Design is not an output; it’s not Photoshop files, mocks, comps, graphics, vectors, pixels or pages – it is a thought process. A process that by its very nature makes the intangible tangible; that clarifies the abstract and visualizes the unseen. It’s a process that can therefore serve a bigger purpose, far outside the realm of creative.
This thought process means applying design thinking and design tools, activating the right brain to seek out solutions that have inherent visual structure and support – solutions that have visual componentry built into their DNA, making them not only tactically applicable, but strategically viable and valuable. This is especially true when it comes to strategy and innovation – practices that are notoriously hard to define and difficult to process, but where design can act as a very powerful catalyst, through visualization and prototyping.
Design patterns that support this type of thinking can be likened to LEGO bricks; integrated design system elements that facilitate visualization of and adherence to shared strategic frameworks. These frameworks can be intellectual and proprietary (i.e. part of a corporations R&D/intellectual property portfolio), just as much as they can be mere aesthetic commodities.
One example of such a pattern is brand identity, which (if successful) not only becomes a superficial veneer that standardizes design output, but, more importantly, serves as a conceptual foundation and visual vocabulary with which to both analyze, define, shape and express what the company does. In this sense, a brand identity is – or should be – a system of visual elements that lends itself to both developing strategy, as well as synthesizing and presenting it in a way that makes that strategy marketable. Such an identity has inherent longevity, in fact, it becomes more valuable with time, as it ties all strategic initiatives together into a cohesive whole, and should therefore never be discarded or dismantled lightly, especially not if viewed only as a set of simple aesthetic rules. Such a restrictive view would reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of the true value of a visual identity: its inherent flexibility and – thereby – applicability.
The full understanding of the applicability of brand identity, and hence the true, long-term value of it, most commonly resides with people who have strategic design training and experience. This is why corporations need to appoint design-savvy brand custodians at a management level, to protect the brand’s value from both neglect and erosion, as well as from wanton and ignorant destruction.
Ensuring such protection means the integrity of design thinking is preserved, so that the company can capitalize on it, enabling design to truly become part of the bottom line.