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Design language: importance and good rules

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design language

28 July 2020
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We don’t often talk about design language. It is pity: it is a very crucial element in the construction of successful products and brands. So we thought to do it ourselves and tell you everything we know.

Not long ago we had the pleasure of getting to know an important company that operates in the automation sector for the domestic and professional spheres. At a certain point the marketing director asked us: how can we transfer a shared ‘family feeling’ within a range of quite different products? How do you transfer the design language of the brand across these products?

To answer them and all the companies that have asked this question we wrote the article you are reading.
Product design language: what is it and what is it used for
Design language is a set of rules, codes and guidelines that make it possible to maintain consistency and continuity within a range of products. Whether it is a collection of furniture, technological products or a fleet of cars, what unites all the various products is called design language. What is certain is that it must respond to a broader and deeper business strategy. The main elements that contribute to the identification of a design language are the color, the shape, the functionality, the materials, the graphics: but we will talk about this later.
Brand recognition and consistency increase

One of the reasons why there are brands is to make the company recognizable with all its values and products. The use of a correct design language therefore supports and gives consistency to the value of the brand. If a company has built a strong identity and an equally unique design language we would be able to distinguish its products even if they were not branded. Imagine instead a brand whose each product has a completely different look & feel: we challenge you to recognize the brand and become attached to it. The correct application of a design language ensures a consistent ‘family feeling’ that favors positive associations between the brand and the product: more recognisability, more trust, more sales.

It improves the user experience

Would you buy a set of knives in which each “speaks its language” to the point of seeming to come from different eras and companies? We wouldn’t. A shared brand language makes it possible to improve product performance and eliminate any dissonance from the customer experience: the more fluid and coherent the experience is, the better is the perception of the product and the brand.

It Simplifies the development of new products

If for every product innovation we had to start from scratch, we would not go far. Having a common grammar facilitates the work of designers, companies and collaborators who will always know what to refer to in the project. Thus, the day the company will decide to change supplier, they will know what brief to provide to the new entry: you will save time, money and improve your results.
3 things to do to create an effective design language
Let’s see what are the 3 main steps to define a brand identity language.
Interpret the brand and its values

Let’s be clear: the designer is not a magician and does not work miracles. Therefore they cannot develop the visual aspects of a brand on their own, but must be based on well-defined pillars. What a good designer can do is to interpret values, mission, vision, philosophy and company’s positioning to define the boundaries and styles, which will be the key elements of design language.

Define the personal guidelines for the brand

The key elements alone are not enough: they must be organized systematically and rationally. They must be clear, understandable and methodical. In short: they must be translated into guidelines that will be applied to the products. When defining guidelines, however, some fundamental questions must be asked: how much do I want to be restrictive and precise? How much freedom do I want to give? Mistakes are just around the corner 

Know the language of shapes and colors

“Designing a product is designing a relationship,” said Steve Rogers: if you want to communicate with a language, you need to know it and know how to use the elements it is composed of. Every shape, geometry, line, material, detail and color has a meaning. What is surprising is that these codes can be respected but, with awareness, they can be broken to obtain an unexpected language in an unexpected context. Perhaps you haven’t thought of it: color has a very important function. It can be a shortcut to obtaining a coordinated image of the products. Think of a company with separate production lines, different techniques and the need to standardize the aesthetics of the products: reviewing molds, production chain and materials in a short time is unthinkable. Applying a recognizable and uniform color palette is way less expensive, but not trivial. Color is a science: making mistakes (you don’t say?) is easy.
3 mistakes to avoid when developing a design language
You learn by making mistakes. But companies do not like to make mistakes: here is the guide of the mistakes to avoid.
Photocopy the products

“Now that I have my design language, I just need to make products that are all the same.” Here’s how a flop is born. The first mistake is to photocopy the products with the excuse of following the design language. References must have a shared mood that makes them “relatives”, but they cannot be twins. The risk? Reset the differences in value, function and price.

Reduce (or enlarge) the products

In some companies, smaller products are designed by scaling larger ones and vice versa: basically a matryoshka. It is not an absolute rule but in most cases scaling the aesthetics of a product to apply it to another one within the corporate portfolio leads to a poor outcome. Each product is created in and for itself and must be integrated into its context of use, it must be studied for its ergonomics and function of use, for its target, it must take account of competitors and must build a personal user experience. Otherwise it would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

Force the guidelines

The family feeling cannot always be imposed, especially in some companies and to some types of products. It must be reasoned and applied with intelligence and sensitivity. Remember: the end customer does not expect consistency at all costs. If they find it, all the better, but the guidelines can never be at the expense of functionality and aesthetics. On the contrary, in some fields diversity is a strength: just think of products that address completely different targets and contexts and must satisfy irreconcilable needs.
The whole truth about the role of design language
We believe there is a subtle balance between consistency and personalization, between guidelines and freedom, between family feeling and specific product needs. Just remember that the product is only one of the touch points the brand uses to connect with the users and it is not the only one. There are no precise laws or absolute truths: there is the experience, competence and intelligence of the designers who must find solutions tailored to the needs of brands and companies.


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