The rise of the design democracy


By: Karla Renee

I want to show you something.

This is a snapshot of Apple's website from 1997—twenty-one years ago.


Apple's website in 1997


And here's what it looks like now.


Apple's website in 2018


In two decades, the digital world has transformed the way brands present themselves—and the bar for quality design is getting higher all the time.

The world now expects great design.

Now, let me ask you a question: Who is responsible for delivering great design?

Ten or twenty years ago, the answer was easy. Brand marketing was handled by a small group of experts who controlled every aspect of a company's message as it was delivered to a mass audience. But like it did to everything else, the internet changed all that.

Today, nearly everyone is a content creator. Not just your marketers, but your sales team, your customer service team, your other employees, your vendors and partners. All of them are representing your brand to fragmented audiences on endless channels: web, email, social media, direct mail, etc.

Back then: Eight guys went into a boardroom to strategize on one commercial that represented your brand to millions of people.

Now: Employees across the company make decisions every day on how to represent your brand to the audiences they interact with. Design has been democratized.

This means brands are producing more content than ever. A 2014 study by Content Marketing Institute found that 72% of organizations say they're producing significantly more content than they did a year ago. If that was true in 2014, think how much more true it is today.

So, what happens when the rising, urgent need for branded content turns everyone into content creators?

You get, well... bad design.

An unfortunate flyer design

And listen, I'm not here to make fun of bad design. It's all well-intentioned, and as a startup ourselves, we understand the time/resource crunch as well as anyone. But in a world that expects great design, brands can't afford to let this slide.

The landscape

After all, the odds are already stacked against you. 50% of the S&P 500 will disappear by 2027—just ten years from now. Their average lifespans are decreasing, from 33 years in 1964 to 24 years in 2016. In 2027, the average lifespan for an S&P 500 company is only expected to be 12 years.



Design-centric companies outperform the others. Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, Starbucks, Target and Disney have invested heavily in great design. According to the Design Management Institute, companies like these have experienced a marked increase in their design value index, outpacing their S&P peers by 211%.

Design value index

We recognize these names as some of the world's strongest, most valuable brands. This is not a coincidence.

Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, outlines all of this neatly with an observation:

A brand is a living entity—and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.

Gestures like... an email. A social media post. An event flyer. The kind of things employees at every level of your company are creating every day.

The world now expects great design. And what design-centric companies have figured out is how to deliver great design consistently, every time someone interacts with their brand.

In other words, they've leaned into the design democracy.

So now we have two types of businesses:

  • Those who allow employees to create off-brand content, which stunts brand growth.

  • Those who scale great design across all channels to build a strong, consistent brand.

I'm willing to bet you can guess which side the winners are on.

The challenge

So, how do winning brands scale great design? It's not as easy as flipping a switch and declaring that you care about design. It requires a new understanding of what great design is.

  1. Great design is based on well-understood brand guidelines.

  2. Great design is consistent across every channel.

  3. Great design delivers personalized and relevant experiences.

  4. Great design is easy for all (not a select few) to replicate.

Why aren't more companies embracing this definition and cultivating winning brands?

In my time at Lucidpress, I've had the opportunity to observe many companies who are struggling to scale great design. The vast majority are trapped in one of two camps: the brand prison or the Wild West.

In the brand prison, a central creative team controls all content (much like it used to be in the old days). Designers are overloaded and stressed because the demand for content is increasing, but their system is not scalable. And, whether you realize it or not, many employees are taking matters into their own hands, creating off-brand, renegade content that dilutes your message.

In the Wild West, there are no rules or brand guidelines. Everyone creates their own branded content without guidance or direction, and as a result, your brand suffers from a lack of consistent identity. The market is confused about who you really are, and they don't know which messages to trust.

Do either of these scenarios ring true for your business?

If so, I'm really excited to be talking with you, because there is a better way. At Lucidpress, we call it brand templating.

Introducing brand templating

Earlier, I defined great design as having the following attributes:

  • based on brand guidelines

  • consistent

  • personalized

  • easy to replicate

By incorporating each of these elements in our software, Lucidpress has developed a process to help brands scale their design. We call it brand templating, and here's how it works.

  1. Create a template from scratch, or import an existing one from InDesign.

  2. Lock down the important elements of your brand: logos, fonts, colors, etc.

  3. Give non-designers access to customize the template with approved brand assets.

  4. Distribute the document via web, print, email, social media—whatever channel it's destined for.

The results of implementing this process are profound. Customers who use Lucidpress for brand templating see a huge difference in the consistency of their content:

"We needed a new marketing system," said Kwan Cheung of MHA. "Each location operated completely independently, with no commonality or branding. We needed unity, and Lucidpress gave us that."

Our customers also enjoy increased efficiency, reducing the stress and workload of their creative teams without sacrificing brand integrity:

"Before Lucidpress, we always had to start from scratch with our designs. Now our Lucidpress templates help us stay consistent across the board," said Saroya Wronski of The Bar Method.

Claudia Sherman of Club Pilates puts this in numerical perspective: "In the past 7 months we've been able to get almost 300 pieces of creative up for our franchisees using Lucidpress."

Again and again, we've seen how transformative brand templating can be for our customers, to the point that they would never go back.

Which brings us to today, as Lucid Software announces $72 million in Series C funding. What will this funding mean for Lucidpress?

It means we continue to refine the brand templating process, making it easier for people to administer and customize their templates.

It means we elevate more brands, so that their customers and audiences know who they really are.

We've reached over 5 million users so far. Only a few billion more to go.

The design democracy is here; there is no turning back. The world expects great design—and with Lucidpress, brands of every shape and size can deliver it.

—Owen Fuller, General Manager at Lucidpress


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How to maintain a consistent brand story

In two decades, the digital world has transformed the way brands present themselves—and the bar for quality design is getting higher all the time. How can brands stay competitive in today's design-centric world? Explore the rise of the design democracy, then learn how your organization can ride it to the top.

Learn more

Karla Renee

Karla Renée is the Associate Content Manager for Lucidpress. Her specialties include brand strategy, content marketing, and social media management. She loves creative writing and new tech devices, and she's never visited a museum she didn't like.

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