Design is Important Again

I’ve been carrying around the October FastCompany magazine for 2 months because of all the great articles in their third annual Masters of Design issue. The stories about brands like Puma are insightful, but the bigger picture is more important – Design matters in business again.

Retailers have shown us the lead in recent years as even Target and Walmart have pushed ‘brands’ over ‘value.’ Don’t get me wrong, they still have great value, but the empty big box stores across the suburban countryside, tell us that the 90’s are over and the bland version of the value story doesn’t sell long term.

You can’t find many businesses today who don’t claim to be ‘design driven.’ Who doesn’t want to be the next Apple? But making that quantum shift from repetitive process-driven business to a more intuitive project-based one geared to customers is daunting.

Go to Amazon and search for “Business Creativity” books and you will see almost 3000 results. Industries who have been investing in design far longer than the current crop of business books need to get religion about design again. Software and web developers need to refocus – especially if the business buyers believe design can help them differentiate.

Microsoft has arguably as many Design and User Interface employees as any major corporation, but they have a dismal record of creating user-preferred design. Apparently Vista has 9 different ways that users can shut off a laptop.
Friday’s BusinessWeek article claims “that Vista, for all its capabilities, could end up being too complex for the average consumer.” Joel Spolsky covered the Vista shut-down this week and says that “the more choices you give people, the harder it is for them to choose, and the unhappier they’ll feel.”

We have recently needed to adjust a user interface in a Section 508 compliant design that can be read in software like JAWS. As a result we are looking at established conventions and lower browser standards. But it will make us ‘listen’ to the users as well as how they view our design. And it will make us rethink everything we design going forward.

Go back and read last year’s Fact Company article on The Business of Design. “Design-influenced companies also understand their customers at a profound level and mobilize around that insight.”

That is where we all should start.

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