Five ways to use design as part of your export strategy


Good design can help companies to overcome some of the barriers that exist to bringing products and services to an international audience.

There’s no doubt that design can make a difference to any company considering exporting its goods and services. Recent research by the Design Council “has demonstrated that for every £1 companies invest in design to support their growth they can expect to return £5 in exports.” At our recent Design for Export event speakers outlined the five key elements you need to consider to use design as part of a successful export strategy.

1. Brand name

How well will your brand travel? Can you keep the same name? Have you registered it? Do you know what it means in different languages? How you express yourself as a company in a new market is critical. Simple word-for-word translations copied and pasted from google will not cut it.

A few years back Vauxhall made a serious gaffe when they decided to to take the Nova into the Spanish market but had completely missed the crucial fact that ‘no va’ literally means, ‘doesn’t go’. Not an ideal name for a car then!

Make sure that your name is saying all the right things about you and make sure to protect it in the markets you want to trade in.

For every £1 companies invest in design to support their growth they can expect to return £5 in exports

- The Design Council

2. Identity and storytelling

Having a strong brand identity (and story) is essential in being able to launch a product or service in a completely new territory. What is the Big Idea that you are trying to communicate? How does it stand out from the competition? Who is the competition?

Are your brand assets appropriate for the audience? It is useful to have a simple brand story that can be used to connect with a new audience. As part of this identity, you need to consider your brand tone of voice and avoid being too parochial.

Consider using professional design copywriting services to ensure that you are communicating the best possible message about your business. If you do write the copy yourself, make sure that you put the focus on your customer’s needs rather than talking too much about all the great things that you can do, or about detailed technical aspects of your product.

Design for export blog infographic

3. Design assets

Are your brand assets appropriate for the audience? Some colours might have different meanings and connotations in different locations. You also need to consider some of the less obvious cultural differences when designing your marketing collateral. What resonates or works with customers in your local area might be completely irrelevant or at worst, offensive in a foreign market - a simple photo of a women eating can be seen as highly offensive in Saudi Arabia.

Review and check your assets before you go. Don’t end up at a trade show or conference with a box of collateral that you can’t give out!

If you use packaging for your product, you need to make sure that it meets any legal requirements of the country you are exporting to, and that it is well-designed and robust enough to withstand the rigours of shipping and transportation.

4. Use Design Thinking to understand the customer better

In simple terms, Design Thinking is a problem-solving mindset developed at the D.School in Stanford that allows a company to follow a simple process in order to explore and test its ideas. The customer is always at the centre of this model, and the solution should come from the actual needs and expectations of the customer.

Can you talk to the customers or spend time with them first (in-market research)? Are there any ways to test the market or to create a simple prototype, that can be trialled and then used to collect real-world feedback? Can you respond to feedback and make changes quickly?

Be prepared to be flexible and able to change direction if needed, before investing too much time and money.

5. Designing the online experience

Your website is your window to the world and has the potential to give you instant access to global markets. It’s the first place that anyone will look for you, especially if you’re not a local name or service provider. That first impression is critical in gaining trust and maintaining interest.

Your website and your marketing collateral all need to be consistent and must reflect the core brand. If you give someone a business card at a meeting or a trade show, they should be able to check you out online to find the same brand identity and personality. This helps to build credibility.

A simple, well designed and easy to use website that reinforces your value proposition on the homepage is vital. It helps to create a positive customer experience that reinforces any personal interactions that you have and allows visitors to engage from anywhere in the world.

Additional resources

View presentation slides from Design for Export workshop, Nov 2018