Erin Cho 1On November 19, 2015 Erin Cho conducted a workshop for XRCLabs accelerator participants by my notes called “Innovation of Meaning, Design and Brand” in which she started off by pointing out that “Brand Value determines profits: Apple iPhone—58% of price, iPad—48% of price.”

And before being challenged on the iconic stature of the brands she referred to, Ms. Cho pointed out that almost all sunglasses are made by the same company, so that the variability in price is not necessarily due to variability in the cost of materials, a polite way of saying that $400/$800 sunglasses are made by Ray-Ban.

She went on to say that the power of the brand “box/package” is that, while placing emphasis on the visual element, the brand is not just visual presentation (e.g. “the Tiffany blue box does not make the brand, the brand makes the Tiffany blue box”).

The sum of visual identity, history, promise and integrity in an identifiable entity creates a sum of the parts, all ending up in the consumer’s eyes as “what it means to me!”


Building a new brand invokes “meaning.” Innovation understood in the context of the ecosystem is the goal of a brand. “Target” once meant the democratization of luxury. Catalogs once meant democratization of style. Online sales once meant the democratization of price.

Design can be seen as the most important part of the delivery of meaning.

Coming back to Tiffany, Ms. Cho commented that the blue box is not just a nest of space for a product in blue, but Tiffany Blue is a nest of dreams.

She also talked about a brand of tea, for many people barely a commodity, that has created a presentation reinforcing product features and history. Innovative design creates greater ripple effects beyond just visual improvement, according to Ms. Cho.

She pointed out that radical innovation is pushed by technology, while incremental innovation is pulled by the market. “Most innovation fails,” according to Ms. Cho.

From Ms. Cho’s perspective, there is too much focus on attributes, because people do not buy products, but meanings. When meaning and radical innovation come together, this leads to success. The other part of the story—as time ran out—is that the target customer demographics are a part of the success story.


Erin Cho — Profile from Parsons’ websiteErin Cho 2“Innovation is no longer an option in business,” says Erin Cho, associate professor of strategic design and management at Parsons. “Today’s marketplace is fiercely competitive, and companies must invest in creativity to thrive. That opens up career opportunities for those who can bring together diverse perspectives, facilitate collaborations, and come up with effective solutions.”

Combining business and innovation is a familiar practice for Cho. “My background is unique,” she says. “I trained in design and focused on business for my PhD. In my career, I delved into supply chain management, consumer behavior, design management, social enterprise, and brand development. Early on, I understood the value of merging different ideas and perspectives.”

According to Cho, design thinking is fundamentally transforming the way businesses develop solutions. Design thinking is a methodology derived from design industries that is used to creatively solve problems and facilitate innovation. “Every day, companies come up with new, unconventional methods of producing goods and delivering services to satisfy customer demands,” says Cho. “But innovation remains a risky business. Firms often expend significant resources on new projects that fail within three to six months. So we constantly challenge students to figure out the right way to innovate, and that means developing intuition, creativity, empathy, and a sharp business mind.”