April 20, 2018

Design Systems, brand and identity (part two)

This was intended to be about a talk design systems and how they relate to Tesco’s brand and identity. So let me start defining some terms:


Our brand is what people believe about us. It’s how our customers think about us, and how they talk to other people about us on the other side it’s about how we present our organisation to the world: are we a plucky underdog you want to win, a ball of energy transforming the everyday, or a giant moving mountains?

Our brand is not what we tell customers we are, it’s how we show ourselves to be. When people talk about brand within the business, what they’re talking about is the practice of making sure that the way we behave, communicate and express ourselves is consistent with our purpose. Just as we dress for work, become a little less sweary and don’t sit around with our feet on the desks, our business has thought about and decided how we as an organisation should present itself to our customers and investors.

We’ve invested a huge amount of time and money into revitalising our brand and defining what we really are as a business. We’ve made it simpler to understand what Tesco stands for: we’ve introduced clarity into what was a mess of competing brands and sub-brands. Again, for our customers there’s only ever one Tesco, so living up to this meant making decisions about how strong some of our sub-brands needed to be.


From our brand comes our identity. Our identity is how our customers recognise Tesco in its appearance and voice, it’s how we present ourselves to the world. Hopefully everyone’s seen our new brand expression, but if you haven’t then it’s exactly what you would expect: it’s how our new brand is expressed.

Our identity is important for a couple of reasons, one customer and one organisational. From an organisational perspective having a consistent, managed identity means that we are able to protect our business from people copying or passing themselves off as Tesco. The more diffuse our identity, the harder that becomes. And don’t underestimate the value of a well-managed identity…

From a customer perspective a clear identity helps establish and build trust. There’s an interesting psychological effect at play here: as animals we’re hardwired to look for signs of health and wellbeing, and more specifically to avoid any signs of ill-health: our brains like symmetrical faces for just this reason. When we see things that show harmony and order, our brains associate this with care and attention - we confer positive values on the thing we’re seeing.

There’s another bit of psychology going on here.

There’s a story about a magician called Vernon who was tasked with watching a great magician called Malini over the course of an evening’s dinner performance to try and pin down the great man’s sleight-of-hand secrets - in particular the block-of-ice-under-the-hat trick. Throughout the full evening’s meal, Malini never left the table. Malini then proceeded to perform the trick and when Malini lifted the hat, a block of ice the size of four fists lay in the centre of the table. While the regular audience members wondered how the ice got under the hat, Vernon was dumbfounded as to how the ice got to the table at all.

Sometimes, magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.”

If you take this practice to the extreme you see brands like Apple spending ridiculous amounts on very small details - In psychology this is called costly signalling theory’, but really all it means is showing that you are healthy enough to care deeply.

What I want is for us to see these details for what they are: creating protectable shapes and patterns, and creating the impression in others that we’re strong enough to worry about the tiny details our competitors aren’t able to care about. Do not underestimate the value of investing in identity.

So, to summarise: our brand has a way of presenting itself, that’s the new brand expression. This explains our tone of voice, how we shoot photography, the colours we use and in what proportions, the way we create signs and icons, our typeface and so on. This brand expression is what underpins the look and feel of everything we create: from packaging to store design to websites.

In the final part of this talk I want to talk about how we created the design system that ensures that Tesco’s digital channels look and feel consistent, considered and beautiful.

design systems design language design strategy brand inclusivity scale

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Design Systems, brand and identity (part one) Our digital estate grew very quickly and tactically: when Tesco saw an opportunity to meet its customers in a new channel we went for it -
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Design Systems, brand and identity (part three) Previously I’ve outlined why we needed to create a more systemic approach to building our digital UI and described how brand and identity play a