Desire by Design

Read Time: 15 minutes

 Titled “Desire by Design,” a new book out this month by Jean-Pierre Lacroix of Shikatani Lacroix (Toronto) examines how desire shapes decisions and the role that design can have in the process, offering interesting history, insights from scientific research and actionable advice.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, an author, speaker and co-founder of Shikatani Lacroix Design, has been a leader in the design and branding industry for the past 35 years. His industry involvement is diverse; he has served as a board member for organizations such as the Packaging Association of Canada, Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario, Society for Experiential Design, Identity Conference and Design Industry Advisory Committee. Desire by Design is his third book; he previously co-authored “The Business of Graphic Design” and “The Belonging Experience: How Brands Connect with Consumers.”

In Desire by Design, Lacroix unravels the irrational element of desire and explains how brands, designers, and marketers can tap into the emotional high that elicits such passion for certain brands. Using the design philosophy he has developed through his 35 years of experience, Lacroix offers high-level ideas and insights from neuroscience, cult fanaticism and behavioral psychology into practical worksheets that explain the “how-to” in creating desire for a brand.

Lacroix answers some key questions about the book:


What was the inspiration for this book?

I was inspired to write Desire by Design because of our amazing clients and award-winning work.  I wanted to leverage my expertise, and make a practical book for clients, designers, and all brand marketers. Throughout my career, the industry has seen many changes and it’s not enough to just be a marketer or a designer anymore. You need to understand your target audience, meet them on their terms and exceed expectations.

What drives desire for brands?

Retail stickiness drives desire for brands. Retail brands must go beyond selling commodities to uniquely developing branded experiences that support a sense of belonging–regardless of if it’s online, mobile or in a network of stores. To truly drive desire, brands must stimulate all of the senses. This provides both an opportunity and a challenge for brands, as you must ensure the omni-experience model aligns the needs of both the brand and the customer, while the path-to-purchase considers the journey and key channels to meet those needs.

How has your career influenced the book?

I have been working in the branding and design industry for over 30 years. At Shikatani Lacroix and SLDNXT we are committed to helping brands own the consumers’ “at-purchase moment” and truly revolutionize their retail transformation. I think my career, and my board member has allowed me to have a diverse career and well-rounded perspective on global branding.

I really enjoy reading and learning from other thought leaders in the industry. So, it was just a matter of time before I decided to write my own book. I’ve always wanted to be a published author, and I did it, twice! My first book, Belonging Experiences: Designing Engaged Brands, focused on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how he got it wrong. It’s definitely a shorter book in comparison. This book is definitely more practical with entire “How-to” section with worksheets, that people can bring back, and use at their offices.

What do you hope readers take away from “Design by Desire?”

This book is geared towards marketers and designers. But most importantly, those that are looking to make a major change in their company. It’s for those that are not satisfied with status quo, and want to really elevate their brand, brand design, and brand experience.

After reading this book, I hope people realize that artificial intelligence and all technological advances may help with some situations within the various customer touchpoints, but it can never replace the human connection and interaction consumers want and need.




Design by Desire

Excerpt from Chapter Nine: Right Experiences Drive Desire


The Dimensions of a Brand Experience

The Jack Morton study reinforces why companies with high-demand brands such as Apple’s, and those that have brands such as Dove and Axe in highly commoditized categories, have demonstrated that branded experiences provide the best platforms to build desire. In the previous chapter, I touched on the importance of creating a sense of belonging informed by unique experiences that go well beyond promoting a transaction in retail stores, on websites, in mobile apps or on social media platforms.

Not long ago I spoke at a packaging conference in Miami where the event organizers asked me to moderate a round table for a networking session on the importance of driving desire for brands. I had 15 minutes to explore how brands can evolve from being needed to being desired – a tough task considering that my audience consisted of leaders in commoditized categories such as peanut butter, soft drinks and dry goods. I asked them which brand had moved above its respective commoditized categories, and the immediate answer was Apple. The participants identified one of the key factors in determining if a brand commands desire, namely, the willingness of its purchasers to pay more for it than a similar, lower-priced product.

However, the group truly struggled to mention any other brand that had accomplished a comparable feat, which reaffirmed my belief that most brand marketers haven’t yet realized the opportunity in moving toward creating desire. I further probed the attendees by asking them how Dove and Axe deodorant had succeeded in differentiating themselves from competitors by generating desire through a branded experience. I explained why Unilever was such a great example of a company that moved its brand Dove from need to desire through its “Campaign for Real Beauty” by linking the soap to a deep emotional need of young women, namely, self-esteem. The crusade, first launched in the United Kingdom and then across the globe, founded a social-cause movement in which the villain was the personal-care industry’s portrayal of the ideal woman, inviting consumers to challenge society’s stereotypical views of beauty. In addition, the 2006 Dove Self-Esteem Fund was launched to help every female feel positive. Through the use of videos, training tools and events, Unilever fashioned a strong emotional differentiation in a category predominantly driven by price. The self-esteem program succeeded in stimulating desire for Dove, since it transformed the relationship from a transaction into an experience in which the purchaser could effectively support a worthy movement through purchased products. What Dove owns is that moment when young women look at themselves in the mirror and want to feel confident about who they are.

