the next generation of customers (and talent), why waste time exploring your positioning, or tweaking your logo?
Increasingly, we’re finding that it’s better to think of brand not as cause, but as effect. Obsessing about your brand won’t somehow cause growth to happen. But doing the right things will create growth, and a strong brand will follow as the effect.
Let’s take Airbnb as an example of a brand that’s grown out of doing the right things. Committed to changing the way people travel, Airbnb offers an alternative to traditional accommodations. As a result, a unique experience based on active participation between travellers and hosts comes to life – and adapts accordingly. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Airbnb was able to quickly adapt its platform for good, waiving all of their fees on properties near hurricane-affected areas and urging their renters to temporarily reduce or waive their charges too. A long-time opponent of the service, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg announced that he supported the effort.
In this case, Airbnb’s connection to its community, and its nimbleness and willingness to experiment in public, show that a strong brand isn’t just something in your CMO’s head. It’s something in the minds of your consumers, and all the other people your organization touches. It’s theirs, not yours. It is the effect of what you do, not the cause.
So, what should you do?
For another clue, it’s worth looking at what may be the most important brand news of the past year, even though it isn’t in a conventional sense a brand – Microsoft’s new user interface.
It’s a user interface, but more than that, it’s also a design philosophy (Bauhaus inspired, in favor of purity, against pastiching stuff from the analogue world, as Apple often does).
And more than that, it’s a whole approach to interaction (a different, much more liberated, more enjoyable way for people to experience Microsoft).
Imagine if all big brands thought this way – thought of themselves as, literally or metaphorically, a user interface. Or even better, a user interplay, where ‘user’ doesn’t just mean consumer, but also colleague, neighbor, investor, supplier, partner. We don’t mean they should have a good user interface (of course they should), but they should be a good user interface.
If we think this way, and think about what we do as effect and not cause, we must do three things. And all three are about design.
1) Abolish positioning. Think purpose.
Don’t try to manufacture a place in the world. Don’t obsess about the competition and differentiating from them. Instead, as with all good design, start with the question ‘why?’. Why do we exist? Why would anybody need us? Why is what we do useful? Why would people pay (in time or money or whatever) for it? Why is it valuable (in all the senses of that word)? In other words, define a sense of purpose – the difference you want to make, socially and commercially.
Think, for example, how powerful GE’s sense of purpose – imagination at work – has been in creating growth. Or how Google’s greatest inventions have come from its commitment and encouragement of experimental behavior among its employees. The high-growth businesses of the future will all be, at heart, purposeful. And purpose is the source of value-creativity.
2) Forget identity. Think experience.
Don’t start with name, logo, tagline, sonic identity, or any of these things. Instead, design whole experiences for people – joined-up experiences across all the things you do. Think user interface, in the biggest sense: not the skin around the outside of your organization, but the layer where you interplay with people.
Think Microsoft. Or a really great retailer like John Lewis, consistently the UK’s favorite. Or a fast-growing start-up like India’s IndiGo airline. All understand that growth comes from experiences that are, simply, useful. And experiences aren’t things you create and then transmit to people – they’re things people shape for themselves.
Thinking ‘experience, not identity’ means looking at your organization from the outside in, not the inside out, and seeing people as creators, not consumers.
3) Stop controlling. Think changing.
Don’t try to maintain a status quo, don’t police your brand. Instead, keep experimenting, keep connecting up with new people and new organizations. Let things grow from the roots: revolutions rarely start from the top.
Don’t try to pin down the future: prototype it. Replace ownership with sharing, and control with creativity. Look at brands like Airbnb and Zopa, the world’s first peer-to-peer money lending service, to consider how you can connect your customers directly to each other and have them create mutual value. Tomorrow’s high-growth businesses will be constantly experimental and completely boundaryless.
And when you get all this right, the effect is a (contemporary) brand.
This is increasingly how we think and work at Wolff OIins. It’s essential if we’re to do genuinely game-changing work. But it’s a million miles from the corporate identity design world we sprang from.
Yet at our heart – more important than ever – is the spirit of design. All great design grows out of a purpose. All great design makes an experience that goes beyond mere product. And today, great design can’t be static: it’s evolving, experimenting, perpetually in beta. Which makes it more exciting than ever to be in the new world of brand.
Taiwanese born Po-Chih Lai has crafted a very nice add-on milk frother that fits with the original moka pot. The Milk Brother is a great example of how to innovate with respect for the original product, which still serves up great no fuss coffee.
Also check out Po-Chih Lai’s other projects, I love his sensibility and thoughtfulness.
