Tom Dibb: I was thinking about Dieter Rams when I wrote the Plus idea. I’m obsessed with the tension in his design outlook. On the one hand it’s about creative expression, but on the other hand it’s about rules and order. It’s feels fraught, contradictory even, but his insights on product and design really speak to me.
Our friends at Samsung came to us with a challenge — build a film to launch their Notebook Plus laptop. They had tech specs, audience profiles, the full marketing brief. What they didn’t have was an idea. That bit is my job. So I came up with one:
We would use a Plus symbol to launch the Notebook Plus.
I know, I know. That doesn’t seem like a big idea.
But not all good ideas are big. Take it from Dieter. In his view, good design is about stripping back, losing anything that can be lost in favour of what works. And this film needed to work. It needed to communicate clearly and concisely, creating a tangible business difference for Samsung. That’s what we’re here to do.
So I began in the only place effective advertising can begin. With the audience.
“Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design”
Tom Dibb: Our audience was young, super-busy, and spent a lot of time in noisy online spaces. They were all over the world and spoke different languages. They might know the old Notebook, but Notebook Plus would be new. Samsung wanted to tell these people about its simplicity, and how it offered the buyer more features than competitor devices.
So the perfect design work would:
At The Mill, we have a surplus of creativity. Our natural instinct is to go big — to make something new and earth-shattering at any given opportunity. When I’m in a competitive pitch, I find this instinct is turbocharged. I always feel like I want to reinvent the universe or speak the very first words of a completely new language. I want my creative work to feel huge and wild and boundless. But that is not always the best thing for the brief at hand. Sometimes you need to take it down a notch, focus your energy. Or to put it another way:
“Less, but better.”
Tom Dibb: If you look back through the design criteria above, you’ll probably notice what I noticed. There’s a simple graphic device that meets the needs of every point in the brief. And it’s staring us in the face:
The humble Plus symbol. Minimal, immediate, understood in any language, it underscores the product name at every turn while evoking notions of simplicity and ‘getting more’.
As a creative idea, it doesn’t necessarily feel huge and wild and boundless. But it does tick every box in the design criteria. We knew it would work. So we ran with it.
By using a ‘smaller’ creative idea, we were able to create space in our film. In this space a team of brilliant people built a fresh and playful design language, balancing innovative aesthetics with an honest and understandable exploration of the product — those ‘Ten Principles of Good Design’ in action.
Our approach was a hit with the client, and in a highly-competitive pitch process, they felt it stood out for its clarity and focus. It was very Dieter.
“My goal is to omit everything superfluous so that the essential is shown to best possible advantage.”
Henry Foreman: Dieter Rams’ approach is often about using ‘as little design as possible’ and we really took that to heart.
Tom’s concept — the Plus device — was brutally simple and served the messaging and brand challenges well. But we needed it to do more than that. We needed our concept to communicate the individual features of the laptop in a way that made the product understandable. (Only then can you achieve what is known as ‘full Dieter’.)
To meet this challenge we crafted a simple design language, using the Plus for inspiration. Stripped-back and graphic, it was designed to grab attention in busy online spaces, while introducing product features in an unobtrusive and honest way.
It was important to us to get the balance right. We didn’t want to dominate the product and steal the spotlight, but equally we wanted to make something that would drive a sixty-second spot in a vivid and playful way, using colour, shape and motion
“Design should not dominate things, should not dominate people. It should help people. That's its role.”
Henry Foreman: We employed some Ramsien logic to devise our design language, precariously balancing form and function. It went something like this:
And then we got bored of being serious all the time and decided to have some fun.
The Design team crafted a set of bouncing, colourful shapes to match our stripped-back spec — using spheres, cubes, rings, and lozenges. They whipped these into playful, humorous animations that interacted with the product and walked the viewer through its features, employing flowing camera moves and a choppy, textural edit to punch up the fun factor.
The end result is a project that delivers on two fronts. It’s an eye-catching and memorable film that draws you in with its playfulness. But it’s also informative and meaningful, leveraging that playfulness in a way that gives the audience a better understanding of the product.
In this sense, I think we met Dieter’s criteria for good design. And, as bold as this sounds, I think that maybe, just maybe, we’ve made something approaching his definition of ‘great’. And also it’s really squishy. Which everyone loves.
“Good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful”