DownsideUpDesign

Musings of an Aussie design strategist gone North

Monocle: An object lesson in redemption.

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You may recall a recent post in which I mouthed off about my disappointing experience at the Monocle shop in London.

The day after I published the post, and much to my surprise and delight, I had received responses not only from Alain de Botton -the author of the book I was so keen to purchase- but also Sophie Fletcher, the manager of the London store.

Graciously offering her sincerest apologies, Sophie went on to explain that there had been higher than expected demand for Alain’s book at the launch party and that, unfortunately, one had not been keep aside for me as requested.

Acknowledging that no excuse was justified in the circumstances, she offered to send me a small token to assuage my ennui.

True to her word, I arrived at the family home in the leafy climes of Sydney to find a Monocle-stickered box with my name on it. Inside lay a lovely hand-written card from Sophie, a Monocle tote and a cloth-bound Monocle Moleskin-a-like.

That my experience was so unfortunate in the first place was…er…unfortunate. Yet from the moment I raised my concerns both on DownsideUp and in private, Sophie set about fixing things with a level of grace and expediency all too uncommon in the retail sector.

Sophie said in her note that she hoped she could change my opinion of the Monocle retail experience in the future. Although full redemption would require another, altogether more successful visit to the store, with the simple gesture of a personal note and two beautifully presented gifts, Sophie (and by association, Monocle) is well on her way.

And for that, I can simply say thank you.

[Picture: Shiner.Clay/Flikr licensed under Creative Commons]

Filed under: Adventures in Brand Extension, Branding, Perceived Quality, Premium, Things I like, , , , , , , , ,

Monocle: An object lesson in practising what you preach…or not.

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In my arena the words premium and luxury get thrown around with an abandon that’s bordering on Wilde-ian in its gayness. Everybody wants a piece of the premium/luxury pie and they’re willing to spend obscene amounts of money trying to convince customers that they have it. Said customers, if the marketing department has done their sums right, will then fork out similarly obscene amounts of money to own their own slice of the premium/luxury pie.

Done right, luxury can be both highly lucrative for the producer and deeply satisfying for the customer.

Yet party as I often am to endless talk – for that’s all it often is – concerning the top end of the market I’ve naturally become a little sceptical whenever the P and L words are bandied about, for it’s rare that the reality even comes close to the hype. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Adventures in Brand Extension, Branding, Perceived Quality, Premium, Things I Hate, , , , , , , ,

E is for “Eh?”

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There was a time when Mercedes-Benz built the ultimate premium (not luxury, old Mercs could never be considered luxurious) cars. They were engineered to a standard and the price was set accordingly.

PorschebenzfrontMy client’s neighbour is the proud owner of an early 90s 500E, a performance saloon (again, old Mercs, no matter how powerful, were never sports cars) produced at the peak in Mercedes’ unwavering dedication to excellence in the automotive art.

The price of entry was a staggering DM134,000, or around €100,000 today, taking into account inflation. Yet because of the design and engineering integrity that all that cash purchased , after more than 20 years and 300,000 kilometres the only major work that needs doing is a reconditioning of the gearbox.

That Mercedes’ determination to build the world’s best cars was so dogged that it lead them to the brink of bankruptcy cannot be ignored. Yet the subsequent, wholesale dilution of their core value of integrity in the chase for bigger margins exacted a heavy toll on their brand image.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Car, Design, Design Strategy, Perceived Quality, Photography, Premium, , , , , , , , , ,

Das (schönste) Auto

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Last Friday I completed another photo shoot and of my three subjects, VWs Polo and Scirocco and Mercedes E-Class, it was, as it was in Geneva, the Polo that really took my breath away.

Here was a €12,000 car that made the object of every German middle-manager’s affections, the E-Class, look more than a little underdone.

The Polo is so good that two days later, reviewing the shoot, I’m still struggling to comprehend how VW has got their detailing so fine, their tolerances so tight yet still make money on the thing. Here is a “peoples” VW, as opposed to the superlative, but somewhat more haute bourgeoise Phaeton, that at long last takes over the flame of surprise and delight that was lit by the Mk IV Golf.

You may think it’s more than a trifle geeky that I get so turned on by these tiny details – or turned off, as was the case with the Aston Martin One-77-, but it’s these small things that can build brands up or let them down entirely when it comes to customer perception.

A good friend of mine, who works for Apple, once remarked that their products were the mass-produced equivalents of Bang & Olufsen products. Noting my slight incredulity, he reasoned that objects like the iPhone or a MacBook Pro were as close to the perceived quality of a Beosound 9000 as you could get while still churning items out by the million on a high-speed line, rather than the low thousands, or indeed hundreds, with a great deal of hand finishing. Turning my still-flawless, glossy black iPod in my hands, I have to agree.

And for sure, the miniscule panel gaps, thoughtful detailing and sense of integrity, let’s call it craftsmanship, are among the things that pull in buyers of Polo and iPod alike.

One only need to look at the level of detailing in the headlamps, something hithertofore seen only in Audis and… well, I can’t think of another brand that does lamps so well. At the rear, the gap betwixt lamp and quarter panel was so tight I couldn’t get a finger nail in. Really.

Just as a Skoda Octavia gives you a bit of VW Golf niceness at a lower price in a unique body, so the Polo packs a deft touch of Audi in the B Segment, at least until the A1 comes along.

Craftsmanship, be it industrial or imparted by loving, skilled hands, sends subtle messages about the depth of thought and engineering ingenuity that imbue these products. The Polo has it in spades.

[Images: Andrew Philip Artois Smith]

Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Perceived Quality, Premium, Things I like, , , , , , ,

Unslick Sticks: Aston’s been raiding the parts bin again

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The first pictures of the interior of the one point seven five million dollar (US) Aston Martin One-77 were published today after the car’s official reveal at the illustrious Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza.

Whatever you may think of the overall design theme, allow me to draw you to one tiny yet, for me, crucial detail: the indicator/wiper stalks.

Just in case you hadn’t got it in the opening line, this car costs ONE POINT SEVEN FIVE MILLION DOLLARS yet possesses black plastic sticks that would be right at home in something costing a hundred times less.

Lest we forget, the Bugatti Veyron, the hallowed company of which the One-77 would like to keep, possesses milled stalks with tolerances that would make a Swiss watchmaker weep. They’re also reputed to cost $4000 a pop.

For this wannabe sybarite (me, not the Aston), something ripped out of Grannie’s hatchback just doesn’t cut it.

More befuddling is that pretty much everything else in the cabin has been lovingly hewn from crystal, stainless steel, carbon fiber and Bang & Olufsen, materials that send a serious message about the craftsmanship of the car. Against this background, the presence of black plastic is somewhat of a shock.

To be fair, this car is number 1 of 77 and may be pre-production, but Aston’s got a history of bin raiding: the Vanquish was lambasted in the press for having Volvo S80 vents and Ford Fiesta stalks.

I would have thought, now that Aston is charging almost six times as much for this new beast as they did for the Vanquish, that they could have lashed out on something a bit more special. When you see the care an attention that has gone into detailing other parts of the car (the rear suspension block is my personal highlight), it really does seem a shame.

P.S Bonus points for anyone who can tell me where these parts have come from. They *could* be old Fiesta, but I’m not certain…

[Images: Drew Smith, Aston Martin and OmniAuto]

Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Perceived Quality, Premium, , , , , , , , ,

About DownsideUpDesign

I'm Drew Smith and I'm a freelance design strategist and journalist for the automotive industry. DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. Get in touch at downsideupdesigner (at) me (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.