translation2tranlsation3trnalsation4translation5tranlsation6tranlsation8‘Lost in translation’ is a phrase often used when we don’t get a joke or when the meaning of something is lost on us – quite often it is used in a dismissive manner. But imagine what ‘lost in translation’ would mean for a UN interpreter; losing the meaning of the speeches and talks they interpret could result in diplomatic catastrophe. Similarly, when companies fail to connect the dots between an insight and observation into a brand or design strategy – the results can be catastrophic. At Webb deVlam, translation is universal and inclusive and we employ a wide variety of tools to examine and deliver against every business challenge our clients present. Translation is an innate part of our process, it is the delicate thread that connects an elusive insight and a carefully crafted strategy with the creative output that a person experiences. It’s the box where the solutions are found and the stage where thinking and doing (creating) converge. Translation is the pivotal point where ideas can get lost – for some a scary place to be, but for us, it’s a magical place where we find the big ideas. For any design agency, it is hard to find opportunities in the traditional analysis of quantitative and qualitative research – that’s why we do most of our thinking “inside the box”. This may sound anti-creative but staying focused on delivering what clients and their consumers’ want is one of the guiding principles of this approach to design and one of the key tenets of our translation process.

Lost in translation

In 2010, Tropicana re-launched their orange juice brand by changing just about everything that was crucial to the consumer trusting and recognizing it. Obvious assumptions were pursued without proper thought and understanding of how consumers connected with the brand. Somehow the Tropicana team only got to hear of the universal discourse when it was too late. Unit sales dropped 20% in six months of launch costing the brand dearly and not just in sales!

To ensure that your brand is not ‘lost in translation’ make sure that your creative team is the right combination of strategy and creativity to meet the business challenge. Translation is easy to get wrong. That’s why a dynamic team, fluent in building strategies using design skills to bring ideas to life – visibly and tangibly – is essential. The fuzzy front end of data and insights is suddenly crystallized and the creative team is focused on delivering against a realistic design strategy.

Brand Transformation

We’ve been involved with many brand transformations and they all start with a challenge. For example, “redesign our global bottle to beat copy-cat private label store brands and enable us to charge a more premium price.” Our process is not unique, but it is tried and tested:

Discover > Define > Develop > Deliver

This is where the similarities end and our guiding principles of Translation swing into action, all developed to add new value for business, brand and consumers.

Fluent Creatives and Strategists

One ‘bi-lingual’ team is required to do the job. Bi-lingual because they are fluent creatives and strategists. We call them strategic creatives and creative strategists, who ensure there is a genuine thread between an insight and the creative output that the end user experiences.

Designers love observing, always curious and seeing what might be missing from a person’s experience when using the brand. A strategist is really good at asking the right questions, knowing a consumer cannot really tell them what they want but they can reveal habits and behaviours that can unearth an unmet need.

To synthesize these observations into opportunity platforms (ideation foundations) requires a perspective and thinking from very different angles; analytical and projective, emotional and functional, consumer empathy and business needs. Translation is especially productive when there is a healthy tension between these need states, but translation can only happen with high caliber thinkers open to reconciling tough challenges.


If your company believes in design, then it should appreciate how it can be the flame that lights and sparks innovation, that helps the brand glow, that helps grow loyalty into meaningful connections with consumers, which in return drives profits. If design is at the hub, then design has a responsibility to make sure all stakeholders are kept both involved and updated. Procurement, packaging development, R&D, supply chain, marketing and sales all have to be included in what is an inclusive and collaborative process.

This dynamic allows design to thrive and although we may sometimes be alone in the field, researching and collecting inspiration, we strive to translate those insights into the strategies together with an extended team. We should be the catalysts and help reframe and create platforms for brand strategies and design objectives with the key stakeholders.

Translation happens throughout – from the start to the end of the project. It is important to be single minded about talking to consumers and working hard with brand teams and CMK to clarify the consumer purchase barriers or occasion behaviors or need-states.

Challenge the Paradoxes

The beauty of translation is that it’s the perfect way to reconcile or balance what are often the mutually exclusive at opposite ends of the axis. For instance, those axes that separate evolutionary versus revolutionary, simple versus complex or masculine versus feminine. Our unique process has defined these paradoxes and has managed to deliver both emotional and functional benefits and to add value whilst also reducing cost. It’s like having your cake AND eating it!

To challenge the paradox, a new paradigm needs to be mapped for the brand with translated truths, aspirations, inspirations and ambitions, informed by the brand, the business and the consumer criteria for the project. If the success criteria points to what may seem unobtainable and mutually exclusive; challenge and pursue that paradox.

Thinking within the box

One of our key principles is to stay focused and deliver design within the four corners of the contract (design brief). The brand ambitions, the business imperatives, consumer needs and success criteria define the box in which we explore solutions. An insight, or an observation, or a connection between dots requires careful translation into brand strategy or a design strategy.

Translation requires discipline or projects can easily wander off piste. Design work should not start until a strategic framework is in place, informed by the right and relevant information that can build a solid, creative design brief for focused design and delivery. Without translation, valuable, precious insights are lost and the creative work can fail at crucial stages to reaching the shelf. Ultimately, that magic ingredient is the bi-lingual team who are able to travel comfortably between the blurred lines of strategy and creativity, which have no problem thinking inside the box.


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