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Crafted by Rule29

Superhero Branding

How Research Informs the Creative Process

Let’s face it. Superheroes are just cool. No matter how many times we see that comic or movie, no matter how old we get, superheroes will always be a beacon of awesomeness. 

Design is like the superhero of a brand. It’s cool, it’s in your face, and good design, like a good superhero, is both unforgettable and timeless. 

Design has inherent value in business. Today, more than ever, the benefits of good design in business are valued more accurately than ever—it’s priceless. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but we do have some real numbers for those of you left-brainers.

From industrial design to branding, design-centric companies have outperformed the S&P by 228% (source). McKinsey & Company note that the best design performers increase their revenues and shareholder returns at nearly twice the rate of their industry counterparts (source).

The market seems to empirically value those companies that are design-centered. But to make sure our black-and-white brain thinkers are still with us, let’s define design.

Tim Brown, the CEO at IDEO, defines design as a way of thinking: “…design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable” (source).

That’s great, but if design is based on “what is desirable from a human point of view,” that’s a personal preference, right? Like why I prefer the way Nike trainers look and feel versus other brands. Or why some people prefer the Android OS and others prefer Apple’s iOS.

If our team is designing a package for an organic food company or a brand for an ergonomic office chair, how do we know it will appeal to that human point of view?

In their book called Building Design Strategy: Using Design to Achieve Key Business Objectives, Thomas Lockwood and Thomas Walton observe that “Design may enhance performance but unless there are metrics to gauge that benefit, the difference it makes depends on conjecture and faith” (source).

So, design appeal needs to be measured. Otherwise, it’s simply a gamble left to the opinion of others. How do we do that? Here you go, logic people… research! 

Research is the Clark Kent to design’s Superman. It collects the relevant facts, assets, and stakeholder interviews, identifies the goals of the project, evaluates the competitive landscape, analyzes and interprets the data, then writes a summary to hand off to the creative design team.

The type of research needed for creative design projects may vary, but it must result in a brief that is interpretive and actionable for your creative design team. 

  • A story and messaging project may require multiple in-person interviews with different stakeholders to understand the future goals of the company. 
  • A logo refresh may only need a brand audit sent via email to a small list of internal stakeholders and a collection of clients to learn how they hope to convey their company to the world. 
  • A branding re-launch could require many months of interviews, market analysis, and refinement to provide our team complete understanding of the company’s current and future evolution. 

Any creative design project must reflect the goals and aspirations of the client and align those with their targeted personas, and the research conducted on these projects needs to direct the creative design team to conceptually move a project towards those goals. The interpreted research outlined in a creative design brief should allow your team to help them make that transition from good facts to good design.

In essence, the creative design brief activates the creative team and is the foundation for the success or failure of the project. Theoretically, you could have great research, but if the interpretation is off, your creative team is out of alignment when they start the project and has a better chance of being off-course.

At Rule29, our team is a Justice League of talent (no offense, MCU fans). For every creative Wonder Woman, Batman, and Flash designer here, we have the research Diana Prince, Bruce Wayne, and Barry Allen conducting the research, interpreting the results to inform the creative process, and ultimately driving the success of our superhero franchise.

Learn more about Rule29’s Diana Prince, Bruce Wayne, and Barry Allen.