Many Asian brands undervalue design. Here are six for whom design is not only identity, but also a driver of growth.
Fable of rebirth
In 1982, Asahi saved itself from a spiral of decline by throwing away decades of category convention and nationalistic iconography. Replacing its old design—a rising sun contained in a conventional circular label—the brand found a new voice: modern, urban and sharp. That year, growth outpaced the industry threefold. And today Asahi is Japan’s top beer and a member of the global top 10.
Like walking into a computer programme
Uniqlo’s look and feel is more than just a logo, yet at the same time, it’s all about the logo. From the exterior to the merchandising to the shelving to the packaging, Uniqlo squares are everywhere. The brand embraces the Japanese concept of kino-bi, which loosely translates as the fusion of function and beauty. Organisation and rationality create an artistic rhythm that has proven irresistible for millions.
Leave the charging bulls alone
Red Bull is famous for its extreme-sports sponsorships. But its success also rests on a remarkable example of restraint. When the founders moved to extend the brand from its roots in Thailand to the world stage, they retained the original charging-bull iconography. This touch of the exotic proved to be a potent association for the new energy drink. Design icons aren’t built overnight, and knowing when not to change them is a rare knack.
Founded in 1872, Shiseido quickly developed a brand purpose (champion of art and design) and a visual style (elegant Asian chic) that are still evident today. The company became famous for its beautiful advertising blending art nouveau with a Japanese aesthetic. Today, the purpose-built Shiseido Art House showcases work by Japanese and international artists—a testament to the brand’s commitment to celebrating creativity.
Malaysia’s shoemaker to the stars
How a poor cobbler’s son from Penang ended up alongside Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin in the holy trinity of designer footwear is a story of old-school craftsmanship. It’s also a story of how brands are built by people, not sole crusaders. Choo’s relentless pursuit of perfection helped him win favor among Hollywood A-listers, but his partnership with biz-whizz Tamara Mellon and his talented niece Sandra Choi turned his small boutique into a global empire.
The ‘girl’ is the brand
Singapore Airlines was a pioneer in elevating magic above logic and has continued to champion an emotional bond with its consumers in a market where the convention is to sell on price or features like opulent business-class seats. The Singapore Girl, symbol of gentle Asian hospitality, promises a return to the romance of travel that we lost long ago.
Katie Ewer is strategy director at Jones Knowles Ritchie (JKR) and is the author of Champions of Design 4, which celebrates 20 Asian brands that use design to build a competitive advantage. See campaignasia.com/champions