Strategic Aesthetics Top Ten

Here are my picks for the best businesses using strategic aesthetics. Within their categories, these brands use aesthetic design in a unique, differentiated way that helps their business succeed. This list is continuously changing, so please weigh in with your opinions and feedback.


The veteran of strategic aesthetics, Apple's appearance shouldn't come as a surprise. So much has been written about Apple design I don't think it's necessary to go into too much detail. (If you're interested in my take on Apple, check out this post on the three keys to duplicating of their success.)


BMW boasts the ultimate driving machine, but it wasn't until they unleashed Chris Bangle in 2001 that they had the ultimate in car styling to match. Author Stephen Bailey even compared Bangle's disruptive, concave, "flame" surfacing to Picasso's cubism. Although the design work is controversial and attention grabbing, the most important part of Bangle contribution was to BMW's bottom line.


People may be surprised to find out how important design is to one leading fork lift manufacturer. Crown sets itself apart through good aesthetics and great ergonomics, giving their operators a reliable, comfortable, and efficient experience. To back it up, Crown wins IDEA awards seemingly every year.


Like many of the businesses on this list, design isn't the only reason IKEA is successful. But their low cost, high aesthetic furniture is the only reason people travel for miles to outfit their entire house with it.


Any product can be a lifestyle product, even soap. While P&G and Unilever fought over the performance of their products, Method quietly entered the market with some naturally-based cleaners in really cool packages. They pulled consumers in with their shelf presence and followed through with authentic, humorous messaging. Now the big brands are starting to pay attention and Method will have to be better than ever at design to hold their small but significant position.


Muji challenges it's own existence through the starkest, most anonymous home and office products in the world. Not many businesses would be bold enough to name themselves "No Brand." Their company tries to be invisible but is oftentimes quite the opposite. They own an aesthetic that feels purposely essential and minimal.


While most eyewear brands keep close tabs on what each other are doing, Oakley continues to feel comfortable just being itself. Their chosen aesthetic is one of the most polarizing examples of design, helping them grow from a company that makes sunglasses to a lifestyle brand that offers a full range of performance products.

Skull Candy

Skull Candy innovates by applying the rules of one category to the rules of another. They understand the value of self-expression through their experience with action sports, and they translate this sense of style into a line of products that clearly stands out from all the other audio brands on the market. Audiophiles may complain that the performance of Skull Candy's headphones isn't up to par, but we can't hear them.


While Wal-Mart maintains tight control over a low cost strategy, Target smartly offers an alternative that provides great design at mass retail. Since their early partnerships with Michael Graves and Philippe Starck, they've matured into a savvy company that understands licensing and managin an in-house design team.

Your Choice

As competition evolves, so will individual business strategies. This list isn't set in stone, and I want to know your picks for the best brands who are differentiating through design. Let me know who you think is the best and if I agree I'll put them on the list.