Product Identity


I’ve been asked to write a report on the subject Product Identity.
Why is it important for product design? How relevant is it to a brand and to business?
Does the Product Identity help boost one company’s sales, whether if it is small (computer mouse) or large business (automotive)?
Does Brand Identity has much to do with it? for instance, one only recognizes the product coz they are aware of the brand (iPod)? Or how to differentiate Brand vs Product Identity?

I’d like to hear some comments about it.
I appreciate a lot!

the most interesting talk on brand identityi ever heard was not in any design classes, but in economics. the proffessor talked about how branding is used in commodity markets in an attempt to push the product out of the commodity range. this is like those little stickers you see on produce. Chiquita bannana and all that crazy stuff. It leads you to beleive in a product’s superiority over another. it’s a mussle for competative advantage.

i find it fascinating when brands change their targets over time and one generation’s understanding of a brand is completely different from the next.

balck and decker for example… used to be the toughest tool there was, and you’ll see old-timers at home depot asking for black and decker when what they really want is Dewalt (and they’re actually the same company)

back to the topic
the product identity is driven by the brand…
it has it’s own qualities which are influenced by the brand under which it flies
It’s probably one of the most important things in product design especially when working for a consultancy; to be able to understand and communicate a certain brand through form - you have to understand what the brand is and how it works - the psychology

I agree that brand and product are linked to one another.

But the task I was given is to show examples of PI within a company/brand.

Taking for example Dewalt power-tools. Their products are mainly recognized by the use of colors Yellow&black. Observing here that PI occurs when one can identify the brand without having to see the logo.
Or anyone recognizes the front grill of a BMW without seeing the badge.
these are some examples.

but what I find difficult is to show examples with consumer electronics products. For example, SONY cellphone brands include, Cyber-shot, Walkman, and maybe others. but each brand has distinct design and style, but all under Sony brand. But in general, can one recognize/identify that this cellphone is SONY, and not Nokia or Motorola, or other.
what makes Sony cellphones differ in design from its competitors or vice-versa? is it the shape, the color, the texture, the materials,etc?

worth giving it a thought/?

ok so i think of that as being design vocabulary… the way the form, materials etc… communiacte a brand… it’s everything that communicates the brand minus the graphics right?

so electronics companies i can think of that have a distinct vocab for identity would be like the high end ones…

Bang & Olofson

oh Philips for sure

motorola phones have a look without the tag i think
-something about the proportions

theres tons of examples… some are more obvious, others more subliminal. companies with a long cherished history will tend to hold on to that (design) thing which makes them who they are…

where has your research led you so far?

thanks JG for the posts

my research led to a name , Toni-Matti Karjalainen, whose Phd paper was exactly about how to communicate the brand through products. the book’s title “Semantic trnasformation in Design”
He goes in depth on how to identify one company/brand products and differentiate against competitors. Questions such as “why a Nokia cell looks like Nokia?” or “Why is a Saab and Volvo cars are different?”
The paper I found shows the systematic of his study on this topic.
Obviously there’s much details to write up here, but basically his paper was what I was looking for. However, now I noticed the lack of information on Product Identity. And when there’s Brand Identity, usually refers to Graphic design.
anyway, i find it very useful not only for student but as well for professional practicing. just dont know if i can find his book in Asia.
If u are also interested, google his name, u may find a couple of students paper based on his research.

definatly check out Toni-Matti Karjalainen as its exactly what you are looking for, in addition to his book he wrote a paper called "Safe shoulders and personal faces transforming brand strategy to product design2

also search for Warell’s Design Syntactics which offers a slightly different view to karjalainen’s more semantic approach.

you might also check out “speaking the Buick language, capturing and understang brand identity with shape grammars” by McCormack and Cagen
which you should be able to find online.

the product is the strongest manifestation of the brand as it is the main point where the consumer or user interacts with the brand. Therefore product identity must come from brand identity as it communicates this through its form.

I have always found Nokia to have a very identifiable product. To the point I now find them boring…but I digress.

Nokia has a very 2D design language. Most of their phones feel more like a 2D Design exercise as opposed to a 3D form giving exercise. Graphical applications to a flat 2D surface.

Speaking the Buick language? Isn’t that “Grumpy Old Man”? Or post-menopausal woman?

Maybe its Transylvanian…because the “buick language” sure as heck doesn’t speak to me.

good example of building of PI from a brand: Harley Davidson.

good example of destroying a brand from PI: Levi Stauss.

think about it.

A recent case study that comes to mind is Kitchenaid.

Whirlpool recognized that their iconic Kitchenaid mixer had extension opportunities. They hired Ziba design to deconstruct the design-language and apply it to an entire line of products. They call the new language “ProScale.”

There’s a case study you can download here: