To Infinity and Beyond!
I was struck this past weekend watching the coverage of the NASA/SpaceX launch to the ISS. In addition to its historic significance, what floored me was the utterly distinctive design of the Falcon rocket, the Dragon capsule with its sleek interior and control interface, the form fitting space suits and helmets, and of course the Tesla model X that transported the two astronauts to the launch pad. The entire ensemble of objects and engineering was a triumph of branding continuity that I’ve rarely seen.
Great product design and brand identity has been reserved, in my opinion, for just a small handful of iconic brands such as SONY, Apple, BOSE and perhaps Ferrari (I would include Pixar in the entertainment space). Not many brands reach that pinnacle of consistent form and function - where the excellence of function merges with the beauty of breathless form.
I remember buying my first SONY “professional” walkman in 1983 for $214 (the price was burned into my brain as it took me awhile to save up for it) and being just as impressed with its fit, form, interface and build than its audio quality. It was the first time that I contemplated if a product could be considered art. I cherished that device and used it until I wore out the motor many years later. I had a similar experience purchasing my first iPod, so simple yet so beautiful in both its form and function.
And although SONY, Apple, BOSE and maybe a few others have achieved that elusive jes nes se quois of brand design (it’s questionable if SONY has maintained it), Elon Musk’s companies - Tesla and SpaceX in particular - embody a design aesthetic that is not only beautiful, but inspirational, visionary and hopeful.
Interestingly, both Musk and Steve Jobs are famous for their bold vision as well as their apparent aversion to market research. Jobs’ oft cited quote sums up his philosophy: “Some people say give the customers what they want, but that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, 'If I'd ask customers what they wanted, they would've told me a faster horse.' People don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
Like Jobs, Musk breaks paradigms and boldly pursues his lofty visions without consulting focus groups or market research reports - and sometimes he succeeds, spectacularly. The SpaceX launch, for me, was more than just an engineering feat, but a soaring celebration of integrated brand design, aesthetic beauty and human imagination. And for those of us in the business of providing creative concepts, design services and brand strategy for our clients, may Musk and his fearless innovations be our guide. Be bold. Take risks. Push the boundaries. To hell with market research and reach for the stars. To infinity and beyond!