Category: Design Research

Spice Girls: The Ultimate Brand

I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I was a huge fan of the Spice Girls when I was a kid. They had fun music to dance to, characters you could connect with, and enough merchandise to furnish a house with.

But what do they have to do with design? It took me a long time to realise, but looking back – Spice Girls are the ultimate brand. They were so good at branding we didn’t even notice they were (and still are) a brand.

They had a logo, they had their colour scheme (each girl with their own colour), each Spice Girl had their own personality which made the brand human and easy to connect to – and they were consistent. You knew it was something Spice Girls instantly, whether it was a CD, a poster or a mug. It had less to do with their music, and everything to do with their image.

Delving further in, the brand was more clever than we give them credit for. With each girl having her own unique personality and dress sense, this was akin to a business having 5 sub-brands under the one umbrella. 5 brands = greater opportunity to appeal to more people. Everyone had a preferred Spice Girl, even those who claim they weren’t fans! (We know you really are – go on, admit it!)

The merchandise solidified the brand. Even though the merchandise was tacky, it did what any brand needs to do: stay in the forefront of people’s minds. When branding is everywhere, it’s a constant reminder. The Spice Girls merchandise did just that, and built an empire along the way.

The Pitch

A TV show that talks about design and advertising? You had me at hello.

And that’s what The Pitch is. I know it’s not a “new” show; I’ve managed to see a few re-runs on SBS over the past few weeks, and it’s quite an interesting watch. It shows that the US advertising/design industry definitely isn’t anything like Australia’s industry, but the process each company takes (and the ideas that come from those processes) are intriguing to see.

It’s wonderful to see the episodes where a concept is a group effort of the whole studio, all coming together and using their strengths, but so frustrating to watch when a concept is a boss’ demand (with the expectation that their staff will make it come alive for them). I am all for combined efforts – that’s how we work here, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

The other part that intrigues me with this show is what idea the client company chooses to go with from the two that are pitched. Some clients are completely swayed by what feels like sparkles and stars, others choose the idea that aligns closest with their goals, and others choose who they feel they could work with best (but may not have had the strongest idea).

Pitching is looked down upon in Australia (as it’s ultimately doing work for free), but the process shown through the show is great to watch.


The Beauty of Books – 1984

Some time ago, I watched a documentary on ABC called The Beauty of Books.

You’re probably thinking, what does “The Beauty of Books” have to do with design? A lot, actually.

It was the example the documentary used of George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four, and it’s numerous cover designs it has had since it was first published in 1949. The book has apparently sold over 25 million copies, and has had at least 35 different cover designs in its lifetime (see here).

For such a monumental book, it is a little surprising to me that the cover design has changed so many times…yet it is also a beautiful insight into society, values and art from each year and location where the book was published.

Each designer has taken their own stance on how they perceive the book, and how to visually interpret it. Some covers give nothing away about the content of the book, whereas others try to illustrate an aspect of the story. Some of the covers are reinterpretations of other covers of the same book – sometimes modernised, sometimes just a different take on the original idea.

It’s all very intriguing. Here’s a snippet of some of the cover designs of Nineteen Eighty-Four:

World’s ugliest colour?

Although the cigarette packet colour for Australia was chosen last year, I stumbled across this article again today from Brisbane Times that discussed the colour choice.

From market research and focus groups, this is colour that had the most negative effect on those who participated:


It was an interesting task for the focus group, as they are usually held to find out what colours, images and other aspects appeal to the consumer – not to find out what repulses them the most.

I find it rather amusing that our government first described the colour as “olive green”, which upset the Australian Olive Association. I personally can’t see the green in it, but that’s up to the eye of the beholder. People do see colours slightly differently – try it with teal or aqua, and ask them if it’s blue or green – you will get a large variance of answers.

However – back to the topic – do you think that “Opaque Couche” is a most disgusting colour, or are there other colours you think create as much of a negative response as this one?

Could Museo be the next Helvetica?

We have never seen a font gain so much popularity as quickly as Museo has. It is an ingenious font: a balance of rigid and whimsical, which is a rare combination…but it works.

The only problem is that it has almost become too popular, with many companies taking on the font for their brand – and it’s quite a distinctive font, so all of these companies are starting to look the same.

See these local examples:

We have this feeling that Museo is going to become similar to Helvetica in its popularity, but for the naysayers, we think it’s just finding it’s feet, being used in all kinds of ways (and maybe slightly too much) – but everyone has to remember, it’s a young font. Give it time to evolve and grow.

What students think

We were quite excited to see Alex Tyers’ ( student survey he completed for Desktop Magazine. Amusing and informative – but there are a few eye-opener results.


There were a few non-surprising answers, such as 75% of students use a Mac (while the other 25% are fussing about with their PCs), Facebook is the most-used social media outlet, changing uni course content to be more industry-related and that Andy Warhol made it to the top 5 of inspirations for the students (to the outsider, that may make no sense as he’s an artist, but his thinking and achievements seem to inspire students – it was the same when I was at uni, some things don’t change).

But there were some answers that made us stop and ask, “what?”. Firstly, there were no Australian designers in the top 5 inspirational people. We have some amazing designers and artists in Australia, although they aren’t famously known which may explain the lack of local inspiration.

We found it amusing that “living in the wrong town” counts as a factor that will impact on the students’ ability to design, however are concerned that students feel it is difficult to be original and that “most ideas are taken or done already”. Please guys and girls, have some optimism! Original work comes out of more than just putting your thinking cap on.

We’re also surprised that students believe they won’t be designing business cards, books, annual reports or forms in 25 years time. This makes us feel old already – forms are a big part of our business and I can’t see them going anywhere soon (and we’re a relatively young studio!). They may transform into exclusively electronic forms, but we won’t be without forms for as long as services and government departments require our information to function.

It’s also interesting to note that students don’t see economics as a driving force behind design. We can understand that, as it wasn’t taught at uni, however out in the industry it’s as obvious as a smack in the face – we need a healthy economy to have a healthy design industry, and it completely affects how clients use design services. Depending on how the economy is going, businesses decide to change how they present themselves, their information and how they advertise to move with the times. While environment, technology and society form how we consider and produce our design outcomes, it is the economy that drives what design outcomes are completed.

According to Design Victoria, the design sector contributes $7 billion to Victoria’s economy, and businesses that use design are more likely to show profit growth, as well as higher rates of profit growth.

– Five Years On: Victoria’s Design Sector 2003-2008

We are happy to hear that the students do believe that design will improve the economy, and that design will one day become a part of our general society – everyone can live and breathe design, it doesn’t need to be elite or unknown, and we look forward to the upcoming designers to help make that a reality in Australia.

“Pretty” annual reports are valued higher

A new study by the University of Miami’s School of Business Administration finds that “prettying up” a company’s annual report can cause investors to place a higher value on a company. Just adding an extra color to the report, for example, can have the same effect on perceptions as a 20 percent increase in annual revenue.

This doesn’t surprise us at all, but it may be something that not all boards and management consider. Annual reports can be terribly drab, and when you see one presented with considered design, it makes a huge difference – not just visually; the perception of the company is far greater because they are presenting themselves well. Annual reports are more than just numbers.

I personally find the phrase “prettying up” a bit strange – annual reports are serious information design when placed in the right hands. Graphs and tables don’t just need colours added to be visually appealing, they need to be easy to understand. There’s not much point in a “pretty” annual report that can’t be deciphered.

This same principle counts for all business publications and documents: make the right impression, be a business others aspire to: use design.