BrightBox’s design strategies are a central and essential part of the BrightBox business. The use of visual imagery is an incredibly powerful method of brand development. The centrality of vision to 90% of the world’s population makes it a sensory medium to which almost the majority of  people can easily relate.

Design is about functionality, substitution, and most importantly, purpose. Every element of your brand’s design- your logo, web page, brochures, bumper stickers, dress code, mailers- should reinforce who you are, what you do and who you do it for.

Many of the companies we have worked with in the past have designed these elements based on exactly the wrong principle: Looking cool.

Looking cool- even looking beautiful- is far from the point of design. Cool-looking designs with no concept of systematic branding fall short of their actual purpose. The purpose of brand design is to reinforce who you are.

Looking cool is fine… as long as it actually assists you in building your brand. You might liken it to a lullaby. A lullaby is supposed to sound pretty, but that characteristic is simply a byproduct of putting a baby to sleep.

To reinforce the point, consider five functional design ideas that don’t necessarily look cool, but do more than get the job done.

#1 VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS SHOES

In the health and exercise world, there has been a recent trend toward barefoot running, an activity that supposedly keeps your feet and the lower parts of your legs in better shape for walking as an elderly person. It is believed that barefoot running plays to the way we were always supposed  to move around, while sneakers arrange our feet in a way that eventually wears our joints and leaves us with lasting foot problems.

I’m not a foot doctor, so I can’t tell you anything about the legitimacy of the argument. What I can tell you is that the FiveFingers design worked. FiveFingers are unique-looking in that they have webbed pockets for the toes of the wearer, a design element that stands out and locks in the idea that these shoes are different and achieve their purpose.

As far as looking “cool”… well, decide for yourself.

http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/index.htm

#2 PROGRESSIVE: FLO’S OFFICE

By now, you have either heard of Flo, or you don’t watch TV. For the uninformed, Flo is the spokeswoman of Progressive Auto Insurance, a character meant to counter the legions of animals and celebrities representing Progressive’s many auto insurance competitors. The ad campaign has done great things for public awareness of the company.

Two things stand out about the Flo campaign from a design aspect. The first is Flo herself. Flo is a very attractive woman, but is hardly the Hollywood American figure meant to knock the socks off every guy in the world. She’s attractive, but not in a classic way.

Second, Flo’s workroom in the Progressive commercials looks almost like a space age laboratory. Half the time, I expect the commercial to end with something out of 2001 Space Odyssey. Nevertheless, Progressive has made tracks since Flo came on the scene, giving the Geico Gecko a run for its money as the most popular and well-known Auto Insurance character.

#3 RONALD MCDONALD

Is Ronald an American icon? Yes.

Does he help sell hamburgers? Probably.

Is he cool? Absolutely not.

Ronald McDonald is a red-headed clown with a creepy voice and a love of hamburgers. His friends consist of a small purple monster and a variety of talking food that must have been made in a genetics lab. His mortal enemy, a hamburger thief, wears a striped outfit, complete with lone ranger style mask, and giggles like a creepy five-year-old. This random group of characters isn’t the ‘coolest’ representation of the brand, but help to make the brand one of the most recognizable in the world.

#4 VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE

The coolest kid in my high school drove a 1996 Chevy Camaro. I drove a ’94 Plymouth Voyager.

I think driving something called a “bug” should fall closer to the minivan when it comes to the popularity spectrum.

However, Volkswagen has proven me wrong.

The name and shape of the Volkswagen Beetle have contributed heavily to its purchase, but only by very unusual methods. The Bug tried to push the cool image for years and found its efforts somewhat unsuccessful in that respect. Bugs don’t sell because they’re cool. Bugs sell because they’re safe, functional and durable.

Beetle’s name is consistent with its unusual yet not so sexy shape. Cool cars have slimness (sporty) or bulk (jeeps). Ever step on a bug you couldn’t crush? Did you know that bugs would survive a nuclear Armageddon? Can you see why bugs are not naturally cool?

In spite of all of this, the Bug has managed an impressive history and worked its way into becoming an American icon. And now, it might even be gaining some cool factors by having represented the youth of so many Americans.

The bug only wound up cool after it was uncool, and that’s pretty cool.

#5 TWO-SIDED PEANUT BUTTER JAR

Have you ever tried in vain to scrape with your mom’s butter knife at the few remaining globs of peanut butter at the bottom of the jar so you can make your sandwich extra thick and recycle this jar, affording you the chance to cut into a fresh jar for your next snack? It’s the middle of the afternoon, you’re hungry as can be and you spend five minutes on this one. No one wants to waste that last little bit, but the longer the process lasts, the more unjustified the price becomes.

Say hello to the product that ends all of that. The two-sided peanut jar allows you to flip the jar over, open the bottom (now the top) remove, and move on with your life.

I can think of plenty of questions to ask about the two-sided peanut butter jar as a product, the first being how it could possibly overcome the convenience factor inherent in the old way of selling peanut butter. My second question would be where the peanut butter filling the jar would come from. You could buy the peanut butter from the store, but unless you are at a super healthy store that will make wholesale peanut butter and put it in there for you, you’re out of luck. You could buy the stuff in jars… but that defeats the whole purpose.

So that seems to leave you making peanut butter in the kitchen, something that will take some supersonic peanut butter device or a heckuvan effort from the consumer for fresh peanut butter.

We’re not all Anthony Bourdain, you know.

For that matter, I don’t know the sales of these jars. I could see them used as much for other substances, such as paint, as I could for peanut butter jars. However, the double-sided peanut butter jar has two great advantages going for it. It’s got a quick, easy pitch (never scrape peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar again), and it has awesome design, partly due to the fact that the designers kept it simple rather than trying to paint a racing stripe or a picture of Marilyn Monroe down the side of the jar.

Sometimes, simple beats cool.