Branding: Honing a unique design system

by aishyza

A topic that came to my attention is this ‘conflict’ between UI/UX and visual design, often giving the latter a second-class position. These comments are more prevalent in Singapore I noticed. Perhaps most start-ups here are too caught up with building the awesomest product, assuming people will worship it in an instant. Come on, would you recommend craiglist to someone who is looking for a job? For those who don’t even know it, ignore that sentence. Why is it that Creative can’t win Apple?  I’m not saying that a company will not succeed without a particular type of design. All I’m asking is, why make life so much harder for yourself?

So what about this post? It is to highlight the importance of Branding – the tying rope that marries all forms of design together in a system.

The problem I see here is that we draw very strong boundaries between the different types of design. I do agree that they serve different functions but what’s important is that they need to be integrated as a design system to create a unified brand identity. Mark Hendrickson talks about the 3 types of design and I’ve thrown them out below in bullet points.


1) Product design

  • generate and prioritize functionality
  • deals with user flows and experience

2) Interface design

  • focus on usability
  • understand functionality on a step by step basis

3) Visual design

  • makes product convey a sense of quality and elicit proper emotional response

What I don’t agree with is how he presents the 3 design elements as a linear process as illustrated above. Product informing interface informing visual. It is worth noting that Hendrickson mentions how visual designers work closely with product and interface designers, but my opinion is that in no way should there be a hierarchy if they are to work towards a strong brand.

Let’s cut the ramble and get down to achieving Brand Resonance – the stage of nirvana where people worship your brand. 


Let me bring your attention to the second layer of the brand resonance pyramid, where the 3 types of design will take action in the creation of Brand Meaning. Here, companies try to create points-of-differences which are positive attributes that ‘consumers strongly associate with and believe they could not find to the same extent with a competitive brand’. Companies also create points-of-parity which are associations that may be shared with other brands to negate competitors’ point-of-difference. Notice how it is divided into ‘performance’ and ‘imagery’, juxtaposed with the relevant sides of the brain it encodes.


Product design would ensure that the PERFORMANCE is delivered optimally in order to elicit the most positive JUDGEMENT while visual design ensures the appropriate IMAGERY (be it friendly or sophisticated) so as to evoke the right FEELINGS to the target audience. Interface design then ensures that both performance and imagery are received by the audience with intuitive baby steps in order to reach the next level of the brand resonance pyramid, giving rise to positive consumer response.

The model stresses that a strong brand has a duality – appealing to both the head and the heart. What happened with Creative is that they focused too much on the left side of the brain, performance and judgement, hence lost out to Apple in the ‘heart appeal’. This is the very reason why Apple users are so forgiving about the antenna glitch that happened in 2010. How else would Volvo and Airbnb own the attribute of ‘safe’ and become leaders of their own market?

Moral of the story: Having a design system to build brand resonance makes it a lot easier to incite interest, garner support and finally win loyalty. Especially important in the social media era today where the most effective marketing channels are the consumers themselves. So would you really separate the 3 design processes and end up downplaying one? I wouldn’t.


Three types of design by Mark Hendrickson

Blue Ocean Strategy