Design for business impact
"We're not driven by design." These are the words of our Design Lead, Emil Iosipescu, which may surprise you. "We are driven above all by brands, to provide value where the business needs it, and design, like technology, is just a means to that end," says Emil, who joined our team two years ago. With strategy as a guide and impact as a goal, his team creates visual universes and digital products that are more than just a beautiful makeover: they solve the problems of brands that want to last. Today, he reveals how they accomplish this.
Question. What is the key to a visual or product design having an impact on a brand's business?
I'd say strategy. In the way we operate at Soluble, strategy is everything. Every project we tackle must be supported by a theoretical and conceptual framework that allows us, in the Design team, to make decisions beyond the aesthetic features. Furthermore, we participate in these strategic choices with all areas of Soluble. The brand, the user experience, and the influence on the business are all parts of a whole.
Q. You speak of keeping strategy in mind. How do you do it?
Our approach to working with a brand platform helps us to be extremely linked with our client's business objectives and positioning. And once we have this strategic foundation, we can begin to operate in the various design phases, but always with a holistic vision.
Q. Visual and functional, how are they connected in Design?
The distinction between visual and functional design is rapidly becoming obsolete. What's important is that problems are solved integrally. More and more designers are pursuing an MBA to better understand business because it is critical to have a vision of the context, the demands, the purpose, the product function... all while keeping the brand in mind. And, at all times, mediating to provide the best user experience while meeting business needs.
The Design team at our studio in Barcelona
Q. "My website does not convey who we are as a brand." How do you deal with such a problem?
It’s an issue that is addressed by the entire Soluble team, not just the Design team. To begin, you must be extremely clear about who you are and what value you can bring to your audience in order to properly communicate it. That’s where the strategy comes into play. Then we begin to create storytelling, which includes visual and interaction components, user experience, content, and so on. The process is collaborative. This way, we make sure the user experience is consistent when we create the brand story.
Q. Another typical issue is the need to rebrand…
A rebrand is more than simply making a visual change; that is only an outcome. We must assess brand foundations or the approach will end up being a facelift with no impact.
From the brand platform, we seek a creative concept that allows us to elevate the core of the strategy by coordinating it with visual resources such as typography, color, morphologies, images, drawings, and so on to create a visual system. Our designers have a lot of background to make the best decisions, because the focus at Soluble is not only on the visual aspects, but also on solving issues and making an impact with everything we do.
Q. Brand and product, how do they reinforce each other?
This is a very personal view, but I feel that in a digital product and a digital brand, the brand is the product, and the product is the brand. One cannot exist without the other. Brands and products, to me, are experiences.
In fact, in many circumstances, the brand is the product itself. Take, for example, Spotify. The product's brand is the tangible experience it creates. It's no longer a product after 10 years; it's a concept of ubiquity, not an app or a website. You're listening to music on your phone and then change to your computer, or your car, and it's precisely the same song, paused at the exact second you were listening to. It's already something ethereal, an experience.
Q. As Design lead, do you believe Soluble has a distinct visual style?
I believe that, at Soluble, we don't have a style or aesthetic that we apply to our work. Our drive is to be chameleon-like in order to adapt to the brands. What drives us is providing value where the client needs it and making strategic choices. Design does not drive us; rather, we regard it as a medium that we love and in which we always strive for excellence, knowing that aesthetics won't force any choice.
After studying graphic design, Emil’s career took off with product design. The cornerstones of a successful digital product, according to him, are planning, agility, and business impact. Working with clients from various industries has given him "a master's degree in entrepreneurship, in what they need" in recent months. And he focuses on those needs for every design decision.
Q. What motivates and inspires you at work?
I love designing, but as a professional, I’m increasingly satisfied by the impact that my work has. Working at Soluble is exciting since you’re always functioning in new areas, in different business environments, and you learn a lot. Because of how Soluble came to be and its clients, I consider myself to have obtained a 'master's degree' in entrepreneurs and what they need.
Q. How would you advise entrepreneurs with a digital product to get started?
If a brand wants to focus on launching a product, I would launch one as small as possible while still capturing the brand’s essence. It’s preferable to begin this way, without losing sight of the brand's vision, rather than releasing a large generalist product, and then iterating on it.
Q. Today, movement, or even volatility, appear to be the only constants…
Yes, digital products are always evolving and, in many cases, even at the business level, changing their market fit. That is why it’s critical to start small and iterate in order to understand the product and alter it to meet changing demands. This is how Soluble has always worked.
Many new possibilities are now being explored by Artificial Intelligence. Most operational duties will probably be automated, not only creating content as with ChatGPT, but also generating images, and very soon building interfaces through AI. However, I believe that strategic decisions will continue to be made by humans, with AI assisting us in the more operational aspects.
Q. Which trend has captured your interest lately?
I’m particularly interested in the trend of shifting from MVP (minimum viable product) to MVB (minimum viable branding), in which all of the decisions we make today, which have previously been perceived as immovable and inflexible, will become fluid. I believe there’s a path worth exploring since many firms in the digital industry are in a shifting or evolving fit to market, moving all the time, and they require brands that can keep up with these oscillations.
Q. It's an exciting yet challenging outlook. Do you recall any professional advice you received that you still use today?
The most valuable advice I've ever received has nothing to do with design, yet it hit me during my first work week. I was 20 years old and had recently started working for a digital publishing company. The point is, they were talking about me in an email, and they were saying nice things, but this person then sent me the email and said, "Look, in this company, every time someone talks about a person, that person finds out." And it was something that made me think and led me to act the way I do. I try to have open and constructive conversations, separate the professional and personal parts of the talk, have context, and learn from others.
Q. What advice would you offer to someone who is just starting out in their career?
Don’t follow methods, don't get caught up in trends of absolute truths now that everything is so standardized, especially in product. Yes, there are many fascinating things, but I believe that everyone must learn to think critically in order to solve difficulties rather than simply following conventional routes.
Q. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I've always wanted to be an architect since I was a child. I was attracted by the shapes of places. I'd go to a house and ask to see everything. I enjoyed imagining how it felt. My father worked in advertising his entire life, but he shared an office in Argentina with a well-known architect. So I'd go see him, and our chats would inspire me. He handed me a small book called 'Message for Architecture Students' by Le Corbusier, and I loved his idea of architecture as a "machine of living." He considered the user and how the person lived in the space.
Q. It has a lot to do with what you're doing right now, swapping physical for digital space.
True, it's not all that different. In addition, I am a big fan of industrial design. Dieter Rams' 10 components of good industrial product design written in the 1960s, I believe, are today's digital product design. I'm inspired by Gehry's deconstructivism and his belief that in order to break design and deconstruct it, you must first manage it, to be a great builder.
I also wanted to be a football player...
Emil, when he was 6 years old
Q. We can't wrap off this conversation without asking: Emil, what do success and happiness mean to you?
Making a lasting impact on a customer or project, whether it's as simple as adding a small button to an email or creating an elaborate design, is what defines success for me. Making an influence, whether for a tiny company or a multinational enterprise.
And happiness, I'm not sure, I'm still seeking it, and I like looking for it. However, I don’t have the formula. It's micro-moments, in my opinion.
One of those micro-moments has undoubtedly been this time spent chatting with Emil. We’ll soon share more about the Design team and the impact they achieve in building those "living machines" for digital brands.
Nothing happens at Soluble due to the efforts of just one person. This interview would not have been possible without the participation of: Carmen Fraga in edition and translation; Andrea Martínez in translation assistance; Celia Santos in photo and video; Ada Fàbregas in layout; Daniel Senior in photo edition.