Bob Sheard : Product Design Should Differentiate

It’s tradeshow season. Brands, bloggers, retailers and anyone else who fancies themselves as a bit of a clothing buff/bore is donning their best shoes, having a haircut and heading to Florence, Paris, London and of course the home of Bread and Butter, Berlin.

That’s Bread and Butter the tradeshow. Not, like, actual bread and actual butter.

Anyway, as usual I digress. Having attended a few of these events and graduated from impressed newbie to self-conscious Northerner to mostly a bit ‘Meh’, I can see where Bob Sheard is coming from with his latest post.

With Bread and Butter taking place this week, it seems a timely point to talk about how brands position themselves. They’re all vying for attention, fighting for forward orders and generally showing off how ace they are. Or not.

Bob’s company Fresh have more experience than most and with that in mind, here are a few predictions he has made regarding how things will play out.

“One. Most brands will communicate that their brand is the most fashionable.
Two. Most brand design will be centred on validating that strategy by showing their models in a lifestyle portrayal representing the vanguard of fashion or trend evolution.
Three. Most brands will use third-party collaborations in their product design to deliver the notion of “Fashion and Trend Leadership”.
Four. In short, the brand and product design for Lifestyle brands in 2013/14 will be a sea of homogeneity. Homogeneity driven by a common strategy of how to best demonstrate “Fashion and Trend Leadership”
Five. We predict a similar level of homogeneity at the world’s biggest Outdoor Performance trade show, ISPO.
ISPO starts on February 3rd in Munich.  Hundreds of Outdoor Performance brands will be there, from Nike to The North Face. 
We predict: 
Six. Most brands will communicate that their brand can best protect you from the Outdoors.
Seven. Most brand design will be centred on validating that strategy by showing their athlete conquering the Outdoors in some way.
Eight. Most brands will use third-party branded lamination technology in their product design to deliver “Protection”.
Nine. In short, the brand and product design for Outdoor Performance brands in 2013/14 will also be a sea of homogeneity. Homogeneity linked to a common strategy of how they can best “influence” the Outdoors.
Ten. At both fairs, brands will neglect the power that product design has to differentiate. ”

So with that in mind what does Bob reckon about how brands can set themselves apart, specifically using innovation in design?

Fresh worked with long established transcender of youth cults Doc Martens. They  found a brand that had a strong product identity and plenty of customers who felt affinity with it on that basis. However they were struggling because their designers, like the rest of the competition, were making “trend-driven products” for a “fashion-oriented” customer.

 Bob Sheard recalls the project.
“They were designing something which they felt represented fashion but in doing so they were trying to chase the high street. It takes 18 months to bring product to the marketplace and you will never “out-fashion” stores such as Topman.”
“We told DMs that they needed to focus on more enduring trends rather than short term “fast fashion”. We advised them to concentrate on longer term cultural trends, provenance and quality.”
“We observed that in DMs case, the key was not to follow the market in adopting “lifestyle and fashion” trends. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Just create honest product and let your consumers create their own meaning.”

Likewise, Bob was once the creative director at another brand which is many things to many people yet still retains a strong integrity, Converse. He continues…

“A pair of All Stars are a blank canvas, they get personalised and develop meaning through whoever puts them on and makes them their own. It’s the same as a Dr Martens boot. If a copper wears them, they represent order. If a globalisation protester wears them they represent disorder. If a nationalist wears them they represent the far right, however if a socialist wears them they represent the left wing.”

Just two examples of how design can define a brand and yet still be open to interpretation.

Food for thought for the childcatcher/wizard hat wearers we’ve seen doing the rounds on the blogs this last week or so?

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