July 10, 2020

Great design is part of a great brand

By Blair Burchill

Why do we so often see the design for brands and products either being done poorly, or with little imagination beyond the functional?

We’ve all seen them and ignored them; they could be tables, cars, or logos. Many cars on the road are so bland it seems the same bored designer has a freelance career working across manufacturers to blandify their designs. How many products, from laptops to hairdryers, seem to have called up the same person on their brief?

Great Design Gets Noticed

And then there are things of such beauty that when they go by you, or you see them in a room, you pause for a second look. Not just luxury items, but a simple bicycle, a pair of sneakers, or a chair can have this effect. You probably leave the encounter wanting one and working it into your budget over the next month or year.

This is what great design can do.

Of course a product has to do what it does well, but that just gets you to the race, it doesn’t win it for you. Great design will generate more sales, and good performance will have consumers talking about it and coming back for more. There are plenty of examples, most famously the fact that the iPod outsold every other mp3 player on the market. Dualit toasters just toast bread, but because they look beautiful people not only bought them, they paid $250 (or more) for the privilege.

In Ottawa, we see a lot of great brand identities and brochures and websites, also plenty of poor ones. Some of the not-so-good are attached to businesses that are established and reputable, but could be doing so much better. We understand. When that entrepreneur started the business in his garage or her spare room it was nimble and fast and the funds to engage an Ottawa design agency weren’t available. But inevitably, the time comes to create a brand identity that will take them further.

Giving a Brand New Life

The good news is it is never too late to update a brand identity. Many great brands evolve over time to move with the company as it gets larger, more professional, or moves into different markets.

Brands like IBM, FedEx, Intel, CBC and Kit Kat are just a few examples. They make small amendments, tighten up the design, change the font a little, adjust some colours and proportions, and the difference can seem minor. But they’ll do it again in several years, and again so you can only see the real evolution across a long span.

Unless you’re aiming for a complete re-position and a new company mantra, it makes sense to take this approach with minor adjustments over time—a brand evolution. Then you don’t alienate customers, leave too much brand awareness behind, and have the expense of re-doing all your stationery, signage, vans and uniforms at once.

While you’re evolving the brand, you should think of backing it up with a marketing position, a raison d’être for the company and what it does. As the business founder, you probably know this instinctively, but if you put it on paper and make it the purpose for the company and a promise to customers you will have a clear path forward. Put it together with the brand ID, and you have a real brand position taking shape. Build brand value into an asset on the balance sheet and it will boost the value of your business.

Better Design = Business Success

Great brands can be global, national and local—in Ottawa, Farm Boy and Equispheres are two good examples of strong businesses with brand identities that should evolve over time. Good graphic design with a brand strategy will set the path.

A good product that performs will do well. But a good product that performs well and is beautifully designed (in itself and across your communications) will do better—because great design stands out no matter where it is encountered.


Blair Burchill , Strategy Director + Fractional CMO

Blair has 25+ years experience in advertising agencies from Ottawa to Brisbane to London. His experience transcends consumer brands from airlines and lottery operations in Australia, to petroleum and fast food in the UK, to government and public utilities here in Ottawa. His aim is always to find a point of difference for a brand that is based on an inherent truth, and bring it to life with campaigns in targeted media channels from traditional to digital and social. In addition, Blair spent over two years on the client side as the national director of marketing for a Cisco UC provider in Australia, working on B2B lead generation campaigns. His interests are advertising, rugby and summer.