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Only by design

Sravanthi Challapalli

`A well-developed corporate identity helps build recall and relationships.'
Indian design is still nascent, though it has picked up in the last five years.

<167,2m,1>IT'S a dazzling new sunrise, giving the company a vitality it felt and needed to reveal. The Bank of Baroda now has a resplendent new logo, a stylised B with the sun's rays worked into it, to signify it is now modern and tech-savvy.

Be it environmentally-friendly papier-mâché footwear, a hi-tech gizmo or a spanking new corporate identity, design is what is giving entities the edge over others of their ilk. In recent times, the quest for an identity all its own through ground-breaking design has been assuming more importance in a world that is crowded with several products all claiming to offer the same benefits. In India too, there is rising awareness of design's benefits. The last few years have seen many companies changing their image to suit evolving work philosophies. Catalyst, in fact, explored this from the companies' perspective in its article `Why logo?" in the issue dated June 16. This article looks at design from the designers' points of view.

Says Meeta Malhotra, Director, Ray + Keshavan Design, Bangalore, "Anyone who wants to compete effectively in the global marketplace needs design. Design is fundamentally about making things better - for consumers and for business. A well-developed corporate identity helps build recall and relationships. Compellingly packaged products tempt trial and increase market share. Look at the iPod. Why is it a cult and not another MP3 player?" she says.

"It always adds value for the customer, which in turn increases the sales or margins for the company," says Sudhir Sharma, Founder Director and Principal Designer of Pune-based Elephant Design, which is responsible for the new-look Lux soap and Wheel detergent, among other brands.

Falguni Gokhale, Director of Design Directions, also a Pune-based firm, and the co-founder of an integrated branding services firm called Purple Stream, says design contests and awards have added to awareness. Satish Gokhale of Design Directions has, in fact, just won a Business Week-Industrial Design Excellence Award for Solemates, disposable and recyclable slippers made out of paper. Fashion consciousness, not just among women but men too, has fuelled this need for better design, what with more men's designer wear, personal care products and gadgets such as mobile phones doubling up as accessories, she says.

Working together

So what do companies look for when they work with design firms? And what do design firms expect of the companies? Says Malhotra of Ray + Keshavan, "Companies turn to us when they are launching a new brand or when their existing brands are out of sync with the target audience's demands or long-term business imperatives call for changes in brand portfolios and architecture."

Rasna, whose brand identity was given a makeover by design firm Shining Emotional Surplus, felt it was necessitated by its fresh approach to business. That was the impetus for its leaf logo, which aimed at providing fresh visual appeal, projecting the health and value-for-money benefits the brand offered, says an executive who had worked on the re-branding project. It would also act as a guiding force for product portfolio management and existing and future launches, he adds.

Says Ravi Pandit, Chairman of software solutions provider KPIT Cummins which went in for re-design a little over two years ago, "We developed a sharper focus and more aggressive vision, so we needed a more scientific design to go with it." Design Directions helped the company accordingly change its identity - this not only meant a change in the logo but also an overhaul of its annual reports and other aspects that communicated to consumers and employees alike. Says Kuruvilla Markose, Chief Operating Officer of E2E SerWiz Solutions, a BPO which engaged the firm to create its logo as well as design its internal communications, "The content, agenda and objectives were all there, but getting them across to the young employees in our company was a challenge." Another client, Dhanyakumar Chordia, Managing Director of Universal Spices, says in today's world of imported goods and self-service stores, it is packaging which attracts the consumer. The company sells the Rasoi Magic brand of no-onion, no-garlic ready-to-cook masalas and says it has got "excellent response" without resorting to promotional activity. Design Directions' Gokhale expects clients to state clearly what their market offerings really mean for customers, in what way they are or can be unique. They need to take time and introspect on this, she adds.

Says Malhotra of R+K, "We do not have any expectations from the client other than expecting them to respond to our information requirements. Because we've done it so many times before, we know the issues and can anticipate the pitfalls. As external consultants, we can also stand back and look at the larger picture." For instance, when Mother Dairy engaged R+K, it was only considering repackaging its ice-creams. After studying its business, the firm found that there was no single Mother Dairy brand identity. The project ended up creating a new identity that is now used across all Mother Dairy products.

