PRODUCT & STRUCTURAL DESIGN
WHY THE MAKER MOVEMENT IS IMPORTANT TO THE FUTURE OF BRANDING
Audra Norvilas, Industrial Design Director
March 22, 2017
Traditionally, creating a brand has been thought of in two dimensions; a unique name and logo is introduced to the consumer through advertising and marketing campaigns across traditional and online channels. In contrast, model making has always been a set of tools exclusive to designers and makers who think, work and build in 3D. But the much-publicized “Maker Movement” has gotten its hands on the wheels of innovation, and brand owners and their design partners are seeing a new paradigm emerge.
In a recent article, Ad Week gave props to this popular trend saying, “The Maker Movement, as we know, is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and garage offices, stir the imagination of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in-China merchandise.”
Not only are you creating one-of-a-kind objects, the process of building something with your hands and working through design problems in physical ways is invaluable. Design should be evaluated through as many senses as possible. The Kaleidoscope team references this quote often “A picture is worth a thousand words, but a model is worth a thousand pictures.”
HOW HAS THIS MOVEMENT IMPACTED DESIGN?
Think of brands that started from the ground up, like Apple or Kickstarter. By leveraging the accessibility of 3D printing and rapid prototyping to their advantage, they were able to carve out huge segments of the marketplace and deliver innovation before consumers even knew they wanted it. The versatility of today’s machines-free designers and engineers to experiment and do rapid prototyping with a whole range of materials. Some machines can work with wood, leather, stone paper, cardboard, acrylic and more, allowing people to make more beautiful, more durable and more innovative things faster than they ever could before.
“The ‘Maker Movement’ has gotten its hands on the wheels of innovation, and brand owners and their design partners are seeing a new paradigm emerge.”
MODEL MAKING IS NO LONGER EXCLUSIVE TO DESIGNERS
Whether artisanal or mass-produced, a product still has to go through the “maker” process that, for professional design companies, includes modeling, prototyping and testing. But the separation between the process of building a brand and building a model is becoming blurred, as artisan “makers” leverage tools now available to anyone with the ability to buy a 3D printer. In the atmosphere of “let’s make a product and see if it flies”, we can’t forget that successful brand building is an ecosystem that features a multi-dimensional set of tools. These include research to understand consumer demand, competitive landscape, brand personality, white space opportunities and target demographics as well as naming, product testing and selection of media channels. All of the above informs model making. When you build a 3D model, you are creating a path to consumer experience—a living brand that goes beyond a name and a logo. The brand identity now aligns with the physical structure and the product attributes. Without this kind of rigor, you can never achieve the desired brand presence.
LEVERAGING THE “MAKER MOVEMENT” MINDSET IN AN AGENCY ENVIRONMENT
Here at Kaleidoscope, we have embraced the maker movement because it is a natural fit with our culture. We’ve always been a mix of makers and brand experts, leveraging both areas of expertise to work in tandem. Every design initiative is approached through a brand lens so that we can design a more meaningful product—one that best represents the brand. Members of our industrial design team use modeling to create a physical object that allows the client to see and touch actual product options before landing on the best choice.
Consumer testing also provides valuable insights. Here are two examples of product designs that grew out of this “maker” mindset.
The Fellows Company, based in Itasca Illinois, is a recognized expert in cardboard storage solutions with a 50-year-plus track record of success. They wanted to create a new product line for the millennial generation; a portfolio of storage items ideal for college-age and new graduates who are entering the work world and need dorm or apartment furniture that is cost effective and versatile.
Kaleidoscope designed a flat pack system, modular storage that fit into small living spaces and aligned with the brand message. Rather than design renderings or a CAD model, we went straight to interactive model making. The process was streamlined so that the physical attributes of the storage containers could be easily verified and refined. The end product is the SOFI Collection, a fashionable, functional line of storage products built especially for millennials and available on Amazon and at Walmart and Sam’s Club.
Keson chalk line reels are ubiquitous to everyone working in the building trades. A leading provider of measuring tools, Keson needed a new brand vision for the company. Traditionally, product lines and SKUs within the Keson portfolio were developed in response to retailer and distributor requests versus a user-centric innovation strategy. After 30 years of this approach, the company was left with a hard-to-manage portfolio of SKUs, varying pricing strategies and inconsistent packaging. Knowing that Keson wanted to become a brand-led business, our team jumped in to rethink the portfolio from a brand and end-user perspective.
Central to their popular product line was the chalk line reel which served as a foundation for the design process. The brand evolved via 3-dimensional design language, which allowed us to stretch the visual identity or stay closer to the brand. Model making began immediately using the Maker Bot and CNC machine to create low-fidelity models. Review of Keson’s current products and brand positioning led to the creation of a visual language, which would deliver a powerful impact. For the chalk line reel, we leveraged the angled look of their brand mark and created a similar angled silhouette for the product. Over 40 models were made to first test the ergonomics and the form language of the chalk line reel. Later in the process, we tested the mechanical components in different types of working conditions. Prototypes ranged in fidelity from quick MakerBot 3D printed forms, to fully functional, high fidelity molded parts that reflected the end product. This project couldn’t have progressed without these iterative prototypes to test functionality. The end user typically works with the chalk line reel for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. Although the tool is simple, it had to be intuitive comfortable, and reflect the overall brand vision and language. The chalk line reel family product line will hit the market early next year in the Keson catalog, as well as large and small hardware stores across the country.
“MAKING” AND BRANDING, A HOLISTIC APPROACH
Once you can visualize a company’s brand identity, the process of model making and interpreting the visual language in 3D is a natural next step. With a focus on holistic brand thinking, designers today can tap into the “Maker Movement” mindset while utilizing all the rigor and discipline so necessary to creating a viable brand—one that delivers a winning consumer experience. Brand building is not just a strong logo or an idea, it is a holistic approach that makes best use of experienced design thinking, the marketing ecosystem we mentioned earlier and the ability to leverage model making to create a realistic preview before committing to the final design.