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Industrial design is a company’s most important business card.


A Family Affair

Industrial design is never stand-alone. It also always represents the brand and the company for which the product was designed. It is an essential element of corporate design. Even though every model has its specific demands and target group, it should always be recognizable to which family it belongs.

The Importance of Identity

Usually companies and brands are perceived of as people. As with real life, we find some more likeable and pleasant than others. There are for example youthful, highly serious, flipped out, and sportive companies among various others that according to their identity appeal to a certain group. The different characteristics are summarized in a company’s corporate identity, known as: CI.
People can be recognized by their looks, their gestures and facial expressions, their origins or language; companies use similar features to be recognizable and distinct. Rivals never rest, making it even more important for a company to differentiate itself from its competitors. The entirety of its communication, visual appearance and every action it takes defines its identity.

The visual appearance of the CI is determined through the Corporate Design, often shortened to CD. CD determines the mandatory requirements like the logo, corporate colors, corporate fonts, which metaphorical language is used or how working clothes are fashioned. Even the sound design is regulated in the CD, for example which sounds are used in combination with a logo.
Often enough there is a big gap where parts of the Corporate Design should be. One would assume that companies would regard industrial design as a key part of their CD. But far from it: Products may be designed in a more or less sophisticated manner, but often enough there is no consistent line subsequently connecting the various products of the company. Many companies could therefore be diagnosed with a split personality, being one thing in their identity but expressing something completely different in their product’s design.
Only slowly have more and more modern companies recognized that industrial design is an essential part of a company’s business strategy. A favorable recognizability of products is essential – every item essentially determines a company’s image.
To make this a little bit clearer. Just imagine all of a company’s products are standing in front of you. They are easy to spot but the logo is concealed. Only if the products resemble each other will you be able to recognise them as being part of one product family, only then can one speak of a defined corporate design. If the design of various products is too diverse, it has the same effect as a cuckoo’s egg: It will not really fit into the nest, irrespective of the product family.
At this point it is necessary to also speak about OEM items. Products fabricated by an Original Equipment Manufacturer most often come into the market under a foreign name. An OEM fabricates products and offers them to other companies for distribution. Even though these OEM products might have a company’s logo, they do not fit into the firm-specific identity.
A consequent and independent industrial design would have incredible potential to differentiate itself from competitors. Especially since many products today resemble each other more than ever before.

Nature was the model for this innovative washing machine. An organic curvature is used to stage the outward appearance and also gets closer to its internal function. A sphere sticks out from the masses, is recognizable and distinctive.

The Definition of a CD

To develop a design resemblance and uniformity for a company’s complete range of products is not an easy task. But the effort is worthwhile, especially when a form language is found that can be used on a long-term basis. A customer can recognise the product at first glance as it stands out from the masses. In the best case scenario a new image is created and the brand is made unique.

How to create a sign language for a certain brand?


Establishing typical characteristics.
Whether it is the defined curving of edges or a very specific form for control elements: In defining a typical sign language one can also define independent features that when repeated in good proportion with different products of the same firm can create a value of brand recognition. A simple form can also create this unique characteristic: One has only to think of that triangular Swiss chocolate everyone recognizes at first sight.


A consistent overall image.
Similarly used materials can symbolise affiliation with a brand. For example the way a material‘s surface is treated, the combination of different materials – in professional industrial design this should manifest itself in every product as well. Only that way will all items, like a puzzle, fit together into a big, coherent overall picture. A consistent coloring, a typical finishing of surfaces or the use of typography heightens the affect of family resemblance. Just think of the famous Mercedes Silver Arrow, its typical silver surface unites a wide range of rather different race cars and marks them nonetheless as Mercedes-Benz. On the contrary, when speaking about a red racing car one might mean a racer from Stuttgart. Most people, though, will more than likely think of a famous car from Italy.


A product personality.
Products, like companies, emit a certain character. There are serious, humorous, aggressive, boring, nice, sweet or simply pragmatic products. This results from the fact that certain forms, colors, and materials in our perception provoke different associations. For example, round forms combined with soft materials and vibrant colors appear friendlier than sharp and edgy contours paired with hard materials and a greyish coloring. There is a reason why in movies the bad guys often wear dark garb and carry around a bunch of sharp weapons. We have learned through experience that sharp edges bear a risk of injuries and therefore react to them with a certain respect. Skillfully applied, this learned sign language can be used to give a product a unique characteristic. Thus the created product identity should always be in harmony with a company’s identity and never contradict the product’s function. Industrial design should not only reflect a product’s requirements but also that of the brand. To ideally emphasise the character of a product three points have to always be taken into consideration: The function, the CI and the target group.

A Product’s Character in Harmony with its Function

To put it more simply: A product should radiate its function and the appropriate associations. A waterproof device should not only be waterproof but also look ‚waterproof.‘ A sports car should not only drive fast but look fast when parked. We perceive a product’s quality optically – if the design is not optimal in this area, a product can have the best quality, but we will not see it. The result: We turn towards a better-designed product without even testing the other one even once. The kitchen knife Sharko is a good example of how optic and function go hand in hand and complement each other. The inspired form resembles a shark. This elegant hunter is known for its knife-sharp teeth. Therefore the dynamically curved shark-like knife form also arouses the association “sharp”. Even though this is not a conscious process the spectator cannot evade this effect: The knife seems sharp without even being tested.

A Product’s Character in Harmony with the CI

In addition to function the character of a product can also symbolise and strengthen the image profile of the company and brand. The definition certainly depends on the marketing strategy which has been prepared in advance. Not only should the product be well-adjusted to a corporate identity but the product design as well. A product might be best sold to a certain target group through the use of humour, while another target group might be discouraged by such efforts. The best case is an effective entity where a product’s design is efficient and fits well into the firm’s identity. This makes every product a brand statement.

A Product’s Character in Harmony with the Target Group

The question for whom a product is made is essential for market success and consequently relevant in industrial design. Therefore it makes sense to analyze the target group first. Who is the main target group? What characteristics does it have? What interests, expectations and possible dislikes does the group have? Potential customers have to be analyzed to successfully adjust product characteristics according to the target group’s needs and wishes.

Two main attributes have to be taken into consideration:
•    Socio-demographic attributes (gender, age, civil status, income, level of education, cultural roots, etc.)
•    Psychographic attributes (political attitudes, gender identity, attitude to life, religion, etc.)

Only if we have, like criminologists or profilers, drawn up a comprehensive target group profile, can we assume what a consumer expects and which features correspond with his or her tastes and needs. One would presumably use other colors for the design of a hearing instrument for seniors compared to that of toys for children between the ages of 5 to 8. The real challenge is to put oneself in the position of someone in a target group and try to see a product from their point of view. Narcissistic love for one‘s own taste, ignorance of a target group’s choices and trying always to push through a personal style is unlikely to lead to market success.

The kitchen knife is forged from special blade steel and has a Corian handle. This acrylic bound mineral material distinguishes itself through longevity. The knife’s layout is graceful and distinctive. It is no coincidence that the form evokes a shark’s streamlined body. This emphasizes the product’s sharpness. Indeed, the functionality delivers what the design promises: The knife is designed to make handling most comfortable and ergonomic.

The texts are excerpts from the book "360° Industrial Design" by the author Arman Emami, published 2014, niggli Verlag