SEVEN SINS
OF LUXURY DESIGN

New trends bring new challenges and new pitfalls. Here are the seven deadly sins within the luxury design space to watch out for over the next few years...

1. Not knowing what luxury looks like

This is not as obvious as it seems. It’s also number 1 because it’s the most important. What Waitrose calls ‘luxury’ and Swarovski calls ‘luxury’ are very far apart. Also, attitudes towards luxury goods and conspicuous wealth are rapidly changing. A brand that is vying to express it’s luxuriousness must be sure they have an understanding of these trends, along with advantageous ways of working with them.

2. Not being concerned about counterfeits

Counterfeiting costs the luxury goods market billions. Counterfeiters are also becoming more sophisticated, with increasing access to technology. This is as true for paper currency as it is for luxury goods. Using specialist techniques, product packaging can be ‘secured’, making a counterfeit easier to spot. Only a designer with specialist print knowledge will know how to do this whilst concealing security in aesthetics.

3. Being unwilling to change

The luxury market is being disrupted at every angle – technology, ecommerce trends, rapidly changing consumer attitudes towards wealth. Only those who are willing to be nimble will make it through the next downturn in GDP. This means daring to be different, and not assuming that you can rest on the laurels of prestige. The mantra for the next decade is everything will change. Davids will take down Goliaths; up-and-coming brands that capture imaginations will overtake too-big-to-fails. How luxury brands and institutions choose to work with rapid change will decide their fate.

4. Not investing in personalized gifts

…is a huge mistake. Brands that don’t invest in attempts to personalize experiences and products are missing out on a major trend in consumer demand. Personalization is a valuable currency that buys a standout experience, on the one hand, and a loyal cheerleader on the other. Both are rare, and yet there is a thirst on either side for just that. Particularly important are corporate gifts. Of course, when I worked as a banknote designer, it was obligatory that a retiring employee would receive a specially designed commemorative banknote – a unique item that was the result of a collaborative effort between tens of people and four company departments – what a way to go! Commissioned artwork, corporate gifts and thoughtfully made leave-behinds send a strong message of heritage, craft, and an insistence on the personal.

5. Assuming that generic packaging is ok

When it comes to unboxing a luxury item, the best a brand can hope for is that the packaging is cherished and even outlives its product. A prime example of this would be Apple, whose luxury status is contentious. Nevertheless, Apple has succeeded in creating an unboxing experience that is always memorable. Assuming that brand’s product is enough is never enough. It can only add to a customer’s affinity towards a product if its presentation is equally remarkable. 

6. “What colour is it? …Skin colour!”

…I once overheard in a design agency. Cultural insensitivity, expressed in design, advertising and branding is a common problem. It can hurt premium and luxury brands especially because they have further to fall. The flipside of misjudging cultural stereotypes is fawning attempts to appease political correctness, which results in a patronizing message. Luxury brands have to walk a tightrope between creating a sense of scarcity without alienating their audience. With today’s individualistic consumer mood, one miss-step can ruin everything.

7. Not communicating craft

I finish with one could also be number 1: Craft is king. If a luxury brand doesn’t express the provenance and heritage of its product through a sense of craft in its branding and packaging, then it may as well give up. Generic packaging will render a luxury product premium at best, and a premium product on the same level as a power tool. With every aspect of the luxury market being both disrupted in its own context, and bracketed by trends such as AI, the one thing that is left tied down is craft. Craft connects. Craft is an expression of love, translated through design. Craft earns our trust, because another Human is one the other side of the transaction.

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