The Speakers Speak: Take 6 with Trends Guru Valerie Jacobs

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Valerie Jacobs, vice president, group director of trends at LPK, is a seasoned design forecaster focusing on the development of trend analysis for LPK client brands. Ms. Jacobs’ strategic approach includes research, analysis and translation of trend data into actionable strategies as they relate to design for consumer brand initiatives.

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1. How does a company’s brand express itself through design?

Design is more of a business tool than it ever has been. As branding and design become increasingly common elements among the business vernacular, the question of brand expression itself is less a question of devices or consumer touchpoints and more a question of brand and design strategies. Powerful brands deploy visual and other design assets to position or reposition a brand’s equity. So, the question is not only how, but also why a brand expresses itself. We should ask ourselves why we are in business in the first place, and how that essential message will resonate with current and future consumers.

2. What are the best ways for designers to stay current and brand savvy?

As creatives, we all share a certain acuity, a sensitivity to the nuanced pleasures of life. I think it’s important to exercise those. Stretch your comfort zone and keep an eye out for the things that not only delight you, but delight people you design for. Understanding what makes experiences rich and why certain things resonate with the zeitgeist are great primers for meaningful brand building.

3. In today’s intense mercurial marketing environment, how important is it to update brands and create new ones?

Being nimble and relevant is vital. Branding is less and less about marketing and more and more about strategic engagement in relationships. In the future, communities and tribes will increasingly reposition your brand where you fail to be part of a meaningful dialogue.

4. What unique branding opportunities do you believe are available for in-house designers?

If you think of a brand as a conversation between a company and its consumers, there are branding opportunities at every level of an organization. Seek out the brand champions within your organization, talk to them about why they’re passionate about the brand and ask them where they see your unique opportunities.

Certainly design is playing an increasingly multidisciplinary role in the world of business. The future will reward designers that are sensitive to the shifting desires and values of consumers. In a time of flux, designers who can adapt to a culture of change and alternative economies will be the business leaders of tomorrow.

5. Are there any common traps they might fall into?

The fundamentals of branding are a great structure for understanding the mechanics of branding, but always consider the larger objective. The fundamentals are simply a springboard for more strategic brand thinking.

A great brand relationship is like a passionate, entertaining conversation. If you approach it that way, the potential pitfalls are things like not listening, not bringing anything exciting or relevant to the conversation, not being responsive or acting self-important. Some great ways to avoid these pitfalls is to seek to understand your audience and empathize with their values and instincts. Then, look to the future. Consider both how those values might evolve over time and what new drivers might emerge.

6. How can in-house designers establish themselves as the brand experts?

First, read everything you can get your hands on. Not just the hot new airport business read, but anything that is informing or challenging the larger zeitgeist. Popular and global culture, science and technology are all deeply influencing the direction of design and influencing the way brands communicate with consumers.

Secondly, look at the brands that are doing very well—and dissect them. The big brand leaders are fine, but don’t forget to look at the smaller guys that are really changing the conversation. Ask yourself what they are doing that has brought them such momentum. Who is disrupting a category? Who is choosing an unexpected channel strategy? What consumer insights are they responding to? Ask yourself why.

Last, consider the ultimate brand expert…your consumer.

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