Axe approached the commoditized personal deodorant in a different way, forging an emotional brand connection with young men around dating and having sex. The ads, which were extremely effective and controversial, featured women clamoring for the smell of men wearing Axe products in the hope of an amorous encounter. Although highly humorous and lighthearted, the ads targeted a deep emotional need young men have to attract women.

In developing the ideal experience, there are key factors to be considered if the brand is to break through and connect on a deep emotional level. In the case of Dove and Axe, these brands have prospered and created passionate desire by leveraging branded experiences that effectively connect with consumers on a deep emotional level. Every facet of the brand experience must focus on owning the emotional moment that drives desire, regardless of whether the brand is a luxury one or a product competing in a commoditized category. To help support the importance of creating the right brand experience, I’ve outlined five key factors worth considering when exploring how to move brands from wants to desires.


Factor One: An Experience Is the Sum of Our Senses

The key to shaping brand experience stickiness is rooted in exercising all five senses — which can only be delivered in a physical experience — to convert retail stores into sales environments that take advantage of the emerging experience economy. A 2008 study on sensory marketing published in Science by Lawrence E. Williams and John A. Bargh discusses how retailers and marketers can drive customer engagement by leveraging all five senses.3 Williams and Bargh identify the power of “embodied cognition,” the idea that our senses take over without our conscious awareness.

Many other studies have found that a focus on sensory input can drive consumer behavior. One by Hendrik N.J. Schifferstein, a professor in the Department of Industrial Design at Delft University in the Netherlands, reports that people judge vision to be the most important factor when evaluating products, followed by touch, smell, sound and taste.4 Irrespective of which sense dominates our behaviors, the importance of marketing to all five senses is at the forefront of emerging practices, and one of the key reasons for this interest is the power of the senses to drive emotional connections with brands. Only retail stores can effectively control and deliver all five senses during the process that leads to a purchase, so let’s explore examples of how implementing a consumer’s sensory experience can create retail stickiness.



Visuals are the doorway to our emotions and provide mirrors for our self-images and aspirations. As such, retailers can develop stickiness by reflecting the desired ideal of customers. Nike stores, with their use of famous athletes, has distinguished its brand’s experience from those of competitors by emotionally connecting with customers through aspirational visualization, while Victoria Secret has leveraged sight and smell as its most effective tools to engage and attract customers. The use of logos, strong emotional images and typography, in addition to the architectural personality of a retail store, all play critical roles in drawing customers. This in turn initiates transactions and helps retain customers by creating strong visual recognitions and connections. Sight also lives in an immersive world through the utilization of virtual mirrors in change rooms to aid customers trying on a range of colors and styles of clothing and eyewear, or tracking the performance of a new golf club that best fits their swings. Sight, and how technology can manipulate its use, can create unique experiences.



Retail channels such as apparel and goods such as watches and technology hardware rely heavily on touch to achieve purchase decisions. Recently, we consulted for a leading hockey stick manufacturer, and the “feel” of the stick was the definitive factor for a customer to select one brand over another. Retailers who depend heavily on walk-in customers need to ensure their products are easily accessible, and can be held and felt. There also exists an opportunity for retailers to own a sense of touch as part of the purchase experience for consumers, from the tactile elements of store fixtures (think Apple), to the type of flooring in place, to the use of natural versus human-made materials.



Research conducted by Richard Axel and Linda Buck, co-winners of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, recognized smell as our most emotional sense.5 Scent provides a direct pathway to our emotions, bringing to the surface feelings embedded in our memories. These recollections reside in our subconscious, allowing the appropriate given smell to ignite positive remembrances that impart a deep sense of reward. Retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch have leveraged scent as an effective tool to attract the right consumers to their stores, while Starbucks has employed smell to entice customers to drink its coffee. The potency of scent goes well beyond the physical space and engrains itself in the subconscious, resulting in an emotional moment that follows us wherever we are and shop.



Sounds such as music are an effective way to build brand retention and awareness, which can be as simple as a jingle to link a campaign to a motivating soundtrack and generate considerable emotional appeal for a brand. Intel and Rogers Communications enlist the power of sound bites to build brand recognition, while Harley-Davidson trademarked its sound to differentiate itself from competing motorbike companies. Sounds can either relax or excite consumers, as demonstrated in the food service industry where upbeat music is played to boost eating speeds to drive more table turns, or slow music is broadcast in grocery stores to decrease purchase speed and increase the time spent there.



Taste is the most difficult sense for marketers who don’t operate within the food service or consumable product categories, since consumers don’t taste clothing or hardware technology. Companies with brands such as Colgate, Pepsi, Budweiser and Starbucks have all leveraged taste as an effective tool in product differentiation. For firms that don’t inhabit these categories, there exists an opportunity to introduce taste-related offerings such as unique candy mints, lip balms, beverages and snacks that reflect the “taste” dimensions of their brands to further capitalize on this sense.