This is an interesting one to watch. The concept has been out for a while but seems like it’s finally ready for market. I am not sure we need it, but who cares, let’s see what kind of impact this will have on the world.
Even though it still looks a bit Star Trek-y, wearing this device on your face, it’s great to see Google embracing design, in both graphic, online and product.
With the help of the local community’s kids, the street art collective Boamistura transformed dark narrow spaces in one of Sao Paolos favelas into colorfull little treasures. They used the always striking and popular perspective trick (anamorphosis) to write positive messages on the walls. Above, “doçura” means sweetness in Portuguese.
We have all fought our way to work in a jungle of rain and umbrellas, trying not to poke an eye out on others, or our selves. This concept, an umbrella that could use air to protect users from the rain, is not available (yet) but would be very welcome in the world of “rain protection.” Maybe it could even be solar powered so the battery is charged before the rain comes.
This is the first Design Post, a new Wolff Olins blog series by designer James Kape
Do you need a formal education to become a practicing designer? Ten years ago, a strong majority might have disputed the very question! However, today impressive advancements in technology have empowered a growing online community which believe it’s very possible to learn on your own. They feel that design education is fundamentally broken, that you can’t teach to the number of disciplines within graphic design. So why pay thousands of dollars to receive a degree, which will consequently place you in debt without guaranteed job placement?
Last Wednesday,at an event sponsored by AIGA/NY and organized by Designer’s Debate Club,Alice Twemlow, Matteo Bologna, Abbott Miller argued for the motion Formal design education is necessary for practicing designers. Whilst Able Parris, Peter Vidani, Kate Proulx argued against the motion. On each panel it was interesting to see a mix of designers with and without formal education. However I felt the discussions which followed were heavily skewed against one design vocation rather than the broader profession. This was probably due to a panel of print and brand designers verse a panel of web designers. Whilst each did their best to stay on topic, I think the motion they were really discussing was “Formal design education is necessary for practicing web designers.”
Had that been the actual debate question, then some very intriguing points were made against the need for formal education. Perhaps some of the most unchallenged, “digital media in particular is too young for there to be any experts” and “It’s not a matter of being educated or not; there are other ways to learn those things”. Whilst this may be true, how do you identify exactly what those things are in order to become proficient?
With a formal design education behind me, I felt it very hard to side with the idea that school isn’t necessary. Perhaps best captured by a member of the audience for the motion during the closing statements. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” and that’s just it, you can complete numerous tutorials online to learn how to use the tools. But learning how to think, use a grid, and the right typeface at the right time isn’t something you just pick up. It takes time, trial and error.
If all web designers had a formal design education perhaps the web would be a more functional and considered place. I think design education is an important step in becoming a designer. The question now is does education need to adapt more quickly to design? And how can it be more relevant within its disciplines to help those starting out to be more successful and specialized in the long run.
London-based designer Tomi Lahdesmaki just launched Forage Press, a new collaborative publication for artists, designers and illustrators to contribute music “articles,” (visual interpretations), born from their favorite music inspirations. Tomi is a Finland-born designer currently working with Method London (via San Francisco). We chatted this week to learn more about the new project.
LA: How would you describe Forage Press?
Tomi: Forage Press is both an online and offline publication and collaborative platform. It celebrates the union between audio and visual creativity through original, visual-based articles that are composed by creatives across the globe.
How did you come up with the idea?
Mainly the idea was born from my own desire to create the type of content that Forage Press will feature. I am absolutely crazy about music, and often find myself inspired to create visuals based on my favorite bands or artists. I wanted to open up the idea to others instead of just creating them on my own. I’ve found from my professional experience that much of the creative community is equally inspired by and passionate about music. So the idea was born to create a simple (and free) brief asking creatives of all mediums to interpret a musical inspiration through a series of original images. With very few rules to limit the results, the visual articles can end up as literal or as abstract as they want.
I also love the experience of buying albums. Listening to the music while browsing the images and package design truly heightens the whole experience for me. I wanted the articles of Forage Press to feel like one of those experiences – you enter a space a for a moment and listen to the music, immersing yourself into that moment and enjoying the visual article.
There are a few things out there based on a similar idea (joining visual and musical creatives)—countless typographic-lyrics blogs, and DesignersMX. How is Forage Press different, and can you see it being used for other purposes?
The main differentiator is the fact that the images and articles are all original content created specifically for this publication. And even though the contributors have a lot of freedom when creating their articles, there is a clear theme that binds our content and separates Forage Press from other design journals and blogs – the subject matter. It’s really important that at the end of the day, each visual article still presents and explores some form of music, whether it be a band, song, genre, era, etc..
