ontological design

Ontological design is constant, simultaneous and inescapable. It is the idea that everything we design and surround ourselves with, influence our future thinking and creations. In other words, it is where design meets consciousness.

This idea shatters the way design is generally thought of—something that adds visual appeal or even less flattering, simple functionality. Ontological design recognizes the correlative relationship present between our constructed environment and our minds. Through this feedback loop, we are able learn and build upon previous design in both a constructive and destructive manner.

There is no way to pause or interrupt this feedback loop because it is fundamental to our makeup. Anne Marie Willis, co-founder of the Eco-Design Foundation in Sydney explains, “we design, that is to say, we deliberate, plan and scheme in ways which prefigure our actions and makings — in turn we are designed by our designing and by that which we have designed.”

This may sound like a page out of a Dr. Seuss storybook, but its pervasiveness is undeniable when analyzing both our daily and ongoing evolution. We learn through active engagement of the pre-existing and design anew based on these observations. Ontological design extends beyond the idea of environmental conditioning because it acknowledges, more pointedly, the role of the designer.

The champions of this philosophy are Brand Heroes, those who deliver beyond. Whether the design answers a call for innovation in the realm of functionality, sustainability, or emotional connectedness, Brand Heroes are cognizant of the implications of their designs. This braver attitude strengthens our forward-moving momentum.

This exciting way of thinking should serve to reignite a passion in the design community. It is a nod to the capability and influence designers hold in shaping our current and future environment. It is also a reminder to be daring, yet graceful in delivering design to a world in need of boundless improvement.

Here is a video explaining what Ontological Design is in more detail.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 12.25.02


It is quite fitting for Maker’s Mark, an iconic American brand, to commemorate the Superbowl, America’s most important sporting event. The wonderfully executed special edition bottle features Maker’s Mark’s signature wax in the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots teams colours.

Superbowl makers mark

Celebrating American sports with a limited edition bottle isn’t a new trick for Marker’s Mark. In fact, if you visit the website you will find a gallery of collectable bottles linked to sports, particularly Kentucky teams, which works to reinforce the brand’s strong ties to its home state. Furthermore, many of these limited editions have an added charitable element, in that they donate a portion of the proceeds to a good cause. For a brand like Maker’s Mark, this strategy on special editions makes perfect sense. It’s a down-to-earth brand, rich with heritage, that succinctly balances quality with value.

Design-wise, however, the limited edition portfolio runs into some snags. There are some stunning, pitch perfect executions, such as the 2003 Ambassador Bottle. True to its Kentucky roots, this special edition features the famed red wax in the shape of a racing horse.

Good Makers mark examples


However, there are others within the portfolio that miss the mark. Look at the 2014 University of Louisville Charity Bottle. While the sentiment behind this limited edition is noble, the design compromises so many equities that the brand becomes unrecognisable. The signature wax seal is there, but it has been changed to black. This would be fine if it was the only equity that was altered, but it’s just the beginning. The craft label that communicates heritage and quality has been replaced with a modern photograph. The ACC logo takes center stage with the Maker’s Mark logo now just a sign-off at the bottom. Of course, the most striking change is that it is now an opaque bottle which hides the warm golden colour of the bourbon.

Makers mark


With no rules governing how equities are treated when creating a limited edition, brands run the risk of a creating a portfolio that not only lack cohesion, but dilutes the brand. Limited editions are an effective way of driving engagement, giving your loyal consumers something special and celebrating brand-relevant events. The designs for special edition must reflect this, but should not be overpowered by it.







Carlsberg is a brand that is known for being green. Green bottles, green cans, green logo, but what people might not necessarily know is that they have a fundamentally green mentality too.  Over the past few years, Carlsberg have focused their attention on finding sustainability innovations. With that in mind, they’ve got a proposal to introduce a completely biodegradable wood fibre bottle.

In partnership with EcoXpac, Carlsberg is developing a Green Fibre Bottle, which will be made from sustainably sourced wood fibre – think cardboard egg boxes. It will be non-transparent, non-breakable and will fully decompose naturally.


How does being green affect the consumer base?

First and foremost, a brand must meet their consumers needs. It is all very well having the sustainable ethos as a company, but if the target market rejects the product, then its not a viable solution.

Sustainability innovations must be tempered with consumer satisfaction. It either needs to add to the experience or deliver the same experience with the additional feel good factor of being environmentally conscious. Langen, Carlsberg’s Senior Packaging Innovation Manager, has insisted that they “never compromise on beer quality” and that the beer is expected to stay colder for longer compared with aluminium cans. However, there is so much more to the experience of enjoying a refreshing cold beer. Aesthetics play a major part and a significant aspect of marketing drinks, and especially alcoholic beverages, is to play to the senses. The product has to look and feel refreshing, and transparency is key to this. Consumers take the coldness of the glass or aluminium, the sound of bottles clinking together and the hiss it makes when it opens all into account when they consume the product. If it was gone, they would be disappointed.

Lastly, how will this eco bottle fit in with their product portfolio? Carlsberg has a large number of beer brands worldwide – will this be a one-off or will it be implemented across their different territories?

It may also pose a problem for the brand teams as they will miss out on their transparent PSL labels and great photo imagery. To put this in context, Carlsberg recently created their ‘Born to be Chilled’ campaign. If these bottles were all replaced with cardboard eco bottles, it would not have the same effect.

born to be chilled

It is incredibly encouraging to see a global brand challenge the norm with such a product. From a technical, sustainability and design point of view, it’s success would be a feat as well as a great addition to the packaging universe. Although, it is likely to be the design world who are most excited about this rather than beer consumers. If Carlsberg can ensure that the consumer experience will stay the same (or even be improved), then they are sure to create an impact in the category that will hopefully inspire other brands.

On the surface it doesn’t appear that Axe (Lynx in the UK) and Dove have anything in common aside from their functionality. They each have completely different target audiences and have blatantly differing messaging schemes that reflect this. However, these brands share a fundamental similarity—the common goal of making people feel good about themselves. The incredible success of both these personal care brands on a global scale illustrates exactly how brand owner Unilever expertly listens to their consumers and responds in kind.


Axe has been garnering attention for years with its racy ad campaigns and suggestive product naming. The brand has built its identity upon the characteristics intrinsic to the emotions, thoughts, and feelings of its target demographic. Not to oversimplify the mind of a male teenager, but it’s safe to assume that teenage boys spend a fair amount of time thinking about sex. On a deeper level, these thoughts and feelings can be associated with basic psychological needs, such as belonging, association, and approval. Axe pairs sexual overtones with humour in the form of hyperbole to achieve perfect irreverent harmony.


Axe’s success as a brand stems from its ability to identify primal needs and understand the topography of the environment in which they exist. Axe’s brazen approach in creating their brand identity mirrors the developing mind of their target demographic and demonstrates the brand’s understanding of consumer wants and needs.

Dove launched its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, in efforts to spark a global conversation about the need to expand the definition of beauty. This campaign was as huge success for Dove as it increased conversation surrounding the brand, generated goodwill, and improved overall sales.

Dove saw an opportunity to engage a frustrated audience in a new and clever way. The campaign took on a friendly tone in that it didn’t explicitly criticize the unnaturally thin bodies of the models we were so used to seeing in advertisements. On the contrary, it encouraged the acceptance of all body types. Dove is unmistakably a Brave Brand, claiming numerous prizes and recognitions since the initial launch of the Campaign for Real Beauty.


The vast differences between the Axe and Dove advertising campaigns have been widely noted. Generally, identifying inconsistencies in a company’s messaging reveals a weak mission or poor follow through, but upon closer analysis of Unilever, there is evidence of just the opposite.

Unilever allows each brand to maintain authenticity by allowing leeway and individuality in messaging scheme. Their brands are successful because they all tell their own story. Unilever’s philosophy is relatively simple, “We help people feel good, look good and get more out of life with brands and services that are good for them and good for others.” It seems that both of these brands have found their place under Unilever’s mission.

Getting the edge in the spirits category is no easy feat. The category is crowded with robust marketeers committed to discovering compelling ways to peak consumers’ interest and capture their curiosity. While consumers find trust and personal identification in the core product of an alcohol range, they are always on the lookout for new ways to celebrate and make the moment special. This provides great opportunity for alcohol brands to continuously push the boundaries, be highly imaginative, and explore innovation.


Case and point is SKYY Vodka’s latest limited edition which features LED lights that move to the beat of the music. Designed specifically for the bottle service occasion, the special bottle engages, entertains and enhances the SKYY experience.

HOW IT WORKS: Integrated into the new soft-touch label are dozens of light-emitting diodes (LEDs). A special color-coordinated base housed the batteries, sound sensors and power switch. When turned on, the LEDs create a constant illumination of the SKYY logo. Additional LED’s arranged in the shape of equalizer bars, are sound-sensitive and actually move to the beat of music.


