I have long been fascinated by the impact that a strong brand can make on consumer perception of product design. I know it can make promises and establish values that can be expressed through a product's design. I have seen it make a product seem faster, stronger and somehow better than it really is. I have seen it contribute the forgiveness for failures and shortcomings. But recently I discovered a case in which a strong brand has created folklore. I speak of the little Leica D-Lux 4 point-and-shoot camera.
The Leica D-Lux 4 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 are effectively identical products differentiated solely by design. They have the same sensor, lens, LCD, housing material, embedded software, battery, and battery charger. Both take identical pictures. They differ in small ways: the aesthetics of color (although Panasonic also makes a version in black, and Leica has a limited-edition version in anodized titanium), shape, surface, and that magical red Leica logo. Yet the Leica costs 50% to 150% more than the Panasonic, depending on the version. Leica itself seems very vague on the differences behind this spread.
There is one other key difference worth mentioning. The Leica has a loyal following that meets in various places online. To call them users is to undervalue them. These Leica advocates will even add attributes about the product that really do not exist. For instance, the Leica is often described as taking warmer, smoother, somehow better pictures, which would be amazing given the technology is identical. Moreover, I have seen the same feature described as an advantage on the Leica and a shortcoming on the Panasonic! At the camera store I have even had a seasoned salesclerk rave about an array of attributes and features in the Leica in direct comparison to the Panasonic, all impressive points, some true, many not unique to the Leica and some completely wrong and seemingly born out of this Leica folklore. It is a powerful brand that drives this level of advocacy.
That said—-and even though I know better—-I will admit that the power of that brand has an effect on me. I feel a connection to the Leica legacy when I handle that camera and a desire to take the time to take better pictures. I happen to have access to both. When I use the Panasonic, I am taking snapshots, but when I use the Leica, I am making images.
It is hard to deny the power of brand.
Ken Musgrave has been building and leading Dell's Experience Design Competencies, including industrial design, visual identity, and usability, at Dell Inc. for the past eight years. The team now extends globally with creative professionals in Austin, Texas, Singapore, and Taiwan. For the first twenty years of Dell's history it enjoyed growth through operational efficiencies and superior cost structure. Three years ago, Dell recognized that the principles and process that got it to that point would not be the same ones that would carry it into the future. Design has been at the forefront of that cultural shift. Ken has lead the development of a design competency and design culture through that transformation—including seeing Dell move from being a U.S.-centric manufacturer of computers to being a global source for great product experiences.
At Dell Ken has lead design-centered strategies ranging from consumer personalization to enterprise experiences. Before Dell, Ken led several design leadership and corporate identity roles at Becton Dickinson, a medical technology company. While there he led a global program to redefine the company's visual, product and global corporate identities. Ken holds an MBA from the University of Utah, an MS in design from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a BS in industrial design from Auburn University.