Priya Dubey

Jun 22, 2020

4 min read

Why is Design Serious Business?

Cocoa bean

Did you know the design of the Coca Cola bottle was inspired by the shape and the contour of the Cocoa bean?

And that the design of the Mini Cooper was the result of restraints in fuel supply during the 1950s, caused by the Suez crisis? There are innumerable such examples of designs either inspired by imagination or are a result of solution to overcoming some problem.

Mini Cooper

In this article we will reflect on how these designs impacted the business and achieved business goals. The unique design of the Coca Cola bottle created by noted industrial designer, Raymond Loewy, was recognizable even in the dark and along with the Coca Cola red, it has created brand history over the years. It was created to protect the brand identity from competitors, who were selling products that were similar to Coca Cola in terms of names, packaging etc. This seemingly small investment in design has reaped huge rewards for the brand and is the biggest reason behind its sustained success over generations.

Designer Sir Alex Issigonis in the 1950s designed the Mini Cooper to solve a problem of fuel shortage in that particular period and it served as an efficient city car. From then on, BMW made it into a style icon making it a fun drive, reasonably practical and it delivered good fuel economy. This design was created to overcome the challenges faced by the customer as their main focus and it tried to solve the problem of fuel efficiency.

The customers have thus stayed true to these brands and give them repeat business, thus keeping the brands profitable as well as relevant over the decades.

Design is the intermediary between Consumer Insights, Creativity & Business Goals

These two examples demonstrate the strong links between consumer insights, design/creativity and business goals and how they are interconnected. When we gain consumer insights, a business is able to evaluate if they can do better than they are currently doing. What kind of advantages are the competitors offering? What kind of value additions can be done to the product/service?

In addition to consumer insights, creativity is the second most important part of the arsenal for business growth. With creativity the designer can dream up the kind of experiences the business can provide their customers and how it can be used to better their lives. When this is made possible, business goals are easier to achieve.

Design centric companies rule the roost

With the rise of global markets companies need to become more design and customer centric than ever before. The McKinsey Design Index (MDI)of 2018, ranks companies based on how strong they have integrated the design capabilities in their core functions. The findings of this research revealed that the top-quartile MDI scorers improved their revenues & returns to shareholders (TRS) significantly quicker than their industry counterparts in a five-year period. Their revenue growth was observed to have 32% higher growth rate and a TRS growth rate of 56% higher over the entire five year period. This substantiates the business value of good design.

The findings from the research conducted for the McKinsey Design Index (MDI) sharply indicate that good design matters whether the company trades in physical goods, digital products and/or services, or a combination of these.

It was also observed that markets disproportionately rewarded companies that succeeded in standing out based on design superiority compared to their competitors.

Customer Involvement in Business

With so many communication channels available, Customers freely give feedback to the company and talk with each other over social media etc., thereby allowing comparisons between various designs available and figuring out the most favored of the lot. Therefore the customers themselves offer these insights, whether companies want to listen or not. Thus, they are increasingly playing a greater role in the Design process and on the bottom line of companies and bring in higher turnovers.

Huge amounts of user data and advances in artificial intelligence (AI) afford us amazing insights in consumer behavior have paved way for value analytics & computational design. If there is need to get in touch with our real customers it can be done through multitude of channels. It has thus become easier and mandatory to place the user at the core of business decisions. Fast access to real customers is readily available through multiple channels, notably social media and smart devices. All of these developments should place the user at the heart of business decisions in a way that is desired by all design leaders. Unfortunately, over 40% of the surveyed companies are still not considering end users at the development stages of their product/service.

Business advantages of embracing design first attitude

In the current business scenario, Designers are not given priority while making business decisions. Sadly, their opinions are considered only as an afterthought and are used as a band aid or to fix what seems broken. Many design decisions get stuck in a management rigmarole and are seldom pitched to the higher management. When they do get a chance, decisions get based on gut feeling rather than on concrete data. Designers too often are not able to convey the business goals that can be achieved through measurable metrics if a user centric design is embraced. Here it would benefit to remember the quote by Joel Spolsky, the creator of Trello that — “Design adds value faster than it adds costs.”