INSPIRATION FOR ALL CATEGORIES: Why relegate innovation like this just to alcohol? As competition in all categories continues to get more and more robust, it may literally take putting a spotlight on your brand to make it stand out on shelf. But it isn’t simply about making something light up. It isn’t only about being unique and different. Rather, it is about finding a meaningful way to enhance the experience for consumers, a way that is genuine and truly tied to the truth of your brand.

Considering its bone chilling weather, Burlington, Vermont may seem an odd place to start-up an ice cream company, but then again, our latest Brave Brand is anything but conventional.


Ben & Jerry a long time ago.

After bonding on the track of their seventh grade gym class Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield found themselves to be the perfect pair. Describing themselves at that time as “the two slowest, fattest kids,” they view food and girth as the tie that’s bound them since childhood. After Jerry was rejected by all of the medical schools he applied to and Ben realised he would never be a successful potter, the pair decided to start a business together. They began their journey of frozen frivolity in 1978 with a $12,000 investment, a renovated gas station, and a correspondence course in ice cream making. Nearly four decades later Ben & Jerry’s has become one of the most successful ice cream brands in the world.

Ben & Jerry

Ben & Jerry recently.

Don’t get us wrong, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is delicious but it owes its success to far more than just taste. It’s built on the foundation of a three-part mission statement encompassing product quality, economic sustainability, and social activism. Through these pillars Ben & Jerry’s has created the numerous quirks and quips that make it unique.


Economic Sustainability

The concept of “linked prosperity” manifests itself in every aspect of the company’s functioning. Yes, Ben & Jerry’s seeks to achieve profitable growth, but the company also holds a genuine interest in expanding development opportunities and career growth for their employees.

All of the brownies sourced in Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked and Chocolate Fudge Brownie flavours are from Greyston Bakery, a bakery dedicated to providing jobs and training to low-income city residents in New York.

Half Baked

Quotes from Ben & Jerry’s Reddit Ask Us Anything session:
“I think one thing that has worked out well for Ben & Jerry’s is that the company pays a liveable wage, not just minimum wage, to ALL our workers. And it turns out that it’s actually beneficial to the company.” At one time “Ben & Jerry’s had a compressed salary ratio – the highest paid person in the company didn’t make any more than 7 times what the lowest paid person made.”

Ben & Jerry's employee

Product Quality

Focusing on the development of “euphoric concoctions,” Ben & Jerry’s cultivates original flavours while maintaining its commitment to using natural ingredients. If the public aren’t loving a flavour then it ends up in the Flavour Graveyard, where website visitors can pay tribute to the “dearly de-pinted.”

Flavour Graveyard

Quotes from Ben & Jerry’s Reddit Ask Us Anything session:
“In the early years of Ben & Jerry’s, Ben did all the flavour development and quality control for the ice cream. So he was always concerned about having enough big chunks in the pints of ice cream, and when he was testing a pint of ice cream he would eat the entire pint because Ben claims that any ice cream tastes good for 1 or 2 spoonfuls.” But apparently, he continues “you need to be willing to make the sacrifice of eating down through the entire pint to make sure that quality holds up.”

Social Activism

Ben & Jerry’s is cognisant of the central role that businesses play in society, and it wants to make sure its impact is a positive one. Ben & Jerry’s supports a range of initiatives through their business practices and the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. “We both believe that business should be using its power to help address social & environmental issues, and not just making money.” –Greenfield, J. (2015) Dedicated to progressive social change, the Foundation provides grants to grassroots organizations devoted to social and environmental justice.

Cow-Costumed Cloning Protestors March To U.S. Capitol

Another shining example of the way Ben & Jerry’s practises social activism is through product naming. The brand named several flavours in support of gay marriage legislation. These include Apple-y Ever After, Hubby Hubby, My Big Fat Greek Gay Wedding and I DOugh I DOugh.

Ben & Jerry's in support of marriage equality


The brand’s business philosophies are sometimes counterintuitive to profitability, and it risks alienating customers by taking a strong stance on political, social, and environmental issues. If Ben & Jerry’s isn’t brave then no brand is. By cultivating an interactive relationship with the local, national, and global communities, Ben & Jerry’s ensures its lasting relevance.


The brand spanking new year gives us a chance to look back at our Brave Brands of 2014. Exclusive and prestigious, Brave Brand status is given to the brands that successfully break through the white noise to make a statement. It’s about stepping out of the comfort zone in order to set forth on a higher path. The Brave Brand causes a disruption in efforts to redefine an often tired category. It stays so true to its convictions that it is even willing to put potential profit on hold in the name of values. So which brands stood out for us last year?

