IBM's New Visual Vocabulary: Beautiful, but is it On Strategy?
June 9, 2011 ‐ 3 comments

Performing some competitive intelligence research for a new client, we were pleasantly surprised by the level of design IBM has put into some of the supporting graphics on its website. They caught our design eye immediately, but will they tickle the fancy of buyers?Менеджмент


It’s great to see a big company opt out of stock photography (not completely, mind you), and an illustration style that is as bold in eschewing light flares and reflection effects as it is in its use of color is an aesthetic feast for the senses.

But does it make sense for IBM?

To our minds, it’s a little forward for Big Blue. Corporations don’t choose IBM to be on the cutting edge – they choose it because of its reputation for solidity and reliability. In isolation, we love these graphics. But, while eye-catching, they don’t help underscore those attributes that are fundamental to the IBM brand.

On the other hand, maybe they’re part of an effort to help IBM be a little less safe and a little more innovative? Possibly, but it’ll take some advanced technology products and services and a good amount of time – not just nice graphics – to help IBM reposition itself.

Decisionmakers take heed: when you’re looking at the design that will accompany your company and its products and services, forget about what you like. Instead, think about what that design communicates. Or, even better, do some research and find out what it communicates. That’s how you get design that helps solve business challenges.

What’s not to like about that?


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June 13, 2011 4:00 am
Thanks for such a thoughtful response. As always, great direction and guidance. Keep up all that goodness.
June 10, 2011 1:08 pm
Thanks Shaun, glad you enjoyed the post. In general, the depth and breadth of the research might correlate to the importance of the design change you're evaluating. If you're McDonald's and you're thinking of moving away form the Golden Arches, we wouldn't recommend you do so on the basis of a quick and dirty study. But since you mention "users", we figure you're talking about online design? If so, Google's A/B testing can be a cheap and simple way to test for mere preference. If you have a set of attributes you're looking for your design to hit, then there are ways to use an online survey to get some basic answers (obviously sourcing the right sample and asking the right questions is critical here). If you're looking deeper, to want to try and find out what attributes your users ascribe to certain types of design (as opposed to the option above, in which case you're testing the relative strengths of designs to hit specific criteria), then you're probably looking at qualitative research. It doesn't need to be a six city, two-dozen focus group affair, but at least a handful of one-on-ones with a skilled researcher can help you start to get some useful color commentary - as long as you can weed out answers stemming from the respondents' personal idiosyncracies (no mean feat!). Design's tough to test, particularly if the design is a big departure from what's been done before. But it's worth doing. Just make sure you're aware of the limitations of the methodology, and of the limited frame of reference of the study's participants.
June 10, 2011 11:26 am
Nice post. I like the last note about "forget about what you like." What are your thoughts on quick and dirty methods for gathering rapid feedback on design choices? Quite often, I find my organization is not necessarily opposed to gathering more input from users. It's usually the expense and time it might take to run more robust and formal research studies.

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