Article • 01 01 2017

Five ways to drive innovation through smart design

With attention spans shrinking and brand-switching at an all-time high, brands urgently need to innovate to stay ahead of the pack. To us, innovation is a great idea executed brilliantly, communicated in a way that’s intuitive, while fully celebrating the magic of the initial concept. Innovation is the lifeblood of brands. It has the power to protect for the long-term, and done well, it can have a transformative effect on all levels of your business.

It’s now more important than ever to use design and design thinking in your innovation process in order to ensure your new ideas are understood, relevant and commercially successful. There are a number of intelligent design strategies that can help drive innovation through design, but here we’ve picked out just five to get you started:

Be obvious

Brands can’t afford to let strong insight get lost at the design phase. If you’re going to successfully communicate your offer in today’s fast paced world, you need to state your truth, stay true to your core intent, and clearly translate that intent into design for success at shelf. When brands try to say too much or rely on too many messages, consumers get bored and walk away.

To stay true to your big idea, you need to ensure your insight is single-minded and airtight. Use language to your advantage, borrow recognised and accepted language for a quick ‘in’. Take nutritional powdered food brand Huel as an example; everything about their brand is unashamedly to-the-point. There are no airs and graces, no over-designing or over packaging, even the name is quick and easy to grasp.


Assimilation is key to moving into new and different directions, so beg and borrow to break the mould in any way you can. How can adjacent categories inspire your outcome? You might be able to borrow from a similar category, like meal substitute Labnosh Korea who take their cues from personal care and lifestyle. Or you could mash up opposites for a more disruptive approach, like Clinique’s collaboration with Crayola.

Taking ideas from unexpected places not only forces consumers to think differently about your product, but also offers you to use the equity of other categories to enforce new behaviours. This isn’t just stealing your favourite bits from successful brands though, there always needs to be strategic thought and insight behind your mashup.

Be inspired by the zeitgeist

To avoid churning out the same ideas over and over, you have to work from the outside in, pulling in new ingredients. Your idea might be great, but if it isn’t culturally relevant, your core audience may not get the chance to fall in love with it. Messaging, colour, materials and forms can all draw from the wider cultural context to resonate with consumers on a deeper level.

Clothing brand EAT MY SHORTS! taps into the contemporary discourse surrounding gender with their innovative gender-neutral packaging and products. Church & State Wines “Lost Inhibitions” label, on the other hand, speaks to millennials in their own language, offering what they describe as “a refreshing take on traditional label conventions” with variants like “F*ck My Diet” “You’d Better Delete That” and “Oh Yeah Post This”. It’s not for everyone, but it isn’t meant to be.

Let form follow function

It can be so easy to dismiss packaging as a ‘vessel’; be that a box, a tub, a tube or a bag. But smart, innovative packaging can be a problem solver that addresses unmet needs for the consumer. Use ethnographic research to drill down into implicit, subconscious behaviour and discover ways that you can make life easier for consumers.

Daisy Sour Cream, for example, looked at the way people actually used their product and let the insight they gained shape the packaging experience. Instead of a tub or pot, they came up with a squeezy caps that, amongst other things, makes it easier to make artful dollops of sour cream on blinis. Then there’s Garçon Wines who let their business model; a wine subscription service; inform the design of their bottles which are square and flat, specifically designed to fit through letterboxes in a protective cardboard case.

Engage the senses

For brands, design has the responsibility of creating the memorable experiences that result in brand loyalty. The sensorial approach to product design and packaging helps drive the brand proposition through to the experiential level. Shapes, materials, finishes and textures can communicate on an implicit level, elevating products out of the norm.

This might all sound extravagant, but it’s a strategy that’s frequently utilised in everyday products. Bisto’s recent limited edition tins hark back to their vintage packaging creating a sense of occasion and playing with the brand’s heritage through metallic finishes, while even something as simple as a lunchtime yoghurt is given a premium makeover thanks to Glenilen Farm’s thick and satisfying freshness seal.

Driving innovation in your business is a long and often arduous process but the results are acan be worthwhile. These five strategies are just a start, but with enough time, effort and smart design thinking, you’ll be able to disrupt browsing inertia, and achieve standout from the standouts.