Collaborate and Conquer


Everywhere you turn the brightest brands, and the bright minds behind them, are embracing design to innovate and succeed:

“Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation.” ~ Steve Jobs, Chairman & CEO, Apple.

“Design is the single most critical factor in determining the winner of the 21st century.” ~ Kun-Hee Lee, Chairman & CEO, Samsung.

“Design is critical to innovation and building brand equity.” ~ A.G. Lafley, Chairman & CEO, Proctor & Gamble Co.

“Leaders dare to [design].” ~ Chris Bangle, former Chief of Design, BMW.

Design is shaping business at an increasingly rapid rate. Around the globe, innovative ideas and creative solutions are being brought to life by design to meet consumer demands, create new categories and change the way people experience and interact with brands. While it’s true that design alone isn’t going to save the world (that’s Bono’s job), it’s equally evident that businesses that don’t embrace design simply won’t be competitive in the 21st century marketplace.

Yet, designers and businesspeople often mix like oil and water. Conventional thinking is that designers are egocentric aesthetes and businesspeople are penny-pinching prigs. Nothing truly great or innovative ever came from conventional thinking, though. Smart practitioners of both disciplines understand that amazing things are accomplished when talented people come together to explore the combined potential of their unique gifts. Collaboration is the catalyst for real innovation.

Collaborate and Conquer

Innovation happens where smart business intersects with smart design. Merging the best and brightest from both worlds allows you to leverage capabilities and exploit opportunities to fulfill unmet needs. Achieving success not only requires a positive spirit of cooperation, but also a great deal of trust – trust both in people and in ideas that inspire you.

Trusting design (and designers) is sometimes difficult for business thinkers. Problem is, in a spreadsheet world of quantifiable corporate cost structures design is often dismissed as frivolous embellishment. Truth is, design is a targeted enterprise, planned, purposeful and results driven. By its very nature design does away with the superfluous to clarify, simplify, streamline and improve.

While great design is often embodied in an object of beauty, design is a verb as well as a noun, a process as well as a result. As such, design is the remedy for both aesthetic and functional mediocrity. Design solves real problems – for businesses and for consumers. That’s why strategically building design into every level of a business model can save you money while it makes you money. What could be more spreadsheet friendly?

On the product side, design addresses human factors to improve ergonomics, functionality and usability. Design delivers those superior products to market via more cost-effective, predictable, scalable and efficient methods of manufacturing, shipping, distribution and other cozily quantifiable logistics. Design drives success on the consumer side by shaping the relationship between your brand and your customer across every touchpoint. Great design determines the purchase decision well before the point of sale by creating desire, influencing behavior and fostering emotional bonds between brands and consumers.

Those reasons, and more, validate good design as good business. Innovators have always understood this. Consider the story of an innovative start-up from Memphis that’s been maximizing the possibilities at the intersection of smart design and smart business for years to consistently deliver…

Overnight Success

Federal Express originated door-to-door overnight package delivery in 1973 with 14 Falcon jets and a modest fleet of rented vans. 29-year old entrepreneur Fred Smith leveraged a $4 million inheritance (roughly $21 million adjusted for 2009) to launch his air-ground delivery concept based on a simple hub-and-spoke model that he had outlined in a Harvard MBA paper – which, incidentally, received low marks.

Initially, the company offered service to 25 cities. At the time, nationwide door-to-door overnight delivery was seen as so radical that Xerox Corporation tested Federal Express’ system by shipping empty boxes for two weeks before being comfortable enough to entrust the company with real documents.

Nearly 20 years later, Federal Express was generating $8 billion in revenue at the forefront of a fiercely competitive global industry. By late 1992 that amazing growth offered new opportunities that called for reinvention. To herald its expansion into emerging sectors and strengthen its presence in the market the industry leader made a bold decision… it would completely overhaul its visual identity. Enter San Francisco-based design and brand consultancy Landor Associates.

Building On Strengths

Landor was asked to assess the Federal Express brand position within multiple global markets. As with any good design process the first step was collecting input from and about the client to understand the context of the world in which their products and services exist and compete. This research revealed some eye-opening data.

For one, the popular truncated form of the company name, FedEx, had come to be viewed as the generic synonym for overnight delivery (Note: When your brandname is added to the cultural lexicon as a verb you’ve struck gold). Further study showed signature brand colors orange and purple communicated urgency and leadership while the identity overall held powerful cache in speed, reliability and service.

Research uncovered problems as well. Whereas the word “Federal” had contributed clout to a plucky post office alternative in 1973, by 1992 it conveyed “bureaucratic red tape” and – worst of all – “slow”. Among Latin consumers negative associations with the term “federales” prevailed, while in other parts of the world Federal Express was simply too hard to pronounce. Solving these problems was critical for a company on the cusp of launching dramatic new global initiatives.

