RKS Design’s Scott Clear on Product Design’s Crucial Role in Adland

What do a watch that reimagines the Museum Dial, a collaborative, high-energy workspace, the “hearing aid of the future” and a racecar that marries design and aerodynamic technology have in common? Not only are they all examples of innovative product design, but they also all demonstrate inspiring creativity.

Although it’s not always obvious, product design and advertising are inextricably linked. Both are crucial elements of presenting a brand’s philosophy and purpose to consumers. Perhaps no one understands this relationship better than Scott Clear, our Product Design jury chair for the 2016 Clio Awards, who has spent more than 30 years building brands through design-led innovation, most recently as RKS Design’s chief design & innovation officer.

As we prepare for Product Design’s second year as a Clio Awards medium, Clios.com caught up with Clear to learn more about the role product design plays in adland and what defines memorable product design.

Product Design first became a Clio Awards medium in 2016. Why is it important that the advertising industry pays attention to product design?

The addition of the Product Design medium is imperative to represent all of the creative businesses pulled together, from branding to advertising to product. Branding is the expression of the essential truth or value of a product, marketing is actively promoting a product, advertising is painting the picture of a product and product is the message. Because the product is the message, product design is deeply rooted in the advertising business and the Clio Awards embraced this opportunity and brought us all together.

What is the relationship between product design and brands?

Branding is an expression of the essential truth of a product. Every product is the direct representation of its brand, and the brand is the representation of the promise it makes to its users. The key characteristic of a great brand is one that not only understands what its users want from it, but can also over-deliver on its promises. That’s when a brand achieves an emotional connection that users never forget. 

How has product design evolved over the years?

There are always exceptions, but the typical design practitioner is now being enlisted to tackle a wider range of topics than ever before. We’ve recently been involved in everything from resurrecting Fortune 500 brands to city planning to labor relations to education. I don’t see any boundaries being placed around design thinking anytime soon.

Design also has more to offer to corporations in terms of cultivating creativity and innovation within the organization. We’re no longer being told what to do—we’re being asked what to do.

What defines truly excellent product design?

Design excellence tells a story. But it also has to succeed in executing the challenge it was meant to solve for its brand, while clearly defining a sense of purpose. It must be simple, intuitive, emotionally resonant and change the user’s life for the better. Excellent product design is about more than just the product; it’s about how the product makes a user feel. As Maya Angelo said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

How does one assess product design?

[One must] take great care to evaluate aesthetics, function, innovation and relevance to the brand, while also ensuring that a design portrays high levels of design excellence and communicates something of real meaning to both people and businesses. Design isn’t just about creating beauty, it’s also about creating market relevance with meaningful results.

What moments, trends or themes spark heated debate and conversation during Clio 2016 judging sessions?

The most heated conversations seemed to be about the entries that were based on social impact and made big promises to benefit society. The challenges these designs were trying to solve are very important. But was the actual design execution really delivering on the promise, or was it more about the smoke and mirrors that helped generate a nice story? The key to staying on track is to keep the user and their experience in the front of your mind.

Do you have any predictions for 2017 product design trends?

Users are being strongly drawn to designs that are authentic and capable of showcasing the product instead of the brand behind it. This search for authenticity is the driving force behind most of this year’s emerging design trends. 

Entries for the 2017 Clio Awards are now open. The first deadline for submissions is April 28. For more information, please call 212.683.4300 or visit clios.com/awards.