Delivering Market Leadership with Design Language

The Story

Creating an entire experience to elevate company value

The visual landscape of enterprise computing is littered with everything from bold use of color to muted machine aesthetics. NetApp has a rich aesthetic DNA and a history of delivering compelling, leading-edge products that provide outstanding performance and a reliable user experience. M3 was challenged to evolve NetApp’s corporate design language in order to elevate the NetApp brand in the minds of their customers in lights out, low touch data-center environments. Even though there may be little interaction with these types of products after deployment, they nonetheless are the primary physical encounter customers have with the NetApp brand and play a key role in connecting customers to NetApp’s core values.

netapp bezels showing design language application
"The reason we picked M3 out of a number of folks we were looking at to be that primary focus of ID, was due to the people. You guys obviously had competency, the resources, etc., but we really felt like M3 had the people we wanted to work with. I never regretted, ever, partnering with M3 and working with you guys." Mechanical Engineering Manager NetApp
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The Process

Concept Exploration

Exploration began with a thorough audit of visual design trends - as a whole and within the enterprise computing space. By mapping the design trajectories of key NetApp competitors, M3 was able to plot a course to a new aesthetic space that would differentiate NetApp in the near future and provide areas for long-term growth. Scalability and usability were also key considerations to ensure a flexible language application and satisfy stakeholder needs.

netapp design language sketches
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The Details

Flexible Language

Ensuring flexibility within the language application was a key driver for success. This allows the design to be easily implemented across multiple SKUs while remaining recognizable in the eyes of stakeholders. The layered mesh strategy also provides a great deal of adaptability - different color, material, and finish treatments can be applied to indicate specific product lines or levels of performance. A glowing cabinet badge was also created to improve wayfinding and reinforce NetApp's presence within dark data-centers.

The Details

Of the many steps involved in creating a cohesive design language, some of the most important are defining the visual direction, determining the overall architecture that concepts will be built around, and working through fine manufacturing details to ensure design intent is maintained.

Visual Attributes

In order to not be confined to a single aesthetic trend, the language strikes a balance between three visual attributes: solid, progressive, and human. This combination creates the foundation for a unique language with both longevity and room for growth.

Product Architecture

As a high-tech piece of equipment, functional constraints were like airflow/ventilation, status indicators, and user access points were key design drivers that influenced concept architectures. 

Design for Manufacturing

Once a final direction had been determined, M3 worked tirelessly to specify foils, badge finishes, and assembly features to ensure that no detail was left untouched.

"The team at M3 is really awesome to work with. The quality of the work is great, and I think we work really well together. I think it is based on trust and honesty. We’ve met a number of times over the years and I felt like I could tell them anything and they could tell me anything."

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