Question of the Week
Embracing Slow Design: Building Lasting Brand Equity in a Fast-Paced World
Can slow design principles offer a strategic antidote to today's fast-paced branding frenzy?
07 February 2024
The Coca-Cola Company's design lead, Rebecca McCowan, recently argued that instead of doing rebrand after rebrand and continuing to reinvent, more brands should look to do it once and do it well.
There are many challenges in frequently starting from scratch in design efforts, particularly with Coca-Cola's annual Christmas campaigns. She expressed concern about the industry's tendency to reinvent campaigns each year, emphasising the importance of a more strategic and long-term approach. The idea was to build brands gradually, retaining consistency and minimising the need for constant reinvention.
By taking the slow design route, marketers and brands can foster a more intentional approach to crafting messages and reaching audiences. This idea isn't exactly novel, but its resonance seems sharper now than ever.
Just look at Cadbury. In collaboration with VCCP London, Cadbury recently introduced an all-encompassing campaign honouring the chocolate company's bicentennial and its enduring connection with the British public. And although it's gone through various redesigns over the years, the brand still looks and feels like Cadbury.
Slow design offers a roadmap for brands to build lasting connections with audiences by prioritising quality, authenticity, and consistency over short-term trends and quick fixes. Here's what some of the industries top designers had to say.
Andy Cooke, creative director & head of design, BBH
It’s so tempting to try to constantly keep up with the Joneses, especially with your brand identity. The immediacy of ‘now’ culture in today’s society makes us feel like we’re out of touch, incomplete or plain incorrect if we’re not ahead of the now. That’s especially true for creative teams and designers. We’re told to lean into the zeitgeist and create work that’s relevant for today, tomorrow and for audiences that aren’t old enough to make their own money yet.
When we couple that pressure to move the needle on culture with the visual fatigue we all feel with the brands we’re looking at, for hours, every single day — our work can quickly start to feel old or out of touch...incorrect. Remember, audiences spend most of their time looking at other billboards. Other products. On other websites. And interacting with different brands. They don’t suffer from the same sense of fatigue. So trust yourself and the brand’s kit of parts you’re working with and what they’ve been created to stand for. Trust that over time, through a delicate combination of order and chaos (via design and communications), said brand will resonate with said audience.
Mario Kerkstra, creative design director, AMV BBDO
In today’s fast-paced world where brands redo their brand identities every few years to adapt to the latest design trends and opinions, some have applied ‘slow design’ principles that have stood the test of time. Instead of a complete overhaul every couple of years they’ve stayed true to their core design philosophy and as a result have become some of the most successful brands that people truly connect with. A good example of this is IBM. Their unique logo, which has stayed unchanged since it was originally designed by Paul Rand in 1972, sits at the heart of their brand identity. It remains one of the most recognisable and iconic logos in the world to this day.
Add to that the strategic foundations IBM’s design philosophy was built on, in combination with a seemingly endless stream of brilliant comms work over the past few decades, and IBM’s lasting influence on brand identity design becomes apparent. But it doesn’t just stop there. At IBM their mantra of ‘good design’ filters down throughout everything they do. It permeates every facet of the IBM organisation, and this is what makes them one of my personal favourites. IBM has shown us what ‘slow design’ can do for a brand’s long-term success. There seems to be a clear understanding at IBM that good things take time. IBM’s CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr, who at the time hired Paul Rand to redesign their brand identity, summed it up best when he said that: “good design is good business”. I think he might have had a point.
Camille Yin, head of Brand Design, Accenture Song
In a world that seems to sprint forward at a crazy speed, the concept of "slow" might initially appear commercially unsound. The answer might be to rebrand "slow." Slow design isn't about lethargy; it's about intentionality, quality, and sustainability.
Advocating for taking the time to understand problems deeply and crafting solutions with care and purpose, slow design is a departure from the culture of rapid production and quick fixes that often sacrifice meaning and quality for efficiency's sake. It’s about producing less waste for better results.
Because at the end of the day, corporations aren't chasing speed; they're after efficiency and relevancy. By giving ourselves the space to think, explore, and innovate, we can break free from the homogeneity of regurgitated ideas and create truly unique and impactful work.
For me, slow design and brand thinking are strongly intertwined. Slow design involves understanding your brand deeply and making intentional choices that contribute to its story and identity.
In a world where brands are judged not only on their products but also on their values and impact, slow design offers a roadmap for building meaningful connections with customers. By eschewing the pressure to constantly innovate for the sake of innovation, brands can focus on what truly matters: creating products and experiences that resonate with their audience on a deeper level.
Slow design isn't about standing still; it's about moving forward with purpose.
For brands looking to embrace the principles of slow design, the journey can seem daunting. But slow design isn't about lethargy; it's about making intentional choices that align with your brand's story and resonate with your audience.
Experimentation is important, but it must be done with purpose and intention. Before jumping on the latest trend, ask yourself: Does this add to our brand's story? Will it resonate with our audience? Is it consistent with our values and identity? If the answer is yes, then by all means, explore and innovate. But if not, don't be afraid to stay true to your brand's roots and resist the temptation to chase after fleeting trends.
Consistency isn’t just about visual aesthetics; it's about embodying your brand's mindset, behaviors, and attitude in everything you do. By staying true to who you are as a brand and what you stand for, you'll build a loyal following that values authenticity and consistency above all else.
Remember that good brands last longer than humans, so don’t let individual endeavors jeopardize your brand.
