What is design?

This is a BIG question to answer... anyone who tries to answer falls short of words. I escape from answering this question by asking a question to myself "what is not design?" Everything is design in this universe, this universe itself is a grand design. Me, you, flowers, milk, it is an endless list. When we are a part of this grand design, it seems absurd to answer (what is design?)

Everything is design around you, within you, beyond you, beneath you. You yourself are a part of this grand design. Now it is time to go out of this grand design conversation and see how design interacts with us on a day-to-day basis.

Lets take for an example, a car, designed to ease the commute from one place to other. Shock absorbers are designed to make the journey less bumpy. We get bored during long journeys hence music and video devices are incorporated, again this is a part of design...

We can make a long list of such design components in the car like accelerator, airbag, air conditioner, air filter
air vent , alarm , all-wheel drive, alternator antenna
anti-lock brakes , armrest , automatic transmission
automobile axle and so on.

This is an exhausting exercise of naming design components. This endless intervention of design is called "APPLIED DESIGN". 

Dharamraj Ullagadi
Associate Creative Director
DY Works


Branding Cuisine?

When I was asked to write for the office blog (on any topic, mind you),  I immediately thought of food. To which came the immediate response that it should be about ‘brands’ or ‘branding’…. notwithstanding these words of advice, I continued.

Last Sunday, my husband and I were lunch guests at a very dear and a true Malayalee (I refuse to say Keralite. It’s just too propah for my liking) friend’s place.
Fried Prawns (Chemmeen Porichathu)

We began snacking on fried prawns and drinking some good Chilean wine. Yes, you read it right – Chilean wine. And you know what – they paired very well indeed.

Then got on gorging on some delicious fried Karimeen (Pearlspot) and continued to drink .

 Fried Pearl Spot (Karimeen Varutathu)

And a little later, the lunch table was laid out in full splendor with puttus, steamed rice, Kerala style dal, beans poriyal and some fabulous chicken curry. I had never (over) eaten to this extent in a very long time. The entire experience was very nostalgic as it bought back many memories of my childhood.
Chicken Curry (Kozhi Varutarachathu)
Kerala Dal (Parippu)

Beand Poriyal

Rosematta Rice
And then came the thought – how can food like this can be branded?

Be it Bengali, Oriya, Assamese or Malyalee or from any state in India, the choice of food in each of the cuisine is so vast that it cannot be clubbed together.

And it is therefore, that we categorize it by region - is this not a step towards branding?

Or does branding always have to involve a specific name or ‘identity’ and therefore a ‘logo’; ‘packaging’ design, the container or ‘structure’ that will hold the product?

For me it’s also about the experience. What is it for you?

Suma Joshi
V.P - Creative Services
DY Works


Fast And Furious: How Fastrack managed to play sex card in advertisings

Brand Equity, Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Remember the character of Akira Rai played by the ebullient Anushka Sharma in the 2012 release Jab Tak Hain Jaan? Many of the films viewers conclude she was the brightest spark in an otherwise morose caper. A girl who believed in breaking up over the phone without shedding any tears, was looking for no strings attached sex while also being the wholesome girl next door. Sort of like the young women and men of Fastrack.

With racy ads and a product range that's very sharply youth focused, expanding from timepieces to sunglasses, bags and belts, it's built itself as an Indian youth icon of sorts, no 4 in Brand Equity's survey of Most Exciting Brands. And that in a relatively short time frame, even as former youth favourites with a bigger heritage like Flying Machine grapple with where they belong and how they need to get there.

Fastrack was known for bold product design but the audacious imagery is of a slightly more recent vintage. It was launched in 1998 as a sub-brand of Titan and was later spun off as an independent entity targeting the urban youth in 2005.

Ever since, the brand has added accessories like eye gear, bags, belts, wallets and wristbands and is betting big on the youth fashion space. "Very few new brands have succeeded in India — Fastrack is one of them. It has been the first to identify the 'Move On' generation and position to them," views Alpana Parida, president, DY Works, a marketing consultancy.

Edginess has been the key factor, according to Arun Iyer, national creative director, Lowe Lintas. He adds "one can't build an irreverent brand and be safe in the communication." Accordingly the tone of voice has been kept bold. Its advertising initially had Virat Kohli and Genelia D'Souza making mischief in various locations ranging from the elevator to the ATM to the airport counter.

