When a design really works it appears effortless: we see the finished poem, not the gallons of red ink spilled to create it. Successes in any field are hard-fought, but when a good design comes together, there’s a sense that that it couldn’t have ended up any other way. That’s the goal: to make all the blood and tears shed to achieve a result invisible to the end consumer, to make something that “just works.”
Microsoft recently launched Office 2010 with a completely new packaging system designed by Hornall Anderson. This was a challenging assignment for a number of reasons: a deeply functional product, entrenched brand, huge SKU set, multinational consumer base, massive spectrum of sales environments. The end result: packaging that works. It creates appeal, communicates clearly and drives sales in a global market. We wanted to take a deeper look at what went into “making it work.”
Get out in the streets:
When the goal is to design a shoppable product, there is no substitute for street-level observation or for recreating actual sales environments. Period. We spent 1000+ person-hours on shop-alongs and conducted over 1,500 customer interviews in 14 cities around the world. We painstakingly recreated dozens of different shopping environments. The time spent recreating online and retail sales environments proved invaluable: it built client trust and allowed subjects to focus on their shopping experience instead of their testing experience, enabling us to maintain consumer insight all the way through the project.
Be a partner, not a vendor
This was a research-driven project, but insights based on quantitative data can prove challenging to interpret for design. By involving our client in formulating approach, the research, we created an environment of trust where our insights could have maximum impact without the need for unnecessary validation cycles.
We also looked for opportunities to share our internal philosophies, so that our clients could review our work with the same informed eye that we bring to the table. For instance we instilled them on the 30ft/10ft/3ft approach to product design, and by taking the time to help our partners become “experts,” we were able to work as a more cohesive team.
We have an obligation to (respectfully) think beyond the confines of our assignment. Our purview did not explicitly include package form factor or SKU set, but because we were able to earn our clients’ trust, we ended up having an opportunity to influence form factor and to make a recommendation to reduce the number of suite offerings. Anytime a team is able to look at a project in 360º, even if they’re only responsible for a piece of the pie, the result is inevitably better.
Little things matter
A single word, an icon, a hue: all of these things are potential barriers to understanding, but they are also opportunities to turn a consumer pain point into a teachable moment. What we've learned is that people are intimidated by technology, and because of the relatively high price point, confusion in the aisle could have disastrous brand experience consequences. Our research told us to start by just making it make sense. The best way to deliver a consumer-centric design was to say less but communicate more: if I walk into the software aisle feeling overwhelmed and walk out with the right product, we win.
Be flexible, from start to finish
Part of this assignment involved helping Microsoft transition towards an entirely new sales environment: the PC aisle. Many PCs will now be hitting the shelves pre-loaded with Microsoft Office 2010, and users will be able to purchase “Product Key Cards” to unlock the version of Microsoft Office they need. Rapid iteration is the bedrock of our design process, and we had to stay light on our feet to adapt to this new form and function.
This included finding ways to explain to customers how the new format worked, giving it visibility in the PC aisle, and overcoming the expectation that software = discs. We couldn’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board: name, form factor, messaging, aisle location—all of these things had to evolve from where they began in order to succeed.
Traditionally, brand strategy and design are two separate processes with a carefully orchestrated hand-off in between. We see tremendous value for our clients in breaking down those silos: the result is inevitably more thoughtful, holistic and innovative. This is not about being a firm that offers both services—it’s about changing the way we think and operate. On the Microsoft Office 2010 project, we had both a designer and a strategist involved from the first to the last day—there was no hand-off, just a continual evolution. The benefit was complete consistency, from end to end: strategy that considered design dependencies, and design that was fully brand-centric.
Design firms like to talk about being consumer-centric, but the Office 2010 project is a good reminder that there are truly no shortcuts to gaining that consumer insight. The requirements of this project made it as much a feat of engineering as design: it had to work, for everyone, everywhere. Taking the time to collect the data at street level was invaluable. It made us a full-time army of consumer advocates and client experts, constantly pushing design, sweating it, simplifying it, working hard to make it look easy when you reach for the box.
Andrew Wicklund is a Design Director and Anne Connell is Director of Brand Strategy at Hornall Anderson, a leading brand design/interactive firm. Founded in 1982, the firm serves a diverse mix of clients ranging from Fortune 500 brands to emerging growth companies. Hornall Anderson (www.hornallanderson.com) is a part of Omnicom Group Inc.). To see the full Microsoft Office 2010 lineup and learn more about the process, visit us at: www.hornallanderson.com/#/project/138/