How a Unified Brand Language Builds Trust in Your Products

 In Design Strategy, Medical Product Design

Imagine an operating suite where a surgeon might use two of your company’s medical devices in the same procedure. She puts down one instrument and picks up the other … and pauses for a beat because the two tools feel different in her hands. They look different, too.

Your company may have multiple devices in use in an OR, a patient room, or a medical lab. And if there are variances, even subtle ones, in how these products look and feel, then the user’s level of confidence and comfort is undermined. From one product to the next, there’s a disconnect between the tool and the user’s expectation.

Take a look at your suite of medical devices: Do they look like they belong together? Do they share color, shape, and form? If you’ve built that suite of products over time, or with different development teams, chances are that they don’t resemble a family.

There’s a reason that Cadillacs all share the same design characteristics, with aggressive front ends and sharp angles. The style is identifiable and ownable.

This kind of unified product family is the result of a visual brand language (VBL) — a strategy to create consistency across the brand.

Visual Brand Language in Medical Product Design

The visual brand language lives as an intermediary between the brand overall and the brand’s individual products. Think of it like this:

BRAND > VISUAL BRAND LANGUAGE > PRODUCT DESIGN LANGUAGE

The highest level represents the brand’s expression in every touchpoint: logo, office signage, business cards, sales literature, even the way the receptionist answers the phone.

At the product level, design language focuses on the physical attributes of the product itself. A product’s design language should reflect the principals of the broader VBL.

In between those two, the VBL codifies how the ethos of the brand is applied to the family of products. It communicates the brand’s requirements to R&D and engineering groups so that the products they design are consistent and support the brand.

A VBL consists of design elements that link products to each other and to the brand while offering cues for how to use them. A common visual vocabulary is the result of a strategy that includes the product, packaging, literature, website, brand guidelines, and any forward-facing brand expression — the end goal of which is to connect people with the brand, consistently.

Elements of a Visual Brand Language

While medical device companies may have a brand standards guide that governs things like logo placement and brand colors, and they have design standards that dictate product specifications, they commonly don’t have a visual brand language.

That’s because brand and product are typically siloed in different business units: Marketing handles the brand and the product teams manage device design. The two disciplines rarely compare notes or overlap at a deep and meaningful level.

A visual brand language fills that gap, and it should be developed by a high-level working group within your organization that includes people from marketing, R&D, product, and engineering.  This strategic guide should be compiled with attention and effort. Either a designer working in-house or an outside contractor should be able to pick up the document and clearly understand how to apply the standards to a new product.

Elements of a visual brand language include:

  • Color — not just the brand’s signature colors (which can become accents throughout the suite of products) but a unified system of colors for key product components.
  • Form — the overall physical profile of your family of products should be uniform, whether it’s curved and organic or solid and angular for example.
  • Materials and textures — a consistent use of materials and textures builds confidence because products feel similar in users’ hands and communicate the same message.
  • Indicators and touchpoints — handles, grip areas, buttons, and other physical elements that cue users on how to pick up or interface with the devices should also be consistent
  • Brand application — define how and where the brand logo is placed across the suite of products.

These elements combine to create an impression of precision and quality. The VBL underpins the design of every new product, whether it’s the same team developing it internally or an external group.

How to Implement a Visual Brand Language

If you’re on the leadership team of a large and established medical device company with a range of products that look nothing like each other, you’re wise to implement a visual brand language. Of course, you can’t redesign all of your products overnight. But your next new product might be the ideal opportunity to define a VBL that you can apply to other devices in the future. Particularly if there’s a lengthy window of time between product iterations, VBL documents become more valuable because they document information that otherwise would get lost in the shuffle over time.

For startup medical device brands, a VBL should be part of the initial strategy. A small company may be defined by its only product, and the VBL should be part of what you consider a minimum viable product.

A consistent brand language applied to product design is even more important in the home healthcare market where consumer buying habits apply and users aren’t trained medical practitioners.  Companies with a large suite of consumer products need to document the VBL in a strategic way so the brand doesn’t become fractured.

How important is it for your products to look and feel like a family? Consider a surgeon in the OR: Does she look at your product and immediately think, “Wow, that looks like a high quality, precise instrument or device I’m about to pick up and use.”

The familiarity and trust that come from a consistent family of products build confidence that she’s chosen the right brand. Your brand stands for something. Make sure that stance is clear every time medical professionals use every one of your products.

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