When we talk about naming systems and naming architecture with clients and potential clients there is a decent amount of consensus on what those activities entail, though we’ve heard enough variability to the point where we wanted to share our definition of each exercise.

It’s not like there’s an ISO 9000 standard for what makes for an elegant naming system or a successful naming architecture. And that’s good, as naming sits at the intersection of art and craft. While we like creative constraints, adhering to thick rulebooks doesn’t help the artist or craftsperson nor does it yield anything helpful for clients.

So, here’s how we define naming systems and naming architecture:

A naming system is a stylized and systematized formula for creating product and brand names with the specific goal of helping consumers understand relative positions in the product or brand portfolio. The goals here are reinforcing the masterbrand, helping consumers navigate the portfolio and select the product or brand that’s right for them, and leaving room for future growth and changes to the lineup.

Naming architecture is about having a complete vision for the product or brand portfolio, understanding the relationships between the products or brands, and planning for how to apply a naming system to the architecture to communicate those relationships. A few important things we think about here are: which products are more or less premium, which are grouped into families, which are older or newer, and what’s in development to be launched in the coming years. When it comes to companies and brands: is this a branded house or a house of brands, and how are sub-brands or bridge lines to be handled.

One way to think about the relationship between architecture and systems is that naming architecture is the act of building the factory, prototyping the machines, and getting them installed. A naming system is successfully stamping out widgets based on how you designed the molds in that prototyping phase—you have a mold for every widget and it’s clear which widget is which and how it gets assembled into what would be your product portfolio.

For example, Nikon templeted an alphanumeric architecture for several tiers of DSLR cameras with multiple cameras per tier. The naming system is:

D plus a single digit for professional grade cameras (D6, D5)
D plus three digits for prosumer models (D850, D750)
D plus four digits for consumer models D7500, D5600)


We love working on naming architecture and systems projects. Here’s to another year of building things 🙂

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