Heritage – Overlooked Treasure

In our ever-changing consumer landscape, there remain few great differentiators and exclusive advantages.

Technologies are constantly evolving and the power to create products, brands, and experiences has been placed in the hands of the everyman. Companies can’t afford to not make use of their every asset.

In 2012, what major factors differentiate HP from Vizio? Porsche from BMW? Why do people wear Chuck Taylor?

Heritage in design is a priceless asset that can neither be bought nor built overnight, but its presence in a brand’s arsenal is dominating.

The Skinny

Heritage is a quality of branding that has to do with manifesting values and past successes in the form of a consistent design language. This practice results in consumers feeling loyalty, understanding and familiarity with a brand.

Porsche – Brand Pedigree

When I was still deciding between product design and car design school, an old designer told me of car designers–

If you’re the best in your class, you’ll be designing cup-holders and bumpers for Porsche.

His point was that Porsche is the most coveted auto brand, and it is so because of the strict adherence to their legacy. His remark about the bumpers was not too far off, either. In 40 years of the 911, the most significant changes have been to the bumpers and lights, and yet the car is considered one of the greatest industrial design achievements of all time.

The 911 was introduced in 1963, and Porsche has since controlled every step of its evolution. The silhouette, passenger windows, and rear end have been meticulously maintained. Some of the most major changes have been adaptations to technological advancements. 

Car designs, like fashion designs, are very much dictated by trend. Surface treatments, head light shapes, and other stylistic elements come and go with the trends of the time.

That being said, comparing the surface treatments of the 2013 Porsche 911 Turbo with that of a competitor makes Porsche’s discipline all the more obvious.

The clean, unmarked surface of a 2013 Porsche 911Aggressive, filleted, and expressive lines on a 2013 BMW M3

As is illustrated, the 911 has not conformed to the aggressive and expressive line treatments trending during this current car generation. This is both the privilege and obligation of maintaining a strict brand heritage.

The benefits of adherence to heritage is apparent through the assumed quality of a Porsche. For example, guess the following Porsche model:

Only an enthusiast would be able to tell. It’s a 2007 Boxter–an econobox, and not as well respected amongst those in the know. However, to the average consumer, it’s a Porsche, and a Porsche means luxury performance for as long as most people have been alive.

Porsche demonstrates that a history of success and quality can be visually captured and communicated through design.

Conclusion & Why It Matters

Heritage is what seperates a brand perceived as high quality from one that is perceived as cheap. It is the visual summary of a company’s values and past successes.

Many companies these days are throwing in the towel before companies like Apple and Nike. However, I believe a lot of these companies are sitting on a treasure of heritage that could potentially remind consumers of quality they may have forgotten.

Heritage is a strategy that new and old companies can employ that will appreciate over time given the proper cultivation. It’s a devastating advantage that can not be ignored.


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