Design as Differentiator

We run into sales opportunities frequently who have no idea of the realistic cost of bad design. These business leaders have done cheap business cards or used family members who had some HTML skill and are left with the impression that web site redesign should be a quick turn project for minimum expense. Many of these businesses treat design as if it were a commodity – when it fact it is one of the few things left that should not be.

Design has become the largest differentiator most businesses have. Don Norman covered a host of everyday problems with products in his classic book, The Design of Everyday Things. He uncovers how you may not be alone in having trouble figuring out if a door “pulls” open or “pushes” open. It is a very worthwhile read and shows off the ability of Design to lesson the value in usefulness.

All businesses have some unique selling proposition for their goods or services too. There is something – besides price – that continues to keep their business in business. In a world where white collar jobs are done by people in far off times zones who have no connection to the customer – design may be the ONLY thing that differentiates your sales efforts. It’s not just techies offshore either. Today you find HR, scanning MRI’s, financial back office, customer service centers, and as much business process as companies are willing to send away. See examples here:
Scanning,HR jobs,Call Center,Contact Center,Healthcare, and of course Software.

In an October Mass High Tech article, Richard Banfield wrote;

“Today, leadership faces an ever-increasing wave of new startups with fewer barriers to entry than ever before. Thanks to the decreasing cost of technology and increased access to microfunding, each of these startups begins with less overhead and less risk. Less risk means more potential competitors for the incumbents. Less than This 20 years ago, you could dominate an industry by simply building a massive infrastructure that would be too expensive or time consuming to compete with. Today, a feisty startup can eat your lunch using a bank loan and a socially exciting website.

To survive in a world in which your competitors are younger, faster and smarter than ever, you’ll need something else. You need a design strategy.”

Fast Company’s 2007 Master of Design Annual had more must-read articles and gave insight into great design minds like Philippe Starck and Yves Béhar.

“The style of tomorrow will be the freedom and recognition of difference. We must replace the name ‘beautiful’ by the name ‘good.’ Beautiful means nothing.” Philippe Starck

Meaning: good design is really about simplicity. It is about stripping out all the extraneous visual nonsense and leaving only the key elements needed to communicate clearly. It means designing only the necessary elements to make your product or service be preferred.

Massimo Vignelli, who founded Unimark in 1965, believes that “It’s really more about logic than imagination.”

He and his wife Lella have done brand identity work for Bloomingdales, Ford, American Airlines and Knoll. But all of their most lasting work is SIMPLE.

Created in 1972 (before Adobe made graphic design easier for all) their New York Subway map is a perfect example of simplicity – and it was all done by hand. Each line bends at 45 or 90 degrees. Every line has a color and it was modeled after London’s underground map.

Design as a differentiator is not new – but it does have more believers today. Legendary Apple is one of the “True Believers” who controls the hardware, software and industrial design elegance. MIT’s Technology Review did a great story last year on why Apple’s success stems form their design culture. You can read the MIT article here. Robert Brunner says his team pushed manufacturers to find new solutions during his tenure with Apple industrial design. And bloggers write about Apple constantly in this role – including sending more tech business reporters to MacWorld each year.

Who should be next Apple CEO?

What we can Learn from Apple

Newsweek looks at MacBook Air

But even companies like Proctor & Gamble and SAS have claimed that Design will be one of the ways they differentiate in their marketplaces. And not just visually.

An older article in Bnet discusses the actual Value design can add to enterprises. The article shows how Design has 4 Powers:

Design as Differentiator

Design as Integrator

Design as Transformer

Design as Good Business

This is really where Design makes a difference: adding value to the equation of your business. Our own case studies have shown some correlation to the value of design. We have had clients increase online sales or decrease costs using simple web design. Getting measurable ROI from Design differentiation is the ultimate goal.

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