A New Brand World

Armed with insight into what something already means designers have freedom to explore what it could mean if used in a new way. Such was the approach to Landor’s solution of embracing FedEx as the new brand name and summing up the company’s most powerful attributes in the succinct tagline, “The World On Time”.

Upper management liked the concept. They also understood the perils of design by committee review and avoided undo delays by taking the astute step of designating a single decision maker for the company. Gayle Christensen, then Managing Director of Corporate Marketing, was given the reigns. “We have a CEO [Smith] who understands the power of design,” says Christensen. “Because of his leadership, corporate image is not viewed as something frivolous.”

With that blessing from the boardroom the creative collaboration began in earnest. Hundreds of preliminary sketches were developed for the new logo. Christensen and Landor designers ultimately narrowed the field to five concepts for presentation to Smith and top executives.

“We were fortunate that our client had a good understanding of [design],” says Lindon Leader, Landor’s Senior Design Director on the account. “People tend to look at a new identity and dismiss it as a logo change. FedEx understood that it’s really a byproduct of the overall repositioning of the company.”

Delivering the Goods

Because the cost of that repositioning was always a concern smart design kept the bottom line healthy. To avoid the expense of sandblasting and repainting tens of thousands of drop boxes – in an array of sizes and configurations – a decal system was designed to retrofit existing units. But, boxes were just the beginning.

The length of the original Federal Express logo limited the height of letters on the side of a tractor trailer to only 58-inches. Shortening the name, replacing the dated type with a more contemporary face and removing the cumbersome purple box around the logotype improved aesthetics as well as function. Now, the letters of the condensed FedEx mark could be extended to six feet. Delivery trucks became rolling billboards. Merely eliminating the purple background of the original symbol allowed the company to save nearly $10 million in labor and materials when updating their 10,000 tractor trailers.

Re-identifying the air fleet provided even greater benefits. Less dark purple paint on the planes decreased weight and surface temperatures, reducing the energy needed to fuel and cool the aircraft, thus lowering operating costs and creating a smaller carbon footprint. Purple pigment is also sensitive to ultraviolet light and less of it meant less of the costly protective coating required to resist fading. Lastly, the larger, more legible new logo meant that the planes could be easily read from across the airfield. With thousands of trucks and planes criss-crossing the world daily, the tremendous advertising exposure provided by each vehicle is incalculable.

Designers got hands-on experience as couriers and handlers to ensure designs for new uniforms, holsters and back braces met employee needs. Interior and exterior signage was applied to locations worldwide, while the bold new logo was positioned for conspicuous visibility on the millions of packages handled daily. Finally, extensive graphic standards guidelines were provided to licensees worldwide to ensure global brand consistency.

The Brand On Time

After approving the sweeping identity system in February of 1994 FedEx brass asked Landor to have all brand components designed and ready within four months. New initiatives were close to launch and management was motivated to make sure they carried the new look. Financial factors also played a part. Large numbers of trucks and planes needed to be emblazoned with the new brand before scheduled delivery.

Landor design teams logged long hours to meet critical deadlines and overcome logistical hurdles. On June 22, 1994, the FedEx brand was unveiled on time, in budget and with great fanfare. 20 years after launching an industry Federal Express boldly acted from a position of strength as that industry’s leader and dramatically re-calibrated its identity to stand out and stay in front of a growing field of challengers. 15 years later FedEx remains the industry’s trendsetting leader.

“The reason this entire changeover was so successful,” Leader concluded, “was because FedEx management was so committed to making it happen in a big way. From day one this company understood the value of effective marketing. They have never lumped the management of corporate image into advertising or public relations, like other companies. They have a fundamental appreciation that [design] is their most strategic marketing tool.”

Avoid the Shock of Your Life

Successful collaborations like that of Landor and FedEx illustrate how smart development and application of design can make an organization more efficient, sustainable and profitable. So, left-brainers and right-brainers of the world unite! The possibilities are only as limited as your ability to work together.

Still not convinced? Ponder this… Will Rogers once observed that there are three kinds of people in the world: those that learn by reading, those who learn through observation and those who have to pee on the electric fence to find out for themselves. Don’t watch your business fail because you weren’t smart enough to be in one of the first two categories.

About Ken Peters

Chronically curious. Compulsively creative. Opinions here are my own, and those of the voices in my head.
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One Response to Collaborate and Conquer

  1. Ken Peters says:

    This article was originally posted prior to our accepting comments on Brand B.I.G. Now that we’ve opened up the conversation, we’d love for you to share your thoughts.