ANZ Bank

The Australia and New Zealand Banking group is the third largest banking group in Australia. ANZ logo Why was it brave? ANZ launched an awareness and fundraising campaign in Sydney for the upcoming Lesbian and Gay Madi Gras festival. gaytmsThe campaign saw ANZ decorate 10 ATM machines across the city. The camp, brightly coloured machines were aptly called GAYTMs. Operating fees generated from the GAYTMs, throughout the duration of the campaign, went to non-profit Twenty10. The organisation provides assistance and guidance to young people in the midst of coming out or discovering their sexual identities. The campaign brought together beautiful street art and a good cause, not things a lot of consumers would expect to be on a major bank’s radar. Read the article in full


Durex unashamedly loves sex and it knows full well that we do too. Its perseverance and success in the face of the many rules, watersheds, regulations and limitations imposed upon it (due to its adult nature) are really something to admire. Durex balloons Why was it brave? Brand conscience Like all good brands should, Durex is very big on social responsibility. It loves a good cause and has its heart in the right place. Elements such a safety and reassurance form the fundamental core of its proposition and go hand in hand with Durex’s wider conscience. Design Durex’s competitor brands pale to insignificance on shelf as the colourful packaging manages to sell fun, pleasure, safety and responsibility in remarkably equal measure. Naming and copy Product names like Play, Tingle Me, Discover and Little Devil are confident and dynamic. Not just breaking taboos but smashing them. Read the article in full


Now 103 years old Oreo is an untouchable part of the American brandscape. There’s no doubt that if innocent-looking Oreo ever had any competition, it would squash it. Oreo Wonderfilled Why was it brave? The celebrated cookie stood alone in its category. Lots of brands possess an impressive heritage that they are proud of and rightly so. The difference is that Oreo stays up with the times instead of stalling in them. It’s gained and maintained relevance with people of all ages by leveraging its childish side, not an easy niche to carve. When a brand stays as current, humorous and dynamic as Oreo, it’s hard not to be impressed. Read the article in full


Founded in 1957, Dove had always been the Mary Sue of skincare. Synonymous with purity and gentleness it was a highly recognisable category constant with a loyal consumer base. Dove Real Beauty Why was it brave? In 2006, the popular and respectable beauty queen decided the time was right to disrupt the personal care category. Utilising print, TV and social media advertising in an unprecedented commitment to its cause, Dove shook the foundations of the beauty industry and started the ‘Real Beauty’ revolution. body-image With third wave feminism and growing concerns over eating disorders and the sexualisation of young girls at the very peak of their pertinence, Dove’s decision to become the people’s champion was perfectly timed and paid off in spectacular style. The real beauty of the Dove rebrand campaign is that it provided a totally new appeal by taking a fresh approach to its brand proposition rather than uprooting it completely. Dove has always been known and admired for its sensitive and caring qualities, the Real Beauty campaign simply extended them beyond skin, to a whole person with a heart and mind. Read the article in full


Coca-Cola bought its first 18% stake in Innocent in 2009. Four years later, in 2013, the soft drinks giant upped its ownership of the smoothie brand to 90%. Innocent. Tastes good, does good. Why was it brave? Innocent successfully juggles a multitude of brand values. A friendly and relatable personality upheld through copy and consumer engagement activities helps Innocent maintain a transparent and honest relationship with customers as well as generating huge brand loyalty. As a brand, it consistently strives towards innovation and self-improvement, whilst remaining confident in the work it’s already doing. And Innocent is undeniably making the world a better place, both in terms of its consumers’ health and charitable works around the world. We think Innocent is just great. screen-shot-2014-07-14-at-15-42-27 Read the article in full


Ten years ago Uniqlo had just 100 stores, all in Japan. Next year, it will have 840 in Japan and a further 1,170 elsewhere. The two-thousand or so stores are performing phenomenally with the clothing retailer was set to amass sales of $14 billion in the financial year of 2014. Uniqlo Heatech Why was it brave? Uniqlo’s mission statement begins: ‘We consistently provide fashionable, high quality, basic casual clothes that anyone can wear anytime anywhere – and always at the lowest possible market prices.’ And it’s certainly a mission Uniqlo has rigorously stuck to. Anyone who’s browsed one of the brand’s stores or wears its clothing will attest its excellent quality relative to its affordability. Innovation flows throughout the company, from the advanced technicality of its fabrics to the lean, flat, open way the business is organised. Even more impressive perhaps is Uniqlo’s relentless commitment to protecting the planet and securing a sustainable future, not only for itself, but for the whole world. url-51 Read the article in full



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