Factor Two: Moves Beyond Engage to Immerse

There are many retail trends whose industry lingo makes headlines and significant boardroom chatter. Retail today is defined by omni-channel, big data, digital marketing and mobile commerce, among others. Like all trends, there’s a pivotal moment when they stop being referred to as game changers and become everyday occurrences, moving from vogues that are the most talked about, to those that shape the retail landscape, to ones that constitute the very fabric of the industry. As a designer, I constantly search for what will emerge as the next “big thing,” that will have a significant impact on how retailers provide deeper, more meaningful engagements as part of physical environments.

When I scan the marketplace, I see a trend that stands out from the rest and is having an impact that’s shaping the future of how we shop, buy and interact with the built environments we often take for granted. This new trend is best described by the word immersion whereby the barriers between the physical world and what is virtual disappear and become one. New technology and channel proliferation are fundamentally altering the consumer’s at-purchase experience. They’re shifting how we use our senses and blurring the lines between physical and virtual realities, offering opportunities for retailers to move beyond engagement to full immersion in a brand story. It’s important to note that an immersive brand experience is more than what we currently define as brand engagement.

Brand engagement takes place when an experience provokes shoppers to create social media posts, initiate face-to-face conversations or make purchases. Although mobile and multi-touch interactive technologies have elevated this level of engagement to new heights, immersion takes place when consumers forget they’re transacting in a store and become active participants in the narrative. You know you’re in an immersive experience when the lines are smudged between the physical and the virtual, storyteller and consumer, technology and physical space. Immersive design harnesses powerful and evolving technologies to fashion experiences in which consumers wholeheartedly participate as new insights founded on shopper behavioral science are applied. The result is not only to convert shoppers to customers, but builds tremendous bonds between the customer and the brand, between the audience and the story.

Immersive experiences exist today through gaming and high-definition movie-making, allowing for the development of rich stories that have the detail typically found in the physical world. The IMAX experience, the use of virtual goggles and interactive dressing-room mirrors, are all precursors for how this technology is evolving and how it will impact the purpose and role of retail stores. Now with the advent of higher-quality projection systems, faster computing capabilities, micro-technologies and gesture-enabled software interfaces, we’re witnessing the next evolution in immersive retail experiences. Immersive experience, better known as 5D design, is growing as a marketing and branding practice. With all of this growth, have you ever wondered if you’ve participated in a 5D experience, or more important, can you spot one when it’s happening? Here are the six signs you’ve participated in what’s becoming the next level of brand engagement:

  • Allows participants to be lost in time: Gaming is a great example of an immersive experience often resulting in players losing track of time. Immersive experiences draw viewers in by creating an environment where time has no value or influence. For brand marketers wanting to drive desire, this is truly an ideal technology in which the target group is so involved in the experience that the notion of stopping seems foreign.
  • Provides a high level of storytelling: 5D experience is the virtual manifestation of a well-written story that’s visually delivered while allowing the participant full control. For an immersive experience to be relevant, all of its aspects, from the scene and players to the required behavior and rituals, have to be anchored in a story.
  • Creates a stunningly real experience: Stunning and realistic visuals are the common denominators of 5D experiences. The harder our brains need to work at discerning information, the more taxing the chore becomes, and the harder it is for participants to remove the boundaries between digital experience and reality. The closer to reality, the more immersive the experience becomes. The brain no longer needs to differentiate between virtual and reality. Without this boundary, the brain’s processing power is now relegated directly to its reptilian region ruled by reflex and impulse, deepening the reality of the 5D experience.
  • Permits multiple participants: Humans are social creatures, and the closer the 5D experience reflects our social needs, the closer the experience comes to reality. One of the key dimensions of immersion is the ability to be surprised, challenged and engaged with other participants. The ability to contribute and help narrate the story makes the 5D experience that much more realistic.
  • Becomes intuitive and instinctive: To the best of my knowledge, the top games don’t come with extensive instruction booklets. Games are designed to reflect how humans interact with their environments, and as such, immersive experiences are intuitive. Intuitive thinking isn’t a conscious process; it relies on the senses and pits instincts against rational thinking. Similar to being stunningly real, 5D experiences rely heavily on the participants’ intuition and instincts to navigate the experience.


3. Lawrence E. Williams and John A. Bargh, “Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth,”Science 322, no. 5901 (October 24, 2008): 606–07. Accessed at

4. Hendrik N.J. Schifferstein, “The Perceived Importance of Sensory Modalities in Product Usage: A Study of Self-Reports,”Acta Psychologica 121, no. 1 (January 2006): 41–64. Accessed at

5. Linda Buck and Richard Axel, “A Novel Multigene Family May Encode Odorant Receptors: A Molecular Basis for Odor Recognition,” Cell 65 (April 5, 1991): 175–87. Accessed at




Find “Desire by Design: What Data-Driven Marketers Should Know About Driving Desire for their Brands” at all major retailers and at Amazon.

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