Why the Maker Movement is Important to the Future of Branding

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 02/13/2017 | 6 Minute Read

Traditionally, creating a brand has been thought of in two dimensions; a unique name and a logo that is introduced to the consumer through advertising and marketing campaigns across traditional and online channels. In contrast, model making has always been a set of tools exclusive to designers and makers who think, work, and build in 3D. But the much-publicized “Maker Movement” has gotten its hands on the wheels of innovation, and brand owners and their design partners are seeing a new paradigm emerge.

From “maker” to player

In a recent article, AdWeek gave props to this popular trend saying, “The Maker Movement, as we know, is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source, contemporary design, and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and garage offices, stir the imagination of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in-China merchandise.”

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How has this movement impacted legacy brands?

For the big consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs), getting a new brand to market is a lengthy, arduous process. It’s been well documented that many large CPGs are chasing the millennial consumer who are opting for natural, organic, non-GMA, and artisanal (healthier) foods. Seen as an outgrowth of the Maker Movement, artisanal brands are being snapped up by large CPGs who need to compete in this forward-looking arena. So we’ve seen a move by big food companies to acquire “maker” brands. A few examples include Kellogg’s purchase of Kashi, General Mills’ acquisition of Annie’s Homegrown, and ConAgra’s move to bring Blake All Natural Foods under their corporate umbrella.

Taking the idea even further, Campbell’s Soup Company developed a website portal where everyone can submit their ideas for innovation. PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division launched limited edition promotions based on flavors from consumer submissions. These are the visible signs of a willingness on the part of big CPGs to explore and plan for products that will anticipate what the consumer wants, rather than playing catch-up.

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Model making is no longer exclusive to designers.

Whether artisanal or mass-produced, a product still has to go through the “maker” process which, for professional design companies, includes modeling, prototyping, and testing. But the separation between the process of building a brand and building a model is becoming blurred as artisan makers leverage tools now available to anyone with the ability to buy a 3D printer. In the atmosphere of “let’s make a product and see if it flies,” we can’t forget that successful brand building is an ecosystem that features a multi-dimensional set of tools. These include research to understand consumer demand, competitive landscape, brand personality, white space opportunities and target demographics as well as naming, product testing, and selection of media channels.

All of the above informs model making. When you build a 3D model, you are creating a path to consumer experience—a living brand that goes beyond a name and a logo. The brand identity now aligns with the physical structure and the product attributes. Without this kind of rigor, you can never achieve the desired brand presence.

Leveraging the “maker movement” mindset in a professional design agency

We have embraced the maker movement because it is a natural fit with our culture. We have always been a mix of makers and brand experts, leveraging both areas of expertise to work in tandem. Every design initiative is approached through a brand lens so that we can design a more meaningful product—one that best represents the brand. Members of our industrial design team use modeling to create a physical object that allows the client to see and touch actual product options before landing on the best choice.

Consumer testing also provides valuable insights. Here are two examples of product designs that grew out of this “maker” mindset.

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The Fellows Company, based in Itasca Illinois, is a recognized expert in cardboard storage solutions with a 50-year-plus track record of success. They wanted to create a new product line for the millennial generation: a portfolio of storage items ideal for college-age and new graduates who are entering the work world and need dorm or apartment furniture that is cost effective and versatile.

We were able to work with them to design a flat pack system, modular storage that fit into small living spaces and aligned with the brand message. Rather than design renderings or a CAD model, we went straight to interactive model making. The process was streamlined so that the physical attributes of the storage containers could be easily verified and refined. The end product is the SOFI Collection, a fashionable, functional line of storage products built especially for millennials and available at Target.

The SOFI Collection came to life with the help of iterative model making

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Keson Calk Reels are ubiquitous to everyone working in the building trades. A leading provider of marking products, Keson needed a new brand vision for the company. Traditionally, product lines and SKUs within the Keson portfolio were developed in response to retailer and distributor requests versus a user-centric innovation strategy. After 30 years of this approach, the company was left with a hard-to-manage portfolio of SKUs, varying pricing strategies and inconsistent packaging. Knowing that Keson wanted to become a brand-led business, our team jumped in to rethink the portfolio from a brand and end-user perspective.

Central to their popular product line was the chalk line reel which served as a foundation for the design process. The brand evolved via 3-dimensional design language, which allowed us to stretch the visual identity or stay closer to the brand. Model making began immediately using the Maker Bot and CNC machine to create low-fidelity models. Review of Keson’s current products and brand positioning led to the creation of a visual language, which would deliver a powerful impact. For the chalk line reel, we leveraged the angled look of their brand mark and created a similar angled silhouette for the product.

“Making” and branding, a holistic approach

Once you can visualize a company’s brand identity, the process of model making and interpreting the visual language in 3D is a natural next step. With a focus on holistic brand thinking, designers today can tap into the “Maker Movement” mindset while utilizing all the rigor and discipline so necessary to creating a viable brand—one that delivers a winning consumer experience. Brand building is not just a strong logo or an idea, it is a holistic approach that makes best use of experienced design thinking, the marketing ecosystem we mentioned earlier, and the ability to leverage model making to create a realistic preview before committing to the final design.

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Audra NorvilasDirector, Industrial Design, Kaleidoscope

Audra has over 9 years of industrial design experience working with companies such as Target, Fellowes, Keson, Wrigley, and Bosch. Throughout her career, Audra has touched a wide range of projects including furniture design, the Michael Graves Collection for Target, and the No. 9 Collection for Room and Board.


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