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Why Design Shows Us Where We Belong [Day 16 – 28 Days to BFL]


This is Day 16 of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty. Yesterday, Jamie Notter led a great discussion on collaborating to build fierce loyalty. Today, my wildly creative friend, Reese Spykerman,  helps us understand how design plays a major role in building a fiercely loyal community. Such a great perspective! 

Why Design Shows Us Where We Belong

By: Reese Spykerman| @Reese

A Chinese mooncake festival comes every Autumn.

The festival’s meaning varies throughout Chinese culture, but it celebrates the moon, rituals, rewards. Though I am not Chinese, its meaning for me is beauty, for with every mooncake festival comes mooncake boxes.

My husband eats the egg-filled cakes each year, while I relish in ornately crafted packaging. I am loyal to the mooncake box, for its delights, its uniquely Asian characteristics, and they house my paper clips in something more ornate than I’d ever find at the office supplies store. They are quirky, they mix modern and traditional, and they are me.

Mooncake boxes make me fall on my knees. So does Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Never mind Martha’s jail time, her ridicule of Rachael Ray for not having a garden. The beauty inherent in that magazine inspires me to renew my subscription annually.

We find meaning in design. It shows us where we belong. Visual beauty and aesthetics, subjective as they may be, ignite us in interesting ways.

My friend Gini, a mind-body advocate, raves about her Ikea stool.

“It’s designed perfectly for my height so my bare feet rest comfortably on the floor, taking pressure off my joints and allowing me to sit for long periods with ease.” Just in case Ikea should ever discontinue the stool, Gini bought and stored eight of them.

In 2010, Gap changed its iconic logo, to the passionate distress of thousands of customers. So fierce was their loyalty to the original logo that Gap reversed its design decision a week later.

Pattern and bag designer Orla Kiely introduced Stem in the midst of a fashion period permeated by solid black. The spring-colored Stem pattern catapulted her business, and introduced a landmark print to the world of hangbags, fashion and furniture.

Starbucks fans gravitate not just toward its coffee, but to its cozy interiors, warm hues and soft couches. Imagine a design change in Starbucks to stark white, with plastic hard-backed chairs and florescent lighting. Customers would revolt.

These symbols, markers, environments and visuals all give us subconscious cues about our values and often create a sense of community, too. When we see a Harley Davidson motorcycle, we immediately associate that bike with a certain group and type of community.

Design inspires loyalty. A re-used website template without any personalization inspires no sense of belonging to that person or business. Contrast that with Sarah’s illustration of her and the YT. Because of that cue, we know — from our first pit stop here — what her values are and whether they fit into our own value system.

Homogeny is death for any growing business or person in this marketplace. Neutrality, both in voice and in design, is near guaranteed failure. Design will be the great growth mechanism of the next 25 years.

Our people need immediate gut checks to decide whether to stay or go, to understand whether they belong. This means as much as you can use design to inspire loyalty, the more differentiated your design, the more you will also alienate people.

Here’s where the fear lies, and what drives entrepreneurs into the land of templates and safety. Alienation. The threat of not being liked, of turning someone away.

But for every 10 people your design, your business values or your positioning turns away, it will draw at least one exceptionally loyal fan. Think about Harley. How much it’s probably NOT for you. The same thing that makes it not for you inspires fierce loyalty among its fans and customers.

Beauty’s subjective. Design’s subjective. I can give you a million different rules to follow with design, but if there’s one adage I’d give you to propel your business forward and attract the kind of people who will walk with you into the fire, it’s this: design with your heart and values on your sleeve.

Do not compromise those, in your visuals, in your words, in how you choose to respond to the world. Use design to show people what it is you stand for, and stop trying to please everyone. Use personal integrity as your guide. Be courageous enough to be radically different (unless, of course, you’re boring as hell). But don’t be different to be different. Be different because you’re showing us your meaning and what’s important to you.

Fierce loyalty is given to the risk takers of the world. Those who stand up for something rather than speak of nothing.

To become beloved, become meaningful. And color that meaning into everything you do.


YOUR TURN: What company, product, or person inspires your loyalty because of design, and why?


reese spykermanReese Spykerman is a designer for business pioneers who seek knowledge on mastering the art & science of customer experience, brand image, and delight. Her company offers a variety of design services from website reviews, headers, brand consultation and comprehensive visual design systems. Her anthem for 2012 is Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out”. Reese spent a year crafting the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

Mooncake box image from qqjawe on Flickr


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