To many, design is just about having something that looks nice; certainly, the word design brings to mind strong visual appeal. Yet what most businesses seem to be missing is that good design is about much more than that – it’s about edging ahead of competitors.
IBM Chairman-CEO Thomas Watson Jr. was famous for coining the phrase, “Good design is good business.” Although many people scoffed at the time, they eventually had to admit he had a point – after all, when someone who’s grown a company tenfold during their tenure tells you that something is good for business, you listen. Good design is a bottom line investment!
Great design is about more than looking good – essentially it’s what makes a product, whether a phone, bicycle, desk, or boat, more than just the parts it’s made from. It improves the function of the product, and gives it a competitive advantage over similar products.
More than that though, good design gives your product character. According to Steve Jobs, who drove Apple’s incredible rise in popularity through design, it is “the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” It’s precisely that character that will entice customers to buy your product, and make them desperate for version two.
Ask anyone with an iPhone why they chose it over a different brand and it won’t be because you can use it to make calls, text, open apps, or surf the web – after all, any smartphone can do that. What sets the iPhone apart is Apple’s particular design language – design that’s not only aesthetically pleasing, but also straightforward and user-friendly.
So how can you use design to better your business?
It starts at the top
Using design to make a difference to your business only happens when those at the top of your company believe in it. We’ve seen function-driven companies turn into design-driven companies thanks to visionary leaders, and it’s shown in their results, setting them apart from competitors with similar products.
Likewise, making sure that every person in your company understands the importance of design is vital and helps to create a company culture that drives innovation.
It’s not just about the product
Having appealing products is no longer enough – globalisation and the rise of technology means that your customers aren’t just going to walk into their local store and pick up your product because it’s the only option. They can buy products from all over the world, often at much cheaper prices. What makes them purchase from you or from your stockists is the experience they get buying from you. Good design is what makes that experience so powerful.
Design for your customers
Essentially it comes down to thinking about what your customers want. Tony Driscoll, who has designed Walt Disney theme parks, says that good design is all about understanding your customer’s unmet needs. “It’s where business puts itself in the customer’s shoes, trying to understand what they value in the world and what they want to have in a relationship with that brand.” Understanding and designing for those needs will bring your product (and your business) to its full potential.
Good design takes time, and your creation will often go through several design iterations before you strike the perfect product. Knowing that it’s worth it, and sticking to it, is what will set you apart from your competitors. It’s easy to go back to purely functional, engineered products, but they’re not what will help your business grow and take its fair share of the marketplace.
As it has for a couple of decades now, good design will continue to dominate the business world. After all, in a world where you can buy almost any product imaginable online, we’ve gotten so used to good design that anything less just doesn’t cut it anymore.