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Sony Waterproof Walkman designThe importance of good design is almost always a section in a conversation about marketing, and with good reason too – it’s the delivery mechanism for your content.

A design that sells is what everyone wants; really who doesn't want to have a successful design that just rakes in the sales – can you point someone out?

A design is so much more than just a wrapper around some content or marketing message, but how do the top designers produce design that not only sell, but sing?


A good designer has to take a step back and observe the product. He has to figure out what the products’ core features are and how he can incorporate them into the design so it can reach a point of reality with the viewer.

The best designs do all this without any words – just symbols. It has been proven many times over that symbols are recognized faster than words, which is probably why videos are such a popular medium – the information is easily absorbed.

When I say symbols, I’m not talking about roman numerals or Egyptian hieroglyphics, I’m talking about pictures (or pixels in the case of online marketing) that are a substitute for words.

How Sony got it right...

Recently Sony launched a new MP3 player, it happens to be waterproof. Now when you get to a vending machine and you see the MP3 player inside a bottle of water, do you really think Sony have to use words to tell you it’s water proof? No, you can see that it is because it’s submerged in water! 

The cleverness of the water bottle idea goes a little further because it also answers another question a prospective MP3 purchaser might have, and that’s “How waterproof is it”. Well again no words are needed – it’s clearly obvious how waterproof it is.

Some critics (people not as clever as Sony’s designers) may suggest this is just a marketing gimmick, and perhaps they are right. But whatever their view is it doesn't change the fact that the design is selling the benefits of the product by using symbols rather than words.

Symbols = Words. Words = Symbols

The mind is a fascinating thing – the level at which it can associate is just phenomenal. 

If I tell you right now I’m thinking of a banana you also get a thought about banana’s right? Well now follow the thought and you may think of the last time you ate one, or perhaps you’ll think of a monkey. This is symbolization and association at its best.

Try it out for a bit of fun – turn to a colleague and state some commonly known object or thing such as “Elephant” or “Stapler”, now ask them to describe the object or ask them where they saw it.

Words can equal symbols just as much as symbols can equal words, so everything in your design needs to be there only if it adds to the effect you are trying to create.

The waterproof MP3 player doesn't carry any kind of marketing message and the only words on the design are Sony and Walkman. You (possibly) symbolically associate the word Sony with quality and dependability to mention a few. And you probably symbolically associate the word Walkman with music, and then you’re off thinking about you music collection, your favorite songs etc.

Simple, not simpler

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”. Albert Einstein

The ingenuity of designers for top brands can sometimes be overwhelming. But it is possible to bring inspiration to your products and services with a little design knowledge.

Sure, it’s harder push a service than a product because a product can be packaged and thus picked up and touched by the prospect. It doesn't mean that the service side of things needs to be difficult though – it just requires a little extra thought.

Design simplicity

To get a design that really impacts on your audience and sells your product or service you need to start off with an objective – Sir Edmund Hillary didn't slowly amble his way to the top of Mount Everest, he had a clear an definable objective.

Your marketing needs one or more objectives to accomplish anything. Without a target you’ll wind up throwing your marketing budget down the great gurgler. The objective needs to be realistic though – setting a target like make $1M in revenue might be over-enthusiastic if you sell pencils at 10 cents profit each!

Killer design checklist

  • Look over the features of the product or service and find the strongest one – the one which is the biggest problem or challenge to the target audience.
  • Considering your strongest feature, figure out how you can state the benefit in less than 8 words. Or you could go one step further and figure out how you can state the benefit using no words, so just using pictures or packaging.
  • Produce the design
  • Test the design for the desired outcome. Don’t just ask other people in the office what they think of it – actually take it out and show it to people who aren't your target audience and ask them what they get out of it. The design is right if the message comes through regardless of the audience.
  • Market the product of service using as many channels as you can muster – a good marketing strategy will make up for any shortfall.

With great designs come great responsibility

The design is one thing, but then your product is going to have to stand up to all the promises your design has made – its where you are going to build your brand reputation and repeat sales from.

Maybe we can’t afford to pay the designers who work for Sony, but we can definitely see that they are applying some standard design basics. And sometimes it takes a brilliant idea to remind that we do know the basics but have just lost sight of the wood because the trees are in the way!


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