Then they moved the action to the bedroom, and the parking area and explained 'why the world moved on' to typewriters and handbrakes. After a commercial ran into problems with TV channels, Fastrack quickly went online to drum up hype about this 'forbidden' film.

The final clip was rather innocuous: a girl taking her bra off while still wearing her t-shirt with the cheeky line '20% off can mean a lot'. And though it had a lot less skin on show than the average deo commercial, it made several people who would otherwise have watched the ad without batting an eyelid, eager voyeurs charged up to catch a glimpse of the 'film the channels didn't want us to see'.

The tone of the ads over the last few years has been mischievous, just the right side of risque. In early 2012, the brand used digital as the lead medium for the first time to launch an entire collection called TEES. It had a combination of provocative visuals and girls admonishing people for staring at their T..s.

The hostel campaign for bags also created a furore as it showed a girl sneaking out of a boys' hostel after a night with her lover. A sequel to the ad had the same girl groping hot male passengers in a metro train. The use of young stars and a reversal of roles (and rules) made for a counter-culture offering in an otherwise polite and frequently dreary Indian brand universe.

Says Gupta, "Whatever Fastrack has put out there has always been aspirational and young. But above all it's always been believable. This makes it easy for the youth to relate." Adds Iyer, "For a brand like this we have to be thinking ahead of the curve rather than going by what the youth may feel as being currently cool."

An insight learnt in this journey has been that while it talks to the youth, many people who are not necessarily in that age bracket are using Fastrack too. It's a sign that the country is getting younger not just in age but mindset. Realising the propensity of its core target audience for the digital medium, Fastrack has been present extensively on it and is spending way above the industry average. Elaborates Vineet Gupta, managing partner of 22feet, digital agency on the brand, "Over the years, we have used the medium to influence every aspect of the marketing funnel — from engaging with our audience on a daily basis to generating conversations and awareness, to even launching new collections and activations with digital playing the lead role."

While the synchronicity between communication, packaging and product design has created an amazingly robust brand in Parida's view, what can be heightened is the in-store experience. It was in 2009 that Fastrack had opened its own stores positioned as a complete accessories destination. Currently it has over 125 showrooms, along with a presence in multibrand outlets. According to Vinay Bhatia, customer care associate and senior vice president - marketing and loyalty, Shoppers , "We are its top retailer in the country.

It has been consistently doing a double digit growth rate (CAGR) for us in last few years." Across the Tier I and Tier II cities, the brand is faring well and affordable entry price points have helped. In Bhatia's view, Fastrack is way ahead of category competition within the areas it operates in.

While it is good to have a footprint in all the spaces that the youth are excited about, the marketing head of a fashion brand, on condition of anonymity, points that it may actually be playing on a sticky wicket. Since it is competing in multiple segments and with many players, Fastrack could define the competition as coming from the various players in each of these categories or it could choose to believe there is no single challenger. The tipping point, many feel, could come from its overtly sexy positioning, which has got it noticed and has created ample anticipation but may pose a limitation in the long run. Explains Anup Vishwanthan, executive vice president, Leo Burnett, "The brand's aspirational value, creates a non-serious and frivolous image, which could corner it into a box when it gets ready to take the next leap." Going forward they will have to bring in certain values that would give them the stature, he adds, since the flip side of the entire 'move on' imagery could position Fastrack as lacking in depth and being irresponsible.

For now Fastrack seems to be having a free run with its target segment eating out of its palms. Who knows where the next extension could be coming from: a diverse set of possibilities ranging from funky helmets to equally funky condoms. 

AlpanaParida is President of DY Works , a leading brand strategy and design firm.


The Branding Opportunity With Festivals

America has successfully turned each festival into a business opportunity. This Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, retail and online sales crossed USD 1 billion.  Total holiday sales in 2012 crossed USD 580 billion. The definition of holiday season according to the National Retail Federation is from November and December—61 days total. Holidays during this period include Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.The period generates additional 600,000 jobs. The holiday season accounts for 20-40% of sales across categories.