Consumer's prime

Not only for companies but for the designers themselves, it pays to keep consumer interests in focus. Says Sharma, "At Elephant Design, we are fiercely pro-consumer. Many times, when companies are cost-cutting, they sacrifice the basic needs of the customers. By being innovative, skilled and knowledgeable about newer methods, materials and processes, design firms always make manufacturing, distribution and displays more efficient and effective. All this adds to the bottomline while making products/services more appealing and usable."

Not skin-deep

Giving a company a makeover demands getting under its skin. "Unfortunately, many clients are in a hurry. Typically, time available for preparatory work is just a week or two," says Design Directions' Gokhale. Malhotra says the pre-design time depends on the scale and nature of the project. R+K has a trademarked process called Live the Brand. It spends time with all stakeholders to understand the brand. In BoB's case, it interviewed employees, customers, media and financial analysts. "When we designed the Fortis brand identity, we spent time at its hospitals in Punjab. When we design a consumer brand like Fair & Lovely, we visit consumers' homes and observe the way they interact with the brand, where they keep it, what else is on their shelves, how they use it, and such."

More than logo

Underlying all this is the passionate belief that design firms go beyond logo to influence the company's future. Says Elephant's Sharma. "Identities are meaningless by themselves. They always are representative of the company, its products and its behaviour. We build insights into what this company or its products could be. In practical terms this may mean changes in product offerings, brand offerings, value propositions or even distribution to the customer. Not all this may be done by us, but is definitely triggered by Elephant Design." He also pooh-poohs established beliefs in symbolism. "It is nonsense that blue means this and red means that, or Helvetica font means modern and Times Roman is old ... all this is jargon which non-evolved designers use to sell sub-standard work to clients. Consumers can see, and feel a good product and it is not possible to mislead them."

And re-design is not all about logo. "To truly leverage the impact of the change, every single interface must be re-designed and integrated. For instance, in both Kotak Mahindra and BoB, we have re-designed applications that range from cheque books to ATMs, Web sites to signage," says R + K's Malhotra. Mentioning a number of areas in which identity makes itself felt, Design Directions' Gokhale says designers don't necessarily do all of it but should actively participate with the company to help create the visuals for their identity.

Where does advertising stand amidst all this? Says Gokhale, "Ad agencies create something topical, tactical. Design firms shape products and packaging and that lasts longer. However, advertising and design firms must work within the brand framework for maximum benefit to the client."

Elephant's Sharma is more caustic. "As revenues involved in advertising are huge, and design is fundamental to any change, many advertising agencies offer design as a free offering. Worse, they make only cosmetic changes as they do not have the expertise. This is making people cynical about design."

Malhotra says that to communicate, every brand needs multiple channels, each of which requires specialised knowledge. She cites the instance of Bru, for which her firm created the master identity - it brings Hindustan Lever's coffee products under one brand. The brand proposition of sharing was shown in two cups, and the packs showing frothy, steaming coffee had "instant pick-me-up appeal." All this needs in-depth expertise, experience and high attention to detail, she states.

As for whether the design is working its magic, there are a few measures: Do people recall the logo? Are they talking about it with family and friends? What have sales been like since it was launched? While KPIT Cummins' Chairman, Ravi Pandit, says he cannot attribute it all to the design, he acknowledges it had its role to play in the company's "substantial growth."

However, Indian design is still nascent, though it has picked up greatly in the last five years as consumer aspirations evolve. In a growing trend, there is a lot of work coming from abroad, too. Elephant Design has projects in Indonesia, Europe and China. R+ K is designing for Dumex, a Danish multinational, in China and Malaysia and has worked with TGI group in South Africa. R + K has grown at a steady clip of 30-35 per cent every year and is unable to accept many projects that come its way, says Malhotra. While estimates of market size are hard to come by, Elephant's Sharma says these are exciting times for design firms in the country. There is a need for many more design firms. Gokhale of Design Directions says the Indian market is throwing up enormous challenges. "Everyone is trying to grab the mind space of the consumer and design is the most distinctive way of doing this." That should make for interesting times ahead.

Imaging Balakrishnan K

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