Products and Design
Holonomic Brand Values:
What Can We Learn from a Brazilian Gym?

Anyone with even a remote interest in design will know how the electronic products of Braun in the 1950s and '60s influenced the design of Apple’s iconic products. Much of these designs are the inspiration of Dieter Rams, who in 1961 became the Chief Design Officer at Braun until 1995. In the 1970s he became interested in sustainable design, and developed these 10 principles for product design:

  • Is innovative — The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  • Makes a product useful — A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.
  • Is aesthetic — The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  • Makes a product understandable — It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  • Is unobtrusive — Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  • Is honest — It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  • Is long-lasting — It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years — even in today’s throwaway society.
  • Is thorough down to the last detail — Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  • Is environmentally friendly — Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  • Is as little design as possible — Less, but better — because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

In terms of Apple products, I have my first 2007 iPod, which I still use; my 2009 MacBook pro, which I still use; a 2012 iPad2, which is still in use; and I now have a new Mac Mini. If you have not seen a Mac Mini, it is the most simple Mac you can buy and is just a box with a few ports at the back. There is no screen, mouse, keyboard or speakers, etc, and this is great as it means like me you just reuse all the stuff you already have. I had all the kit but was using the MacBook at home, so I did not have an old computer to recycle.

While Apple products continue to be aesthetically pleasing, and they do appear to have a long life (nowadays I am loathe to upgrade for the sake of upgrading), I am not so sure about some of the applications. Using iTunes to transfer documents, photos, music and PDFs (PDFs! — what a mare) continues to be an absolute pain, and also with Mavericks comes an intrusive cloud which may be fine for people with continuous broadband and who do not mind sharing all their docs with those cheeky monkeys at the NSA and GCHQ, etc, but for me I like to still have my stuff when I am offline and when the Net goes down (which for me is still a common occurance in this neck of the woods).

If you read my last article you will already know how I was very impressed with Mockba, my local gym here in São Paulo (see Some notes on Business Design, Customer Experience and Systems Thinking). Technical director Bruno Tripoli told us that, before developing the gym, he had read the biography of Steve Jobs, and really took notice of the way in which Jobs described the attention given to the experience of opening an Apple product box. Bruno then applied that thinking to the design of the gym, and every aspect of the customer experience, including, he told us, the height of the ceilings, hence finding the building in São Paulo, which is next to our house and was renovated before the opening a couple of years ago.

Sometimes good design is hidden in broad daylight. Good design can seem so simple, and yet so many companies seem to fail at it. While much design thinking centres around physical products, be they sexy gadgets or the latest apps, sustainability as I have been attempting to highlight is so much more than just eco-friendly products. There can be monumental waste in service organisations, which at the same time are not resilient.

In focusing on the customer experience an organisation really has to have coherent values at the heart of its thinking, thinking which runs authentically throughout each and every aspect, and each and every member of staff, however partially. For example, even the cleaning staff are friendly at Mockba, and Bruno and the team ensure that they too are able to use the gym when not working, keeping them healthy and happy.

For me Marketing is not a dirty word, not in relation to sustainability. Apple achieved a huge success making their gadgets sexy and desirable, but their business model is predicated on trashing last year’s model and lust for the next hip thing. Steve Jobs was declared a design genius, and in many ways of course he was. But the world needs a new design philosophy now, and people who can shift our thinking from economic brand value to what I term holonomic brand values.

Maria's and my work is centred around the holonomic operating system, and we work with executives and people from many different business backgrounds, helping them to shift into a higher cognitive mode of operating — holonomic thinking. Holonomic thinking is a mode of consciousness which utilises all four ways of knowing — thinking, sensing, feeling and intuition — but this operating system can apply equally to the way in which we understand brands and brand value. Brands now have to be authentic and not only communicate, but actually be authentic in their wholeness. It is not enough to value a brand economically, since we can encounter brands not just through our rational minds, but connecting through feeling, interacting through sensing, and comprehending the authenticity in our intuition.

What I am saying sounds simple, but in fact for people who can be prone to getting really stuck in their rational-logical-information-processing minds, it can be very hard to grasp, unless of course they are guided towards an understanding through experiential learning and more mindful business practices. This is why I think Mockba offer a very real and concrete example of a holonomic brand, one where the values are encountered in each and every ‘part.’

I recently took part in a fascinating webinar hosted by Sustainable Brands, and which examined the question “How to Make Advertising Claims That Consumers Will Trust.” The presenters were Jacquelyn Ottman, author of a number of books on green marketing, and Becky Griffith, of the National Advertising Division which provide guidelines for advertising in the US. Much of the talk was around greenwashing, and we heard how 78 percent of consumers stop buying products if they discover misleading environmental claims.

I think marketers really can benefit from developing their own sense of what holonomic brand value is and how consumers experience it. We are shifting I feel into an era of greater transparency and more authentic modes of conscious consumption, and through holonomic thinking, we can play a more active role in our working lives, making every aspect of our lives and life experiences more authentic and whole.

This post first appeared on the Transition Consciousness blog on February 26, 2014.

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