As for being used for other purposes, I certainly have a lot of ideas for the future and how I would love to see Forage Press expand. But I’m also trying to not implement those ideas just yet because I really want to see how the publication moves organically – what kind of new relationships form from this and what ideas others may bring to the table. Even when I began this project, I had a lot of additional ideas, but I forced myself to concentrate on just the key features. That goes for any product launch – you can’t solve everything at once, and some of the most wonderful ideas come from the users and viewers.
Who do you hope will get involved in this project?
At the moment I am loving the creative network that is growing from just being in contact with our contributors. In the future I would love to collaborate with other independent companies, and have musicians create original content with the visual contributors.
Do you know what synesthesia is? I’m obsessed with it. Forage Press is kind of like that. Actually, it’s not really. But that would be an interesting angle. Especially if some of the contributors were synesthetes themselves. This is not really a question…
Yes I do, and I think this is an element of Forage Press. There is a reason visual and audio creativity have always had such a strong bond, inspiring each other. There is something truly wonderful and uplifting about enjoying experimental creativity that touches those senses, they are very much linked.
Last week Ben Pieratt, designer and creator of Svpply, put up for sale a brand called Hessian. On his blog, Pieratt explained that he is “selling a brand without a product.” And that Hessian is a “designed product package” to be bought in its entirety – name, website, and all. Having identified a niche, Pieratt is in the process of creating a digital marketplace for other designers to do the same. He hopes to help “[liberate] the content that lays dormant in the minds of the creative industry.” Hessian goes for $18,000.
The project has gotten a lot of attention and raised mixed feelings in the branding and design community. On one hand, some are praising his genius. Pieratt has identified a surplus: good design ideas. He is then proposing a solution: a marketplace to sell those ideas. But is there a market need?
Clients have been looking for a design button for years. This efficiently solves the problem of having to hire a design firm or designer(s), getting them to the end product faster. And in many ways, the world has been moving in this direction. What does this say about the future of branding?
Pieratt is not the first to think of selling creative work as a commodity. You can buy websites and logos as pre-made, pre-fabricated finished goods. The value of these goods serve a specific segment of the market. Though the quality and customization may not meet your needs, the acquisition will be almost instant and cheap.
Modern prefabricated homes break this model and have continued to improve. Not the most affordable housing option, but more cost-effective and efficient than hiring an architect to start from scratch.
With Hessian, Pieratt might be operating on the same model as premium pre-fab homes. In both instances, the product is of higher quality than any other pre-made design available, but it will not be as tailored to the client as custom, nor will it be appropriate beyond a certain scale.
With Hessian, what Pieratt has done is paint a picture. He has created the components of an identity system, but it is not a brand. As our follower @paulmarkbailey said on Twitter, brand is a process. There is often an early stage when painting a picture of a brand’s potential look and feel is necessary. But the work almost always evolves and improves beyond that. A brand is more than a visual identity, a product, an ad campaign. A brand is the sum of many moving parts. Design has always been about finding solutions to problems. So, having an answer to an unasked problem (like Hessian), and creating a marketplace to shop for an answer, assumes that we know what the shopper is looking for and that the shopper knows what they are looking for.
A Hypothetical But what if what was created was a complete brand. Complete with an established brand personality, a visual identity system, a product, and everything essential to creating a complete brand package. Can a business really step into a brand, like someone taking on another person’s identity—personality and appearance?* In a way, this is an existing (legally ambiguous) business model. When completely lacking a brand, a company may steal or mimic one. Like the fake Apple stores in China and imitation products we see on shelves, it is a common formula. Though most likely breaking some copyright laws, these products take on the personality and appearance of another brand and offer a lower price.
The copied brands in those instances are proven successes, so to sell a completely new brand as a product would be a different challenge. Building a complete, substantial brand system would likely take as much time without a client as with one. And so it is the collaboration with the client that results in the most successful brands. Likewise, some of the most valuable work continues after the identity is delivered, because a brand needs to be alive, continually growing and adapting.
Pre-packaged brands may have a market, at certain scales and for those with the right resources. But a facsimile will never be the same as an original. And off-the-shelf will never be the same as custom. But as innovation continues to make the world more efficient, and so many industries continue to go the way of cell animation, travel agents, and print, it raises a big question for the branding community: How can we become more efficient without losing our value?
Let’s create and evolve with our clients. Let’s create tools that put ownership in their hands—and without designing ourselves out of our own jobs. Let’s create efficiencies without sacrificing effectiveness.
Marian Chiao is a senior designer at Wolff Olins San Francisco.