Simply put, companies that invest in design are much more successful than companies that don’t. Let’s take a look at how design can make businesses better.
Design is good for business
Design thinking can take a product from good to great. In today’s market, consumers have tons of choices for everything, and brand trust plays a huge role in their decision-making. We don’t have time to research all the features and benefits of every product we buy so we rely on the brands we trust and love to make smart buying decisions. How do these brands resonate and connect with us? After all, behind these brands are usually large corporations run by executives whom we’ve never met. How do they connect with us on an emotional level?
Images, words, and graphics have the power to grab people’s attention and make them feel a desired emotion.
Lifestyle photography that touches your soul
Authentic copy that speaks to you directly
Graphics that evoke a visceral feeling
Something extra that makes your day better
Design that delights
Design can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. For example, take a simple cup of coffee. My friend, Alisha, can walk into any café to buy a perfectly good cup of coffee. However, she walks a few extra blocks every morning to get her Starbucks. She chooses Starbucks because she gets more than just coffee. Alisha gets to run into her friends, check her email on the free Wi-Fi, enjoy the cozy atmosphere that makes her feel good, and joke with her favorite Barista. Alisha (and the rest of the world) loves Starbucks so much that she doesn’t call it coffee anymore... she says, "I’m going to pick-up some Starbucks or can you grab me some Starbucks?" Do you think Starbucks accidentally created this type of brand affinity? No way! They invested millions of dollars in branding, design, customer experience research, and advertising. Do you think they got a healthy return on their investment? You bet.
Design Something extra
As a child, I remember my mother wrangling my siblings and I to go on a full day of errand runs. Of course, we had to stop somewhere to eat. Out of all the fast food choices, where do you think my mom would take us? You’re right, the big yellow M. While their food wasn’t the best, McDonald’s branding and customer experience was spot on. Their brand identity, restaurants, and design, absolutely resonated with their target market. Kids love cute clowns, toys, playgrounds, and cartoons. McDonald’s had all of it. I remember being so excited to open my Happy Meal to see what toy I would get or to play in the playground and meet new friends after my meal. McDonald’s spent a lot of time and money designing their brand identity, stores, strategy, and customer experience. Obviously, their investment was worth the energy.
Design that shakes things up
There are tons of younger more innovative companies that are popping up everyday that use design to disrupt their industry and destroy their competition. Nest is a small company that invested in design to make unsexy products that most people don’t care about into smart and sexy products that demand attention. Their thermostat and smoke + CO alarm are quickly becoming the best selling on the market. They’re not just pretty to look at; they’re actually very functional and useful as well. The company states:
Nest used simple design to completely rethink the current “solution” and create something 10X better than the rest. I love how Nest’s key design attribute of simplicity is methodically used everywhere across their company. From their product design and app, to their web design and packaging, every customer touch point clearly expresses simplicity and ease of use.
Tesla used design to innovate and disrupt the lucrative yet “set-in-its-ways” automotive industry. From their ballsy strategy and elegantly designed electric vehicles, to their best-in-class showrooms and automotive factories, Tesla exudes design excellence on all fronts. I’m going to focus on how they used design to create a retail experience that is 10X better than their competition. Tesla understood their potential customer, they knew these people look for premium and cutting-edge vehicles. With that in mind, they drew inspiration from a different industry to make smart design decisions which led to the best car buying experience out there. Tesla took cues from Apple’s retail stores:
Like Apple stores, Tesla's store floor plans are usually a big rectangle that makes it easier to see everything. You feel a sense of comfort when you walk in because everything is easy to find and nothing is hidden.
Both Apple and Tesla products are displayed in a premium fashion using minimalistic design principles to allow them to shine and catch the eye of their audience. There are no distracting décor or knick-knacks around to visually compete for your attention. The showroom is carefully designed with the intention of making the product the “star of the show” which makes the product look and feel more valuable.
Apple makes it easy and fun to test drive and play with their products, which usually leads to a love affair. Tesla similarly makes it easy and fun to learn, configure, and purchase a car in the most non-intimidating buying experience in the automotive industry.
Tesla stores are strategically located in high-traffic and high-end shopping locations next to other premium brands like Gucci which makes them feel more premium by association. This design decision alone sets their shopping experience apart from the competition. It separates them from the traditional pain-in-the-ass car buying experience of driving from dealership lot to dealership lot to haggle with aggressive salesmen.
- Tesla, like Apple, doesn’t discount their products, which is the mark of a premium brand and leads to a more pleasant shopping experience.
To learn more about Tesla’s retail experience check out this case study by Nurun, a global design and technology consultancy.
Design is an investment, not an expense
Many companies, businesses, and organizations view design as an expense. They come up with their business strategy and road-map without a designer at the table, and when they’re finished they say “Okay...now let’s hire a designer to make this look pretty and marketable.” Today’s most successful companies know that’s not the right way to do things. When a company invests in design thinking at every stage of their business, they craft a better product, a better service, and a better customer experience, which eventually leads to strong brand equity. A simplified example is how Microsoft and Apple went about their business in their epic battle for market share.
Microsoft didn't heavily invest in design until recently. Their high level strategy was "make it cheap but good, get it out early, sell to the masses, and make tons of money." Design was an added expense that cut into their profits so they minimized their design budget as much as possible to pass the savings to the customer. In contrast, Apple heavily invested in design on all levels, from product design to packaging, and customer experience to marketing, design has always been in their DNA. Their high level strategy was "make it the best on the market, take time to make it perfect, sell to the experts and people who aspire to be great, and make tons of money." Microsoft's strategy served them well in the early days but as tech consumers have become more demanding and busy, they want products with better user experiences, beauty, and intelligence. Over the years Apple has earned the reputation of being a design leader, which has led to super solid brand equity. This short video sums it up perfectly:
Apple's brand equity is so strong that it could release a product that is inferior to Microsoft's and still outsell it based off of its name brand. When you look at it that way, design truly is an investment that has the potential of yielding huge returns year over year. It's no wonder today's top companies in the world invest a lot of money and resources in design.
Maybe your company should, too.