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Three Pillars of Design That Stand the Test of Time



Andrew Smiles on the deep visceral connections that can be made through design

Three Pillars of Design That Stand the Test of Time

Design isn’t a tool to decorate solutions; it’s a tool to explore and discover solutions. Deep visceral connections can be made through design, and the essence of a brand can be found in how it chooses to represent itself visually.

Design trends are essential—they are one of the driving forces behind what looks and feels aesthetically pleasing at a given point in time. Designers and marketers must stay on top of the new trends and understand how they can/will influence what we do (maybe we make them our own or buck them by doing exactly the opposite). Brands are often looking for something that fits into their construct of contemporary design, and whether they realise it or not, consumers respond to this as well. 

At the same time, the ultimate goal for any brand is to have a design that resonates with consumers for years to come. We believe there are three objectives when creating designs that stand the test of time. 


We all want the Nike swoosh or the iconic stripes of the IBM logo—symbols that can become synonymous with our brand. You just need to see a sliver of the word Coca-Cola in its elegant font to know what you’re looking at, and yet that simple logo can be leveraged in beautiful, magical ways. Sometimes it’s corporate, sometimes sentimental, and sometimes just plain fun. So how do we create a design that leaves a permanent mark? We think the first step is to think of it as Michael Beirut of Pentagram says—as an empty vessel into which we pour meaning. 

Never stop searching for inspiration. Inspiration is whatever gets the cogs of the brain working, and it can be found anywhere and everywhere. It can be found at the museum, the skatepark, the etchings on a manhole cover, the architecture in your town, or Grandma’s basement. It can be found in the work of other designers—whether they are historical icons or contemporary up-and-comers. The key is to never stop searching. 

Use form and composition to tell your story. As we said earlier, design isn’t just decoration; it’s part of the solution. Look for opportunities and space within the form to help readers understand the brand’s meaning. Perhaps one of the most studied examples is Herb Lubalin’s mother and child logo with the ampersand that plays as a human embryo nestled within the word mother. Or, think of the FedEx logo—it’s not just instantly recognisable; it tells a story of getting your package from one place to another. 

Embrace flexibility. As you play with form and composition, ask yourself how flexible it can be. Can it show up in different ways and invoke different moods for the brand? The Vistaprint logo is a good example. As a corporate logo, it’s a v with three different shades of blue, but when that same symbol is made out of hardware or vegetables it becomes the embodiment of the small businesses Vistaprint serves while still retaining its identity.


Design that stands the test of time is complicated because we live in an ever-changing world. We need to build brands that are dynamic enough to handle the changes that get thrown at them from year to year. We believe that the key to this endurance is authentic interactions with customers. If you authentically know who you are as a brand, and you can describe that succinctly and potently through design, you will be able to build a framework that endures changes in the world and your market.  

Know your principles. When building a brand identity, the first thing the brand needs to do is understand who it is and what it stands for. Let’s say that a brand wants to be known for its reliability. That’s great, but what does it mean? From a customer perspective, it might mean they can have confidence in the interactions with that brand. The challenge then becomes continually inspiring that confidence. When we think about them that way—as the outcome we want for consumers—the brand’s principles become tools for the product design team. 

Operationalise these principles into every interaction. At this point, digital experiences are ubiquitous and somewhat homogenous. We’ve developed a vocabulary and an understanding of how to interact with consumers in the digital space, which is necessary but also means there are smaller and smaller opportunities for brands to stand out. Operationalising your principles can make your brand stand out. Take a brand that wants to show its authentic commitment to the plant. How do we operationalise that? Maybe during the checkout flow, we will give additional information about the impact of different shipping decisions on the environment. Or maybe, within our e-commerce experience, we are transparent about the materials used in our product. Now, the brand is not just saying it’s committed to the planet; it’s authentically embodying that value. 


In his book Strategic Brand Management, Kevin Lane Keller first coined the idea of resonance. Essentially, it’s the relationship between a brand and an individual. A brand has resonance when instead of thinking they want a soda, a customer thinks, “I want a Coke.” Resonance is built over time by the recurring relationship between an individual and the brand. It is built on interactions with the brands and the growing promise of consistency within the next brand experience. There are things that brands can do to make this kind of connection, and much of it goes back to values and endurance. 

Understand the moment. The global context within which interactions with your brand are happening is subject to constant change – competitive market changes, technology shifts, and cultural movement. In order to achieve resonance, brands need to be conscious of these shifts and dynamic enough to keep up. Ideally, brands can leverage cultural movement for success. Think of Whole Foods, which saw consumers shift toward naturally sourced, high-quality ingredients and worked to become the “friend” that represented this on a large scale.   

Be able to act quickly. Part of resonance is acting swifty and reacting to what is happening around you. As half the country, the NFL, and many other brands were turning their back on Colin Kaepernick, Nike recognised the importance of standing by his side. In doing so, the brand took a risk (many potential consumers thought Kaepernick was wrong) and seized an opportunity to live its values. It leveraged the brand's core values and convictions to make a stand on an issue of cultural significance. 

More recently, we saw Patagonia's founder give up ownership of the company and put it in a trust that will be used to further the environmental causes that the company has supported since day one. This statement was not only about protecting the environment; it also spoke to a growing dissatisfaction with and distrust of the ever-increasing billionaire class. 

Every little brand interaction that you have with any individual has the power to build your army of advocates. Design is one of the tools that can be leveraged to ensure that the brand is showing up authentically today and has staying power in a changing world. Strive for recognition, endurance, and resonance, and your design (and your brand) will stand the test of time. 

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Tank Design, Fri, 16 Dec 2022 17:16:29 GMT