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Daniel George Ruginets: What’s the message?

I have a question for you, what was the message behind “New Coke”?

In 1985 Coca-Cola decided to release something that they called “New Coke.” They changed the taste, tested it with audiences, some guy named Peter Jennings announced it on a TV show, and US Senator David Pryor said it was “a meaningful moment in US history” on the Senate floor. (1)

And it bombed.

What about Blackberry? For a long time all they did was make smartphones and now they don’t exist in the smartphone market. Google+? Crystal Pepsi?Apple’s Pippin?(2)

You get the point.

These are all products that should have done great and failed. But what about corporate redesigns? The Gap allegedly paid somewhere in the realm of $100 million for a redesign only to reverse it in six days. (3)

A lot of companies, logos, designs, products, posters, ad campaigns, and websites fail.

I want to see a board meeting at Coca-Cola in the 1980’s and hear them say. “Profits are down, profits are down, what do we do?” “I’ve got it — lets make New Coke!” “It’s going to sell like wildfire, we tested it with 200k people.” “Good job everyone!”

And I would be sitting in the corner of the room, raise my hand and say, “But what is our message? Not as a product, but as a brand. What are we here at Coca-Cola trying to say with the introduction of this new product? And is it right? Who will we hurt in the process? Who will we gain?” “Are you sure we won’t upset customers?”

New Coke and Coca-Cola Classic Side by Side —

Thankfully for Coca-Cola, New Coke ended up working in their favour (1). But it was not the intended consequence. If it didn’t work — if Coca-Cola didn’t make the right moves quickly, we might be talking about a company which is completely shuttered. 

And I bet you that if that team talked it through — they would realize the mistake that New Coke would cost them.

The signs of this are clear in many products and companies. For a long time, Blackberry made phones — phones for employees. But when they saw their revenue declining, did they sit down and say, “what are we trying to say with our brand?”

Old Blackberry Phone — Wikimeda
Old Blackberry Phone — Wikimeda

Google designed Google+ with the idea in mind to capture more personal information. Why did Google not succeed? They are one of the strongest, most influential brands out there. Because no one sat down and said, “hey don’t you think our message might be wrong?”

Google is a tool, not a social networking site — that’s where their mistake lay.

They communicate use us to do everything privately. (More private than Facebook).

The examples are everywhere, most failed products, failed brands or failed companies forget to sit down and have a meeting about who they are, what they do, what they want to communicate, and to whom.

Everyone forgets the message.

Great you say, wonderful idea, Daniel, but how am I supposed to sit down with my board, and say, who the hell are we?

My advice, ask about the message at every step of the way, make sure that everyone, everyone, knows the message.

It’s not easy, but doing so will make sure that every employee, group partner, and customer understands that you stand for something.

My message for this blog post: Educate people about maintaining a message while making something (I pulled that straight from my work doc).

When you work on something, anything, make sure that the message is clear and everyone knows it. Without the message what you’re making is pointless.

As a designer, I know that this is important for designers. We almost always forget to think about the message. We almost always forget that the medium also conveys a lot. A design project for a poster, a website, and a video are all different from each other. 

When we design something we need to remember that this item communicates a message. We need to remember that the medium communicates something. We need to remember to focus on this during every part of the design process. Otherwise, our designs will lack any character, any meaning, and purpose. 

If you own a company, manage a project, design for anything — please don’t forget the message. Don’t forget to focus on something. Don’t forget that what you are making communicates a message for an audience, communicates a representation of your company, and tells a buyer whether they should use/buy your product. 

Some ideas for creating your message:

  1. Have an audience.

  2. Keep branding in mind — what do you want the audience to feel with this message?

  3. Make the audience feel something.

  4. Change it if it needs changing. If you’ve worked and worked and worked on your project but you realize that the sticky note hanging off your screen with the message written on it doesn’t work anymore. Then change it. But keep the audience in mind, if you can’t change it — it’s time to change your project.

  5. Adding is easy, subtracting is hard. If you find that your message isn’t quite aligned with what you want to communicate — think about making it simpler before adding anything to it. It’s better to be concise than it is to be broad. 

Write your message down on a sticky note and put it in view. Once in a while change the sticky note to a different colour, font, look or position. If it looks off you’re more likely to see it.


Daniel George Ruginets, GBDA '19

  • Designer, Videographer

I am studying Global Business and Digital Arts at the University of Waterloo. In the summer of 2016, I interned at SAP Labs in Palo Alto as a Videographer. My team worked on developing and teaching Design Thinking in different mediums. A chunk of my job was coordinating and working with Stanford University's

In October of 2016, I participated in a User Experience Design Camp. My team and I developed a project to re-imagine an entire city in the span of 24 hours. During the process we created what we think may change and shape the future before us. We came in first place.

designing for humans is the first step. designing for robots is the second. For the last 10 years, I have been creating visual experiences in the form of video. I am now transitioning from storytelling through video to storytelling through experiences.

I believe that anything and everything that interacts with humans involves user experience design. Some of my favourite projects involve designing experiences in the real world. I believe that history and anthropology play a role in creating the experiences of the future.

I have a huge passion for everything digital. I use my past experiences in film and photography to guide my designs. People say, "do what you love, and you'll never work another day in your life." I am on a constant journey of doing what I love. Contrary to some designers; I work best in teams. Making things easy is hard, making things enjoyable as well is harder.

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