Q&A: Frog Design’s Creative Chief on the Role of UX and Brand Purpose

Oonie Chase says design is central to businesses’ success

‘Design puts the proof in the purpose,’ Chase says. Frog Design
Headshot of Josh Sternberg

Oonie Chase, executive creative director at Frog Design, likens design to being in a relationship. Relationships, like design, are not just the big romantic moments, but the small “unsexy things you do everyday to make sure the relationship has integrity,” she says.

Design, she argues, is foundational to a brand’s success, central to how a business grows and stays resilient.

Adweek spoke with Chase about design’s role in “brand purpose,” whether it should be seated at the C-level table, and some of the UX pain points she deals with when working with clients.

Adweek: What would you say is the role of brand purpose and how does design fit in?
Oonie Chase: Design puts the proof in the purpose. Brands don’t get to declare their purpose anymore; they don’t get to declare that as a narrative unless there is proof to back it up. And that proof comes in the form of products and services and the genuinely useful stuff they make for their customers. That’s where design comes in.

We forget brands are designed; everything is designed. Where design is putting intentional attention into the whole surface area of the brand and making sure that top to bottom that purpose comes through, I think that’s where the proof comes in.

Who’s a good example of this, where the design of the brand and its brand purpose all come together as one?
The most charismatic and biggest one is Apple. It’s also part of the Frog origin story.

How so?
Frog was around before Jobs and Apple. Steve Jobs brought in Hartmut Esslinger, Frog’s founder, to design Apple’s first computer. Our DNA is that; how do you take the promise of the brand and land it in the product and service that that brand is going to offer?

You’re also seeing smaller brands, if you look across the startup landscape—[brands] like Casper—who from their inception are thinking about how they can deliberately orchestrate across the entire surface area of the brand so it all ladders up into one idea.

"We forget brands are designed; everything is designed."
Oonie Chase, executive creative director at Frog Design

You mention Casper. What are these challenger brands doing better, in terms of design and UX, than older brands?
They’re not seeing them as separate disciplines or efforts. The older, larger companies have different operational homes for customer experience; for brand and branding; sometimes even for UX as a subset inside of that. And those silos, while they make for more efficient businesses, can often get in the way that larger brand orchestration needs to happen. This is where we’re brought in: We’re working between these silos, or working on how to bring those silos together so they can deliver something that is holistic and believable.

Does design need to be at the C-level table when decisions are being made?
Absolutely yes. It is at the table, whether it’s recognized or not. If everything is designed—someone has made a decision that that thing is going to be that way—then design is always at the table. The question is whether you’ll be intentional about it or not; it’s incredibly helpful to the C-level when they’re actively having to make a charismatic, integrated brand that drives growth. Because it means you’re not just making decisions in silos. You’re saying, “We are going to intentionally look at the surface area of this brand and orchestrate across it in an intentional way.”

What happens when a client makes decisions in a committee or when they’re not looking at this intentionality as a core competency? How do you work around that?
Frog works in three systems. We work in digital systems, physical systems (industrial design) and our secret sauce—human systems. Just as I think everything has a brand component at Frog, everything we do is about shaping the organization so it can succeed in the thing we’re working on together. It’s the human systems: Sometimes you work in a system that is hierarchical and you work differently than in an organization that’s more consensus driven. Sometimes influence is in the org chart and sometimes it’s less formal; understanding how it all comes together and where the break points are is a core part of design.

What are some of the pain points you’ve experienced in working with brands on UX?
Before I came to Frog, I was at W+K, one of the leads in The Lodge, their design group. One pain point: working with CMOs who had great heart for what design can do for their brand, company, business and even category, but they themselves, as an individual, couldn’t buy it. It touched so many parts of the org, they needed to build a coalition around it. It wasn’t a part of what they knew they had to do. Regardless of how great the work was, the company didn’t know how to organize against it.

This story first appeared in the July 23, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.