What makes one brand’s design “cool” and another conventional is surprisingly tough to describe. One thing is for sure, just being different isn’t enough.
A product or company’s “cool factor” comes down to four main characteristics:
Being cool requires balance. Companies like Airbnb and Zipcar made us consider new approaches to travel, but in ways that are socially acceptable.
Knowing your audience’s “cool” spectrum is key to design success. It’s alright to go a little outside the boundaries of what’s considered normal. But don’t let your design cross what your audience would consider the limits of abnormal.
It’s difficult to stay cool, too. A design that starts off as cool (think Groupon) shifts the lines of conventionality, and then gets imitated so much that it becomes conventional, and no longer cool.
One-time consumer rebel Apple is a master at creating universal appeal. Just when you think they’ve lost too much of their cool factor, out comes the iPhone 5S with a fingerprint sensor. Watch how they keep shifting the norm, pushing for a new limit, raising the bar.
You don’t have to be Apple (or Nike or Prada), just take a lesson from their playbook.