One brand that exemplifies successful implementation of slow design principles is Patagonia.
Patagonia's commitment to sustainability, quality, and social responsibility has remained steadfast over the years. Their products and messaging reflect a deep understanding of their audience and a dedication to making a positive impact, showcasing the power of slow design in building lasting brand equity.
For companies looking to quantify the impact of slow design on brand equity, the metrics may not always be immediately apparent. Unlike traditional ROI metrics, which focus on short-term gains, the benefits of slow design are often long-term and intangible.
That being said, several key indicators can help companies assess the impact of slow design on their brand equity. These include customer loyalty, brand recognition, and cultural impact.
Ben Edwards, integrated head of design, Mullen Lowe
The justification for slow design only comes when you can illustrate it generates a better creative output. It's about connecting value to the process rather than simply prioritising speed and efficiency in our fast-paced, technology-driven world.
After which ‘making time’ for it will become a more of a priority. Many of the projects I have been a part of that are successful creatively have always had play-time or a slower approach to finding the solution – the answer/direction becomes clear and in my experience the pitfalls and challenges start when the creative process is rushed or accelerates in the wrong direction. At a brand level, instead of a project to project one, I think the consequences of getting something wrong or heading in the wrong direction are greatly amplified.
For me, slow design would mean spending more time on the consideration of what the problem is, in almost all creative instances, rather than simply running towards an execution.
I think for this reason it is similar to the approach of Coke. The same can be said in terms of doing large numbers of routes or design ideas around a problem. I believe the value in slowing a process and considering creative steps slowly, can mean you find the right way to do something, rather than many ways - some that may work but many more that don’t.
If you’re building your brand slowly, you are making considered moves. You will be growing organically and not be being influenced by trends that may or may not stick. Some trends massively change a space forever – some disappear as quickly as they arrive. I think the benefit of building slowly mean you won’t deviate down a path that could unravel the foundation of a brand that should only be built over time. Consistency then will always be present. Also, some of the most powerful brands in the world became exactly that from carving their own paths and not being reactional. By being aware of the trends but not necessarily being dictated by them.
Cadbury have implemented slow design principles well. I think regardless of what you think of them, they have consistency and a ‘Cadbury’ look and feel at the heart of what they do. This is definitely easier to see at a design level within packaging, POS and overall look. But also, Cadbury’s advertising always seems to have that underlying Cadbury feel while still having variations on look and execution, something I would assume only can happen when you have a slow considered approach to building a brand.
I am sure there are smart, smart people who can quantify the impact of consistency and long-term vision on brand equity in reach or metrics… and perhaps this is the paramount way to quantify it. For me, customer perception and trust is a more intimate way to quantify it. If a brand gets something right… if they grow it slowly, if they cultivate what works.
When they deviate from this the people who love that brand feel it. And can lose their passion for it.
David Allen, creative director of design, Leo Burnett
Design that stands the test of time, needs time. Scoping projects with this in mind and taking our clients on the journey with us ensures that designers are given the space and time they need to find meaningful solutions.
At POPDesign, our process begins with the strongest possible strategic platform. After identifying and creating the distinctive assets for our brands, we stress test them across multiple platforms and scenarios, allowing time to reflect and evolve the work at every key stage. Often, something that looks great at the end of a long day can look like a hot mess in the morning with fresh eyes.
Trends that feel new and exciting at the time will end up overused, become wallpaper and eventually feel dated. People love familiarity, which comes from consistency. The online response for WHSmith’s recent trial rebrand shows just how passionate consumers are for the brands they feel affinity towards.
McDonald’s golden arches logo is one of the finest examples of branding that has stood the test of time. Slowly evolving over the years but never changing in essence, it embodies the brands joy and spirit in the most iconic way. It’s instantly recognisable, even when only shown in part, something we played on with our ‘Lights On’ posters for McDelivery in 2021.
Brand research companies like Kantar, System 1 and Mountain View place great importance on measuring the distinctiveness of a brand’s assets, so our clients are now able to quantify the impact of design on their business. Our recent brand evolution for Morrisons used this process to identify green, yellow and the leaf/tree logo as their most recognisable assets, which we then used to build a consistent but flexible toolkit to use across all touchpoints and become synonymous with ‘More Reasons to Shop at Morrisons’.
Jordan Blood, head of design, Girl&Bear
I’ve recently entered my third decade in industry and the idea of anything slow sounds very comforting.
The principles Rebecca describes around her concept of Slow Design do resonate. Many of us were taught these at art school and would have experienced them in our early years of working.
But, things have moved on.
We are surrounded by stories of reinvention. New phrases, new concepts, new tech.
New is fresh, invigorating and sometimes challenging. Perhaps we need to spend more time embracing new?
We have a new model we’ve been implementing at VCCP/Girl&Bear called ‘Blend’. We’ve been blending creatives, planners, designers and artworkers to develop work that enables us to answer the brief from all angles. We are developing brand frameworks which can flex with the ebb and flow of culture. This not only helps our brands to participate in culture but it enables them to lead some of the conversations.
Coca-Cola has an incredible brand framework. It’s rigid and it’s clear but there’s little flex.
There's no arguing that consistency builds trust and long term vision boosts confidence but what about personality? Would you want to be stuck on the world's most reliable cruise ship going to the world's most exotic places with the world's most boring people?
We’d rather be going places with our best mates - the ones who get our personality and who we’ve got to know as we’ve got older.