While India sees a significant spurt in sales during Diwali and other festivals, even without comparable data, it would be safe to say that the marketing opportunity for festival specific shopping behavior is under-leveraged compared to the US.

Decoding Christmas, we can see that the market has evolved around the encoded rituals of the festival. The ubiquitous Christmas carols are warm and cheerful and are playing in every store and street corner. The stores are warm and cozy havens with the smell of pine and cinnamon, adorned in colour coded Christmas festivities pull shoppers in. The very act of shopping is celebrated as an important ritual of the festival. Christmas has its own colours, sounds, smells and tastes. There is a strong sensorial cohesion in how it is marketed across the country – and increasingly across the world. The colours of Christmas alone create a huge set of merchandise – from decorations to apparel. The myth of Santa becomes larger than life with Santas at stores and street corners, ringing their bells and going Ho! Ho! Ho! Hollywood complies, with at least one Christmas film every year.
The spirit of Christmas is encapsulated in phrases such as “spreading goodwill and cheer” or it being "the season to be jolly" are all uplifting manifestations of Christmas. The Christmas tree, the chimney and stockings and the plate of cookies and a glass of milk for the weary Santa are all significant rituals in homes.The many motifs of Christmas such as the mistletoe, the snowflakes, the tree cutouts, the candy canes and the stars – result in a clear delineation of the codes and rituals of Christmas.

Apart from the design codes of Christmas that create a wealth of Christmas specific merchandize, the gifting ritual creates a huge market.
The idea of gifting for Christmas is strengthened in popular culture – cinema and TV, and supported by retailers through a host of initiatives. The gift merchandise is made available at all price points. It is possible for kids to gift every classmate or teacher with decent options available at $1 upwards. At the most common gift price points of $20 and $50, there is significant merchandise that is in store windows, catalogues and online mailers. Gifting is made easier with gift receipts – that do not reflect the value but facilitate exchange if required. Stores like Bloomingdales also create a catalog of gifts for those who have everything – selling experiences such as space travel or luxury yachts.

When I look at Diwali, I am struck by the paucity of marketable assets. What are the colours of Diwali? We do have the motifs of Diyas, Ganesh and Laxmi - but where is the fun in all of this? The material is dated and does not have a contemporary appeal. The idea of Diwali is not captured in a clear understandable phrase as the “spirit of Christmas”. Welcoming prosperity, dispelling darkness are individual interpretations but there seems to be little myth making around it, through advertising themes or popular culture content.

There is an opportunity to ‘brand’ Diwali. Capture its spirit, define its rituals, design its motifs and create a rich trove of assets – that can be used to propel behavior and create merchandize. Embedded in the Diwali story – is the story of homecoming, of reuniting with the family. This could become the day of Indian homecoming. Families could travel far and wide to be together. There could be a ritual designed to take care of the fact that their home will have Laxmi walk in – even if they have closed their doors and are at their family homes. This flow of Laxmi – as is evinced by the gambling tradition in some states – can become epitomized by gifting (Genuine gifting and not the Indian recycling of gifts). 

The motifs of Diwali could lend themselves to specific holiday merchandise – and could galvanize category after category. Likewise, other festivals

Thanks to the Chopras, Johars, and even the Bhansalis, KarvaChauth is already enshrined as the ultimate ‘Valentine’s day’ of India. We need to find the colours and motifs for it, and make gifting a strong tradition for the day. The seeds for this are already in the ritual. What other way to thank the wife for her devotion to the husband’s well being than giving her a special and priceless gift? This kind of delineation of the festival codes would build a strong brand with defined rituals.

Every festival has its own codes, the need is simply to find its essence, create its brand assets that have a pan Indian / pan demographic appeal and then create a collaborative brand. AkshayTrittiya was ‘built’ into a pan-Indian festival through the intervention of the World Gold Council and a few jewellery retailers.

 Industry bodies such as CII or FICCI can take the lead on this – in bringing manufacturers, retailers, branding firms, the hospitality industry and entertainment firms together in order to create our own brands of festivals. 
Branding of festivals could become a significant growth engine for the nation.

AlpanaParida is President of DY Works , a leading brand strategy and design firm. She can be reached at Alpana@dyworks.in