Five minutes with Jos Harrison
Global design strategy director at Reckitt Benckiser, Jos Harrison has had extensive experience directing branding and design on both the client and agency side. Speaking to Transform magazine, Harrison reveals the best strategies behind designing a good brand, the most important processes of brand building and how packaging can be more eco-friendly and still be a brand's biggest ambassador.
What is the secret to designing a good brand?
I’m not sure it’s a secret - but it is difficult. It takes a great deal of sustained effort, as designing a brand is never a ‘one-shot’ exercise! The key is ensuring that the team designing the brand really understand it, not just the previous guidelines and the commercial objectives. They have to get under the skin of the brand’s role in its category and the wider world; why does it exist in the first place? The second critical consideration is to imagine all the ways that the brand might come to life - whether it’s within the control of the brand owner or its customers - and prepare for all those eventualities! This doesn’t mean designing every possible touchpoint, it simply means being smart and future-focused when designing assets that can travel across touchpoints and media channels.
What are the most important things to consider in brand design/strategy going forwards in a world that is increasingly digitalized and technology-led?
Aside from ensuring that your brand has the right assets to create a compelling digital footprint and experience for its customers, we as designers have to be careful not to get too carried away with the digital space. Humans are still physical creatures- we are not (yet!) wholly digital entities, so we still get most value from physically oriented experiences. This means that even digital brands need to consider the physical life of their customers/users. Where and when do they fit in? Where should they reach out to their customers, and when should they leave them alone?
What strategy should brands adopt if they wish to be sustainable and eco-friendly?
Strategy is not necessary for social or ecological sustainability - brands must simply act responsibly and sensibly. Applying the term ‘strategy’ implies vast difficulty and begins to absolve brand owners of responsibility for rapid and/or comprehensive action. Operating a sustainable business (especially on a global scale) is complex but it is not difficult to devise a plan; committing to it and sticking with it is where most brand owners are still falling short. We ALL know how to make our brands more sustainable; we just need to get on and do it!
What is the most important process of brand building?
Planning, planning, and more planning! The ‘thinking’ phase of future gazing and imagining solutions is absolutely crucial to brand building. Whether planning organic growth or redesign, brand owners and creatives need to build on a deep understanding of the brand and its role. They need to imagine how it will need to adapt its offering and its expressions as its context changes; this could be expansion into white-space markets with a different cultural context, or it could be flexing to take account of macro-scale attitudinal and behavioural shifts. All too often we as brand owners put pressure on our creatives or creative partners to start delivering assets as soon as possible. This can cut short the time given to the planning and strategising phase. A former boss often used to say: “we never seem to have time to do things properly...but we always find time to do them twice!”.
Packaging is something we often forget when thinking about brand experience. However, it’s playing an increasingly important role and has been scrutinized to see if it sustainable. What are your thoughts on this?
The problem with packaging is that brand owners often have it top of mind - but for the wrong reasons. It is still all too often considered as a secondary advertising billboard, just another place to shout claims, rather than a vehicle to enhance your brand experience for your users. The advent of connected technology (particularly the now-native ability of your smartphone to scan printed QR codes) is a game-changer for the packaging industry - and for creative brand owners in CPG. It offers a transformational opportunity to take your individual packaged product and transform it into a service in someone’s hand or home!
Your product/pack is still your single biggest brand ambassador - it is in your customer’s home often for a couple of months, and in their hand sometimes every day! What better way to enhance their experience of your brand than to accompany their use of your product with a digital interaction on their smartphone?! The requirements of sustainability (particularly ecological impact-reduction) mean that all brand owners are forced to reimagine their packaging using new material, new processes and even new business and distribution models. This impetus provides the perfect inflection point to also reimagine the use-case for your product and add value to the user experience with your (digitally augmented) packaging.
How important is the role of design to other functions within a company?
I have to confess to a certain degree of bias here...but for brand owners, consciously designing your brand experience is the single most impactful way to ensure your brand’s longevity and continued growth. ‘Design’ is simply the process of establishing a conscious plan to deliver a specific objective to a specific target. The most enlightened brand owners already recognise that in today’s (and tomorrow’s) world, design is marketing, design is R&D - design’ is engineering. All core functions in a company need to be democratic partners in the design of brand experience. The future is perhaps not design as a discrete function within a company, rather it is a concerted programme of ongoing design-literacy for all employees, from the CEO to the delivery driver.
How did your experience differ when you worked with the agency versus when you worked on the client side?
Traditionally, agency teams have been quite distanced from client internal process and politics This can create a disconnect, and even lead to divergent objectives as clients often worry about sharing certain information with their agency partners - concerned that sharing sensitive business information will be harmful. I would say that if a client feels this way, they are either working with the wrong agency, or they do not understand the nature of a client/agency relationship. For brands (and therefore brand owners) to thrive in the future, the lines between client and agency have to become increasingly blurred. Allowing agency partners a genuine insight into your business is the only way to ensure they are fully enabled to help you deliver your objectives - as a brand or as an individual. The notion of partnership is crucial to business success in a contemporary multi-channel and multi-touchpoint world, both for brand owners (who need to learn trust and really acknowledge external expertise) and for agencies, who need to find new ways to work openly together with other creative partners. As the scope for specialist expertise is growing exponentially, no single agency can hope to provide every aspect of their client’s creative needs.