We used to say that design was the mother of invention; the result of a designer’s emphatic ambition to make everything in life better. Today, however, design is becoming the mother of reinvention, as brands use it to bring their legacy to life in new and modern ways.
Contemporary design is different now from when our agency began in 1996. It relies on specialism to create sexy, hand-held software and global interconnected platforms. Industrial design, product design, environment design, interior design, experience design, app design and even emotional sensory design are all ways in which brands are securing a leading edge.
As change comes thick and fast, my question is: how are ageing brands keeping up? The answer: reinvention through legacy design.
Legacy design, the result of true innovation
Great design has always been about defining the relevant solution to a client need, delivering advantage and driving value around that solution. There was a time, however, when design aimed to be nothing more than simply practical.
Take the invention of the wheel in 3500 BC. Its creation defined the future of travel, serving a revolutionary purpose to make people’s journeys quicker, easier and better. Back then, it didn’t matter what the wheel looked like, what brand of engine was attached to it or how polite the operating staff were. It was an innovation that people simply wanted to use.
But good design has the power to advance even the most robust of innovations. Despite its current predicament as part of Volkswagen, Audi is a great example of a brand staying relevant by continually modernising its manufacturing and building around its 80-year legacy – from sculpting each curve of the bodywork to advancing its multimedia displays or making the engine sound more distinctive. Even its wheels aren’t simply wheels any more; they are Quattro alloys with four-wheel-drive technology that glitter with class and leave a lasting impression about the legendary status of this German brand.
Levi’s is another timeless example of a brand that’s designing around its legacy, bringing revolutionary moments to the forefront. I recently attended a talk by the brand’s new president James Curleigh (aka ‘JC’). He shared an inspiring story about the original blue jean being designed for the gold mining industry’s hard workers, who needed equally hard-working clothing. The brands’ signature studding was added purely for functionality back then, making the product ‘stronger for longer’.
One hundred years later, this story retells itself with every new, hard-working inspired collection with a modern twist. It was the first of its kind then and still is today. The world’s biggest-selling blue jean, all down to the design legacy of a rivet.
Legacy design is a trend emerging from every sector, even high fashion. A few years ago, Burberry successfully reinvented its brand by re-celebrating its heritage product in its Art of the Trench campaign – leading to a complete digitisation of the shopping experience.
A more recent example is Bang & Olufsen (B&O), one of the original, premium heritage consumer sound system brands of the 1920s. Its products were born in a time of glamour, and its art deco design made it a beautiful feature for any home. I remember being amazed by our neighbour’s wall-mounted B&O system because its cassette deck swished open as if by magic (in stark contrast to my small Panasonic recorder, which needed a sturdy punch to open). I made excuses to go round there a lot.
This year, B&O commemorates its 90th birthday with its exclusive ‘love affair’ collection in tribute to its rich heritage. The unique, modern, retro-meets-luxury design reminiscent of the decadence in the 1920s and 1930s is enough to spark any collector’s desire, while its powerful technology appeals to the masses because of its ornate, jewellery-like appearance. It is a perfect example of a piece of design history repositioned in the present, made for the future.
Start, finish, start again
There are two types of designers that are essential to the success of legacy design: those who start things – the innovators, the futurists, the idealists, those who create something from nothing; and the finishers – those who repeatedly iterate, test, craft and re-craft to increase relevance for modern consumers. This belief is what has led us to work on some extraordinary projects.
As brands get better at building themselves from the inside out, many more will live to become heritage brands such as Levi’s. Our work with luxury cruise liner brand Cunard is an example of how strategy and design can reset a heritage brand for new audience groups in a new era.
‘True luxury on a grand scale’ was the differentiating marker we put in place, using simplified design while retelling big stories, from wartime efforts to cross-Atlantic convoys. This year, the brand famously celebrated its 175th year at sea, with the positioning ‘Forever Cunard’ sharing its entire legacy in a fresh, modern and classical way.
And then there’s Adidas: born from Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler’s vision to create better designed shoes for improved athletic performance. Putting the shoe on the other foot, the brand now designs athletic experiences, and not just footwear, to better connect with its global fans. For more than a decade, we have supported the brand’s transformation from manufacturer to revolutionary retailer, helping define its entire retail experience.
Our Adidas ‘virtual footwear wall’ (above) connects the physical with the digital, letting Adidas display every product from one technologically advanced, in-store and immersive piece of tech. It has driven sales and lifted conversion rates, turning browsers into paying customers. Supported by our Connected Retail Platform software, it is an award-winning piece of experience design built for the next generation. A legacy in the making.
Looking to the future, brands will work harder than ever to create altogether revolutionary pieces of design that draw customers closer. One young brand that’s growing its already strong legacy for innovation is cosmetics business Sephora. This year, they’re taking the Connected Retail Platform and pushing it to a new existence, creating one of the world’s first entirely smart stores in Paris. In a leap towards creating a fully omnichannel retail experience, shoppers can view the entire stock inventory, personalise the content they receive, and have their purchases shipped to them instantly, making buying in store as seamless and customised as it is online.
Technology today is enabling innovative experiences that would not be possible without it; progressing design to help brands stay relevant longer – making the world smaller, faster and smarter. Despite the challenges we face, our simple ambition to make things better by design keeps our clients moving forwards.