Design: From Cause to Effect

In the current economic environment, it should come as no shock that consumers demand brands they can trust. Consumers want to know that the products they buy are made responsibly, safely, and honestly—and they will happily pay for that trust.

Corporate reputations are under siege for many reasons, cause communications key among them, since by the time a company addresses “cause” it’s often too little, too late. Generally such efforts find themselves out of alignment with the brand’s core values because they are tacked onto marketing programs at the end of the cycle rather than designed into the brand essence from the outset.

This situation is no longer acceptable. Effective brand design can no longer be relegated to the end of the project cycle, glued onto some cause after a program has been vetted (at great expense) through an organization. What’s typically left over are barely-recognizable propositions that the creative-types are then asked, at the eleventh hour, to fix. Well, good luck to you.

Time to Flip “Cause” and “Effect”
What’s needed today is a different approach that we call Effect Design. It flips the “cause and effect” equation and pays forward creative thinking to the benefit of people, planet and profits. Effect Design marries brand purpose with creative thinking and business strategy from the start to deliver innovative processes, energized products, empowered consumers and enhanced financials.

Imagine if environmentally-minded, huge Starbucks could capture the energy from every one of its millions of daily customers to help power its espresso machines? It would save the company energy costs, generate public awareness, and increase profits from a product innovation that can be sold, licensed, or shared with commercial partners. Or if much-loved Clorox took its “cleaner homes” mission into new at-home categories? Seriously: who better to sponsor anti-microbial countertops, bathmats, or hand towels?

When identified early, the causes in either of these examples—energy conservation and cleaner homes— can provide new territories for brand growth that never lose sight of their core vision, what got them into business to begin with. And, it will deliver on what brands are in need of most—authenticity, legacy, and trust. So where on earth do you start?

Time for an “Effect Audit”
One can begin by initiating an “effect-audit.” Understand what’s at your core: the values that guide your corporate decisions—intentionally or not. Then identify where your values overlap commercial, environmental or cultural contexts to reveal the biggest opportunities.

Effect-Scaping
By effect-scaping, one can arrive at conceptual frameworks, or the spaces where the brand can play, where you can motivate consumers in new, interesting and authentic ways. Then address operational, production and/ or executional challenges in earnest.

Effect-Centering
By effect-centering one can find the inspiration, the narrative, and the basic tools to keep the brand strategically integrated throughout its lifecycle. It’s the visual complement to the verbal brief that travels from strategy and product development all the way through retail execution.

And in the end, effect design can create tremendous positive change. Today’s consumers are happy to pay for it. The effect design process is built on this basic understanding, and the principles and goodwill of companies. Commit to do right by your customers, do right by the world, and in turn it will provide a greater return for everyone.

Glenn Geisendorfer is an award-winning creative director formerly with Nike. Gabe Goldman, previously creative director of General Public, is an entrepreneurial design leader with 10+ years of experience. They are co-founders of Seattle-based strategic design firm Platform Inc.

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